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Merrill Presidential Scholars Program

The 2012-2013 Merrill Presidential Scholars

View Images from the 2012 Luncheon


Ayoyinka Akingbade 
Robert H. Smith School of Business

Janna Domico 
College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Shane Ratterman  
College of Arts and Humanities

Joshua Thompson 
A. James Clark School of Engineering

Sam Allen 
School of Public Health

Joshua D. Fendrick 
Philip Merrill College of Journalism

Matthew Rich 
A. James Clark School of Engineering

Janina Vaitkus 
A. James Clark School of Engineering

Lyndsay Nicole Ames  
College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Susan Kelly 
Undergraduate Studies

Katherine Richard 
College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Laura Williams  
College of Arts and Humanities

Mandeep Singh Bedi 
College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences

Thao Khuc 
School of Public Health

Sebastian G. Serrano 
College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences

Kwabena Yamoah 
College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences

Nava Behnam Shabahang 
College of Arts and Humanities

Charlotte Kiernan 
College of Education

Sarah Singer  
College of Arts and Humanities

Chelsea Yin
Robert H. Smith School of Business

Hayley Brown 
Robert H. Smith School of Business

Ori J. Lieberman 
College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences

Zachary Sivo 
College of Behavioral and Social Sciences


Zachary Cohen 
College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Abraham Murrell  
School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation




Past Merrill Presidential Scholars

The 2011-2012 Merrill Scholars (Pictures and Statements)
View Images from the 2011 Luncheon

The 2010-2011 Merrill Scholars (Pictures and Statements)
View Images from the 2010 Luncheon

The 2009-2010 Merrill Scholars (Pictures and Statements)
View Images from the 2009 Luncheon

The 2008-2009 Merrill Scholars
Pictures and Statements and Luncheon Slideshow

For a print version of the Scholars' statement and pictures.

View an image slideshow from the 2008 Merrill Presidential Scholars Luncheon
The Merrill Presidential Scholars were joined by high school teachers and university faculty at a luncheon honoring the students and their teachers.

The 2007-2008 Merrill Scholars
Pictures and statements.  

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

Pictures from the 2007 Merrill Presidential Scholars Luncheon
The Merrill Presidential Scholars were joined by high school teachers and university faculty at a luncheon honoring the students and their teachers.

The 2006-2007 Merrill Scholars
Pictures and statements.  
Pictures from the 2006 Merrill Presidential Scholars Luncheon
The Merrill Presidential Scholars were joined by high school teachers and university faculty at a luncheon honoring the students and their teachers.

The 2005-2006 Merrill Scholars
Pictures and statements.
Pictures from the 2005 Merrill Presidential Scholars Luncheon

The Merrill Presidential Scholars were joined by high school teachers and university faculty at a luncheon honoring the students and their teachers. Here are two slideshows of images from the event for you to view.

The 2004-2005 Merrill Scholars
Pictures and statements.

The 2012-2013 Merrill Presidential Scholars

Ayoyinka AkingbadeAyoyinka Akingbade 

Mrs. Gladys Montgomery has been a very influential person in my life. As the coordinator of the Academy of Finance program at Charles Herbert Flowers High School she helped me find my true passion, accounting. Not only was she an amazing teacher, but she constantly sought ways to challenge her students and prepare them for college. She provided me with the opportunity to intern at the Department of Commerce during my junior year in high school. As a result of the internship I was able to have my first real-world experience in a corporate environment. Mrs. Montgomery had a genuine care for her students and worked tirelessly to ensure their future success. Had it not been for her encouragement I would not be where I am today. Another individual who has been a mentor to me is Dr. Patricia Cleveland. Dr. Cleveland has supported me throughout my college career. As the founder of the STARS Ambassadors program she helped ease my transition to college by assigning me a mentor (an upperclassman accounting major) and providing me with resources to help me succeed while in the Smith School. Dr. Cleveland has made a tremendous impact on my life, and I truly appreciate all of her efforts. 

Professor Cleveland was named a Faculty Mentor by 2004–05, 2010–11, and 2011–2012 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars.

