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The 2019-2020 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars

View images from the 2019 Merrill Scholars' Luncheon

School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation

Sasha Kahn

College of Arts and Humanities

Julian Avenilla

Paula Molina Acosta

Garrett Yocklin

College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Luisa Beltran Rey

Carli Daniella Fine

Melody Hashemi

Robert H. Smith School of Business

Ariana Riske

David Rosenstein

Doron Tadmor

College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences

Manuella Djomaleu

Jillian Kunze

Nicholas Poniatowski

A. James Clark School of Engineering

Connor Hall

Dirk Holzman

Evan Kramer

Philip Merrill College of Journalism

Dena Gershkovich

School of Public Health

Shifali Mathews

Sari Lerner


Sasha Kahn, Architecture, Government & Politics
Teacher Mentor: Stephen Miller, Walter Johnson High School, Bethesda, MD
Faculty Mentor: Michael Spivey*, Government & Politics

When I entered high school, I thought I would end up as a scientist like my father. Mr. Stephen Miller introduced me to the world of American government, economics, and legal thought, which would chart an entirely new course for my life. Between weekly meetings for Mock Trial, Business and Investment, and Tea Clubs, Mr. Miller created a comfortable space for his students to form and defend their views through meaningful discourse. At the University of Maryland, Professor Michael Spivey reaffirmed my commitment to studying law, even as I began to explore my passion for architecture. Professor Spivey encouraged my study of constitutional law and pushed me to question the decisions of even the most prominent judges. Our discussions helped me form my own theories of justice and righteousness that I will continue to investigate in law school and beyond. Together, my mentors have clarified for me the importance of education and forming my own opinions, making me a more thoughtful, eloquent, and compassionate person. I am incredibly thankful for their commitment to challenging their students to become the best versions of themselves.

*Professor Spivey was named a Faculty Mentor by 2012-13 and 2013-14 Merrill Scholars.

Julian Avenilla, American Studies
Teacher Mentor: Alexia Friedberg, S. Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, Germantown, MD
Faculty Mentor: Robert Chester, American Studies

Ms. Alexia Friedberg, my third grade teacher, was the first person to challenge me academically. She encouraged me to read at a higher level, taught me how to be a mentor to fellow students, and advised me to apply for my county’s magnet program. As a result of her guidance and faith, I was accepted into the magnet school and I spent the next decade learning from the best teachers I could have asked for. That opportunity is all thanks to Ms. Friedberg’s rare combination of courage and conscientiousness, which I hope to develop as an adult as well. At the University of Maryland, Professor Robert Chester has taught me in three of his American Studies cinema classes. His courses have introduced me to the issues faced in minority American communities and taught me methods of critically analyzing media. Most importantly, Professor Chester is a role model for respectful, open-minded teaching. He comes to class excited, responds to all student ideas respectfully, and encourages us to pursue our interests. I hope to emulate Professor Chester in all my endeavors to become a great mentor, leader, and human being.

Paula Molina Acosta, Women’s Studies
Teacher Mentor: Wendy Eagan, Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, MD
Faculty Mentor: Elsa Barkley Brown*, Women's Studies

I am grateful to be able to thank the mentors that have inspired and supported me throughout my education. In high school, Ms. Wendy Eagan was a guiding force, always supportive of my interests and pushing me to explore my talents and skills. Her class prepared me for college-level work, and she always encouraged me to delve further into subjects like history and sociology, which would later inspire me to become a Women’s Studies major. Ms. Eagan taught me to trust my experiences and opinions, and since I graduated she has continued to push me to pursue my interests and strengths. At University of Maryland, Professor Barkley Brown has welcomed and supported me in the Women’s Studies department. Her guidance on my honors coursework helped shape my project, improve my research skills, sharpen my writing, and cement my life-long interest in Women’s Studies. She supported me through conference experiences and provided me with opportunities to grow as an independent thinker. My mentors have shaped my love for learning about the world, and I will always be grateful for their dedication, support, and encouragement.

*Professor Barkley Brown was named a Faculty Mentor by a 2018-19 Merrill Scholar.

