The 2021-2022 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars


Merrill 2021 Scholars photo collage, 6 by 3 grid

College of Arts and Humanities

Marjorie Justine Cruz Antonio

Marjorie Antonio, American Studies, History
Teacher Mentor: Jenny Pagliarini, Eastern Technical High School, Essex, MD
Faculty Mentor: Katarina Keane, Department of History

I am incredibly grateful for two amazing educators in my academic tenure: Ms. Jenny Pagliarini, my 11th grade AP U.S. History teacher, and Professor Katarina Keane, my history mentor. I am fortunate to learn from such fantastic teachers who challenged me to think critically about how history is presented within the canon, the institution and for the public. Ms. Pagliarini (Ms. Pags to her students!) not only drilled us with quizzes and delivered witty lectures, she also laid the foundation for my lifelong love for history and the humanities. Later on during my junior year at the University of Maryland, I registered for Professor Keane’s course on a whim, and that single action changed the trajectory of my academic career. Professor Keane’s enthusiasm for history and passion for education was truly inspirational and infectious, and–from our conversations–sparked my History capstone project, meditations of social and cultural histories, and ways academia can change for the better. Ms. Pags and Professor Keane shaped my academic career and research interests, and influenced the way I see the world, and I thank them both for their guidance, continued investment and support.

Eunice Braimoh

Eunice Braimoh, English
Teacher Mentor: Paula Roberts, Howard High School, Ellicott City, MD
Faculty Mentor: Justin Lohr, Department of English

I’m grateful for the mentorship of Ms. Paula Roberts and Professor Justin Lohr, for their guidance and nurturing of my inquisitive nature. During high school, I often camped outside Ms. Roberts’ classroom, ready to spend the mornings lobbying questions to better conceptualize Calculus AB. Though I often felt confused and out of my depth, Ms. Roberts saw my potential, and together we’d brainstorm how to connect the pieces of a theory until it clicked for me. Her collaborative engagement of my curiosity and her faith in my ability to excel are part of what have propelled my academic career today. Likewise, at the University of Maryland, Professor Lohr’s enthusiasm for social justice has inspired me to challenge societal inequity. His empathy and acute insight have encouraged me to wield imagination for change. Apart from teaching a riveting English course, Professor Lohr mentored my creative writing Honors Humanities Keystone project, so our conversations wheeled between creative praxis and activism—an intersection I hope to further explore in the future. All in all, I’m grateful for the fundamental role each mentor has played in my life.

Daisy Yu

Daisy Yu, Communication, Chemistry
Teacher Mentor: Matthew Yates, DuFief Elementary School, Gaithersburg, MD
Faculty Mentor: Brooke Fisher Liu, Department of Communication

I was blessed to have Mr. Matthew Yates as my 4th and 5th grade homeroom teacher at DuFief Elementary School. To this day, I remember the patience and kindness he showed me when I made a serious mistake. This inspired my work in promoting academic and personal integrity through University Student Judiciary and influenced my own approach to teaching. In both, I hope to show those I am working with the same grace Mr. Yates showed me. My first semester at the University of Maryland, I decided to pursue a second degree in Communication in addition to Chemistry. As someone who was immersed in STEM throughout high school, I didn’t know what my career options were beyond being a public relations professional. Professor Brooke Liu, who taught my first public relations class, helped direct me towards resources and paths that aligned with my post-graduation goals. After listening to my questions and concerns, she provided her own professional opinion, connected me with people who were in my field of interest and directed me towards resources that solidified my desire to work in science communications. I am incredibly grateful to Mr. Yates and Professor Liu for their guidance and for this opportunity to thank them.


College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Kayleigh Anne Hasson

Kayleigh Hasson, Criminology and Criminal Justice, Economics
Teacher Mentor: Kristin Shoresman, Formerly of Centennial High School, Ellicott City, MD
Faculty Mentor: Danielle Pafe, Teaching and Learning Transformation Center

I’ve been very fortunate to have amazing female role models and mentors. Ms. Kristin Shoresman was my high school English teacher and Mock Trial coach. She taught me to lead by example, think analytically and consider a variety of perspectives. Without her guidance, I would not be the student and leader I am today. Professor Danielle Pafe is an instructor in the Teaching and Learning Transformation Center, and she has been such a positive presence in my academic career since my freshman year. She has encouraged me to continue learning, improving and taking on new roles and responsibilities. Learning from Professor Pafe and serving as a Guided Study Session leader has been one of my most rewarding experiences in college.

