On Aug. 6, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore welcomed 10 new Hawks as the inaugural cohort for the STEM STARS (Students Achieving Results in Science)  program, a program made possible by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Driving Change award. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is one of six universities and the first Historically Black University to receive the $2.5 million grant that is to be dispersed over the next five years. The purpose of Driving Change, launched in 2019, is to “create inclusive environments, promote student success, and recognize the institutional practices and historical context that are barriers to inclusion,” according to the HHMI.

(L-R) Alleyah Britton, Paul Foster, Qureyin Wilkinson, Victoria Casteel, Emmanuel Johnson III, Eli Ward, Amaris Cary, Lena Spiller, Gilbert Pinkett III, and Makai Martin.

Alleyah Britton (Laurel, Md.), Paul Foster (Accokeek, Md.), Qureyin Wilkinson (Gaithersburg, Md.), Victoria Casteel (Largo, Md.), Emmanuel Johnson III (Gaithersburg, Md.), Eli Ward (Cheltenham, Pa.), Amaris Cary (Baltimore, Md.), Lena Spiller (Oahu, Hawaii), Gilbert Pinkett III (Townsend, Del.), and Makai Martin (Nokesville, Va.) are the students in the inaugural cohort of the STEM STARS program. The STEM STARS program is a living-learning, cohort model where students immerse themselves into the university’s culture and activities that support collegiate goals. The students’ programs of study include aviation management, biology (pre-med and pre-veterinary science), computer science, engineering (mechanical), environmental science,  and exercise science. 

“This is one of the most comprehensive scholarships that we have at UMES,” said Dr. Tiara Cornelius, Executive Director of the STEM STARS program. “It covers nearly everything which is practically unheard of for students who are enrolled in STEM programs and planning to pursue PhDs or MDPhDs (programs that provide training in both medicine and research) in STEM. Our goal is to increase the number of students of color who have PhDs because we represent such a small percentage of people with PhDs overall,” said Dr. Cornelius on the program’s goal and impact for students in STEM. She is also the Chairperson and an Associate Professor in UMES’ Department of Mathematics.

The inaugural cohort of new Hawks in the STEM STARS program were welcomed by President Heidi M. Anderson (center) and members of her cabinet including (L-R) Anastasia Rodriguez (Vice President of Administration and Finance), Dr. Robert Mock (Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Chief of Staff), Dr. Rondall Allen (Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs), and Latoya Jenkins (Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Experience.)

Lena Spiller whose career goal is to become “a captain at a major airline and possibly start a scholarship for aspiring pilots” shared her hopes for her experience in the STEM STARS program saying  “With STEM STARS, I am hoping to improve my work ethic and maintain my self-discipline. Through the program’s professional development classes and events, I am hoping to network and become better adapted to the UMES campus. Moreover, my UMES experience should provide me with a glimpse of adult life and a look into my career field. Hopefully, UMES provides me with a support system and strong social connections that I will also take with me as I enter adulthood.”

“Being a part of the first cohort of STEM STARS means I am setting the example. I am the inspiration. And I am that role model that future generations will look up to. As the youngest child, this is contrary to what I am used to, nonetheless a learning experience that will only allow me to grow,” said Spiller.

President Heidi M. Anderson commended the inaugural cohort on their new status as she cited her experience in a similar summer program. “You are special because you are the first cohort. This is a special program and you are going to help us soar above and beyond,” Anderson said.

The program is a welcome addition to the institution, which has awarded 60 percent of its degrees in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math in the last several years. UMES, a Carnegie R2 doctoral research university, also has the most healthcare professions programs of any HBCU with eight, which also contributes to its STEM success.

“Once I got the scholarship for the STEM STARS program and I found out about the activities and the path we’d be blazing, I was 100 percent onboard,” said Emmanuel Johnson III who will be studying exercise science at UMES.

“I’ve always played sports so I was always interested in sports medicine. I also like helping people so physical therapy is something I’d like to do and with exercise science, I can go into that field,” Johnson said about his career goals.

As the inaugural cohort, the STEM STARS students participated in a team building exercise during the orientation event in the new School of Pharmacy and Health Professions building.

“The STEM STARS program at UMES is a monumental opportunity to help drive change in STEM and exemplify the power of the UMES education and experience. We anticipate being a part of our student’s villages to help them achieve their educational goals and aiding them in helping to meet the needs of society through the sciences, soaring above and beyond,” Dr. Anderson said on her vision for the program’s impact.

By Tahja Cropper

Photos: Joey Gardner

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