Commencement Award Recognizes Top Graduating Senior
Photo by John T. Consoli
The medallion worn by the university medalist isn’t gold, but the standard to receive it is.
The medal is the highest honor bestowed on a graduating University of Maryland senior each academic year, with a focus on academic distinction, exemplary character and service to the campus or greater community. Nominees had to earn at least a 3.96 GPA and 60 or more credits at Maryland.
The honoree takes part in the procession at Commencement, a role that on Friday will go to Alythia Vo, a biological sciences major with minors in Asian American studies and Spanish language, culture and professional contexts.
A daughter of immigrants, Vo saw firsthand the challenges that can sometimes overwhelm people making their way through a new country and new language. That’s why she dedicated her time at UMD to addressing inequities in public health and advocating for a more inclusive world.
Vo served as a community outreach volunteer for the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s COVID-19 vaccine trials, focusing on enrolling more Latinx participants. Using her Spanish language skills, she gave participants information on the COVID-19 vaccine as well as on flu shots and free health clinics. She also volunteered at College Park’s Pregnancy Aid Center, and with Montgomery County’s Latino Health Initiative.
Vo also worked as a research assistant at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Child Health and Mortality Prevention Surveillance Study to assess causes of child mortality in Mali, and at Johns Hopkins Medicine researching the impact of the pandemic on Latina women’s access to contraception.
On campus, Vo joined both the Taiwanese American Student Association and the Asian American Student Union, serving as president of the latter her senior year. She was a founding member of the APIDA Social Justice Task Force, where she helped develop a list of critical issues facing Asian students and proposed several solutions. She was also Omicron Delta Kappa’s recruitment and community outreach chair.
“Alythia is a fine example of a young American,” said Robert K. Chester, interim director of U.S. Latina/o studies at UMD. “She is an asset to each of the communities of which she is part, a huge credit to the University of Maryland, and an outstanding example of how an education at UMD can be used beyond the university to uplift the wider community.”
The finalists for university medalist were:
Thomas Ersevim left his mark not only on the UMD physics and chemistry departments, contributing research insights and analyses far beyond the typical undergraduate level—his reach also extended to the famed Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, where electrical boards he helped to assemble and test are now installed.
“He is simply one of the most talented students I have ever worked with,” said physics Assistant Professor Manuel Sevilla, who credits Ersevim’s innovative ideas with improving board testing procedures.
A Banneker/Key scholar and University Honors student, Ersevim pursued multiple lab opportunities at UMD. His work for Associate Professor Min Ouyang in physics and Assistant Professor Cheng Gong in materials science and engineering led to a co-authored paper published in Applied Physics Letters, while two other papers are ready for journal submission,
“In his research, he is able to operate like an advanced graduate student already by developing an independent and deep thinking in the relevant fields,” said Ouyang.
Outside of class, Ersevim was a member of the UMD Chamber Singers and performed at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. He is an engaged global citizen who has studied Spanish and Mandarin, and has phone-banked for political candidates who champion civil and economic rights, police reform and climate action.
Ersevim, who earned double degrees in physics and chemistry, will attend the University of California, Berkeley in the fall. He hopes to pursue a career in academia after completing his doctorate.
During the year Jacob Glassman spent in Jerusalem between high school and college, he noted one striking fact of life: Israeli children and Palestinian children, who played in different parks within blocks of each other, were very similar to each other. Yet their two ethnic groups were entrenched in such a longstanding, deeply ingrained conflict. How did that happen? he wondered.
At UMD, Glassman endeavored to learn more deeply how intergroup conflict begins and is sustained, and how people might successfully resolve differences. A double-degree student in psychology and philosophy with a minor in statistics, he was a research assistant in Professor Melanie Killen’s Social and Moral Development Lab, studying the origins of moral reasoning, intergroup attitudes, prejudice and bias in young children.
Glassman was also in the Honors Humanities program, the recipient of the College of Arts and Humanities’ Dean Senior Scholar Award, and inducted into Phi Beta Kappa with its Outstanding Inductee Award, given to the member with the highest GPA and greatest number and diversity of courses. He has also served on the Antisemitism Educational Programming Committee in UMD’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and as an educator on antisemitism at Maryland Hillel.
