The 2022-2023 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars

2022 merill scholars collage

View 2022 Merrill Presidential Scholars Luncheon Photos

College of Arts and Humanities

Aimee Dastin-van Rijn

Aimee Dastin-van Rijn, Economics, Theatre
Teacher Mentor: Victoire D'Agostino, St. John's International School, Waterloo, Belgium
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Stacy Kosko, Department of Government and Politics

As a high school student, I struggled to determine what I was most passionate about pursuing academically. I chose economics as an IB subject and that decision changed my life. Ms. Victoire D’Agostino made a huge impact on me and my decision to pursue economics in university. She is the reason I chose to go to UMD and showed me that a smart woman can be well-liked with strong opinions, something that is a large part of who I am today. When I came to UMD, I knew from my first semester in FIRE that Dr. Stacy Kosko would be my mentor. She has taught me about all the fields that I can explore and given me so many opportunities in the development research world. She has been an inspiration for all that women can accomplish being leaders in their fields and has always helped me in my professional journey, whether that be in publishing and presenting research together, or supporting my applications to scholarships. There is no one more deserving of recognition for the constant care, support, and knowledge Dr. Kosko provides. She is my role model and has shaped my university educational experience.

Rachel Robin

Rachel Robin, Government & Politics, Communication
Teacher Mentor: Daniel McKenna, Poolesville High School, Poolesville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jaclyn Bruner, Department of Communication

The most important thing my mentors have demonstrated to me is the value of critical thinking. Mr. McKenna always thought things through logically and demonstrated immense wisdom and a profound ability to bestow it upon his students. Similarly, Dr. Bruner taught me to view academic topics with lenses through which the topics may not usually be seen. Both Mr. McKenna and Dr. Bruner created safe environments where students felt free to disagree. They have both expressed great compassion and excitement for their students, and they have helped me narrow down my academic and professional interests in order that I may pursue a career path that will showcase my skills. Beyond the content of their classes, it is the content of their characters that I hope to take with me and embody as I am soon to embark upon a new chapter of my life. With mentors who have demonstrated critical thinking and a welcoming attitude, I am ready to take on the world.

Sterling Mullenix

Sterling Mullenix, Linguistics
Teacher Mentor: Jenny Mey, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Bethesda MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jeffrey Lidz, Department of Linguistics

The mentorship of both Dr. Jeffrey Lidz and Ms. Jenny Mey has had an incredible impact on my life as a university student. In high school, I took biology and AP biology with Ms. Mey. I loved my time in those classes, and in my senior year, I was a teaching assistant for her class. Despite there being dense material to get through, Ms. Mey always made those classes engaging and fun with the different hands-on experiments. Those classes are a major part of why I am doing research in college now. Using the scientific method and learning the iterative process of solving problems was at the center of what we learned. Dr. Jeffrey Lidz, my professor and research advisor, has further fostered that interest in scientific research by creating an environment and culture within the child language acquisition lab that puts those same processes at the forefront of research. Being able to openly share and receive feedback from so many different perspectives in the lab allows all us to move forward at the slow, methodical pace that good research requires.

College of Behavioral and Social Sciences

Logan Daytner

Logan Daytner, Geographical Sciences
Teacher Mentor: Lauren Gardenbelle, South Carroll High School, Sykesville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sinead Farrell, Department of Geography

I am so grateful for the support and mentorship of Ms. Lauren Gardenbelle and Dr. Sinead Farrell. My 11th and 12th grade photography teacher, Ms. Gardenbelle always put the fullest energy into bringing out her students’ potential. She designed class experiments with broken glowsticks, frozen bubbles, paint balloons, and everything else I never imagined. Her creativity made me passionate about my own, and her bravery continues to set the most powerful example to me that we have the freedom to follow our intuition in life, no matter what. My college Earth-science professor, Dr. Farrell’s positive attitude never fails to make me smile. She was so excited to support my plans to study abroad, regardless of country or subject, that I couldn’t help but feel I was already on the plane. Her passion for teaching and learning about the cryosphere encourages me to continue pursuing challenges that both deepen my interests and grow my curiosity. Ms. Gardenbelle and Dr. Farrell, thank you for your guidance.

Kuburat Oladiran

Kuburat Oladiran, Psychology, Criminology
Teacher Mentor: Michelle Snape, Northwood High School, Silver Spring, MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Heather Yarger, Department of Psychology

My mentors continued to go above and beyond to ensure that I had all the tools I needed to succeed. They were always there when I needed advice and always made themselves available to me. They continued to have my best interest at heart and were amongst my top supporters. I will forever be grateful for their support and dedication to me that has allowed me to make it to where I am now.

