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Group photo of Merrill scholars and mentors along with UMD President Loh and Cathy Merrill Williams Merrill Presidential scholars and mentors with UMD President Loh and Cathy Merrill Williams (pictured center) at 2016 Merrill Scholars luncheon.
View more images from the luncheon.

The 2016-2017 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Ayella Maile-Moskowitz

College of Arts and Humanities

Chloe Isaac

Joshua Weaver

College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Mariah Hughes

Andrew Gradone

Erika Swenson

Robert H. Smith School of Business

Kelly Cosgriff

Mireille Verdonk

College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences

Kelsey Malloy

Vered Schwell

Jonathan Seibert

Boyan Xia

A. James Clark School of Engineering

Christina Krueger

Adam Berger

Aayush Thapa

Philip Merrill College of Journalism

Alexandria Worley

School of Public Health

Sana Haider

Kurt Hufker

Office of Undergraduate Studies

Irene Solaiman


Chloe IsaacChloe Isaac
K-12 Mentor: Brendan Shea
St. John's College High School
Washington, D.C.
Faculty Mentor: Liese Zahabi, Art

I’ve not only grown as a learner and student, but as a person when I think about my education. I credit every teacher I’ve had, but there were a few who were particularly helpful and encouraging. English was always one of my favorite subjects in high school. Honors World Literature with Mr. Brendan Shea solidified my love of reading and writing. His class was the first time I had read books in school that weren’t part of the traditional literary canon, and it brought my attention to different voices that are often stifled and quieted. I wrote some of my favorite essays in that class, and finally found my voice. In college, I’ve found another love in graphic design, and appreciation and support from Professor Liese Zahabi. Professor Zahabi presented design principles to us with enthusiasm and joy, which constantly reminds me of why I love art so much. I could not be more grateful to have such a supportive and encouraging professor who would help me begin to think about my life after college.

Joshua WeaverJoshua Weaver
K-12 Mentor: Robert Hines*
Richard Montgomery High School
Rockville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Gregory Staley, Classics

I have been privileged to have had a number of exceptional teachers throughout the course of my academic career and have learned a great deal from each of them. The first of these two mentors is Mr. Robert Hines, my International Baccalaureate history teacher. Whether it was the material we learned in class, something we discussed in History Club, helping me get published in The Concord Review, or a quick lesson about early 18th century ceramics in the field during an Archaeology Club excursion, Mr. Hines’ passion for the subject of history permeated my entire high school experience, and even my college experience as I have returned to work with Mr. Hines in his archaeology endeavors almost every summer. Professor Greg Staley, my UMD faculty mentor, is the director of Honors Humanities and the first professor I had as part of that program. Although I was in his class for only one semester, Professor Staley has shaped my entire college experience, whether through the Honors Humanities program itself or simply as an amiable conversationalist with an open office door and always has a story to share. In fact, with Professor Staley, it was never really the details of the things we covered in class that stuck with me; it was the stories he told, the discussions we had, and above all how he always managed to make the humanities “human.” Although my academic interests have diverged somewhat from the foundations my mentors established, they have instilled in me a passionate curiosity, an insatiable drive to understand what it means to be human with the very fiber of my being.

*Mr. Hines was named a Teacher-Mentor by a 2015-2016 Merrill Scholar.

Kelly CosgriffKelly Cosgriff
K-12 Mentor: Amy Fenzel-Mergott
Stephen Decatur High School
Berlin, MD
Faculty Mentor: Kristin LaRiviere, Business

I was lucky enough to have Mrs. Fenzel-Mergott as a teacher for both Algebra III and Advanced Placement Calculus BC in high school. I never believed I was a naturally quantitative person until Mrs. Fenzel-Mergott encouraged me to continue with math classes in high school. Through her teaching and personality, she encouraged me to never shy away from a challenge. Mrs. Fenzel-Mergott taught me the value of hard work and the reward of pushing myself, while also being an example of integrity, honesty, and decorum. In college, Professor Kristin LaRiverie has been a mentor since the beginning of my undergraduate career. Since I took a position as co-president of the Smith Ambassadors, Professor LaRiverie has helped me with everything from public speaking skills, major and career guidance. I am very grateful for these two mentors and all they have done to shape both my high school and undergraduate career.

