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John Gillick ’15 / accounting
John Gillick believes children’s access to educational opportunities shouldn’t be limited by their ZIP codes.
Since his first week on campus, he’s been involved in Lakeland STARs, a tutoring program coordinated by College Park Scholars at nearby Paint Branch Elementary School. It’s located in the Lakeland community, home to many low-income families.
He soon advanced from tutor to coordinator, organizing events at UMD to get children excited about going to college. The youngsters tour the Campus Farm and the Xfinity Center, watch demonstrations in the wind tunnel or float paper boats in the ODK Fountain.
“Lakeland STARs is a way for me to get out of my school environment, ground myself and see what’s really important in life,” he says. “If I can inspire a kid to go to college, we may not see the result for 10 to 12 years, but it will be worth it.”
Gillick pushed to integrate the children’s families into the program, which includes dinners, observation days at the school and other activities. In the meantime, the number of tutors has grown from 20 to a record 60.
Now that he’s preparing to graduate, he’s training the next corps of coordinators to “take the keys to the car,” as he put it. Letting go isn’t easy. “I want to tell them, ‘Take care of this program.’”
“If I can inspire a kid to go to college, we may not see the result for 10 to 12 years, but it will be worth it.” – John Gillick
Ian Tolino ’15 / criminology and criminal justice
Ian Tolino heard a sexual assault victim’s story during his freshman year, and in an instant, his life plans changed.
He got training to become a peer mentor for UMD’s Campus Advocates Respond and Educate (CARE) to Stop Violence, making presentations about sexual assault to campus groups. He traded in his engineering aspirations for a major in criminology and criminal justice, and he’s close to earning a certificate in women’s studies.
“We need a culture shift,” says Tolino, a member of the Chi Phi fraternity and bouncer at Cornerstone on Route 1. “And it starts with young people.”
Dubbed “Consent Bro” last fall by The Washington Post for his efforts to educate fraternities about this issue, he acknowledges that frank talk about sexual consent can be awkward. But he wants to make sure that sexual assault prevention is not painted solely as a women’s issue, especially since men are overwhelmingly the aggressors and can change their own behavior to solve the problem.
Tolino tells audiences that if you have a mother, a sister, a girlfriend or any other woman you care about in your life, sexual assault is your issue, too. In the future, he hopes to keep pursuing the issue through educating high schoolers or working in public policy.
“It’s been my issue since I was alive,” he says. “I just didn’t know it.”
Beena Raghavendran ’15 / journalism /
government and politics
Beena Raghavendran never felt so fortunate to be an aspiring political reporter in the U.S. as when she left the country.
While taking a three-week investigative class in Latvia over winter break last year, she met journalists in the post-Soviet nation who faced censorship, wiretapping and threats to their independence as they pursued their work.
“Even though journalists might find it difficult sometimes to report stories here,” she recalls thinking, “at least they don’t fear for their lives.”
The eye-opening experience only furthered her interest in the field, which she’s honed at internships at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and McClatchy.
The former was a summer job that Raghavendran turned into a spring semester covering Capitol Hill for the Twin Cities when she was able to tell her supervisors that Maryland was just a few miles away. “It’s interesting in a bureau,” she says. “You’re more on your own. You’re independent. You’re the one digging for stories.”
The latter gave her the opportunity to attend a 2013 White House briefing on the breaking news of sequestration. She admits to being “starstruck” by her proximity to NBC’s Chuck Todd, NPR’s Ari Shapiro and a “so tired” President Obama.
With Raghavendran’s added interest in multimedia work and experience in the Honor College’s Design: Cultures and Creativity program, she can hardly wait to start covering the campaign trail.
“We see a lot of raw human emotion in politics—envy, jealousy, greed, passion, determination. It’s all very real and at an extreme level,” she says. “I remember thinking in 2012—‘four more years, and I’ll be there.’”
“What I would want people to know when they see me is that there’s more to me than just my disability or my gait.” – Christopher Gaines
Wendell English Ph.D. ’15 / Education Policy
It’s not like Wendell English planned to become addicted to academia. He just never stopped being curious.
The oldest degree-seeking student at UMD, English at age 72 is writing his thesis for a doctorate in education policy.
His topic is on Bluefield State College in his hometown in southeastern W. Va.—specifically how it transitioned from a nearly 100 percent African-American college to one that is 97 percent white.