Pravalika Palavarapu

Pravalika Palavarapu, Psychology, Sociology
Teacher Mentor: Bryce Coon, Thomas S. Wootton High School, Rockville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Nicole DeLoatch, Department of Sociology

I’m grateful for the ability to thank the mentors who helped shape my academic journey. Firstly, I’d like to thank my AP Psych teacher, Mr. Coon. He had encouraged me to take his psychology class in eleventh grade as I expressed an interest early on in his ninth grade AP NSL class. Throughout my junior year, he supported my curiosity in psychology and never discouraged asking questions. Mr. Coon’s mentorship guided me to my passion for psychology and mental health as a field, as after I finished his course I decided to pursue a half-day psychology internship all throughout my senior year. This internship solidified my goals, leading me to study psychology in college and become a mental health professional. As I figured out my purpose in the mental health field, I realized I had an interest in sociology and its impact on one’s mental health, which is where Dr. DeLoatch’s support shined through. As both a professor and my supervisor as a Peer Advisor, her kindness and receptivity allowed me to open up to her about my new interest. Without her mentorship, I would not be a confident double major graduating early with a dream degree across three disciplines!

Robert H. Smith School of Business

Alexia Ayuk

Alexia Ayuk, Operations Management, Business Analytics
Teacher Mentor: Renetta Herndon-Cintron, ​​Our Lady of Good Counsel High School, Olney, MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Pamela K. Armstrong, Department of Decision, Operations & Information Technologies

What I have found to be most formative in my educational journey is being surrounded by mentors who are invested in my growth and make me want to be better by their actions. Both Ms. Herndon-Cintron and Dr. Armstrong are clear examples of this. In high school, I would call Ms. Herndon-Cintron just Señora. I always felt so seen and heard in her class which just reflects her innate nature. Although she is a great Spanish teacher, she is an even greater model for students to mirror and encourage them to prioritize their character. I have always been a curious student, and college helped me confront ambiguity to push my learning and growth, specifically through Dr. Armstrong's class. Her teaching helped build the foundation for me in how best to problem solve and apply my analytical skills. Through her guidance, I was able to understand how to not only be a better student but a more self-aware and helpful mentor and teammate. Her desire to educate students on process improvement allowed me to look introspectively of how I can apply that professionally and personally.

Nick Bailey

Nick Bailey, Operations Management, Business Analytics, Marketing
Teacher Mentor: Jennifer Lopez, Westbrook Elementary School, Bethesda, MD
Faculty Mentor: Professor Mary B. Harms, Department of Marketings

A mentor means someone who can expand your intellectual curiosity and guide you to learn more beyond the classroom. Ms. Lopez and Professor Harms have gone above and beyond to demonstrate what it means to be a mentor. Ms. Lopez mentored me to expand my intellectual curiosity in 5th grade by encouraging me to read constantly and work with my classmates when presented with complex problems. Through Ms. Lopez’s support, I learned the power of reading and the importance of teamwork. Professor Harms encouraged me to actively learn more about the digital marketing field by mentoring me to take class concepts and apply them to real-world businesses. Through Professor Harm’s mentorship, I have used digital marketing concepts in my professional and extracurricular work, utilizing my skills to impact the world. Ms. Lopez and Professor Harms have provided me with a plethora of knowledge and guidance. I am forever grateful for the unwavering support they continue to give me throughout my life.

Bradley Polkowitz

Bradley Polkowitz, Operations Management, Business Analytics, Marketing
Teacher Mentor: Cindy Bravaco, Colts Neck High School, Colts Neck, NJ
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Joseph Bailey, Department of Decision, Operations and Information Technologies

Ms. Cindy Bravaco and Dr. Joseph Bailey have played a crucial role in both my education and success in pursuing a career in the sports industry. Ms. Cindy Bravaco was my accounting and marketing teacher, but most importantly, the DECA advisor at our school. She pushed me to compete in DECA competitions and as a result I fell in love with combining my passion for sports and business. Having her by my side through 3 years of case competitions, presentations, DECA meetings, and class has taught me so much. Dr. Joseph Bailey was my professor through the QUEST Honors Program. He is someone I could always go to for help in class and advice on my career aspirations. They have both taught me so much and pushed me to always give it my all in everything that I do. I am honored to be where I am today because of the hard work of Ms. Cindy Bravaco, Dr. Joseph Bailey, and every mentor that has helped me to get to where I am today.