Sam Allen Sam Allen 

Few individuals in my life have imbued such passion in me like Mrs. Anileen Gray. Mrs. Gray taught me for seven years in middle and high school, ranging from courses in pre-algebra and honors chemistry, to AP calculus and physics. It was solely because of her that I found my passion for education. I loved the subjects she taught me, but what I loved more was her style of teaching and her dedication to both her students and her profession. I looked forward to going to each of her classes, and I learned the fundamentals of math and science that propelled me through my freshmen year in college. It was because of Mrs. Gray that I knew I wanted to explore the realm of education when I got to college, and I did so as a teaching assistant for organic chemistry and by becoming a departmental tutor. I would have never learned of my desire to teach if it weren't for Mrs. Gray. When I began my junior year at Maryland, I encountered Dr. James Watson in the biochemistry department. Aside from being one of my favorite instructors at Maryland, Dr. Watson taught me valuable lessons that have helped me begin to forge my academic future after undergraduate school. He helped me realize that education is not limited to grade school, and that I am capable and willing to teach at any level. He also taught me that education is both everlasting and important, and that achieving a doctorate degree because one wants to teach is not a bad thing, in fact, it is commendable. It is because of these two individuals that I was able to shape my past, and that I have the knowledge and tools that will hopefully shape my future with the most success possible.

Lyndsay Nicole Ames Lyndsay Nicole Ames 
I am fascinated by nutrition because of its often misunderstood relation to health, and I am honored to have a significant impact in the lives of others. I enjoy embracing every opportunity to understand the science connecting health and nutrition, and to broaden my skills in relating to people. My Harford Technical High School AP biology teacher, Mr. Ethan Jennings, began the cultivation that directed me to this career. Mr. Jennings has a deep passion for biology, and he modeled the importance of continued learning throughout one's career. I was challenged and treated as a responsible adult. Mr. Jennings' curiosity about the subject and ability to connect concepts to life fueled my passion for science. Dr. Margaret Udahogora, my University of Maryland nutrition assessment professor, continued this cultivation. Dr. Udahogora has encouraged me to take on challenges in a new way. She is very generous, and remains positive throughout our class. She has extensive nutritional knowledge and never passes up an opportunity for further growth. Mr. Jennings and Dr. Udahogora have, beyond a doubt, shaped who I am and how successful I will be as a dietitian.

Mandeep Singh Bedi  Mandeep Singh Bedi 

In high school I took statistics and calculus with Mr. David Stein, but I learned a lot more than just math in his classes. Mr. Stein believed in encouraging students to actively involve themselves in the learning process. He would remind us of this every class by having us say “SELF” out loud every time we had to ask ourselves, “How do I solve this problem.” As silly as this seems, it taught me that the key to learning is to take new ideas and make them your own and that understanding happens at the level of oneself, and shouldn't depend on a textbook or a teacher. Mr. Stein was also an aficionado of all kinds of puzzles. I found his passion for these challenging, but fun, diversions infectious, and this inspiration still helps me face every challenge with a smile. At the University of Maryland, Professor James Schafer has been another great presence to be around. I have now taken four math classes with Prof. Schafer and each one was better than the last. What I like about his approach to teaching is that he appeals to “mathematical intuition” to motivate what he's about to say so that students can understand the material easily and not just superficially. I've often been able to talk with Prof. Schafer about what math courses to consider, or even just about how my classes are going. He has always been interested and easy to talk to. I really appreciate having had these phenomenal mentors guiding me, and hope that other students are also inspired by their teachers.

Professor Schafer was named a Faculty Mentor by a 2007–08 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar.

