As 2020 comes to a close, the students in the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) CURE Scholars Program came together Dec. 10 for their Winter Wonderland celebration. The annual event is usually held in person with an award ceremony and a keynote speaker; however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Winter Wonderland celebration was held virtually over Zoom.
Because this has been such a difficult year of unprecedented obstacles, CURE leadership decided to make this event all about having fun and celebrating the winter season.
“Winter Wonderland is always such a dynamic event,” said Jen Strum, CURE’s administrative assistant and organizer of the Winter Wonderland. “In planning this year’s event, we needed to take into consideration that our scholars are spending a lot of time on screens during this pandemic, so we wanted to make sure that the feel of this event was different than a typical day in school or programming. We wanted to give our scholars and their families a chance to relax, have fun, and enjoy each other.”
To get into the spirit of the season, the CURE Scholars were welcomed with peppy holiday music after logging in. They also were given festive virtual backgrounds to use during the event. After opening remarks, the scholars were split up into breakout rooms, where they could socialize with their peers and play holiday-themed versions of a memory board game, a picture puzzle game, and Taboo.
One breakout room packed an extra holiday surprise for the scholars in Cohort 1. Leading the games and activities was Robin Saunders, EdD, MS, CURE’s founding executive director, who helped to develop and launch the program. She now works as an independent consultant, but her special bond with the Cohort 1 scholars is stronger than ever.
“Cohort 1 will always hold a special place in my heart,” Saunders said. “These scholars are like my babies! They all still have my phone number and text me, but getting a chance to see them again, especially during this time, was such a wonderful holiday treat.”
Even though they could not meet in person, the scholars, mentors, and parents were happy to get together and celebrate.
“I really enjoy these moments with everyone,” said Carolyn Terry, a Cohort 1 parent. “These kinds of get-togethers have been very rare this year, and I am so happy we were able to make it happen.”
Gia Grier McGinnis, DrPH, MS, executive director of the CURE Scholars Program, made sure to thank all of the people who made virtual programming a reality over the last year.
“Despite the pandemic, we have had a great semester here at CURE,” she said. “I want to thank our wonderful teachers and our instructional team for leading us through our weekly sessions.
“I also want to acknowledge our CURE mentors who have joined us online each week, and our mentors and volunteers who supported us during the pandemic in delivering school and science supplies and assisting with our Thanksgiving drive this fall. We could not have done that without you all.
“And to our CURE parents and caregivers, thank you for allowing us to work with your children and for your patience as we navigate moving our programming online. We are figuring things out as we go and learning some good lessons along the way. And for those of you who are health care workers and other essential workers, I thank you for your service to the community.”
Instead of doing the traditional Winter Wonderland awards ceremony, the scholars who achieved high honors this past year will be featured in the next issue of the CURE weekly newsletter.
And it would not be a CURE event without an interactive science experiment. After the games in the breakout rooms, the scholars came back together to watch a fun science experiment. Ebehiremen Ayewoh and Brianna Scotland, both PhD students in the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, showed the scholars how to make ice cream sundaes using liquid nitrogen.
As Ayewoh and Scotland poured the liquid nitrogen, the Zoom chat lit up with excited comments and questions from the scholars.
Ashira Evans in Cohort 5 wrote, “Wow! It looks like a witch’s brew.”
Lynijah Russell in Cohort 3 wrote, “This is so cool and it’s making me want ice cream!”
The interactive experiment was the perfect way to cap off the Winter Wonderland event. And Grier McGinnis left the scholars with a message of hope for the rest of the school year.
“I know online learning has been challenging, and we applaud all of our scholars for sticking with it,” she said. “I do believe there is light at the end of the tunnel, so scholars, please don’t give up and keep trying to learn.”
The CURE Scholars will resume their weekly programming Jan. 25.