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Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars Program Honors Top Students and Their Mentors

Program Provides $1,500 UMD Scholarships in K-12 Teachers’ Names

By Laura Cech

Collage of Merill Scholar students

Twenty students have been named Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars and will celebrate mentors from both their K-12 years and time at UMD at a ceremony on Friday.

Photos courtesy of students

Outstanding graduating seniors at the University of Maryland have analyzed drought patterns, researched diabetes and tutored elementary school students in math. One plans to be an eye surgeon; another, a human rights attorney.

But as varied as their aspirations and accomplishments are, each of the students chosen as 2023-24 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars shares a deep conviction that they could not have achieved so much without teachers and professors who guided, inspired, tutored and challenged them during their academic journeys.

At a ceremony on Friday, the 20 students will acknowledge and celebrate mentors from both their K-12 years and from their time at UMD. The program, named for the late university benefactor and Washington-area publisher, highlights the importance of mentorship with $1,500 scholarships, each of which is given in the K-12 teacher’s name to another student from their school district who will attend UMD the next academic year.

“The late Philip Merrill established this program to foster a community of scholars, faculty members and K-12 teachers who understand the pivotal role of mentoring and educating the upcoming generation,” said UMD President Darryll J. Pines. “We are profoundly thankful for all the individuals, including the many teachers, who have significantly influenced our students' academic progress.”

The program also spotlights the work of the graduating seniors, who are selected by the academic colleges and schools. In addition to internships and research projects, the honorees were involved in a range of campus activities, from matching students with service projects to marching in the marching band.

“The accomplishments of these scholars stand as a testament to the enduring influence of teacher excellence in shaping outstanding student achievements,” said William A. Cohen, associate provost and dean for undergraduate studies. “It is a special joy to celebrate student achievements alongside those individuals who helped foster their success. The Merrill Presidential Scholars Program is creating an essential legacy by emphasizing the mentorship that makes academic and personal triumphs possible.”

Several UMD professors will be or have been recognized multiple times, including journalism professor Jerry Zremski, who was acknowledged by two students this year. Associate Professor Tim Canty in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Science has been honored by seven Merrill Presidential Scholars to date, including this year by Maria Nikolaitchik, who is completing a double degree in atmospheric and oceanic sciences and mathematics.

“I have wonderful mentors,” said Nikolaitchik, one of the creators of the campus weather station network. Canty and her high school statistics teacher helped her become, she said, “who I fundamentally am as a person: someone who loves numbers and clouds.”

The Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars for 2023-24 are:


Lei Danielle Escobal (American Studies, Sociology)

  • Teacher Mentor: Sandra Veresink, Calvert Hall College High School, Towson, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Rossina Zamora Liu, Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership

Lindsay Moynihan (History)

  • Teacher Mentor: Ramona Puchalski-Piretti, Conard High School, West Hartford, Conn.
  • Faculty Mentor: Robyn Muncy, Department of History

Ira Valeza (Chinese, Government and Politics)

  • Teacher Mentor: Brendan Williams, Oakland Mills High School, Columbia, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Guiling Hu, School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures


Aliah Brown (Government and Politics, Criminology and Criminal Justice)

  • Teacher Mentor: Anna Newton, North Point High School, Waldorf, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Justine DeCamillis, MLAW Programs, Justice and Legal Thought

Soleil Kennerly (Psychology)

  • Teacher Mentor: Gail Tucker, Academy of Health Sciences at Prince George’s Community College, Largo, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Abigail Nicolas, Department of Psychology

Fatima Yazdi (Government and Politics, Journalism)

  • Teacher Mentor: Christopher Forney, Winston Churchill High School, Potomac, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Jerry Zremski, Journalism


Siri Rao (Finance)

  • Teacher Mentor: Christina Crise, Mount Hebron High School, Ellicott City, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Joseph Bailey, Decision, Operations and Information Technologies

Alexis Reyes (International Business, Supply Chain Management)

  • Teacher Mentor: Mark Trice, Frederick High School, Frederick, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Humberto Coronado, Logistics, Business, and Public Policy

Gregory Rosario (Finance, Information Systems)

  • Teacher Mentor: Matthew Adelberg, Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, Baltimore, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Zeinab Karake, Decision, Operations and Information Technologies


Jennifer Li (Neuroscience, Information Science)

  • Teacher Mentor: Jonathan Taylor, Richard Montgomery High School, Rockville, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Amanda Chicoli, Department of Psychology

Maria Nikolaitchik (Statistics, Atmospheric Sciences)

  • Teacher Mentor: Jeremy Brenneman, Middletown High School, Middletown, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Timothy Canty, Atmospheric and Oceanic Science

Karthik Sellakumaran Latha (Mathematics)

  • Teacher Mentor: Marisa Reinsch, Skyline High School, Sammamish, Wash.
  • Faculty Mentor: Roohollah Ebrahimian, Department of Mathematics


Alyssa Leventhal (Special Education)

  • Teacher Mentor: Mary Cox, Greenwood Elementary School, Brookeville, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Dawn Martin, Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education


Najmah Abdur-Rahman (Mechanical Engineering)

  • Teacher Mentor: Tashia Tillett, Paint Branch High School, Burtonsville, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Jungho Kim, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Thilini Amarasinghe (Civil and Environmental Engineering)

  • Teacher Mentor: Vincent Muscato, Marriotts Ridge High School, Marriottsville, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Peter Chang, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Visesh Uppoor (Aerospace Engineering)

  • Teacher Mentor: Randine Levy, Roberto Clemente Middle School, Germantown, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Kenneth Yu, Aerospace Engineering


MaryAnne Onianwah (Information Science)

  • Teacher Mentor: Glenn Stergar, North Point High School, Waldorf, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Ana Ndumu, College of Information Studies


  • Hannah Ziegler (Journalism and Information Science)
  • Teacher Mentor; Steve Chisnell, Royal Oak High School, Royal Oak, Mich.
  • Faculty Mentor, Jerry Zremski, Philip Merrill College of Journalism


Maria Ahmed (Community Health)

  • Teacher Mentor: Matthew Gresick, Reservoir High School, Fulton, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Dina Borzekowski, Department of Behavioral and Community Health

Kelly Biglin (Public Health Science)

  • Teacher Mentor: Brooke Fallon, Leonardtown High School, Leonardtown, Md.
  • Faculty Mentor: Elisabeth Maring, Department of Family Science

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