Nava Behnam ShabahangNava Behnam Shabahang 

My high school philosophy teacher, Mr. Robert Thomas, had a passion for learning and a wealth of knowledge that was awe-inspiring. As a lecturer, Mr. Thomas was not only eloquent and engaging, but extremely humorous and entertaining. In class, he deeply respected every student, showing an active interest in each of their opinions. Mr. Thomas encouraged everyone to speak their minds and to think critically about their most basic assumptions. I admired the way he imparted philosophical views objectively, rather than infusing his personal biases. He inspired and nurtured my passion for philosophy and for questioning the world in which I live. Discussions with him, both inside and outside the classroom, became a source of intellectual joy that continually sparked my curiosity. These enlightening discussions still influence my current musings about who I want to be and how I hope to make a difference. As I transitioned into my first semester at the University of Maryland my dance professor, Adriane Fang, soon became an important figure in fostering my academic, artistic, and personal growth. Professor Fang invested incredible amounts of time and energy into providing me with continual guidance and support. For her unconditional willingness to help me as a student, I am extremely grateful. Despite her extensive education and experience in dance, Professor Fang approaches every learning situation with humility and avid curiosity. Rather than allowing me to settle with my present knowledge and capabilities, she urges me to find new ways to improve, and more importantly, new ways to perceive. She continually reminds me that learning is a lifelong process that I have only begun to explore.  

Mr. Thomas was named a Teacher Mentor by 2006–07 and 2009–10 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars.

Hayley Brown Hayley Brown 

I have been fortunate to have numerous mentors throughout my school life. Mrs. Godkin, my introduction to business teacher in my freshman year of high school, sparked my interest in pursuing business as a major and career. She was amazing at giving constructive feedback, pushing, challenging and engaging me inside and outside the classroom. Without her help and support I would not have grown to be the same engaged and passionate student I am today. Professor Harms, the faculty head for Design and Innovation Fellows, has been a very strong mentor throughout my college career. As an international student I faced difficulty finding jobs and pursuing internships. Professor Harms was very instrumental in helping me decide what field I wanted to pursue and how I could get there. I was fortunate enough to study abroad in London with Professor Harms, which opened my eyes to a different culture, way of learning, and career path I strive to pursue. I have thoroughly enjoyed having Professor Harms as my professor and consider her a key mentor in my college career.

Professor Harms was named a Faculty Mentor by a 200607 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar.

Zachary Cohen Zachary Cohen 

Without a doubt, I owe a lot of the academic and personal success that I have been able to enjoy to my teachers and mentors, both at Towson High School and at the University of Maryland. In particular, Mr. Curt Alford's dedication to students in extracurricular activities, ranging from the It's Academic! club where I learned more trivia than any person should ever know, to the Sidelights yearbook where he trusted me to be the editor in chief, was invaluable in my education. Because of his dedication I learned a great deal and gained many skills that would be extremely useful throughout high school and in college. At Maryland, Professor Spivey has, in his constitutional law classes, done something that only a few professors have successfully done—challenged me to think critically and reevaluate my own beliefs. Professor Spivey goes above and beyond virtually every professor that I can remember to make himself available to students for help or to simply talk about the subject matter at hand. Professor Spivey's willingness to actually challenge me in class and point out flaws in my arguments has, without a doubt, confirmed my long-held ambitions for law school and has made me more consistent and better able to articulate my own beliefs.

Janna Domico Janna Domico 

Mr. DeRose was a very influential teacher from the moment I stepped into high school. I took a history class with him during my freshman year and he made sure to challenge me and hold me to my full potential. While other teachers took it easy on students, due to the new transition from middle school to high school, Mr. DeRose did not have that ideology. Instead, he treated us like we were adults and made sure we worked for our grade. There was never a dull moment in his class. He was very energetic and engaging, and I built such a great relationship with him that, during my senior year, I was able to serve as a student aid in his AP U.S. history class. Mr. DeRose was a memorable mentor for me during my high school years who helped me build a great work ethic, and for that, I am forever grateful. During my time here at Maryland, Dr. Brooks has been nothing but kind, warm, and welcoming. I can truly say that she has become my mentor and has made my experience in the Criminal Justice major pleasant. Not only is she kind, but she is organized, prompt, and most importantly, a very effective teacher. I have had the privilege of taking two classes with her, both of which have been etched in my memory. Dr. Brooks is a very giving teacher who clearly wants all of her students to succeed. Having such a positive energy emanate off a teacher is very motivating and rewarding for me as a student.

Professor Brooks was named a Faculty Mentor by 2005–06, 2006–07, and 2008–09 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars.