“I’m looking at it to find out why was desegregation not a problem in that area,” he says. “It was an industrial hub. It was the heart of the West Virginia coalfields. People came there from the Deep South and from the east, from Europe and they had to get along. What was thought of as a Southern mentality or culture was not so prevalent in that area.”
English went on to earn multiple degrees in music education, special education, educational administration and public policy from five institutions, including Harvard and the New England Conservatory of Music.
He enjoyed a nearly 50-year career in teaching and conducting, including serving as music director of Boston’s All-City Chorus and principal guest conductor of the Berlin Symphony.
“Whenever I contemplated a career change or a career curve,” he says, “I always found myself in an academic setting, and it seemed that I could find my way much better being in the midst of that.”
Now he’s teaching at Coppin State while he wraps up his latest degree at UMD, studying alongside students who are decades his junior.
“I am excited by different points of view,” he says. “When I hear them voice those views, I think,” ‘Okay, let’s see what happens in about 20 years for you.’”
Fang Cao ’15 / neurobiology and physiology
Growing up in a poor neighborhood of London, Fang Cao ’15 and his parents slept on cardboard in their apartment because they couldn’t afford mattresses. He was a latchkey kid at age 7, when his parents worked side jobs while attending graduate school. He never doubted the value of education.
Cao will be returning to London this fall, this time as a graduate student at the University of Oxford studying medical anthropology on a Rhodes Scholarship.
“I know what it’s like to worry about money, so having to not have to worry about money is something that feels pretty amazing,” he says.
An American citizen since age 12, Fang also received a full scholarship to Maryland as a Banneker/Key scholar. He’s earned a 4.0 GPA as a neurobiology and physiology major and has done research at the National Institutes of Health and Children’s National Medical Center.
Amid all that, he started two tutoring programs at nearby Northwestern High School to help disadvantaged minority students improve in science and prepare for college. Two dozen UMD students are now volunteering, playing such games as ”Biology Jeopardy” with the high school students.
“I thought I could contribute to improving educational opportunities for those who are less fortunate,” he says. “I guess I saw a bit of that from my own past experiences.”
“I’m able to connect with people and the way I’m able to be successful is because I’m able to express things I’ve been through.” – Lenaya Stewart
MELISSA ROMERO ’17 / finance
Melissa Romero was a junior in high school when doctors diagnosed a mysterious lump on her neck as thyroid cancer.
“For about five minutes, I did freak out, but that was all,” she said. “My mom is very emotional, and it really took a toll on her. I wanted to be calm for her.”
She underwent surgery and radiation and has been cancer-free since then. But confronting mortality as a teenager changed her outlook, making family and community her top priorities.
The sophomore in the College Park Scholars Public Leadership program chose a finance major not for a lucrative business career, but to repay her parents’ hard work by helping others.
She was born soon after they arrived in the United States from El Salvador 21 years ago. Romero watched her parents build a life and a home in Takoma Park, Md., where she lives as a commuter student after a freshman year on campus.
“They were definitely successful, given the circumstances, but they always struggled financially,” she says. “It motivated me to choose a degree where I could contribute to my community by advising families who lack knowledge and resources.”
Romero has sought to ease the way for another marginalized community as well—LGBT students. She came out in her final year of high school, and co-founded the Cambridge Community Queers and Allies in 2014 to connect new students with resources and support.
“This place is so big and diverse, with people from so many backgrounds,” she says. “ But the LGBT community was not talked about very much, and I wanted to help change that.”
Moriamo Akibu ’15 / Theatre
Only three months after the shooting death of a black teen by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., Moriamo Akibu ’15 helped create a theatrical presentation about the power of racism in America.
The Washington Post review said that “Collidescope: Adventures in Pre- and Post-Racial America” “may have set some kind of speed record for turning a news event into a theatrical one.”
“Race is such a sensitive subject, and it’s not an easy topic for people to talk about,” says Akibu, the daughter of Nigerian immigrants. “We want to give them a space to do that.”
She’ll perform a piece from “Collidescope” at LaMama Theatre in New York City on March 14.
“Theater is the only place I can do anything I want and be whoever I want to be,” she says. “There are so many opportunities to create something that speaks to what’s happening at the present.”
“You see how much of a difference your couple hours a day makes to these families...you can’t help but be involved.” – Peter Dunlop