Garrett Yocklin, Persian Studies, Linguistics
Teacher Mentor: Nayibe Neuland, Tuscarora High School, Frederick, MD
Faculty Mentor: Stefania Amodeo, French, Italian

Ms. Nayibe Neuland played an integral role in the development of my passion for languages. In high school, her classes and mentorship helped shape my interest in the Spanish language and the countries in which it is spoken, and introduced me to the world outside of the U.S. Ms. Neuland constantly pushed me to improve my language skills and showed me how to apply them in my community. When she told us about her experience as an interpreter for a day at the UN, I realized my own desire to work as an interpreter. During my time at University of Maryland, I expanded my interest in languages to include Italian, and Professor Stefania Amodeo has played a huge role in my academic success. From her course on Italian cuisine to her sharing her home city of Genoa, Professor Amodeo has been a gifted mentor who always goes out of her way to find material that interests her students. She inspires me every day to work toward my goals. I would not be where I am today without either of these people, and I am extremely grateful to them for their guidance and mentorship.

Luisa Beltran Rey, Government & Politics
Teacher Mentor: Daniel Pearl, George C. Marshall High School, Falls Church, VA
Faculty Mentor: Stacy Kosko*, International Development and Conflict Management

Throughout my academic career, I have been blessed to have been taught by experienced and passionate teachers and professors who have always pushed me to do my best. In high school, I struggled in my pre-calculus class. Fortunately, my teacher, Mr. Daniel Pearl, took time out of his lunch breaks, after school hours, and early mornings to help me fully understand the challenging concepts. Soon I was excelling in his course and in turn I was able to help my classmates when they needed assistance. Mr. Pearl was a trusted confidant, guiding me through my worries and anxieties, helping me through hard moments, and celebrating my successes. In college, I have been lucky to work with Professor Stacy Kosko, an exemplary scholar and mentor. She has taught me to exceed expectations and work harder than I ever have before. Her care for her students and the world as a whole have inspired me to become a better person. I am deeply indebted to these mentors for supporting me and helping me get to where I am today.

*Professor Kosko was named a Faculty Mentor by a 2013-14 and 2015-16 Merrill Scholar.

Carli Daniella Fine, Psychology
Teacher Mentor: Christine Feiler, Colonial Middle School, Plymouth Meeting, PA
Faculty Mentor: Tracy Riggins, Psychology

While I am fortunate to have had many incredible instructors over the years, Ms. Christine Feiler and Professor Tracy Riggins immediately come to mind as having had the greatest impact on my academic trajectory. I’m grateful to have received their instruction for multiple semesters, establishing long-term connections that I will carry into my future. Ms. Feiler instructed my English and Enrichment classes for 7th and 8th grade, and provided home-bound instruction after a car accident temporarily prevented me from attending school. Professor Riggins has been my lab mentor and research advisor for all four years at Maryland. Both mentors have demonstrated concern for my personal well-being beyond the classroom, and our conversations help me better understand my goals. They have encouraged well-rounded learning, from Ms. Feiler’s innovative teaching methods to Professor Riggins’ preparation for all parts of the lab environment. They have also helped me prepare for future educational endeavors, and I’m extremely appreciative of their guidance.

Melody Hashemi, Economics, Government & Politics
Teacher Mentor: Michael Chellman, Bullis School, Potomac, MD
Faculty Mentor: Martina Copelman, Department of Economics

Throughout my education, I have been very fortunate to have wonderful mentors that have guided me toward the path of success and taught me lessons beyond the bounds of the typical classroom. Mr. Michael Chellman’s ninth grade world history class sparked my desire to know more about the world around me and motivated me to try to exceed expectations in all aspects of my life. His vivacious personality brought history to life and I am extremely grateful for his dedication to my education and for being a teacher-mentor I could always rely on. Professor Martina Copelman consistently challenged me to work harder and to not be discouraged by any obstacles that I faced. Her office door was always open, allowing me to work with her as I struggled through problems. I was able to overcome challenges because I knew she believed in me and was willing to help me learn through my mistakes.