Mireille VerdonkMireille Verdonk
K-12 Mentor:
Kevin Shindel
Montgomery Blair High School
Silver Spring, MD
Faculty Mentor: Pat Cleveland*, Business

In my experience, the greatest mentors are the people who challenge your beliefs, push you beyond your comfort zone and help you grow. I’ve been fortunate enough to have many mentors in my life but the two individuals who have had the most influences on me are Mr. Kevin Shindel, my high school Research Methods teacher, and Professor Pat Cleveland, my Management instructor at UMD. Mr. Shindel’s mantra is, “How do you know what you think you know?” and the question that continues to guide me as I seek to find my place in the world. While many teachers were content with rote memorization, Mr. Shindel encouraged critical thinking and was never satisfied with answers given without facts and testimony to back it up. Professor Cleveland taught me to see the shades of gray in a business world that one often assumes are black and white. While finance majors tend to think in the numerical, Professor Cleveland encouraged us to consider the people and the nuances of what makes an effective businessperson and leader. Both Mr. Shindel and Professor Cleveland have broadened my horizons and forced me to think beyond the conventional, never giving me all the answers but instead encouraging me to discover them for myself.

*Professor Cleveland was named a Faculty-Mentor by 2004-2005, 2010-2011, 2011-2012 Merrill Scholars.

Mariah Hughes
K-12 Mentor: John Kirkendall
Middletown High School
Middletown, MD
Faculty Mentor: Douglas Meade, Economics

I was fortunate to have several mentors during my academic career who brought enthusiasm to their course and made me love learning. Teaching high school students to love American studies is a difficult task, but Mr. John Kirkendall brought the subject to life, and his love of the subject quickly infected our class. His passion for history was an inspiration to me and helped me to find my academic passion. At the University of Maryland, Professor Douglas Meade built on this intellectual curiosity brewing inside me. His guidance and mentoring encouraged me to discover research. He opened my eyes to various aspects of economics using complex models to solve problems. Both of these mentors pushed me to ask questions and never settle for a mediocre answer.

Andrew GradoneAndrew Gradone
K-12 Mentor:
Elizabeth Crawford
Marriotts Ridge High School
Marriottsville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Edward Bernat, Psychology

Back in high school, everyone wanted to take Advanced Placement Psychology with Mrs. Elizabeth Crawford. She was an all-around amazing teacher—fun, engaging, passionate about her subject, and always there to answer questions and offer guidance. Before we started a new unit, she would preface it with, “When you get to college, there’s an entire course on this.” She was right, which is one reason why I was so excited to go to college and take courses covering the wide breadth of psychology. While at the University of Maryland, I found myself becoming fascinated with neuroscience. I joined Professor Edward Bernat’s electroencephalogram (EEG) rresearch lab and found an excellent mentor in him. He made it clear from the moment I joined his lab that the more effort, energy and dedication I placed in lab, the more I would get out of the experience. He was right as well. Professor Bernat has given me experiences that I only thought were possible at the graduate level. Very few undergraduates can say that they have presented their research at an international science conference. I was challenged by these mentors to live up to the potential they saw in me, and I am forever grateful for their encouragement.

Erika SwansonErika Swenson
K-12 Mentor:
Brian Duschenchuk
Washington Irving Intermediate School
Tarrytown, NY
Faculty Mentor: Katherine Izsak, Behavioral and Social Sciences

My early school years not only taught me basics of colonial history, and adding and subtracting, but they also served to teach me the benefits of hard work and following the rules. My second-grade teacher, Mr. Brian Duschenchuk, was an important part of that lesson. From seemingly silly rules (like not being able to use the words “stuff” and “thing”) to the more important lesson that hard work is always rewarded, Mr. Duschenchuk instilled in me a profound respect for hard work and effort. In college, I’ve had many great mentors, but I’ve established my closest relationship with Prof. Katherine Izsak, the Education Director for the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). In that capacity, she was my professor for three classes and a mentor for my fellowship offered through START. I’ve had the opportunity to teaching assistant for her for two semesters. As a mentor, Prof. Izsak has peaked my interest in the homeland security field and has always been open to answering any questions I may have, class-related or otherwise. She is dedicated to the success of her students, and is willing to share any insight or funny story she may have to ensure we are as prepared and capable as possible. I am lucky to know and to have been mentored by both of these outstanding individuals.