Joshua D. FendrickJoshua D. Fendrick 

Mr. Galante was the most demanding teacher I had in high school, but his classes were also the most rewarding. On a daily basis, he had an incredible ability to make history come alive. Even more importantly, Mr. Galante was always able to show the relevance of historical lessons to our modern lives. I distinctly remember walking out of his classroom each day with an understanding of why the historical lesson he had just taught was specifically meaningful to society in the present. Whether it was mock elections and trials, or lectures, Mr. Galante's class was always lively and filled with passionate debate and discussion. There was never a dull moment in a Galante-led history class, which is just one of the many reasons why his class was so enjoyable, meaningful, and memorable to me. Ms. Penny Bender Fuchs has been a mentor for me since the day I arrived at Maryland. She has been the professor of three journalism classes I've taken, beginning with an introductory journalism class my first semester, a reporting class my second semester, and a journalism ethics class my fourth semester. I will always credit Ms. Fuchs as the person who transformed me from a kid who wanted to be a journalist to someone with the actual skills, tools, and knowledge needed to succeed in the profession. Ms. Fuchs taught me how to consume news like a journalist, write like a journalist, and act like a journalist. Additionally, Ms. Fuchs has been someone I could trust and talk to throughout my entire time at Maryland. I will be forever thankful for the impact and support she has provided me during my college career.

Professor Fuchs was named a Faculty Mentor by Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars in 2005–06, 2007–08, twice in 2008–09 and 2010–11, and again in 2011–12.

Susan Kelly Susan Kelly 
I was lucky to have had amazing teachers in high school, and Mr. Warrenfeltz stands out as one of the most influential of those teachers. He taught my eleventh grade IB Standard Level Math class and my AP Calculus BC class. He's a brilliant teacher and also truly cares about his students and their well-being. Through the math classes he taught me to see large, complex ideas in smaller, simpler ways. He also taught me to be light-hearted. I hope to one day teach in a high school, and I hope I can be for other students what he was for me. Dr. Joan Burton has this incredible faith in me as a person and as a student, and she is always willing to help me, whether it's finding internships, preparing for my classes, or brainstorming for my thesis paper. She's very giving. When I walk into her office I know she is genuinely interested in me and she wants to be there for me in whatever capacity she can. I've been so fortunate to have been taught and mentored by both Mr. Warrenfeltz and Dr. Burton. They've been very encouraging and influential in my life.

Thao KhucThao Khuc

I have had the honor of meeting so many wonderful people throughout my educational career. However, two people that made the most impact on my educational career thus far are Mrs. Seidman and Dr. Howard. In elementary school, Mrs. Seidman made school feel like a second home. Talking to Mrs. Seidman everyday gave me a new insight to life and made me realize that there is so much more to the world than just books and exams. Mrs. Seidman opened my eyes to a new world of imagination and creativity, and illustrated the importance of being friendly and open minded when working with others. When I came to college in 2008, as an undeclared major, I had the honor of taking Dr. Howard's HLTH130 class. Taking this class with Dr. Howard created a new and innate interest in public health. Dr. Howard made me realize how vital public health is to our everyday life, and after taking this class, I declared my major as a Community Health major. Dr. Howard makes it a habit to establish a relationship with each and every one of her students. To this day, I am still in contact with Mrs. Seidman and Dr. Howard, and am honored to have had the chance to be a part of their lives.

Professor Howard was named a Faculty Mentor by 2006–07 and 2011–12 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars.

Charlotte Kiernan Charlotte Kiernan 
Upon considering those who have had a significant impact on my education thus far, Ms. Maria Diaz is the first to come to mind. A fixture of the Foreign Language Department at St. Andrew's Episcopal School, Ms. Diaz served as an inspiration for me from the beginning of my substantive language learning years. Well before my time in her Spanish IV and AP Spanish classrooms, she provided motivation for me to immerse myself in language learning, so that one day I could be one of her advanced students at the AP level. Once I became her student I was amazed by her devotion to and serious expectations for her students. Not only did Ms. Diaz serve as an inspiration for me in the context of the classroom, she also provided me with support as my advisor during my senior year of high school. While her academic style is marked by demanding, yet reasonable expectations, her personal interactions with students are what make her a remarkable mentor, as she regards both students and advisees with fierce loyalty and a strong sense of advocacy. I have found similar commitment to students from Professor Ana Acedo of the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. While I enjoyed her class on Advanced Spanish Grammar and Composition, it was within the context of her Spanish Phonetics course that her enthusiasm for developing students' knowledge of the Spanish language was truly infectious.  As a Secondary Education and Spanish double major it is my goal to become a Spanish teacher, and I can only hope to be as effective and motivating as these two mentors.