College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences

Fred Angelo Garcia

Fred Angelo Garcia, Physics, Astronomy
Teacher Mentor: Yolanda King-Davis, Oxon Hill High School, Oxon Hill, MD
Faculty Mentor: Professor Massimo Ricotti, Department of Astronomy

Ms. Yolanda King-Davis, my high school senior thesis advisor, and Dr. Massimo Ricotti, my current research advisor, have both been instrumental in my development as a researcher, academic, and person. Ms. King-Davis is the quintessence of an educator. Her genuine support and interest in what I was pursuing under her tutelage have been one of the defining factors that led me to believe that a career in science was something that I was capable of. More than that, she has shown me that there is always room for kindness in academia. Having had her in my final year of secondary education, she was integral to the start of my undergraduate research career. Also, Dr. Riccotti’s guidance has enabled me to start to find my place in the broader scientific community as a researcher in cosmology and computational astrophysics. As a colleague and mentor, he has shown me what good science is and the joy that conducting research at the frontier can be. I would not be where I am today without them and for that, I am forever grateful.

Maanasa Gurram

Maanasa Gurram, Physiology, Neurobiology
Teacher Mentor: Mary Jane Sasser, River Hill High School, Clarksville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Najib El-Sayed, Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics

The guidance and mentorship provided by Ms. Mary Jane Sasser and Dr. Najib El-Sayed has been instrumental in my growth as a student. In high school, Ms. Sasser taught Independent Research and Intern Mentor, both of which were courses that allowed me to explore different academic interests through hands-on experiences and prepared me for the rigor of college. She was my teacher for three years, equipping me with valuable academic and personal skills to navigate the professional world. Dr. El-Sayed is the director of the Integrated Life Sciences Honors Program that I have been a part of, and he has continually served as a source of support for me throughout my undergraduate experience. Whenever I have gone to him with a request or questions, he has been more than happy to help. He has taken the time to get to know me and my goals, and he has given thoughtful advice on my path moving forward. I feel incredibly grateful to have such amazing mentors support me throughout my journey.

Joanna Hung

Joanna Hung, Mathematics, Minor in Nonprofit Leadership and Social Innovation
Teacher Mentor: Harrison Toy, Robert Frost Middle School, Rockville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Dana Grosser-Clarkson, CMNS (Terrapin Teachers)

I want to give a huge thank you to Mr. Harrison Toy, my seventh grade Algebra I teacher, and Dr. Dana Grosser-Clarkson, my professor for several math and education classes at UMD. I am beyond grateful for the ways both Mr. Toy and Dr. Grosser-Clarkson have shared their lives as my teachers. They both demonstrate the authenticity, passion, and joy I want to have as a teacher. So naturally, they serve as my role models. I remember looking forward to Mr. Toy’s class because I knew I would smile, laugh, and have fun with math in his classroom. He created a welcoming and fun classroom to learn in with his jokes, math wizard competitions, and daily Coke can in hand. I am also so grateful for the opportunities to learn from Dr. Grosser-Clarkson and to work with her as a student, TA, and collaborator. She fights for her students and community. She’s shown me how teaching is advocacy. She’s pushed me out of my comfort zone to become a better teacher and person as a whole.

A. James Clark School of Engineering

Kyra Cromwell Reed

Kyra Cromwell Reed, Fire Protection Engineering
Teacher Mentor: Rita Pascale, Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, Bethesda, MD
Faculty Mentor: Kenneth Isman, Fire Protection Engineering

My mentors have helped me confidently pursue engineering and take on new challenges. In high school, Ms. Pascale made me enjoy math classes, encouraging me to go into a STEM path. Her classes also provided me with a strong foundation in calculus that has helped me throughout my coursework at UMD. Professor Isman's enthusiasm for fire protection engineering encourages me to be excited about the field and makes going to class enjoyable. He also encouraged me to take the Think Tank class which challenges fire protection students to create a new product to solve a problem in fire protection engineering. The class ends in a competition between the students to pitch our products to industry leaders. With Professor Isman's guidance, I explored a variety of my interests in fire protection, as well as my entrepreneurial side, ultimately creating and pitching the winning idea. Professor Isman’s encouragement of my idea helped me feel confident enough to select a technologically simple idea that had market viability, rather than pursuing more complex technologies without economic viability. Through his class I feel excited about the challenges facing fire protection engineers and I feel confident about my own abilities.

Racheal Ssentongo

Racheal Ssentongo, Aerospace Engineering
Teacher Mentor: Jack Stansbury, Poolesville High School, Poolesville, MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jarred Young, Department of Aerospace Engineering

My interest in engineering was propelled by my high school math teacher, Mr. Stansbury. Through his mentorship he taught me about the foundations of engineering and helped lead me towards winning a silver medal for engineering at the NAACP Scientific Olympics. Through his guidance, a possible career in engineering became a reality. In college, the mentorship that I received from my mechanics professor, Dr. Young, provided me with the critical tools and work ethic that contributed to my college success. As a minority in engineering, I battled with imposter syndrome in the beginning and doubted my abilities. However, the advice I received from Dr. Young instilled me with confidence and perseverance. He emphasized the importance of asking questions, seeking assistance from professors, forming study groups, and always practicing. The combination of mentorship that I received from Mr. Stansbury and Dr. Young has greatly advanced my academic achievements and professional endeavors.