Kelsey MalloyKelsey Malloy
K-12 Mentor: Henry Leong
Central High School
Philadelphia, PA
Faculty Mentor: Timothy Canty*, Atmospheric & Oceanic Science

Mr. Henry Leong, my former Algebra II teacher and volleyball coach, had a positive impact on my four years of my high school. From the beginning, Mr. Henry believed in my abilities and pushed me to work my hardest as a student. Mr. Leong saw leadership skills in me that I didn’t know I had. He is one of the kindest people I know, and he genuinely cares about his students. I am glad to have had him as a mentor in high school. In college, I have a mentor who sees my potential and encourages me to dream big and work hard. Professor Tim Canty is my advisor and my professor. Professor Canty pushes each of us to go the extra mile and I am very thankful for his guidance throughout my undergraduate career.

*Professor Canty was named a Faculty-Mentor by a 2015–16 Merrill Scholar and by two Scholars this year.

Vered SchwellVered Schwell
Teacher Mentor: Leslie Pratt
Lower Merion High School
Ardmore, PA
Faculty Mentor: Patricia Shields*, Cell Biology & Molecular Genetics

Over the course of my schooling, I have been fortunate to have several mentors, but there are two I would like to mention in particular: Dr. Leslie Pratt and Professor Patricia Shields. I had Dr. Pratt for British Literature my senior year. Dr. Pratt teaches her students to analyze literature and present their thoughts. She encouraged me to think outside of the box when analyzing literature and to present my analyses confidently. Dr. Pratt was a warm and supportive teacher who helped me improve my analytical skills and grow as a writer. During college, I have found a mentor in Professor Shields. I often stop by her office to say “hello,” discuss my classes, and receive advice. She is always a willing and understanding listener, who has helped me unite my love of science with teaching. I would like to thank Dr. Pratt and Professor Shields for supporting me, teaching me, and helping me grow into the person I am today.

*Professor Shields was named a Faculty-Mentor by a 2015–16 Merrill Scholar.

Jonathan SeibertJonathan Seibert
K-12 Mentor: Stan Arnold
Hammond High School
Columbia, MD
Faculty Mentor: Timothy Canty*, Atmospheric & Oceanic Science

At Hammond High School, Mr. Stan Arnold was my calculus instructor for two years and rapidly became one of my favorite teachers. His teaching style and guidance were particularly well suited for me, and I flourished in mathematical science. As a result, I attained a 5 on the AP tests for both levels of Calculus, and was able to jump-start my college career in Calculus III. I first met Professor Canty in class, and he then became my adviser in atmospheric and oceanic sciences. He goes above and beyond the standard requirements of UMD’s academic advisors, giving me useful advice on scholarships, graduate school, and my education and career path.

*Professor Canty was named a Faculty-Mentor by a 2015-2016 Merrill Scholar and by two Scholars this year.

Boyan XiaBoyan Xia
K-12 Mentor: Alexandra Brasoveanu-Tarpy*
Thomas S. Wootton High School
Rockville MD
Faculty Mentor:
Christopher Capp, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Mrs. Brasoveanu-Tarpy was my math teacher between my sophomore and senior years of high school. During that time, I developed an interest in math that I didn’t have before. Her class helped me appreciate the intricacies of mathematics and realize the importance of good study techniques that I still use today. It was due to the wonderful experience I had with her that directed me toward advanced math classes in college and ultimately led to my pursuit of a minor in statistics. Professor Christopher Capp taught me biochemistry junior year; and despite the difficulty of the content, he managed to keep his students interested and engaged with his jokes and mnemonics. Professor Capp is approachable and always willing to clarify any concepts during class and office hours. I feel that he genuinely cares deeply about all of his students and wants to see everyone enjoy biochemistry and succeed in the class.

*Mrs. Brasoveanu-Tarpy was named a Teacher-Mentor by a 2013-2014 Merrill Scholar.