Ori J. LiebermanOri J. Lieberman 
How do you learn to learn? This may sound like a ridiculous question but it's really important as you progress through school. The best teachers I have had throughout my life have been those that have not worried about the material that they had to cover or the subject that they were most interested in, but instead focused on the intellectual pursuit of knowledge, critical thinking, and the fun that can come from learning. Mrs. Laura Frank taught me Jewish History in eleventh grade. For the first time in any course I had taken, primary sources were used to explore the evolution of medieval and colonial Jewish society. This opened up a whole new way to think about the facts that I read in a textbook or heard about in class. For the first time I was able to absorb information and analyze it for myself, without reading about them from tertiary sources. After I came to Maryland I joined Dr. Vincent Lee's microbial genetics lab. Dr. Lee did not care whether I loved to study bacteria or not. Instead he wanted to make sure I could ask a question, frame it in an answerable way, and interpret the results of an experiment. He has made sure that I do not just know about science, but I know how to do science. Both Mrs. Frank and Dr. Lee have shown me different ways to learn and, without them, I would be neither the student nor the person that I am today.

Abraham Murrell Abraham Murrell 
During my time at the Visual Art Center at Albert Einstein High School, I was fortunate enough to learn under the tutelage of Ms. Walsh. Together, with Mr. Piechocinski, she made the Visual Art Center into the excellent learning environment it is today. They taught students everything they knew about the visual arts and challenged me in every media including painting, drawing, art history, and sculpture. Ms. Walsh always pushed me to work to the best of my ability. In my final semesters of high school she helped me create a portfolio concentrated on art related to architecture. Ms. Walsh always offered critique and encouragement when I needed it most. Her guidance extended out of the classroom into all aspects of my life. She helped me with college applications and wrote recommendations that led me to the University of Maryland's School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. As a pre-architecture student Professor Lester Escobal was influential in helping me learn how to draw architecturally, and also helped me apply to the Architecture School. He has taught me more about architectural drawing and design than any textbook could. He pushed my architectural design understanding and helped me build upon what I learned at the Visual Art Center. Without these mentors, and many other important teachers, I would not be where I am today, and for that I am thankful. 

Shane RattermanShane Ratterman 
Two mentors stand out in my memory who have had a lasting impact on my approach to learning. The first is Brother Charles Filberg, my high school German teacher. Br. Charles taught me throughout all four years of high school, and in a school full of excellent teachers, he stood out as an instructor, mentor, and friend. Br. Charles engaged me and my classmates in class constantly, and could be humorous, as well as stern when necessary. What was always apparent was that he wanted each of us to achieve our full potential. I didn't work hard in order to get a good grade; I worked hard because he expected it and I didn't want to let him down. When I think of my high school experience, I always think of Br. Charles. Since I've come to the University of Maryland, Professor Rose-Marie Oster has been a great influence on me. I've enjoyed her classes very much, and her teaching style is more akin to a graduate discussion course than a typical undergraduate class. She is effective at getting her points across and teaching a subject she is very knowledgeable and passionate about, and she does it by involving the students every day in discussions on the material. Both of these teachers have been very influential throughout my educational career, and I am truly glad I've had them in my life.