Ariana Riske, Operations Management
Teacher Mentor: Janean Ruschioni, Stoughton High School, Stoughton, MA
Faculty Mentor: Gerald Suarez*, Management & Organization

Ms. Janean Ruschioni, my 11th grade AP Language and Composition teacher, taught me how to think critically and how to express my ideas in writing and speaking. Her ability to bring the real world into the classroom played a large role in helping me adapt to college quickly. At University of Maryland, Professor Gerald Suarez was a faculty advisor for a short term study abroad trip to Spain. The course focused on Design and Innovation, and was one of the most influential trips I have ever taken. Professor Suarez pushes his students to think differently about how human-centered design plays a role in how people interact with spaces and cities. Since the study abroad trip, Professor Suarez has been an important advisor for my career and my future. I am grateful for both of my mentors for their support and encouragement.

*Professor Suarez was named a Faculty Mentor by a 2008-09 Merrill Scholar.

David Rosenstein, Marketing, Management
Teacher Mentor: Ellen Wallace, New Rochelle High School, New Rochelle, NY
Faculty Mentor: Jeffrey Kudisch, Management & Organization

My mentors, Ms. Ellen Wallace and Professor Jeffrey Kudisch, have provided me with lessons I will continue to use beyond my academic journey. Prior to taking Ms. Wallace’s 11th grade English course, I struggled with writing and had very low confidence. Through her teaching, Ms. Wallace equipped me with a strong tool belt of writing skills and helped me gain the confidence to pursue college-level writing endeavors, including a rhetoric minor and a position at the Undergraduate Writing Center. Her approach to compassionate teaching made me a better teaching assistant, as I often found myself channeling her language and educational style. I met Professor Kudisch when he coached my club’s executive board to help us with recruiting and identifying our club’s future leaders. The next semester I enrolled in all of the courses he taught, and each week I was eager to attend his thought-provoking lectures. Professor Kudisch, “Dr. K” to his students, provided me with individualized, professional career support and helped me improve my leadership abilities. I am grateful to have Ms. Wallace and Dr. K as strong role models in my academic, professional, and personal life.

Doron Tadmor, Operations Management & Business Analytics, International Business
Teacher Mentor: Shelley Jackson, Sherwood High School, Sandy Spring, MD
Faculty Mentor: Joseph Bailey*, Decision, Operations and Information Technologies

I am forever grateful to my mentors for guiding me throughout my life and continuing to push me to achieve my dreams. Dr. Shelley Jackson was my AP Literature teacher, and she is one of the most genuine and humbling teachers I have ever had. What I appreciate most about Dr. Jackson is that she teaches to inspire younger generations to be their best self. Her class, and her teaching style, allowed me to better understand life, and how to navigate its winding path. I first met Professor Joseph Bailey when I joined the QUEST Honors Program. Professor Bailey has all the qualities that I admire and strive toward: brilliant intellect, warm personality, and a kind heart. I’d like to thank Dr. Jackson and Professor Bailey for being outstanding professionals in their field and great mentors to their students. I hope to follow in their footsteps by making a consistent effort to build up those around me.

*Professor Bailey was named a Faculty Mentor by a 2011-12 Merrill Scholar.

Manuella Djomaleu, Physiology and Neurobiology
Teacher Mentor: Terri Ravick, Walter Johnson High School, Bethesda, MD
Faculty Mentor: Anne Simon, Cell Biology & Molecular Genetics

I met Dr. Terri Ravick during my sophomore year of high school, where she was instrumental in helping me gain the confidence to tackle the difficulties of my science courses. Dr. Ravick was the first teacher who made me believe in myself and pushed me to try my hardest and to never settle for less than I deserve. When I started college, Professor Anne Simon was the first professor who made me feel like I belonged in the lecture hall. She challenged me to think harder about the materials and ignited in me a passion for learning thanks to her continuous patience and support with my questions. Professor Simon introduced me to the beauty of learning, and having her as a professor and mentor motivated me to always dig deeper in my classes and to never stop asking questions.

