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Merrill Presidential Scholars Program


The 2007-2008 Merrill Presidential Scholars
Scholars' pictures and statements below.

Diana L. Bernstein
Robert H. Smith School of Business

Claire E. Ciarkowski
College of Chemical and Life Sciences

Adam S. Fisch
College of Chemical and Life Sciences

Daniel S. Marcin
College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Stephanie M. Petillo
A. James Clark School of Engineering

Lindsey A. Bernstein
Robert H. Smith School of Business

Luisa Cole
College of Arts and Humanities

Jennifer J. Harger
College of Education

Brooke M. Mayhew
College of Education

Anne Powell
College of Arts and Humanities

Kevin  R. Blusewicz
School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation

Alison Anne Daniels
College of Arts and Humanities

Christina C. Heshmatpour
College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Jessica Milcetich
Philip Merrill School of Journalism

Jennifer Thackston
College of Health and Human Performance

Valerie Branch
College of Arts and Humanities

Rachel E. Elias
College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Katrina L. LaCurts
College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Kathleen L. Miller
College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Scott T. Watson
A. James Clark School of Engineering

Raquel Christie
Philip Merrill School of Journalism

Laura Felgendreger
College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Daniel Levy
Robert H. Smith School of Business

Thea J. Nielsen
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources


For a print version of the 2007-2008 Merrill Presidential Scholars

Diana BernsteinDiana L. Bernstein
Two mentors have been especially instrumental in motivating me to strive for success. In 11th grade, Mr. Robert Thomas taught both my European history and theory of knowledge classes. Whether providing gory accounts of the Roman Empire or deciphering the works of Cicero, Plato, and Fukuyama, Mr. Thomas always encouraged his students to stretch their imaginations. The philosophical approach I learned in Mr. Thomas' theory of knowledge class continues to influence my life today. Similarly, Professor Georgios Skoulakis brings his specialty area, financial investments, to life. His enthusiasm for this subject inspired me to learn more about the role of financial instruments. He demonstrates outstanding teaching skills and dedication to his students. I am extremely grateful for the guidance and motivation I received from my mentors, Mr. Thomas and Prof. Skoulakis.


Lindsey bernsteinLindsey A. Bernstein

Ms. Elizabeth Slyne, my kindergarten teacher and first mentor, has had a long-lasting influence on my life. She taught her students to be confident and to treat one another with respect. I try to practice these values in everything I do. Twelve years later, Ms. Slyne attended my high school graduation, and she brought with her a letter that I had written when I was five years old. Ms. Slyne exemplifies the important role that teachers play in the community. Professor Elinda Kiss is anything but a stereotypical college professor. She makes finance classes interesting through an equal mixture of theory and real-world applications. Before taking Prof. Kiss's class, I knew little about careers in finance. In addition to her effective teaching strategies, Prof. Kiss goes the extra mile for her students. Even though I took her course a semester ago, I still receive E-mails about job openings and other opportunities at the Smith School of Business. She teaches her students how to become successful businesspeople.  

Kevin BlusewisczKevin  R. Blusewicz
Throughout my academic career, I have been fortunate to meet teachers whose unique visions inspired me to excel and to expand my creative boundaries. At High Technology High School, I studied French for four years with Mr. Martin Januario. I learned not only a foreign language but also a different way of interpreting the world. Mr. Januario created an interactive learning environment, engaging students through literature, creative writing, and the arts. Through his multifaceted approach, I became deeply interested in the intersection of different disciplines and the combination of varied representational media. Mr. Januario's French classes prepared me for the cultural abstraction and experimentation that I now embrace in the field of architecture. At the University of Maryland, Professor Richard Etlin's courses on architectural history have inspired me. Through his lectures, Prof. Etlin creates a clear narrative of the progression of architectural styles, while communicating an intense passion for his field and bringing new life to the material. Continually encouraged to ask questions, I have become a more experienced architectural historian and a better designer, with an expanded tool kit and an open mind.

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Valerie BranchValerie Branch
Ms. Janice Boccasini, my junior high school Spanish teacher, is one of the many people who have influenced me. Ms. Boccasini encouraged me to succeed in my Spanish class as well as my other classes. She demanded excellence, and as a result, I learned to strive for nothing but the best. During my educational journey at the University of Maryland, many professors and mentors have pushed me to succeed; Professor Mim Rosen has been one of the most influential. Prof. Rosen encouraged me to be active within the dance department. By asking me to serve as a teaching assistant for her improvisation class, she provided an opportunity to learn from her leadership. This was an honor and wonderful experience with a prominent figure within the dance community. With Prof. Rosen's encouragement over the past year, I have had the opportunity to further my knowledge of dance, and I have strengthened my focus as a student at Maryland.