Christina KruegerChristina Krueger
K-12 Mentor: Kevin George
Glenelg High School
Glenelg, MD
Faculty Mentor: Ryan Sochol, Mechanical Engineering

Mr. Kevin George was like a breath of fresh air in a world of homework, high expectations and college preparation. I remember looking forward to Orchestra because of Mr. George’s witty comments and words of wisdom. He taught me that a team isn’t about the leader: It’s about every member working as a unit. During countless competitions and late-night rehearsals, he taught me about dedication and perseverance. Just because sometimes you aren’t going to win doesn’t mean you quit. He inspired me to love learning with his trivia and fun facts, and he taught me that knowledge comes from unlikely places. Most importantly, he helped me escape from a sometimes overwhelming world with the beauty of music. It was a lucky coincidence that I discovered a research opportunity with Professor Ryan Sochol. Since the moment I began working with him, he has gone out of his way to support me and advance my career as a student and researcher. He coached me through my first publication and first oral presentation, and two projects I never thought I would complete. Even with his overflowing schedule, he makes himself available when I need guidance about research, school or life. I admire that always manages to remain positive and full of life even when we are pulling all-nighters to meet deadlines. I never thought I would enjoy research, but my work with Professor Sochol has opened my eyes to a world of new possibilities for my future.

Adam BergerAdam Berger
K-12 Mentor: James Douglas
Sherwood High School
Sandy Spring, MD
Faculty Mentor: Ian White, Bioengineering

It is a special teacher who inspires his students and instills a love of learning. Mr. James Douglas is that teacher and encouraged me to excel inside and outside of the classroom. In 11th grade, Mr. Douglas’ guidance over a science fair project was crucial in allowing me to learn how to perform independent research. This project, which was my first research experience, confirmed my interest in STEM and inspired me to pursue research throughout my college years. I am currently in the lab of Professor Ian White, whom I initially met through the Biomedical Engineering Society. Professor White understands my strengths and helps me find opportunities to fine-tune them. With Professor White’s help, I believe that I have become a better problem solver and researcher. I am very thankful to both Mr. Douglas and Professor White for encouraging me to be the best scientist and engineer that I can be.

Aayush ThapaAayush Thapa
K-12 Mentor: Faina Atamas
Watkins Mill High School
Gaithersburg, MD
Faculty Mentor: Isabel Lloyd*, Materials Science & Engineering

One of my first memories of Mrs. Faina Atamas is when I had just moved to the United States and she went above and beyond to place me in an appropriate math class. It wasn’t hard to see her passion for teaching and care for students. She brought math to life for me and mentored me throughout high school, always challenging me to become a better student. More importantly, she made me believe in myself. I just cannot overstate her contribution toward my academics and character development. The first materials science course I took was taught by Professor Lloyd, and I enjoyed her class so much that I knew I had picked the right major. Her enthusiasm in class was contagious. She was very welcoming in her office hours and has patiently mentored me in various aspects of academic life such as classes, research and career goals. She continues to encourage me to reach new heights, and I am very grateful for everything she has done for me.

*Professor Lloyd was named a Faculty-Mentor by a 2004-2005 Merrill Scholar.

Alexandria WorleyAlexandria Worley
K-12 Mentor: Mr. Stephen Swift
Poolesville High School
Poolesville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Felipe Westhelle, Government and Politics

My academic mentors in high school and college helped me grow as a student and led me to discover new paths I had never considered before. Mr. Stephen Swift sparked my initial interest in journalism as my sophomore English teacher in the humanities magnet program, and as my supervisor on the school literary magazine. Throughout my high school career, Mr. Swift used the magazine to provide us with an outlet to expand and test our limits in writing, visuals and layout design, constantly pushing us to think outside the box. It is hard to find another teacher with the level of passion Mr. Swift has, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to learn from him. As my colloquium instructor for the International Studies Scholars Program, Professor Felipe Westhelle led me to uncover a hidden passion for work in international development. His willingness to allow me to pursue a somewhat unorthodox colloquium project led me to complete my first stint of international service work, which in turn helped me to discover my love for hands-on work in humanitarian aid. It was with his guidance that I decided to apply for the Peace Corps, and I have made finding a career at the intersection of journalism and humanitarian aid my primary goal. To both Mr. Swift and Professor Westhelle, I want to say thank you for the irreplaceable impact you have made on my education, my career and my life.