Matthew Rich Matthew Rich 

Mr. Sankey was my high school math teacher and theater director for four years. He loves calculus and is one of its finest teachers. In fact, Mr. Sankey is the best teacher I have ever had in any subject. And yet, on the list of my takeaways from his class, my knowledge of calculus is nowhere near the top. While the courses that he teaches are entitled “Calculus AB” and “Calculus BC,” the lessons he teaches are about life: what is important in life, who is important in life, and most of all, how to enjoy life. I distinctly remember Mr. Sankey's Teacher of the Year speech at my final graduation rehearsal, during which he sought to define the word “rich.” Certainly this was an appropriate message to an auditorium full of soon-to-be graduates hoping to embark on lucrative careers. His message, however, was that wealth cannot be measured in dollars. Wealth is simply the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of relationships cultivated along the way. I can confidently say that, aside from my parents, Mr. Sankey is the most positive adult influence in my life. My first class with Dr. Bowden was statics, which I took during my very first semester here at Maryland. Having a professor who genuinely cares for every one of her students was refreshing, especially in the first semester of college, which has the potential to be quite overwhelming. “Don't stress!” That is the trademark advice that she gives her class before a quiz, an exam, or even a heavier than normal homework load. As overused as her advice may have been, it was always nice to hear in a tense situation, and it is something that I have carried with me. Since taking statics, I have had the privilege of taking Dr. Bowden's aerospace structures course, and working as a teaching fellow for the same course. Much like Mr. Sankey, Dr. Bowden has a way of putting everything in perspective and showing her students what will really matter ten or twenty years down the road.

Professor Bowden was named a Faculty Mentor by a 2007
–08 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar.
Mr. Sankey was named a Teacher Mentor by a 2006–07 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar.

Katherine RichardKatherine Richard 
Mrs. Mattingly has been a legendary teacher at my high school since before I arrived, and I'm sure that she will continue to be one even after her retirement. She taught my sophomore year English class, and sometimes it felt like the class was one year-long exercise in writing and literature boot camp. It was hard work and Mrs. Mattingly didn't pull any punches. She was known for drawing a sad face (complete with tears) in the margins alongside a weak part of an essay, but that just made the happy faces on successful papers an ever greater accomplishment. I learned so much about writing in this class, and remember being surprised at the end of my sophomore year by how much I had improved in just nine months. Mrs. Mattingly's class also opened me up to many new writers and types of literature that I still love today. Throughout the rest of my time in high school Mrs. Mattingly was always willing to chat or offer advice. I am so grateful to have had her as a teacher and a mentor throughout high school. Her teachings still impact every paper I write in college, and I cherish the memories of the time I spent in her class. Dr. Hadden taught a class about international environmental policies, and it was through this course that I became interested in sustainable development. She, and her class, helped me realize that as hard as it is for countries to come to any type of policy agreement regarding the environment, it is even harder for a developing nation to be a part of the process. Though I have wanted to be involved in environmental policy and justice work since I began college, Dr. Hadden's class introduced to me as an option, not just the idea of sustainable development, but also the notion that we need to reevaluate what development means. She has also been very supportive as an advisor in the environmental science and policy department.

Sebatian G. SerranoSebastian G. Serrano

As an aspiring physics teacher, I look to my physics teachers not only to learn academic material but also to gain insight on how to communicate complicated material to a diverse audience. In high school my AP physics teacher, Mr. Richard Cavanaugh, made sure that the classroom was a place where students could learn about science, motivate themselves, and function as a community. As one of his students, I was part of a team of AP students who were interested in learning about physics. We worked together and developed the critical thinking skills necessary for a college environment. Mr. Cavanaugh taught through encouragement and sincerity, and the results were an entire class of future physicists, engineers, and teachers. At the University of Maryland, Dr. Christopher Lobb demonstrated genuine passion for physics and for effective teaching. I still remember on the first day of class he stressed to everyone that he wanted "no casualties." Every student could succeed if they attended class, did their work, and prepared for exams. It was that simple. He knew exactly how to structure his class to get the most out of his students. Dr. Lobb took so much interest in my desire to become a high school physics teacher that he arranged a private meeting to discuss my career aspirations in detail, and has since been one of my strongest supporters. I am thankful for the unique opportunity to take classes under the instruction of Mr. Cavanaugh and Dr. Lobb, and I hope to have their level of success as a teacher.

