Completing their high school careers and commencing their college ones while navigating the “new normal” of a global pandemic deserves credit on its own. But students in the University of Maryland’s incoming first-year class have accomplished much more.

The group of around 4,300—an international piano champion, a crusader for women in STEM fields and an award-winning amateur filmmaker who develops robots on the side, just to name a few—is eager to meet new people, learn new things and start a new chapter.

As they officially begin their time as Terps amid an unprecedented fall semester, meet a few of them below, virtually, of course:

Hameenat Adekoya headshotHameenat Adekoya
Hameenat Adekoya’s schedule at the Western School of Technology and Environmental Science in Catonsville was jam-packed with Advanced Placement courses—so much so that she graduated in three years. If that wasn’t impressive enough, she simultaneously earned her associate’s degree from the Community College of Baltimore County. “I’ve always kind of been a fast learner. I think just sticking to a schedule for myself, prioritizing and time management helped,” she said. “It was really helpful to get into that college mindset so early.” Adekoya, who will study public health science at UMD, still found time to play golf, compete in medical terminology competitions and co-found the Virago Project, a nonprofit that raises money for local homeless shelters and orphanages.


Mariya Ahmed headshotMariya Ahmed
When Mariya Ahmed applied for her first research internship as a 15-year-old, she landed one in the ophthalmology field. Within two years, she’d made it to the National Eye Institute, co-first-authored a scientific journal entry and presented her findings at an international conference. Among her most significant studies was one on the genetic cause of eye abnormalities spanning five generations of a family, published in the Journal of Human Genetics and presented at the 2019 Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology’s annual meeting. Majoring in biological sciences and anthropology at UMD, she’s excited to be “surrounded by peers who are passionate about the same things I’m passionate about,” she said.


Faris Ali and Ayman Bootwala pose with Testudo statueFaris Ali and Ayman Bootwala
After graduating from Sunday school at their mosque, Faris Ali and Ayman Bootwala wanted to stay connected with their community, continue to learn about their religion and keep giving to those in need. The two Pennsylvanians founded a nonprofit called Youth Connecting Communities (YCC), which seeks to integrate volunteer work into everyday life and extend Sunday school in an engaging way. “In addition to learning about our religion of Islam, we wanted to also learn about the other two Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Christianity,” Ali said. “So, it was a broader experience.” The nonprofit, which has 45 volunteers, also partners with an organization in India called Arpan, which aims to prevent child abuse, and works with local nonprofits in the U.S. to provide food and resources to underprivileged populations. Ali, who’s studying computer science at UMD, and Bootwala, who’s majoring in economics and applied math, hope to establish a chapter of YCC in Maryland as well and focus on increasing their reach in surrounding communities.


Jason Amis headshotJason Amis
Jason Amis has already performed the equivalent of a symphony in his musical experiences. Amis, who will study percussion performance in music at Maryland as a Banneker/Key Scholar and an Honors Humanities member, earned a spot in the Honor Band of America, was a member of the World Youth Symphony Orchestra and attended the Boston University Tanglewood Institute. He became an Eagle Scout after completing a service project in which he cataloged nearly 2,000 instrumental music items at his Massachusetts high school, and he’s been working with a mentor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to digitize a handwritten score to make the piece more accessible. “My end goal is to become a wind ensemble conductor who also plays professionally and composes,” he said, “so (that experience has) been helpful in becoming well-rounded in the music field.”


Alana Ginsburg headshotAlana Ginsburg
As wildfires rage across the West Coast, Alana Ginsburg’s research exploring weather patterns and determining the best evacuation routes in the area is especially relevant. Last summer, she spent six weeks paired with a doctoral student in the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Department of Geography, and she’ll look to continue related research in UMD’s Gemstone Honors College program. “I thought that the idea of having a community of people who were not only passionate about research, but did it together, just sounded incredible,” she said. After serving as president and student representative of her high school’s Green Club, she’s excited to major in environmental science and policy and join sustainability efforts at UMD, where the clarinet player will also soak up school spirit as a member of the Mighty Sound of Maryland.


Caio Goolsby headshotCaio Goolsby
Caio Goolsby is a passionate speaker, whether he’s lobbying his board of education, giving a Tedx Talk or debating at a Model United Nations event. A member of the National Hispanic Recognition Program, which highlights achievements of Hispanic scholars, Goolsby has participated in more than 20 national Model UN conferences, earning nine best delegate awards along the way. “The idea of representing those countries and being able to engage in academic debate about the topics that trouble the world to this day, I thought that was an extremely appealing concept,” he said. After serving for two years as his high school’s Model UN club president, he’s excited to join the team at UMD, where he intends to triple major in economics, history and government and politics.


Kalonji Harrington headshotKalonji Harrington
Computer science major Kalonji Harrington interned at NASA for the past two summers, working 40 hours per week with an engineering mentor on a microelectronics project. “Having that knowledge will give me an upper hand combined with the curriculum at UMD,” he said. In addition to that research, Harrington, a member of the Gemstone Honors College program, has been playing the jazz piano since elementary school. As he begins his time as a Terp, he’s looking forward to seeing how he can make a difference, he said, whether through his studies or other ventures.