Raquel Christie
As a fourth-grade student, attending Mr. Bobby Johnson's advanced reading class with the fifth-graders always made me feel special. Mr. Johnson encouraged us to discuss more than The Pearl or Tom Sawyer.  In each class, we delved into current events and analyzed world problems. I remember one class in particular in which Mr. Johnson asked us to discuss our opinions about  the ongoing O.J. Simpson trial. Although I was about 10 years old, nervous, and unsure of myself, Mr. Johnson instilled in me the confidence to think critically and to voice my thoughts about the way our country's legal system worked. I could not have learned that confidence from any book.  The skepticism it helped me to acquire has influenced my approach to journalism. On the first day of Journalism 201, Professor Steve Crane scared me. Prof. Crane still scares me, but now I understand that he is stern and unforgiving about work because the world is stern and unforgiving about work. He does not accept incorrect facts, late stories or misspelled names because journalism would not function with incorrect facts, late stories or misspelled names. Prof. Crane not only taught me how to put together a full story on deadline, he also taught me to respect journalism as both a necessary check on power and a powerful mode of citizen expression. Scrutiny of the press grows as media proliferate; responsible journalists must keep the press respectable. I go into professional journalism with deeper understanding because of what I learned in Prof. Crane's classroom.

Claire CiarkowskiClaire E. Ciarkowski
Throughout my education, several teachers and professors influenced my interest in science, including Ms. Lisa Voketitis and Professor William Higgins. In high school, Ms. Voketitis' enthusiasm for chemistry helped me to understand and to appreciate chemistry by making the most mundane reactions, such as how solute saturation worked, interesting. In college, I had the privilege of studying abroad with Prof. Higgins in Belize, Australia and in Alaska. As my advisor and teacher, Prof. Higgins has inspired my passion for chemistry. In class, his enthusiastic attitude makes information memorable, and he provides clear explanations of complex topics. Prof. Higgins also advised me to join the biology departmental honors research group, which allowed me to pursue my interest in research and neuroscience.

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Luisa ColeLuisa Cole
Over the course of my educational career, I have had the opportunity to study with several inspiring mentors. In high school, Ms. Deborah Flynn used her creativity and ingenuity to teach French. Instead of simply teaching from a textbook, Ms. Flynn invented exciting ways to teach us about French culture. Her active interest in the subject matter created enthusiastic students who were eager to learn. As a result, she piqued my interest in traveling the world in order to learn about different cultures firsthand. Professor Michael Olmert demonstrates these same qualities in teaching English literature. Prof. Olmert emphasizes that literature is a vital part of everyday life. At the same time, he inspires me to expand my horizons. Prof. Olmert encouraged me to attend museums and plays as well as to study abroad in England. These excellent teachers demonstrate the tremendous positive influence that great mentors can have on their students.

Alison Anne DanielsAlison Anne Daniels
Ms. Sarah Read, my high school world history teacher, taught me about the Lusitania and how to write a better essay. The most important lesson that she taught me, however, had nothing to do with the world of the past. As my advisor and homeroom teacher, Ms. Read took an interest in my life and provided an outlet for both my academic and personal concerns. When I return to visit her, the first question I usually hear from my favorite teacher is, "So Ali, do you still have too much on your plate? How's that working for you?" Ms. Read taught me that a good teacher has a strong influence inside and outside of the classroom. Professor Leslie Felbain, a faculty member in the Maryland theatre department, encourages me in my performance studies and takes an interest in my growth as an individual. I know that I am always welcome in her office to discuss anything.  She has taught me what it really means to use performance in my life, whether in a professional or educational capacity.

Rachel EliasRachel   E. Elias
When I was a junior at Centennial High School, the class I anticipated the most was Advanced Placement U.S. History with Dr. Will Klingaman. I had heard that his class was both challenging and rewarding. I looked forward to it despite the rigor of my other classes. Everything that I expected became a reality that year: There was never a dull moment in class, and my love for early American history grew stronger. At the University of Maryland, I learned from Professor Laure Brooks both inside and outside of the classroom. As a sophomore in her law enforcement administration class, I benefited from her passion for teaching and her encouragement always to strive for excellence. She also was a great influence behind-the-scenes while I served as her undergraduate teaching assistant during the fall 2006 semester.