Jillian Kunze, Physics, Astronomy
Teacher Mentor: Donald Walz, Governor Thomas Johnson High School, Frederick, MD
Faculty Mentor: Christopher Lobb*, Physics

In ninth grade, I found myself struggling in my algebra-based physics class. My teacher, Mr. Donald Walz, was encouraging and supportive, and with his help I succeeded in the course and in my senior year I enrolled in his two-semester AP Physics course. Taking that class led to a distinct change in my life goals as it helped me decide to pursue a degree in physics and astronomy in college. At University of Maryland, Professor Christopher Lobb has taught me more about quantum physics than I ever imagined I could comprehend, but he also showed me how important it is to be engaging and personable when it comes to science communication. Professor Lobb’s compassion and sense of the world has taught me what makes a good scientist a good person. Both of these mentors have shown me how to make complex concepts fun, how to avoid bad science, and that quantum physics is really just spherical harmonics, and I am so grateful to them.

*Professor Lobb was named a Faculty Mentor by a 2012-13 Merrill Scholar.

Nicholas Poniatowski, Physics
Teacher Mentor: Robert Nelson, Chantilly High School, Chantilly, VA
Faculty Mentor: Richard Greene, Physics

I was privileged to encounter a number of excellent teachers prior to college, chief among them my high school English teacher, Mr. Robert Nelson. Mr. Nelson was one of the first teachers to challenge me, and he was a regular source of personal guidance. He is undoubtedly the most enthusiastic educator I have yet to meet, and his dedication to his students is unparalleled. During my first semester at University of Maryland, I enrolled in an introductory physics lab taught by Professor Richard Greene. I quickly appreciated his easy-going attitude and sense of humor, and I was happy to join his research group. Working with Professor Greene for the past two years has been a defining period of my life: in addition to acquainting me with the wide world of condensed matter physics, he has taught me what science is, and has afforded me a number of opportunities atypical for undergraduate students, for which I am extremely grateful.

Connor Hall, Bioengineering
Teacher Mentor: Lucero Cabotaje, Glenelg High School, Glenelg, MD
Faculty Mentor: Ian White*, Bioengineering

One of the most influential teachers I had in high school was my chemistry teacher, Mr. Lucero Cabotaje, who bolstered my interest in science and the scientific method. He emphasized hands-on experience in his class, which enriched my understanding of the applications of chemistry and the interconnectivity of the natural sciences. My curiosity followed me to college, and I knew that I wanted to pursue academic research, but I was unsure of my own abilities. I was fortunate enough to meet with Professor Ian White in my freshman year, and since then he has become one of my biggest supporters and mentors. He is always willing to answer my questions in the lab, the classroom, and over email. Even with an extremely busy schedule, he finds the time to meet with me in person each week. Learning from Professor White has been an invaluable experience which has helped me improve as a researcher, a writer, and a person. I am very thankful for the time that both Mr. Cabotaje and Professor White have spent as my mentors.

*Professor White was named a Faculty Mentor by a 2016-17 Merrill Scholar.

Dirk Holzman, Electrical Engineering
Teacher Mentor: Emily Roberts, Marriotts Ridge High School, Marriottsville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Gran Wilson, Voice/Opera

Ms. Emily Roberts, my high school calculus teacher, taught me much more than math. By serving as a math assistant in her calculus class, I learned how to be an educator and share my knowledge with others. The lessons I learned in Ms. Roberts’s class proved foundational to my success in engineering. At the University of Maryland, no one has inspired me more than Professor Gran Wilson, my voice teacher. The knowledge and skills he has shared with me have given me a unique toolbox with which to excel both on the stage and as an engineer developing innovative solutions to engineering problems. Perhaps most importantly, Professor Wilson has taught me to approach life with extraordinary courage and abandon, driving me to become a campus leader and share my passions with the world in every way possible.

Evan Kramer, Aerospace Engineering
Teacher Mentor: Robert Irelan, Lake Braddock Secondary School, Burke, VA
Faculty Mentor: Christopher Cadou*, Aerospace Engineering

Mr. Robert Irelan taught me physics for two years in high school. Thanks to his engaging lectures and often humorous asides, I developed a passion for understanding difficult concepts in physics. In addition to nurturing my curiosity in the classroom, Mr. Irelan supported my interests outside of the classroom by serving as the faculty sponsor of the astronomy club I founded. Passionate teachers like Mr. Irelan are essential to the development of successful college students, and I consider myself lucky to have had him as one of my high school teachers. Professor Christopher Cadou has been my undergraduate research adviser for over three years. Professor Cadou welcomed me into his lab when I was a freshman, and immediately offered me many opportunities to perform important work. In addition to always making time to meet with me, Professor Cadou taught me essential research skills, such as the ability to make informed decisions based on a system’s outputs, and the importance of fact-checking my assumptions. I am extremely grateful for Mr. Irelan and Professor Cadou’s dedicated support during my high school and undergraduate years.

