Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars Program Honors Top Students and Their Mentors

Nov. 4, 2022 – As a senior at the University of Maryland 17 years ago, Jennifer Lopez honored her first-grade teacher for being an influential mentor, as part of a then new program called the Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars.

Lopez recalled the hours playing school, imitating Ms. Mary Lee, who taught her in first grade to love children’s books. Lopez went on to become a teacher herself.

Today, bringing a tradition of mentorship full circle, Lopez will be honored at a ceremony honoring Merrill Scholars, where a UMD senior will thank her for teaching him to love to read in her fifth-grade class.

“The late Philip Merrill created this program to build a community of scholars, faculty members and K-12 teachers who recognize the importance of teaching and mentoring the next generation,” said UMD President Darryll J. Pines. “We are grateful for a program that celebrates invaluable mentorship and for the many teachers who have a long-lasting impact on the lives of our students.”

In all, 19 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars will recognize the K-12 teachers and UMD faculty who helped guide, inspire, coach, tutor and challenge them during their academic journeys. The program awards $1,500 scholarships, which are given in the K-12 teacher’s name to another student from that school district who will attend UMD the next year.

It also highlights the achievements of the graduating seniors, who are selected by the academic colleges and schools with undergraduate major programs. Scholars’ internships and research work ranges from fighting climate change to addressing global mental health disparities.

“These students’ accomplishments are a testament to the power of teachers and mentors in an academic journey,” said William A. Cohen, Associate Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Studies. “The Merrill Presidential Scholars Program is creating an important legacy of teacher excellence—from K-12 through college—that leads to outstanding student achievements.”

Lopez (née Dodge) was in the second cohort of UMD Merrill Scholars, who are selected by the academic colleges and schools with undergraduate major programs.

“I remember wondering whether my first-grade teacher would come for the ceremony, whether she’d say, ‘Jenny who?’” said Lopez. “But now, I realize that she wouldn’t have missed it. It’s one of the greatest gifts to a teacher to say: ‘I remember your class and what you did mattered.’”

Nick Bailey ’23, a double major in operations management and business analytics as well as marketing, said the same about Lopez, who taught him at Westbrook Elementary in Bethesda.

“I remember reading the most I've ever read in my life during those class periods and also how she pushed me out of my comfort zone,” said Bailey.

He was particularly touched by an assignment at the end of fifth grade: Each student had to write a letter to their future self. Lopez saved the letters and mailed them to her students when they finished middle school three years later.

“They would ask themselves questions like, ‘Are we on the iPhone200 now?’ or ‘Did you make that travel team?’ But they’d also write about their goals for themselves,” said Lopez.

The letters were a reminder, too, that their elementary school teacher was still thinking of them, reminding them what they could accomplish, said Bailey: “She cared about every student.”


For more information:
Laura Cech at 443-286-6402 or
Photos are available.

The Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars for 2021-22 are:

    College of Agriculture & Natural Resources

  • Janna Chapman
    Environmental Science and Technology, Geographical Sciences
    Teacher Mentor: Kristyn Madeja, Broadneck High School, Annapolis, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Thanicha Ruangmas, First-Year Innovation and Research Experience

  • College of Arts & Humanities

  • Aimee Dastin-van Rijn
    Economics, Theatre
    Teacher Mentor: Victoire D’Agostino, St. John’s International School, Waterloo, Belgium
    Faculty Mentor: Stacy Kosko, Department of Government and Politics

  • Sterling Mullenix
    Teacher Mentor: Jenny Mey, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Bethesda, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Jeffrey Lidz, Department of Linguistics

  • Rachel Robin
    Government and Politics, Communication
    Teacher Mentor: Daniel McKenna, Poolesville High School, Poolesville, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Jaclyn Bruner, Department of Communication

  • College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

  • Logan Daytner
    Geographical Sciences
    Teacher Mentor: Lauren Gardenbelle, South Carroll High School, Sykesville, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Sinead Farrell, Department of Geographical Sciences

  • Kuburat Oladiran
    Psychology, Criminology and Criminal Justice
    Teacher Mentor: Michelle Snape, Northwood High School, Silver Spring, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Heather Yarger, Department of Psychology

  • Pravalika Palavarapu
    Psychology, Sociology
    Teacher Mentor: Bryce Coon, Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Nicole DeLoatch, Department of Sociology

  • Robert H. Smith School of Business

  • Alexia Ayuk
    Operations Management and Business Analytics
    Teacher Mentor: Renetta Herndon-Cintron, Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Olney, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Pamela K. Armstrong, Department of Decision, Operations and Information Technologies

  • Nick Bailey
    Operations Management and Business Analytics, Marketing
    Teacher Mentor: Jennifer Lopez, Westbrook Elementary School, Bethesda, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Mary B. Harms, Department of Marketing

  • Bradley Polkowitz
    Operations Management and Business Analytics, Marketing
    Teacher Mentor: Cindy Bravaco, Colts Neck High School, Colts Neck, N.J.
    Faculty Mentor: Joseph Bailey, Department of Decision, Operations and Information Technologies

    College of Computer, Mathematical, & Natural Sciences

  • Fred Angelo Garcia
    Physics, Astronomy
    Teacher Mentor: Yolanda King-Davis, Oxon Hill High School, Oxon Hill, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Massimo Ricotti, Department of Astronomy

  • Maanasa Gurram
    Biological Sciences
    Teacher Mentor: Mary Jane Sasser, River Hill High School, Clarksville, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Najib El-Sayed, Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics

  • Joanna Hung
    Teacher Mentor: Harrison Toy, Robert Frost Middle School, Rockville, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Dana Grosser-Clarkson, Center for Mathematics Education

  • A. James Clark School of Engineering

  • Kyra Cromwell Reed
    Fire Protection Engineering
    Teacher Mentor: Rita Pascale, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Bethesda, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Kenneth Isman, Department of Fire Protection Engineering

  • Racheal Ssentongo
    Aerospace Engineering
    Teacher Mentor: Jack Stansbury, Poolesville High School, Poolesville, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Jarred Young, Department of Aerospace Engineering

  • Brian Tinkler
    Aerospace Engineering
    Teacher Mentor: Andrew Milcic, Severna Park High School, Severna Park, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Jarred Young, Department of Aerospace Engineering

  • Philip Merrill College of Journalism

  • Hanna Zakharenko
    Journalism, Information Science
    Teacher Mentor: Warren Hynes, Westfield High School, Westfield, N.J.
    Faculty Mentor: Adam Marton, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

  • School of Public Health

  • Deborah Omotoso
    Family Science
    Teacher Mentor: Dana Shieh, Bishop McNamara High School, Forestville, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Scott Roberts, Department of Psychology

  • Katelyn Wang
    Teacher Mentor: Danielle Borgia, Mount Hebron High School, Ellicott City, Md.
    Faculty Mentor: Elizabeth Brown, Department of Kinesiology