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Laura FelgendreggerLaura Felgendreger:
Mr. James Parker, my Advanced Placement biology teacher from Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in New Jersey, helped me to discover my passion for the life sciences. Mr. Parker demonstrated his vast knowledge while making AP biology fun and fascinating. He helped me to choose the University of Maryland based on the merits of its biology program, and he helped me to become confident in a subject in which I would excel. His wonderful teaching and well-structured course led me to discover a strong interest in biology. His challenging and well-constructed tests prepared me for college and to pursue further study in biology. Professor Jens Herberholz, also an excellent mentor, provided me with the opportunity to work in his crustacean  neurobiology and behavior lab. Prof. Herberholz is helping me to plan beyond graduation. Working with him has made me realize the importance of the behavioral aspects of the sciences.  An extremely patient and enthusiastic lab investigator, Prof. Herberholz has helped me to experience the rewards of research.

Adam FischAdam S. Fisch:
A great European and U.S. history teacher, Dr. Terry Chase was an incredible mentor for me in high school. He demonstrated both a concern for students' knowledge of history and a strong interest in their overall well-being. Dr. Chase kept classes lively with catchy phrases and interesting side information. He also emphasized the significance of issues discussed in lecture to contemporary events. I found Dr. Chase's enthusiasm for history contagious.  Always approachable, his concern for students extended outside of the classroom. As the coach of the mock trial team, Dr. Chase pushed us to do our best; he always told us that he was proud of our performances and successes. At the University of Maryland, Professor Raymond St. Leger has been the most influential professor that I have encountered. I took his genetics course in the spring of my sophomore year. After only two weeks of attending his lectures, I knew that I wanted to join his team of researchers.  I found his lectures intriguing, due not only to the interesting subject matter, but also to his inclusion of interesting facts, statistics, and humor.  A natural-born mentor, Prof. St. Leger welcomes questions; we have had many interesting and informative conversations about medicine and other topics. Prof. St. Leger has helped me make very important decisions about my career.

Jennifer HargerJennifer J. Harger:
In her English courses, Ms. Susan Gerber inspired students to express their thoughts. Through discussions and activities that bolstered higher-level thinking and encouraged innovative perspectives, she helped her students to expand their horizon. Ms. Gerber stretched students' creative abilities, having them write poetry, prose, short stories, and essays to develop their literary voices.  By guiding me through creative expression and strengthening my writing skills, Ms. Gerber helped me to become more confident, preparing me for college, my career, and beyond. Professor Christy Tirrell-Corbin's insightful honors seminars also prepared me for a bright future in education and graduate school. She promotes student understanding by selecting informative guest speakers and facilitating in-depth discussions. Over the course of four semesters, Prof. Tirrell-Corbin provides students with a multi-faceted perspective on the No Child Left Behind Act. Following a comprehensive review of this educational legislation, Prof. Tirrell-Corbin actively guides students through the thesis process, ensuring that they remain on track. Due to her continual guidance and support, I will complete my senior thesis feeling accomplished and prepared to make a difference within the field of education.

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Christina HeshmatpourChristina C. Heshmatpour:
I received my first failing grade on an assignment in Dr. Peter Adams' AP U.S. history class. I was the youngest student in the class and by far the most intimidated. I had transferred to a new high school during my sophomore year. Over the next two years I learned from Dr. Adams how to think critically about the world around me and convey that understanding in written assignments. I went from failing that assignment to scoring a 5 on the AP exam. Dr. Adams' passion inspired me to major in government and politics, a field in which I hope eventually to obtain my Ph.D. Professor Wayne McIntosh of the Department of Government and Politics has helped me to translate the knowledge I have gained from my classes to the practical realm. He provided me with an opportunity to participate in graduate-level research, and he served as my mentor for both my Senior Summer Scholars project and honors thesis. As a sophomore in high school, I was a meek little girl unsure about her future; now, I am a confident young woman pursuing her dreams. My two phenomenal mentors helped me to find my calling and my place in the academic world.