“In my 37 years of teaching at the university, I have only encountered a small handful of students like Jacob,” said Killen, a professor of human development and quantitative methodology. “He is extraordinary.”
Glassman plans to pursue a Ph.D. in developmental psychology on the emergence of intergroup conflict in childhood.
Since arriving on campus, psychology major M Pease has been researching and advocating for the mental health needs of marginalized communities—especially LGBTQ+ people and Asian Americans.
Pease’s research partially focused on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ+ students, which led to Pease’s advocacy for more mental health support, culturally competent services and community resources. In their role as administrative director of the student-run Help Center, a peer crisis hotline, Pease has coordinated and moderated workshops, and led the effort to reopen the center as quickly as possible, with health and safety in mind.
As a research and communication assistant in the University of Maryland Prevention Research Center, Pease served on a student group that launched a national survey of LGBTQ+ students’ experiences moving back home and physical distancing during the pandemic, and how their mental health was affected. Pease also served as a university senator on the Senate Executive Committee, pushing for policies that kept in mind mental health needs.
“Pease is a genuinely remarkable student, advocate and community member,” said Jessica Fish, assistant professor of family health and well-being in the Department of Family Science. “In my time working with them, they have demonstrated an exceptionally strong work ethic, deep critical and humanistic thinking, and a veracious commitment to social justice initiatives on campus and in broader society.”
Pease, who completed minors in Asian American studies and public leadership, is the student speaker at this year’s commencement ceremony. In the fall, they will be entering Maryland’s doctoral program in counseling psychology.
An aspiring physician, Grace Suh knows the importance of clear and effective communication between doctor and patient.
As a volunteer at UMD’s Horowitz Center for Health Literacy, Suh saw how difficult it was for an individual to coordinate health care and to wade through the pamphlets, brochures and booklets provided by doctors–especially for non-native English speakers or folks from marginalized communities. She was inspired to join as vice president the nonprofit United Against Inequities in Disease, where she worked for a variety of community-based organizations.
Hoping to help guide younger students, the biological sciences major and professional writing minor was a founding member and co-president of UMD’s Nu Rho Psi Neuroscience Honor Society and launched its peer mentor program. She also became a student ambassador for UMD’s Pre-health Advising Program, leading workshops on navigating the track to medical school and starting the office’s first blog to connect alums with pre-health Terpsl. She also was a research assistant in Professor Debabrata Biswas’ lab in the Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, studying E. coli pathogenesis and the prevalence of salmonella in Maryland dairy farms.
“Grace is a very fast and thorough learner who can acclimatize to any environment with a level head,” said Biswas. “Her willingness to learn is infectious, and she is always eager to listen to other projects and learn from her fellow researchers.”
Next up, Suh will work as an Intramural Research Training Award recipient at the National Institutes of Health, where she intends to join its Academy on Health Disparities. After that, Suh plans on applying to medical school.
Avanish Yendluri entered the University of Maryland knowing that he wanted to be a doctor, and his academic success demonstrated his preparedness for medical school. But it’s been his hands-on experiences that showed him the importance of the human bond between doctor and patient.
As a certified EMT, Yendluri has ridden in ambulances, responded to 911 calls and tended to injured or ill people en route to the hospital. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, he logged more than 1,200 hours as a first responder.
Yendluri also volunteered at Children’s National Hospital, lifting the young patients’ spirits with games, activities and conversation. He founded a UMD chapter of Project Sunshine, which connects volunteers with children in hospitals, and has hosted movie and painting nights there.
He worked as a medical assistant at health startup Bluerock Care, which brings medical service to areas of Washington, D.C., where such resources are lacking, and interned at the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute. After his sophomore year, Yendluri was accepted into the FlexMed program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, guaranteeing him entry upon graduation.
Yendluri “exhibits many personal attributes, such as intelligence, teamwork, dedication and compassion, which make me confident to predict that he will become a first-rate medical student and an effective, innovative and compassionate physician-entrepreneur,” said Todd J. Cooke, research professor and professor emeritus in the Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics.
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