Sarah Singer Sarah Singer 

When I told Mrs. Brothman that I was writing my college application essay about sex education I expected her to be a little shocked and to kindly suggest that we brainstorm a new topic. Instead, she encouraged my nontraditional thinking and spent hours helping me find words that best expressed my ideas. I should not have been surprised. Earlier in my high school career, Mrs. Brothman had encouraged me to submit poems to the Howard County Poetry and Literary Society (for which I won an award) and wrote a recommendation that earned me acceptance to the Young Writer's Workshop at Bard College at Simon's Rock. Mrs. Brothman inspired me to keep writing when I entered the University of Maryland, unsure about what and who I wanted to become. At Maryland, Dr. Jessica Enoch has challenged me to learn more about areas that interest me—sex education included. She has helped me gain confidence as a scholarly writer and researcher, urging me to view archival work as a "zen experience" and showing me just how exciting research can be. I am indebted to her for helping me realize that I want to become an English professor. With the guidance of these incredible mentors I know that I will succeed!

Zachary Sivo Zachary Sivo 
Mr. Kaplan was my tenth grade AP Government and Politics teacher who instituted a no-nonsense style of teaching that motivated me to create a regular study regimen and take effective, concise notes, while spending more time at home learning about American government. His class had higher standards than others, but he motivated me to do my best for myself. The infectious enthusiasm for politics and occasional humor that he brought to the classroom every morning made learning about Supreme Court precedence, presidents, and the Constitution a positive and memorable experience. Mr. Kaplan's dedication to teaching prepared me to meet the demands of successive AP courses while spurring my interest in my current major, Government and Politics. As a freshman, I enrolled in Dr. Dwyer's Supreme Law Honors seminar. I would later find that the course content would not be the only thing I would take away from this course. Dr. Dwyer knew that her class was comprised of many freshmen who may have been overwhelmed with the transition to college academics. For essays, she edited countless drafts, providing detailed suggestions to help students improve their analytical thinking and writing skills. The discussion format of the course allowed Dr. Dwyer to share her expertise with us while engaging us in discussion on morality and legality so that we could form our own opinions on the daily topic. In addition to exploring my beliefs, I found that Dr. Dwyer's door was always open. I was able to talk to Dr. Dwyer both after class and also by dropping by her office, sometimes unannounced. No matter what deadline she was trying to meet she always found time to connect with students, offer them advice, and share a laugh over life's experiences. Both Mr. Kaplan and Dr. Dwyer have been more than two of my dedicated teachers, they have been life mentors.

Joshua ThompsonJoshua Thompson 
Learning is an ongoing process. It is different for each individual, changing based on the interactions we have and the choices each of us make. Learning should never be taken for granted as it is fundamental to the development of well-rounded, exceptional individuals. It is only through exceptional teachers and mentors that learning can become more than developing a new skill set. With the right people to guide us, learning can show us something new about ourselves. I have been incredibly fortunate to have two such individuals in my life. Ms. Lakeisha O'Keiffe, my high school chemistry teacher, has a unique teaching style that truly ignited my passion for science. Through her subtle encouragement, learning became something that I enjoyed doing. Ms. O'Keiffe is always willing to spend time with her students, whether it is working on an assignment or chatting about life. It is a rare day when less than five students are hanging around her classroom or office after school and in between class. Her friendly attitude, care for her students, and love of chemistry will always have a lasting impact on my life. When I sat down to interview for a research assistant position in Dr. John Fisher's tissue engineering lab, I knew I had found a great mentor. Through his patience, encouragement, and dedication to his students and research he has shown me that learning extends beyond the classroom. His head-on approach of tackling problems and optimism has taught me the importance of perseverance. I am lucky to have had such incredible role models and educators in my life, and I know my experiences will continue to be better because of their impact.