Katrina LaCurtsKatrina L. LaCurts:
During high school, I was fortunate to have my father, Mr. Carvel LaCurts, as my math teacher. I was impressed consistently with his ability to explain theorems to students possessing varying levels of mathematical skill. He always used the perfect example to illustrate a difficult concept, and clearly demonstrated his continuing fascination with his subject.  My father's love of mathematics inspired me to pursue the field in college. At the University of Maryland, I had the good fortune to take an advanced algorithms course with Professor William Gasarch. His enthusiasm for the subject led me to pursue an independent research project under his supervision. During my work on this project, Prof. Gasarch has taught me the importance of truly understanding a problem before trying to solve it. Prof. Gasarch has exposed me to concepts in mathematics and computer science that I would not have encountered otherwise, and his teaching has encouraged me to pursue a career in theoretical computer science.

Daniel LevyDaniel Levy:
Ms. Jean Edwards, my second-grade teacher, played a significant role in molding me into the successful student that I am today. As far back as I can recall, she encouraged, guided, and challenged her students. Her support for and commitment to students never wavered. I attribute most of my accomplishments to the strong personal and educational foundation that she helped to build. I did not encounter another teacher, who motivated me as strongly as Ms. Edwards, until I entered college. As a finance major at the University of Maryland, I was very fortunate to have Professor Susan White as my instructor for advanced finance. By providing informative lectures and analyses of real-world case studies, Prof. White engaged the class in interesting financial discussions. She has contributed the most to my college education and has prepared me for a successful career within the financial field after I graduate.

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Daniel MarcinDaniel S. Marcin:
During my junior and senior years of high school, I took AP calculus with Mr. Ron Fish. Mr. Fish is one of the most enthusiastic teachers I have ever known; his class helped me to realize that I would major in mathematics. Mr. Fish showed confidence in his students and taught them to realize their potential. I also had the pleasure of knowing Mr. Fish as an outstanding Kairos senior retreat leader. Professor James Schafer has been the most influential and the most difficult math professor that I have encountered in college. Prof. Schafer pushes students to do their best. Though his class was very difficult for me, Prof. Schafer helped me to learn more about my capabilities than my limitations. Prof. Schafer shows a genuine interest in working with undergraduates. His door is always open, and he is always happy to help a student. Though I had a "humbling experience" in abstract algebra, I learned more in this math class than any other, and I look forward to another semester in his class.

Broole MayhewBrooke M. Mayhew:
Ms. Leslie Shear is a dedicated kindergarten teacher who was the first to encourage me to have a love for learning. I received the "most enthusiastic" award from Ms. Shear when I was only five years old; ever since, I have had a passion for learning. I chose to pursue Ms. Shear's profession in order to motivate young students in the future. When I visit her classroom now, I notice the effort and organization behind her lesson plans and the stimulating activities she creates for her students. I admire Ms. Shear's drive and commitment, and I hope that one day my students will see me in the same positive light in which I view her. At the University of Maryland, Professor Jane Benesch, who teaches the course "Creative Experiences for Young Students," truly has inspired me.  Prof. Benesch demonstrates numerous ways to engage students academically, while promoting the development of innovative thinking. Through hands-on activities, she has inspired me to plan similar lessons for my future students.

Jessica MilcetichJessica Milcetich:
Some of my best teachers taught me more about life than they did about a particular subject. In high school, I took freshman biology with Mr. Thomas Shive. While I learned about plants and animals, the most important lessons he taught were not found in textbooks. I learned never to second-guess myself, that my instincts were probably right, and that if I worked hard, I would succeed. When I came to the University of Maryland, I was lucky to take a class with Professor Penny Bender Fuchs. She challenged me in my first news reporting class, and as a result, I double and triple check every story I write to ensure that it is error-free. She also encouraged me to shoot for the stars when it came to applying for internships, never letting me settle when she thought I could do better. Due to the encouragement I received from both of these excellent teachers, I have grown as a person. I am truly honored to have had the opportunity to learn from Mr. Shive and Prof. Fuchs.

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Kathleen MillerKathleen L. Miller:
I have been very lucky to meet several inspirational teachers in my academic career. In high school, my Spanish 3 and AP Spanish teacher, Mr. Eduardo Polón, had the greatest influence on me. Mr. Polón's passion for teaching Spanish helped his students to develop competence in public speaking and cultural awareness. One of my best memories of high school was "Paella con Polón." This annual dinner brought our class together over a traditional Spanish meal and movie. At the University of Maryland, Professor Charles Hulten has had the greatest influence on me. Prof. Hulten provided insight into careers in economics and inspired me to pursue a career in that field. He also supported my first economic research endeavors, sponsoring me in a two-semester independent study and allowing me to assist in his latest research.