Brian Tinkler

Brian Tinkler, Aerospace Engineering
Teacher Mentor: Andrew Milcic, Severna Park High School, Severna Park, MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jarred Young, Department of Aerospace Engineering

Mr. Andrew Milcic led me into becoming an aerospace engineer after taking his Project Lead The Way elective course at Severna Park High School. His course truly opened my eyes to the intricacies of aerospace and completely captured my interest. Dr. Jarred Young has been an impeccable mentor during my time here at UMD and I hope I can remain in contact with him after I graduate. I have taken his courses and served as his TA, both of which have been captivating and truly remarkable.

Philip Merrill College of Journalism

Hanna Zakharenko

Hanna Zakharenko, Journalism, Information Science
Teacher Mentor: Warren Hynes, Westfield High School, Westfield NJ
Faculty Mentor: Adam Marton, Department of Journalism

In high school, I was lucky enough to be introduced to the journalism field through Mr. Warren Hynes. He taught me the value of information and media literacy with a passion that inspired me to continue journalism studies in college. I am grateful for the opportunity to thank him and Professor Adam Marton for teaching with enthusiasm and empathy; vital sentiments needed to convey the challenges and triumphs that make the ever-changing field of journalism so exciting. Continuing my education at the University of Maryland, I yearned to learn other ways to show information to readers that looked beyond the stories words can tell. Professor Marton showed me the beauty behind data visualizations and expressed interest in helping me aim my career goals in this field when I graduate. Without these two mentors, I would never have found myself in the small but growing, niche world of data journalism, where I can explore and expand my passion for media literacy and share important information in new ways.

School of Public Health

Deborah Omotoso

Deborah Omotoso, Family Science
Teacher Mentor: Dana Shieh, Thomas G. Pullen Creative and Performing Arts Academy, Landover, MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Scott Roberts, Department of Psychology

My mentors, Ms. Shieh and Dr. Roberts, are two individuals that I have greatly admired throughout my educational journey. They have both demonstrated a level of intelligence and professionalism that would make one feel honored to work with them. I attended a performing arts school from Kindergarten to Eighth grade; Ms. Shieh was my orchestra director starting from 3rd grade until I transitioned to high school. As a child, music was the most important thing to me, and I greatly appreciated Ms. Shieh because she put great faith in my musicality. Her constant guidance helped me to advance as a violinist, and to accomplish many things in the county's music scene. While I am no longer pursuing music as a career, I still think of Ms. Shieh whenever I play. I met Dr. Roberts my first semester at UMD and immediately knew that I wanted to be on his team. The following year, I began to work alongside him as a peer mentor, learning a lot about what it was truly like to work with people. His lectures were always prepared down to a science, and there wasn't a question he couldn't answer. Dr. Roberts embodied leadership, and he paved the way for my chances to lead.

Katelyn Wang

Katelyn Wang, Kinesiology
Teacher Mentor: Danielle Borgia, Mount Hebron High School, Ellicott City, MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Elizabeth Brown, Department of Kinesiology

I am so thankful to Ms. Danielle Borgia, my volleyball coach and math teacher, who has been there for me as a mentor in sport and academics all throughout high school and some middle school. She taught me life skills through character development and supported me in athletics through and through. I am also thankful to Dr. Brown for being an amazing professor who has lectured about life outside of curriculum and has honestly prepared me the most for "the real world." Without these mentors I would not be able to achieve as much as I have so far and hope to continue with in the future.

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Janna Chapman

Janna Chapman, Environmental Science and Technology, Geographical Sciences
Teacher Mentor: Kristyn Madeja, Broadneck High School, Annapolis, MD
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Thanicha Ruangmas, FIRE: The First-Year Innovation and Research Experience

Ms. Kristyn Madeja did an amazing job of making my IB Biology course content interesting and easy to understand during my last two years at Old Mill High School. She was also always there to help me with general career and college advice, all while being the Science Department Chair and going to school part-time. At the University of Maryland, I joined the Sustainability Analytics Stream of the First-Year Innovation and Research Experience (FIRE) led by Dr. Thanicha Ruangmas. Dr. Ruangmas successfully supported me through my initial struggles of learning to code in R, giving me a new career interest in environmental data science. Since the first semester of FIRE, I've had many opportunities to pursue my new interests through FIRE projects and other research experiences thanks to her guidance. I am grateful to these two mentors for their support.