This time of year, high school seniors are eagerly waiting to hear from colleges hoping for a letter of acceptance. It is an exciting time for the students and their families. For the 20 seniors in the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) CURE Scholars Program, it is particularly special. Each acceptance letter represents the culmination of nearly seven years of mentorship, academic enrichment, and dedication to their futures.
“It feels really great to be receiving all these acceptances,” says Ayishat Yussuf, a scholar in Cohort 1 of the CURE program. “I honestly don’t know where I plan on attending yet because I have so many options to choose from.”
Launched in 2015, UMB CURE was the first National Cancer Institute Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) program in the country to engage scholars beginning in sixth grade. The program has inspired its scholars to pursue lucrative careers in health care and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) through mentorship and academic support. The program follows the students through middle and high school with the goal of building a diverse health care, cancer research, and STEM workforce and alleviating medical and educational disparities.
This is a landmark year for the program as its first cohort of scholars, who began as sixth-graders, will be graduating from high school and heading off to college.
“Seeing the admission notices come in for the scholars makes me feel overjoyed,” says Ivan Lamas-Sanchez, MA, program manager for school success for UMB CURE. “I’m excited for the next chapter of their journey, and I’m excited for the scholars and their families to see their hard work, dedication, and commitment come to fruition.”
With the support of UMB CURE’s Career Navigator Program, which is geared specifically toward 11th- and 12th-grade students, the scholars have collectively applied to 76 colleges and been admitted to 42. Yussuf has received 16 acceptance letters from colleges including North Carolina A&T State University and Spelman College, which are on her list of top choices, and Bowie State University, where she was offered a full-ride scholarship to attend.
“The acceptance that I am very excited about was North Carolina A&T,” Yussuf says of the HBCU (Historically Black College or University) in Greensboro, N.C. “I feel like I’m destined to go to an HBCU and thrive there. Also, the programs they have are amazing. Just being able to say that I got accepted to the school is honestly amazing.”
If she attends North Carolina A&T, Yussuf plans to major in child development on a pre-med track to fulfill her dream of becoming a pediatrician. Yussuf receiving an acceptance letter from one of her top schools also was a special moment for her mentor, Kat Coburn, an MD/PhD student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Coburn has been mentoring Yussuf since she started the program in 2015.
“I hope that my mentorship has helped instill confidence within her that she is capable of whatever she sets her mind to,” Coburn says. “The next chapter of her academic career will be challenging, but she has the tools, hard work, and intellect to rise to the occasion. I’m very excited for her!”
UMB CURE’s Career Navigator Program also helps the scholars’ families prepare for the college transition with a parent success workshop series that introduces them to the nuances of higher education and walks them through the process of applying for scholarships and federal student aid. These workshops will help scholars and families better understand their financial award letters to make the best financially informed decision for fall 2022.
In addition to financial aid, UMB has been working to raise funds for the scholars’ tuition and other college expenses. The UMB Office of Philanthropy has raised $235,000 in scholarship funds from several donors including the Kathy and Jerry Wood Foundation and the Florence Nesh Charitable Foundation, which is managed by PNC Charitable Trusts. The Career Navigator Program is supported by generous seed and matching funds from the Edward St. John Foundation.
Individuals who share a passion for inspiring students to pursue a future in STEM, health care, or cancer research can contribute donations of any amount to the UMB CURE College Scholarships Fund. The goal is to equip each scholar with a path to graduate from college and embark on a career unencumbered by massive student debt.
Yussuf and the rest of the Cohort 1 scholars expect to receive more acceptance letters in the coming months.
Local and Federal Funding Acknowledgment: The UMB CURE Scholars Program is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health, under Award No. R25GM129875; the Baltimore Summer Funding Collaborative from the France-Merrick Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and the Hinkey-Benson Family Fund; and the University of Maryland School of Medicine Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center.