Sana HaiderSana Haider
K-12 Mentor: Mary Jane Sasser
River Hill High School
Clarksville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Sylvette A. La Touche-Howard, Behavioral and Community Health

I am overjoyed to be able to recognize two of my amazing mentors, Ms. Mary Jane Sasser and Professor Sylvette A. La Touche-Howard. Both mentors have had such a positive impact on the person I am today. Ms. Sasser was my Photography I teacher in 10th grade and independent research teacher in 11th grade. These contrasting classes prove that she is an individual who can do it all and believed that we all could as well. I still use photography as a creative outlet, but I never thought I would win an Artist Beret Award. Ms. Sasser also pushed me out of my comfort zone in terms of research/public speaking, never failed to provide candid feedback, and was also my biggest supporter. During my sophomore year at UMD, I took the course Personal and Community Health, and discovered the always cheery Professor La Touche-Howard, who eventually inspired me to change my major. She was my professor for both Principles of Community Health I & II, and we served on the Community Health Student Advisory Group together. Prof. La Touche-Howard strives to genuinely understand her students’ concerns, and incorporates group projects that create a greater sense of accomplishment. Whether it was bringing her family to the Health Fair we organized on Maryland Day, giving us rounds of feedback for our grant proposals, or helping shape our professional skills, she went beyond expectations of a professor. I am extremely grateful to have been given the chance to learn from these two mentors throughout my education.

Kurt HufkerKurt Hufker
K-12 Mentor: Clay Bonham
Mount St. Joseph High School
Baltimore, MD
Faculty Mentor: Elizabeth Brown*, Kinesiology

Mr. Clay Bonham was one of my high school teacher and I was involved in many of the projects and mentoring he advised. He challenged me academically, as a leader, and as a person. Mr. Bonham refused to allow me to submit assignments to him that were less than my best. Through his example, Mr. Bonham taught me what it means to live a good life and be a good person. He genuinely cared about my academic, athletic and personal pursuits, and by doing so Mr. Bonham created an atmosphere at Mount Saint Joseph, where I felt comfortable and could flourish. When I arrived at the University of Maryland, I was uncertain of what I wanted to do when I graduated, fearful that I would not be competitive for the programs for which I was interested. Professor Elizabeth Brown encouraged me to pursue the goals I had that I thought were unreachable. She pushed me to excel in the classes. If it were not for Professor Brown’s mentorship and encouragement, I doubt that I would be on the path I am on today.

*Professor Brown was named a Faculty-Mentor by 2004-2006 and 2009-2010 Merrill Scholars.

Irene SolaimanIrene Solaiman
K-12 Mentor: M. Judy Shapiro*
Burning Tree Elementary School
Bethesda, MD
Faculty Mentor: Joan Burton*, Individual Studies

Mrs. Judy Shapiro was more than a fifth-grade math teacher. She devoted herself to her students’ academic lives and to their futures. I entered her class as a struggling 10-year-old and emerged a confident adolescent. My family credits her with much of my performance in middle school and beyond, often joking that her skill to inspire students is so effective, it resembles witchcraft. Mrs. Shapiro values building foundations in youth. She encouraged me to use different processes of thinking, even in my international relations major a decade later. At the University of Maryland, Professor Joan Burton has been the most influential mentor, director and human being in my academic, professional, and personal life. She motivates me to strive for excellence. She empowers me to pursue my passions. But most admirably, she supports each individual student who seeks her guidance; her devotion to her students is nearly tangible. Professor Burton has shaped my university experience with her endless encouragement and belief that allowed me to build my own major in the Individual Studies Program, become a Global Fellow, and travel domestically and internationally on a multitude of programs. I am grateful that I can drop by her office to chat about anything from a current event to academia, and I know my gratitude will extend far beyond what I have felt every day in my undergraduate career.

*Mrs. Shapiro was named a Teacher-Mentor by a 2009-2010 Merrill Scholar.
**Professor Burton was named a Faculty-Mentor by a 2012-2013 Merrill Scholar.

Ayella Maile-MoskowitzAyella Maile-Moskowitz
K-12 Mentor: Taisto Saloma
Washington Waldorf School
Bethesda, MD
Faculty Mentor: Stephanie Lansing
Environmental Science & Technology

When I think back on my K-12 experiences, I often think of the sports teams I was involved with in high school. My coach and humanities teacher, Mr. Taisto Saloma, stands out as a mentor who was extremely influential in shaping my attitude. Mr. Saloma taught me how to push past limits, and at the end of the day, to brush off a loss, get back up and try again. Since my second semester at the University of Maryland, I have worked in Professor Stephanie Lansing’s water quality lab. The lab soon became my second home and my co-workers and the graduate students became my college “family.” Professor Lansing helped to foster my my love of science and make me realize my goal of being a research scientist. Professor Lansing has pushed me both in the classroom and in my scientific endeavors. I will forever be grateful for the safe space that I found in her lab, especially at such a large institution. I am honored to share this award with Mr. Saloma and Professor Lansing.

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