Hudson Hinshaw headshotHudson Hinshaw
Before Hudson Hinshaw even earned his high school diploma, he’d already secured a degree in mathematics. As a freshman, he enrolled in a few classes at Frederick Community College, and by his junior year, he realized he was on track to finish his associate’s degree. On top of that accomplishment, which Frederick County Public Schools are now helping other high schoolers achieve through the new Early College dual-enrollment partnership with FCC, he also took a microeconomics and a printing press class through a summer program at Harvard University. “I’m always seeking more opportunities to learn,” said Hinshaw, who’s studying economics at Maryland and plans to add a math major.


Sanjana Kumar headshotSanjana Kumar
As a female student exploring STEM in high school, Sanjana Kumar wished she had more peer support. She decided to provide that guidance herself, founding both the Girls in Tech and Volunteers in Science and Technology clubs. In the former, Kumar and other student leaders provided female freshmen and sophomores with advice about organizations offering STEM internships, and in the latter, they coached Montgomery County middle school teams as they prepped for academic competitions. “I think that the mentorship is really important,” she said. “I thought that would be an amazing way to give back to my school and community.” Kumar, who was also president of her high school’s Red Cross Club, hopes to continue doing good by exploring volunteer opportunities at UMD, where she plans to study psychology.


Amanda Liu headshotAmanda Liu
Amanda Liu has already achieved an unusual level of scientific success: She took home a first-place Sigma Xi FDA Excellence in Science award at the 2019 Montgomery County Science Fair for her research on muscular dystrophy treatments, and last summer, she worked as a computational biology research intern at the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine. But the computer science major recognizes the value of a well-rounded education, so as a high school sophomore, she helped to spearhead the revival of SilverQuest, her magnet program’s literary publication that had been dormant since 2009. The magazine has been published every year since. “I love STEM, science and computer science, but I also really enjoy the humanities,” she said. “I kind of saw a need for an organization to cohere those two interests.”


Elyas Masrour headshotElyas Masrour
Whether he’s making a mini-movie or a marine robot, Elyas Masrour is a connoisseur of creating. He’s reeled in recognition at various film festivals—including top prizes at the Filmshakers and Youth Making Ripples events for his latest documentary, “Night of the Crabs”—while working mainly as a one-man band, directing, narrating and shooting on his own. Beyond filmmaking, Masrour, who will study computer engineering at Maryland, has developed a GPS-enabled smart cane to help the visually impaired, a wireless charging and data collection dock for robotic boats, a time management app for kids and more. Once it’s safe to do so, he’s eager to keep the innovation and the camera rolling during late nights on campus with his fellow Terps.


Ming Nelson headshotMing Nelson
Ming Nelson grew up playing piano duets with his younger sister, Zhenzhu, from the time he was around 5 years old, with the Columbia, Md., native competing at the nearby Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and earning top-three finishes in a trio of international contests. But even that couldn’t quite prepare him for the thrill of playing at the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York City, the grand prize for the sibling pair’s victory in the 2018 Brooklyn Music Teachers’ Guild Intercontinental Piano Competition. “My sister and I were just ecstatic,” Nelson said. “Performing there is one of the top achievements for any artist.” Now, after more than a decade of dedication to the keys, he’s ready to pursue other interests as a Terp. He plans to study mathematics, eventually try out for club volleyball and, after quarantine, is “just itching to work those old muscles and get busy again,” he said.


Thomas Pallan headshotThomas Pallan
With talk of vaccines constantly circulating in the news as the world battles COVID-19, Thomas Pallan is making progress on a related project of his own. The information science major is developing an app that will help parents make sure that their kids get all their vaccinations on time and keep track of the ones that they’ve already received. “I have an interest in the intersection between computer science and technology and health care,” he said. “I figure that making an app would be a great way to explore that interest and learn more.” On top of that innovative work, which he hopes to accelerate at UMD, Pallan has racked up hundreds of hours volunteering at the Baltimore VA Medical Center, earning the Presidential Golden Award for Service from the Department of Veterans Affairs three years in a row.


Miranda Song headshotMiranda Song
For Miranda Song, what started as an internship quickly became much more. Based on her research at the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center as a high school junior, she created RegenerativeMED, a student-run company that’s aiming to develop an anti-aging drug by making a protein that counteracts the aging process in cells. “It’s been an amazing experience,” she said. Inspired to offer similar opportunities for her peers, she co-founded both the STEM Research Club at her high school and the STEM Experiential Learning Foundation, which introduces underserved students to research and career opportunities. No stranger to scholarly projects and competitions herself, Song, who will study computer science, placed sixth internationally in the HOSA Future Health Professionals Medical Math event.


Lani Tran headshotLani Tran
When Lani Tran discovered her high school lacked a club to provide hands-on opportunities to students interested in the medical fields, she founded one herself. “Even though textbooks and classrooms expose us to biology, the narrative changes when students are in the room with doctors, nurses and patients.” The Silver Spring native’s lunchtime club provides students from underrepresented backgrounds assistance in applying for research internships—and helps them foster connections with medical professionals. At the University of Maryland, the incoming biological sciences major hopes to get involved with clubs related to medicine and continue her effort to help people, she said, “because we’re in a pandemic and so many people need resources right now.”