Meet 9 Exceptional First-Year Students Starting Their Time as Terps
Photos courtesy of students; collage by Valerie Morgan
An accomplished baker with a nose for news, an internationally ranked figure skater and an up-and-coming actor are among the talented members of this year’s impressive freshman class at the University of Maryland.
This class of 4,750 new Terps includes a unique group of artists, athletes, scientists and entrepreneurs prepared to leave their unique mark on campus in and out of the classroom. Meet nine members of the incoming freshman class excited to bring their skills and passions to campus.
On top of project due dates and club meetings, Ella Chen will also have five less-typical events circled on her calendar this fall: figure skating competitions as far away as Montreal, Budapest and Tel Aviv. Chen, who competes for the Israeli national team, has been hitting the ice since kindergarten, racking up accolades including top-10 finishes in the 2022 Junior Grand Prix and last winter’s Bavarian Open. The Potomac, Md., native plans to drive to her Ashburn, Va., training facility each day, but she’s still getting involved on campus. The psychology major and University Honors student has been studying in Associate Professor Jennifer Wessel’s lab for the past year and a half, and she plans to continue this semester. “I found the work with Dr. Wessel really interesting because I could relate my experience as a figure skater to my research in psychology,” she said.
Besides both hailing from the DMV, Frederick, Md., native Charles Day and NBA star Kevin Durant share another commonality: Both have roles in the Apple TV+ series “Swagger.” Executive producer Durant, whose life is a loose inspiration for the show, admittedly plays a significantly bigger part than Day, who appears in an episode as a prep school student, but contributing to the athlete’s show was still a cool experience, Day said. He started acting in middle school musicals and an antibullying YouTube series, and since then, he’s landed a minor role in the 2021 movie “Clifford the Big Red Dog'' and is waiting to hear back about his application for the fourth season of the popular Netflix series “Outer Banks.” That’s all while he balanced involvement in high school honor societies, clubs and varsity football, swimming and tennis. He hopes to keep acting on the side while focusing on his architecture studies at UMD.
Through advocacy, leadership and state-recognized research, Toledo, Ohio, native Raymond Flowers has helped esports level up. After playing the video game “Overwatch” in online leagues as a middle schooler, Flowers lobbied his local school board to add a high school esports team, gaming room and coach. He captained his school’s first squad, going undefeated at the regional level. “It’s a great way to (experience) teamwork, especially for people who maybe aren’t suited for traditional sports or interested in traditional sports,” he said. The computer science major also earned high marks for his presentation on the intersection between blockchain and video games at the 2022 Ohio Junior Science and Humanities Symposium. That blockchain background provided a boost to Flowers’ company, Yuuera, a peer-to-peer e-commerce platform where users can buy and sell products using crypto technology. He hopes to expand the business while also landing a spot on one of UMD’s esports teams.
As UMD works to tackle grand challenges like climate change, public policy major Javier Fuentes fits right in with his experience advocating for the environment. That ranges from serving as president of his high school’s green club and winning two Prince George’s County Environthon environmental science competitions all the way to testifying in front of the Maryland General Assembly to promote bills for school composting and environmental education. The county’s board of education also selected Fuentes to present about climate-friendly foods at its 2022 Climate Action Plan Town Hall, and the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education tapped him as its youth representative for a global discussion on environmental efforts. “I want to convert my passion into action through advocacy and through research especially,” he said.
Aspiring journalist Savannah Grooms enters UMD with a strong reporting resume already under her belt, and her sweet side business is icing on the cake. After winning a baking competition that she entered on a whim during the 2020 COVID quarantine, she founded Savannah’s Sugary Sweets, creating elaborate layered confections featuring everything from chocolate-covered strawberries for anniversaries to fondant mermaids and dinosaurs for kids’ birthdays. She’s baked up around 75 cakes so far, she said, and after her friend’s recent cancer diagnosis, she’s started donating treats to kids suffering from the disease. She hopes to continue the business as she majors in journalism, building on experience at the Politico Journalism Institute, the Washington Association of Black Journalists and Bowie High School’s literary magazine.
While a typical out-of-state high schooler might catch a flight to College Park for their campus tour, not many can say they flew themselves. Elias Kishelev did just that, piloting a rented Cessna 172 four-seater plane from his home in South Orange, N.J. His aviation interest started at an early age, propelling him to begin flight training at just 14 years old and earn his private pilot’s license at 17. This summer, he added an instrument rating certification, allowing him to fly into less visible conditions. A $10,000 scholarship from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Foundation helped fund his passions, which he’ll continue as a member of the Free State Flying Club at the College Park Airport and an aerospace engineering major. “I’m very excited about this major because it combines my passions for STEM and aviation,” he said. “It will be challenging academically, but definitely worth the effort, given my strong interests in this area and the amazing curriculum offered at the A. James Clark School of Engineering." He is part of the Virtus Living and Learning engineering community and looks forward to collaborating with his peers.
Abbey Vanasse has an out-of-this-world knack for STEM topics—the aerospace engineering major spent her third consecutive summer working at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, researching everything from satellite communications to an aurora borealis event to force projection. Combine that with her literary talent, and you get the award-winning Gxrls in STEM magazine, which Vanasse oversaw as co-editor-in-chief her senior year. During her three years with the publication, which brings together girls and nonbinary people to pursue interests in STEM, Vanasse wrote stories about outer space, the environment, mental health and more. The magazine has expanded to include contributors from five continents and has earned global recognition from the National Scholastic Press Association and Columbia Scholastic Press Association. “It was pretty cool that everyone was able to contribute virtually to put something together like this and be able to succeed,” she said.
Before she won a gold medal in the high jump at the Pan American U20 Championship for Team Canada this summer, Jennessa Wolfe discovered her high-flying talent through another sport. “I've been a dancer all my life, and I was really good at, like, the leaps and the jumps across the floor,” she said. “So my dad suggested that I try track and field.” The Nova Scotia native picked up the sport in sixth grade, then started competing in the high jump in seventh. That year, she ranked third in her province. “That was like, ‘Whoa, I didn't know I was this good at something,’” Wolfe said. Aside from studying kinesiology, Wolfe is looking forward to competing for Maryland’s Indoor Track and Field team this winter.
Kyra Yip has a jump on her plans to explore her creative side at UMD—she’s already seen her artwork displayed in a museum. Yip majored in fine arts at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in New York City, quickly discovering a love for digital arts. “There's a lot of stuff that you can't do in traditional art that you can do with digital art,” she said. She collaborated with community groups to create digital art as part of a public service announcement and button campaign supporting the Stop Asian Hate movement, encouraging New Yorkers to report hate crimes. The artwork was displayed in two exhibits at the Museum of Chinese in America in New York City: the One World COVID-19 Collection (2020) and Responses: Asian American Voices Resisting the Tides of Racism (2021-present). Yip also plays the drums and served as president of her high school’s dance crew. A member of the College Park Scholars arts program, she plans on pursuing art and dance while majoring in immersive media design at UMD.
A. James Clark School of Engineering College of Arts and Humanities College of Behavioral and Social Sciences College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences Philip Merrill College of Journalism School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation School of Public Health School of Public Policy
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