Crystina Martinez

Crystina Martinez, Psychology
Teacher Mentor: Elise Heil, Sacred Heart School, Washington, D.C.
Faculty Mentor: Nazish Salahuddin, Department of Psychology

My middle school math teacher, Ms. Elise Heil, will always have a special place in my heart. Her passion for education was not only evident, but also contagious. She played a key role in my love of learning, and it’s no surprise that her dedication to students has led to her now serving as the school’s principal. At the University of Maryland, I took a Counseling Psychology course with Professor Nazish Salahuddin, and my experience with her had a significant impact on my academic career. Her class helped me through a difficult time in my life. I enjoyed attending class and learning from Professor Salahuddin, and she helped me realize my commitment to the counseling psychology field. Working with her solidified my love of psychology and I plan to enter the field after graduation.

Imani Nokuri

Imani Nokuri, Government & Politics
Teacher Mentor: Bill McCauley, Retired from Folly Quarter Middle School, Ellicott City, MD
Faculty Mentor: Marshal Washington, Department of African American Studies

Mr. Bill McCauley was my middle school Gifted and Talented advisor. I felt honored when he selected me for Black Saga, a statewide African American history trivia competition. Mr. McCauley pushed me toward excellence, and he was the first educator to honor and acknowledge my history. Our team placed second in the competition, thanks to Mr. McCauley supporting us every step of the way. Later in my education, a first-year seminar on the prison industrial complex with Professor Marshal Washington helped me realize I had to rewrite the history I had painfully and proudly memorized in middle school. Professor Washington helped me grow from a student in his seminar to a student leader in the African American Studies Department, and every time I lose that vision of a better future, he has been there to inspire and encourage me. If every student was able to experience the dedication and passion of these two educators, all of us would believe that we can change history.


Robert H. Smith School of Business

Steven Ioannidis

Steven Ioannidis, Supply Chain Management
Teacher Mentor: Sean Moran, South Carroll High School, Sykesville, MD
Faculty Mentor: David Kirsch, Management & Organization

Mr. Sean Moran and Professor David Kirsch inspired me to grow a love for learning and to pursue further education on topics that I’m interested in and passionate about. Both of my mentors inspired me to treat others with kindness and improve the world around me through the contributions I make to society and my community. They helped guide my academic and professional journeys, and I want to thank them both for the positive impact they’ve had on my educational career. I strive to follow the examples they have set when it comes to treating others with respect and pursuing learning as a mission.

Genna Knoll

Genna Knoll, Supply Chain Management, Information Systems
Teacher Mentor: Catherine Tortoso, Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School, Plainview, NY
Faculty Mentor: Leland Gardner, Logistics, Business and Public Policy

During my sophomore year of high school in a Principles of Marketing class, I met my incredible teacher and mentor, Ms. Catherine Tortoso. She introduced me to the business world and taught me something new and exciting each and every class. I continued taking business classes with Ms. Tortoso, and also had her support as my DECA advisor throughout the next three years. Her passion and dedication for marketing influenced my decision to pursue business in college. At the University of Maryland, I took two supply chain classes with Professor Leland Gardner, where I learned the vast scope of supply chain management and how impactful an effective supply chain can be on the world. Additionally, Professor Gardner advised me throughout the complicated internship recruitment process during my junior year. My mentors have greatly shaped my academic and professional journey and I would not be where I am today without their support and guidance.

Ally Merwitz

Ally Merwitz, Operations Management & Business Analytics, Mathematics
Teacher Mentor: Lynette Burns, Atholton High School, Columbia, MD
Faculty Mentor: Joseph Bailey, Decision, Operations and Information Technologies

My mentors have not only impacted my school and career journey, but more importantly, they taught me how to be an upstanding and good citizen. To me, a mentor is someone you can talk to about any road block you are facing in your life. I can confidently say both Ms. Lynette Burns, my high school teacher and mentor, and Professor Joseph Bailey, my professor and QUEST program director, have served that role throughout my academic and professional journey. I would not be where I am today without both of them and am so glad I have the opportunity to honor their hard work and support.


College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences

Simone Evans

Simone Evans, Biological Sciences: Cell Biology and Genetics
Teacher Mentor: Carlo Echiverri, South River High School, Edgewater, MD
Faculty Mentor: Karen Carleton, Department of Biology

Dr. Carlo Echiverri’s commitment to environmental science through his courses, Envirothon club leadership and ecological research was invaluable to my development as a student and researcher in high school. He gave me the confidence to inquire about research opportunities and remained a supporting figure as my research project expanded through his capstone program. Dr. Echiverri’s passion for both environmental science and teaching inspires his students to develop research questions that weave together what we know with what we hope to discover. Professor Karen Carleton is a supportive, compassionate and inquisitive mentor. She supports her students in their scholarship and research endeavors, and dedicates so much of her time to answering questions in her office hours. Her mentorship helped me feel confident in my writing abilities, and equally confident in identifying what I did not yet understand. I have grown so much under her guidance and am thankful that she has wholeheartedly supported my research and writing proposals. I am incredibly grateful to my mentors who have shaped me into the student, researcher, writer and person I am today.