Janina Vaitkus Janina Vaitkus 

I am extremely grateful to have had wonderful mentors throughout my academic career. In high school, I loved being on our school's F.I.R.S.T. Robotics Team, but wasn't quite sure how to continue with my interests once I graduated. Mr. Sackett joined our team as head mentor towards the end of my high school years, but really helped me figure out where my true passions were and what steps I needed to take after high school. His love of engineering was so clear from the very beginning that I was truly inspired, and his talent and ability to teach us new principles got me even more excited and enthusiastic about engineering. He always supported and encouraged me to love what I pursue, and the knowledge I gained from working with him (both academic engineering knowledge and real world knowledge) played a tremendous role in my decision to pursue bioengineering at the University of Maryland. Once I got here and started to narrow down my interests within the broad field of bioengineering, I proposed a research topic for my Gemstone program, and was so incredibly lucky to have Dr. Helim Aranda-Espinoza agree to be our mentor. As he helped us with our team research, he also took me under his wing in his Cell Biophysics Lab and has allowed me to perform my own individual research. He has taught me so much about the research process—how to think critically about experiments, how to troubleshoot, how to push through  difficult times to get that one moment of glorious success. Additionally, he has been a tremendous source of guidance and support in everything I do, even outside of the lab. Both Mr. Sackett and Dr. Aranda have really laid the foundation for me to continue to improve as my career moves forward, and I am forever grateful for everything that they have done for me!

Laura WilliamsLaura Williams 
Throughout grade school my teachers encouraged me to do well academically and enjoy learning. As my teacher, advisor, and coach, Kelly Ahearn pushed me to be a better person outside of the classroom. She taught me how to be a successful leader and how to take responsibility for my actions. Through the smiles and tears, Ms. Ahearn always kept my best interests in mind. She was a great mentor and friend to have throughout high school. Dr. Jo Paoletti has been my academic advisor in Maryland's American Studies department since freshmen year. She is the type of faculty member that every student hopes to build a relationship with. Whether it's discussing scheduling or in class, Dr. Paoletti always takes the time to get to know her students' interests and aspirations. I am very grateful to have her to advise me through my summer research and senior thesis this coming year. Both of my mentors are very important to me and are two people I won't forget.

Kwabena YamoahKwabena Yamoah
The two most influential people in my academic and research experience are Mrs. Irene Khaksari and Dr. June Kwak. Mrs. Khaksari was my counselor at Wilde Lake High School. Without her guidance, I would not have been accepted into the University of Maryland, College Park. In 2006, when I moved from Ghana to Maryland, and began my sophomore year of high school, I had trouble adjusting to the U.S. educational system. It was Mrs. Khaksari who monitored my progress and sacrificed her precious time to engender my academic achievements. She was my support team, congratulating me whenever I received good grades on my report card and inspiring me to continue to strive for academic excellence. When it was time to apply to college, she facilitated the completion of the applications and recommended colleges I should consider applying to. I cannot thank her enough for advising me through my academic journey in high school. After my matriculation to the University of Maryland I sought the opportunity to be involved in biological research with some of my professors. I met Dr. Kwak in my sophomore year when I took his BSCI 330 class. He taught the class so well that I was moved to ask him about doing scientific research in his lab. I was delighted when he offered me the position to work with Dr. Villiers, a post-doctoral fellow in the Plant Signal Transduction lab. As the principal investigator, Dr. Kwak occasionally would check on how I was doing in the lab and make recommendations on spacing out my work. He has written me recommendation letters that earned me admission into the NIH-sponsored Heart Lung Blood Research project at Case Western Medical School. Under his guidance and motivation I have gained confidence in my ability to do scientific experiments, analyze results, and draw conclusions. I am confident that the skills I have acquired in working in Dr. Kwak's research lab are befitting for my future career in medicine. 

Chelsea Yin Chelsea Yin

I feel very fortunate to have come across many caring and knowledgeable individuals who provided me with continuous mentoring and guidance throughout my life. They have inspired me to be my best and have helped with the development of my personal character. One of them is my high school calculus teacher, Keith Burnham, who was very passionate about his subject. His dedication to his students, both in and out of the classroom, inspired me to pursue my full capacity in life. Dr. Russ Wermers, my college finance professor, is another mentor that I appreciate. I enjoyed many aspects of his class, particularly his unique approach of the case method. Additionally, he consistently challenged me to think outside of the box and to bridge the gap between theories behind classes and real life applications. Professor Wermers taught me to think critically and to learn things on my own. Without these two invaluable mentors I would not be where I am today.


For more information about the Merrill Presidential Scholars Program contact:
Lisa Kiely, Assistant Dean, Office of Undergraduate Studies
2110 Marie Mount Hall, College Park, MD 20742 Phone: 301.405.9363  •  Fax: 301.314.9896

Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars Program
Office of Undergraduate Studies