*Professor Cadou was named a Faculty Mentor by 2010-11 and 2013-14 Merrill Scholars.

Dena Gershkovich, Journalism, Dietetics
Teacher Mentor: Karen Wolf, Morristown High School, Morristown, NJ
Faculty Mentor: Thomas Linthicum, Journalism

Ms. Karen Wolf and Professor Thomas Linthicum have both inspired me to improve as a writer, learner and thinker. Ms. Wolf was my high school college guidance teacher and the faculty advisor to our student newspaper. When I think of high school, I remember editing articles and discussing newspaper-related matters in Ms. Wolf’s office. I appreciate the endless patience and energy that Ms. Wolf put into treating my writing as a process rather than a finished product. Her mentorship helped me become a more confident writer and ultimately led me to pursue journalism. Professor Thomas Linthicum, my news writing and reporting professor, taught me to appreciate the impact of the right words, and how to create meaningful writing. He encouraged me to bring creativity into the structured journalistic framework, which allowed me to value news writing in a new light. I am grateful for the support and encouragement I have received from both of these mentors, and I attribute much of my academic success to their guidance.

Shifali Mathews, Public Health Science
Teacher Mentor: Ashley Schreckengost, Wheaton High School, Silver Spring, MD
Faculty Mentor: Joanna Goger, Environmental Science and Policy

In high school, I was a part of the first graduating class of a biomedical magnet program, and Ms. Ashley Schreckengost was my math teacher. Ms. Schreck (as her students call her) made the program feel welcoming through her witty humor, patience, and kindness. She taught challenging concepts in a way that was understandable, and I always felt comfortable asking questions when something was unclear. As the class senior advisor, Ms. Schreckengost helped us plan activities that made our senior year fun and memorable. I am now in the Gemstone program at University of Maryland, with Professor Joanna Goger as my team’s mentor for a project related to environmental justice and flood risk in Maryland. Professor Goger has provided her expertise in environmental law to our team and guided our creativity to shape our project. She ensures every team member is engaged, enthusiastic, and heard. I feel like a valuable member of the team under her leadership. Both of my mentors have shaped the way I approach learning by fostering collaboration in academically rigorous programs and encouraging my curiosity.

Sari Lerner, Family Science
Teacher Mentor: Scott Culclasure, American Hebrew Academy, Greensboro, NC
Faculty Mentor: Jade Olson, Department of Communication

My favorite class in high school was “Advanced History Research Seminar,” taught by Dr. Scott Culclasure. I hesitated to take this course because I was not a huge history buff, but I’d heard amazing things about the class. Dr. C’s passion for history and his students made me want to be a better student and for the first time I was excited to learn about history. I looked forward to seeing political cartoons on Fridays and hearing the unique essay topic we would be given every month. Dr. C also gave me the skills necessary to be a successful writer. He instilled the importance of making sure citations are in proper format, that every paragraph of an essay should have intention behind it, and that being concise makes an essay much stronger. He also made me feel comfortable asking questions since he never failed to answer the many tedious questions I had every day when I arrived to class. Without him or this course I would not be half the student I am at Maryland or oddly find joy out of writing a research paper. Transitioning to UMD, I wanted to find another Dr. C: someone who pushed me to work hard and made me enjoy the work I was doing. Luckily, I found this in Professor Jade Olson. Working as a peer consultant at the Oral Communication Center, Professor Olson has taught me so much about public speaking and life. Again, I hesitated before signing up to work at the OCC because I never thought I was an exceptional public speaker. With Professor Olson's support I am not only confident in my public speaking abilities, but I am overall a more confident person. She is also one of the kindest people I have ever met. She cares about each student that comes into the OCC and every peer consultant. She is always there to listen to me if a had a bad or stressful day, give me advice, and put a smile on my face. Thank you Dr. Culclasure and Professor Olson for making me the student and person that I am today!