Thea NielsenThea J. Nielsen:
Mr. Patrick Smith, my orchestra conductor in middle and high school, taught me many valuable lessons. He inspired students to strive harder, keep commitments, and complete daunting tasks. Due to his excellent musical skills and his ability to connect with students, string players throughout Massachusetts knew him as one of the finest conductors in the area. Mr. Smith related to people of different ages, backgrounds, abilities, and interests. He brought out the best in each student and in each orchestra he conducted. He motivated students to set and meet high standards while having fun. Professor William Rivera, of the Institute of Applied Agriculture, has been another great mentor. His depth of knowledge and his graciousness amaze current and former students.  As a research assistant to Prof. Rivera during my sophomore year, I learned about his research and experiences abroad. He taught me always to do a thorough and excellent job when completing a task, whether or not excellence was required.  Prof. Rivera's outstanding work has inspired me to learn more, to seek unique opportunities, and to build relationships with people.

Stephanie PetilloStephanie M. Petillo:
Mr. Bill Noeth taught my 11th-grade honors course on trigonometry and analytical geometry. His enthusiasm inspired many students, and his approach to teaching new concepts relied on interactions with the class. This changed the way I looked at math, making it more interesting. Mr. Noeth inspired me to work hard while enjoying what I do. He also taught me the importance of understanding the method behind solving a problem. I applied these techniques throughout high school and now apply them to my engineering courses. Professor Mary Bowden of the Department of Aerospace Engineering has served as my mentor for the past three years. Since my first semester at the University of Maryland, Prof. Bowden has served as the project advisor for the Balloon Payload Program. I have also been her student in two engineering classes. Her door is always open to students, both as a professor and advisor. She has helped me to balance my class load, enabling me to major in engineering and minor in Italian. Prof. Bowden has always encouraged me to do my best and to follow my interests as they have shifted and developed throughout my college career.

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Anne PowellAnne Powell:
Mr. Peter McAdams' enthusiasm and humor made me feel welcome in his challenging sixth-grade English class. He helped me to acquire a more advanced vocabulary and to improve my reading comprehension. He taught our class the importance of clear writing by acting out  hilariously the flawed instructions we wrote for his "how to throw a ball" assignment. As a result of his class, I continued to pursue my interest in English during high school and eventually enrolled as an English major at the University of Maryland. During my freshman year, Professor Michael Olmert helped me to direct my enthusiasm by inviting me to join a group of students that studied and performed plays outside of class. I found it inspiring to be part of such an intellectually curious cluster of students, and thrilling to be among upperclassmen and alumni. Two years later, Prof. Olmert guided me through contemporary theatrical works when he recommended a play that is now the subject of my senior thesis project.

Jennifer ThackstonJennifer Thackston:
Throughout my education, I have been fortunate to have a number of inspiring mentors. Ms. Dawn Barbe and Professor Sue Kogut have encouraged my love of learning and helped me to develop leadership skills. Ms. Barbe was my physical education teacher during the three years that I spent at Monocacy Middle School. As a result of her teaching, I became fascinated with physical fitness, living a healthy lifestyle, and encouraging others to do the same. As a high school student, I had the good fortune to spend a semester teaching alongside her. Prof. Kogut has inspired me since my first class with her at the University of Maryland. I admire her enthusiasm as an instructor and her passion for promoting fitness among our youth. She has provided me with professional opportunities at the state and national levels. Most of all, Prof. Kogut has given me the confidence to succeed as an educator.

Scott WatsonScott T. Watson:
Mr. James Barton, my advanced placement physics teacher, showed me a path toward engineering and helped me to develop a love for learning. His annual Rube Goldberg projects challenged students to think critically about complicated design challenges. These projects require students to accomplish a "simple" task using a minimum number of simple machines in a creative way. My project helped me to realize my love for engineering. Mr. Barton also encouraged me to give a presentation at the Maryland Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. This experience exposed me to some of the brightest students, studying science and engineering, in the state. Professor Gilmer Blankenship first introduced me to the broad field of signals and systems research through his class on numerical techniques in engineering. His emphasis on real-world problem solving intrigued me. At the end of the semester, I felt a sense of accomplishment when I reflected on the MATLAB code I had written as a direct result of the theory I learned in class. Currently, Prof. Blankenship is mentoring me in the development of a robotic sensory system capable of indicating the direction of people using auditory clues.

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Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars Program
Office of Undergraduate Studies