Naveen Raman

Naveen Raman, Computer Science, Mathematics
Teacher Mentor: Heather Hennis, Richard Montgomery High School, Rockville, MD
Faculty Mentor: John Dickerson, Department of Computer Science

In high school, the mentorship I received from Dr. Heather Hennis was immensely helpful for both my personal and academic development. I took IB Computer Science I and II with Dr. Hennis, and she helped me learn about a variety of topics ranging from networking to databases to artificial intelligence, which prepared me for my college computer science courses. Outside of the classroom, Dr. Hennis served as the advisor for the computer club, helping us prepare for programming competitions. Her guidance allowed me to improve both my technical and personal skills. At the University of Maryland, I sought out research opportunities and connected with Professor John Dickerson’s research into artificial intelligence for social good. In his lab, he proposed a project and guided me through the research process, teaching me how to read prior work, develop experiments and write papers. Professor Dickerson has also advised me on career plans, helping me understand the contrasts between industry and academia. Both Dr. Hennis and Professor Dickerson have been instrumental in my academic career, and I am very thankful for both of them.

Samuel Varga

Sam Varga, Atmospheric and Oceanic Science
Teacher Mentor: Jessica Bosse, Chopticon High School, Mechanicsville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Tim Canty, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science

I had the fortune of having Ms. Jessica Bosse as my teacher for AP Language and Composition during my junior year of high school. During this time, Ms. Bosse taught me much more than how to improve my writing. She taught me the importance of formulating a theory, as well as the importance of gathering evidence to back that theory. These are tools that are just as applicable to scientific pursuits as they are to writing an argumentative essay. Her advice and guidance served me well in high school, and continue to do so in college. Professor Tim Canty has served as my academic advisor, my professor in the Atmospheric and Oceanic Science Department and as my mentor. He has provided boundless advice on searching for careers, graduate schools and research projects. He has pushed me to better myself academically, by suggesting rigorous courses and graduate level coursework. With his help, I have also become involved with multiple extracurricular opportunities. Through Professor Canty, I met my research mentors at the Environmental Modeling Center, with whom I am preparing my senior research project.


A. James Clark School of Engineering

Zach Breit

Zachary Breit, Computer Engineering
Teacher Mentor: Jackie Gerstein, Middlesex High School, Middlesex, NJ
Faculty Mentor: Fawzi Emad, Department of Computer Science

My high school tech teacher and robotics team mentor, Ms. Jackie Gerstein, always stood out for her ability to engage my curiosity. She gave me space to learn and create on my own, which motivated me to pursue personal projects related to robotics and engineering. Whenever I wanted to learn a new skill like soldering or 3D printing, she was more than happy to spend time after class teaching me. Without her, I wouldn’t have discovered my passion for robotics or decided to study computer engineering at the University of Maryland. In college, I’ve found similar mentorship from Professor Fawzi Emad, my freshman computer science teacher. Professor Emad’s lectures left me with this burning itch to try out the new concepts that I had learned. During office hours, he encouraged me to experiment with the class material in my own time and helped me discover how much fun programming can be. I left his classes with a deep understanding of computer science that I will carry with me for the rest of my career.

William Gerst

William Gerst, Mechanical Engineering
Teacher Mentor: Samuel Polack, Rockburn Elementary School, Elkridge, MD
Faculty Mentor: Michael Galczynski, Engineering Keystone Program

I am so grateful to my elementary school math teacher, Mr. Samuel Polack. He is dedicated to making math fun and interesting for his students, and he is directly responsible for instilling in me a passion for mathematics and learning. I cherish the memories I have from his classroom. Years later, at University of Maryland, I found another great instructor and mentor in Professor Michael Galczynski, who taught two of my introductory engineering courses. Like Mr. Polack, Professor Galczynski is a charismatic instructor who makes the course material captivating and entertaining, and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn from him.

Benjamin Wu

Benjamin Wu, Bioengineering
Teacher Mentor: Matthew Davis, The Episcopal Academy, Newtown Square, PA
Faculty Mentor: Yang Tao, Fischell Department of Bioengineering

In our high school programming class, Mr. Matthew Davis always pushed us to learn more and try new things. He challenged us as students by providing optional extensions to assignments, which he always gave detailed feedback on. This devotion to education was a rare trait, one that I saw again in Professor Yang Tao while taking a bioimaging course. For example, to fortify our knowledge of CT image reconstruction, Professor Tao challenged us to implement the algorithm ourselves. Through the wealth of autonomy and support that Professor Tao has provided me, such daunting learning experiences become possible. I am forever grateful for my mentors.


Philip Merrill College of Journalism

Rina Torchinsky

Rina Torchinsky, Journalism, Information Science
Teacher Mentor: Thomas Worden, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School, Rockville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Marissa Lang, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

I am honored to thank Dr. Thomas Worden and Professor Marissa Lang, both of whom were critical to my evolution as a writer and thinker. Dr. Worden taught a literature and composition class during my senior year of high school. The pinnacle of this course is a capstone paper on a work of media. Dr. Worden’s feedback and kindness throughout the semester-long process has been invaluable to the maturation of my critical thinking and writing skills. His approach to teaching is one of the reasons why I’m so comfortable thinking freely and creatively. Professor Lang’s news writing class was paramount to my development as a reporter. In this course, I was challenged to work on an investigative project about a public housing complex. I am incredibly thankful for all of the time she spent patiently and thoughtfully answering my never-ending questions about reporting. Professor Lang’s lectures on ethics, approaching sources sensitively and trauma reporting come up regularly. I often find myself applying her lessons to my work, or relaying what I learned to others at The Diamondback.


School of Public Health

Selena Cen

Selena Cen, Public Health Science, Spanish
Teacher Mentor: Jennifer Street, Atholton High School, Columbia, MD
Faculty Mentor: Saúl Sosnowski, Department of Spanish and Portuguese

Both of my mentors have inspired my love for the Spanish language, literature, culture, and its people. I met Ms. Jennifer Street in Spanish II as a freshman and took AP Spanish Language, served as her student aide, and independently studied AP Spanish Literature under her guidance three years later. Together we learned everything from verb conjugation and telenovelas to cultural competency and understanding the roles of migrant workers. She always pushed me to reach my full potential and to give back to my community along the way. At the University of Maryland, I had the privilege of taking three courses with Professor Saúl Sosnowski, a distinguished professor of Latin American literature. Professor Sosnowski’s passion for literature, history, and the humanities has allowed me to broaden my horizons and to explore a new literary world. He taught me to think critically about the context of each story, including what is and isn’t written. As I enter the public health field with a goal of reducing health disparities in the Latinx population, I have no doubt that my Spanish abilities and the lessons I learned from my mentors will help me make an impact on my community, much like my mentors have done for me.

Cali Platt

Cali Platt, Community Health, Public Policy
Teacher Mentor: Laurel Barrett, Franklin High School, Reisterstown, MD
Faculty Mentor: Donna Howard, Department of Behavioral and Community Health

I am so thankful to have the opportunity to recognize the amazing support Ms. Laurel Barrett and Professor Donna Howard have given me. I had Ms. Barrett in 10th grade for Trigonometry and in 11th grade for Calculus. In both classes, Ms. Barrett pushed me to think about math in a challenging way. I would spend hours before and after school in her classroom solving the most difficult problems, and she always welcomed me. She supported all of her students and my work ethic in college would not be the same without her. At the University of Maryland, I didn’t make instant connections with my professors until this past year, when I took a virtual course with Professor Howard. She led the class with compassion and she made me feel valued as a student trying to find my way. Her class helped solidify my interest in public policy and community health. Thanks to Professor Howard, I have gained valuable insight into the health policy space.


School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation

Duong Hoang Le

Duong Le, Architecture
Teacher Mentor: Jonathan Jeanes, Longwood High School, Middle Island, NY
Faculty Mentor: Michael Abrams, School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation

While the foundation for my scientific and artistic mindsets took shape from robust recollections of theories, Mr. Jonathan Jeanes’s teaching methods in physics restructured and championed exciting new ways of exploring the world. Seemingly intuitive but enriched with layers of minute details that push the boundaries of trials and errors, early morning lab experiments designed by Mr. Jeanes motivated me to excel beyond any fixed set of goals. As an international student, I cherished those challenging moments and carried them through my collegiate years. In my sophomore architecture studio, I encountered an encouraging mentor in Professor Michael Abrams. His advice to treasure the tactile values of hand sketches allowed me to progress as a context-oriented designer, while his relentless dedication to education helped me to develop peer-mentoring skills. As Professor Abrams highlights during classes and review sessions, the principle of being an architecture student lies in the effectiveness of communicating design concepts through analytical drawings. Together, my two mentors have transformed my awareness and recognition of the built environment in its pure dynamics.