Princaya Sanders gives her student address at the UMB CURE Scholars graduation. (Courtesy Photo)

By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,
Report for America Corps Member.

The first cohort of University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) CURE Scholars Program recently became graduates. 

The 20 high school seniors, who reside in West Baltimore, joined the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) mentorship program during middle school, and on May 6, they celebrated their achievement and were inducted into the CURE Scholars Alumni Network. 

“It’s just an amazing milestone for the program but also for these youth [who] have stayed in this program for seven years and dedicated themselves to learning about STEM and focusing on their studies for so long,” said Dr. Gia Grier McGinnis, executive director of the UMB CURE Scholars Program. “It’s a real testament to them and their families for really believing in what the program can do for them.”

Launched in 2015, the UMB CURE Scholars Program was created in partnership with the National Cancer Institute (NCI). 

At the time, former UMB President Jay Perman wanted to establish the program to help diversify STEM and healthcare fields and to particularly provide African American youth with academic enrichment that prepares them for competitive, well-paid careers.  

The program takes a pipeline approach and collaborates annually with three schools in West Baltimore, Franklin Square Elementary and Middle School, Green Street Academy and Southwest Baltimore Charter School, to recruit students. It’s also the first of its kind to start in middle schools. 

Participants in the program are offered on-going mentoring in and outside of school, weekend tutoring, and summer experiences that focus on hands-on science activities in cancer research and health care. They also receive college and career readiness training, and UMB extends social  work services to the students to assist them and their families’ with their emotional well-being and crisis management. 

Ayishat Yussuf and Princaya Sanders were two graduates of the UMB CURE Scholars Program. Yussuf said her mother persuaded her to seize the opportunity and join the program, while Sanders said she joined because she wanted to make more friends. 

Ayishat Yussuff stands in her cap and gown at the UMB CURE Scholars graduation. (Courtesy Photo)

Although the young women had different motivations for applying to the program, they both said they discovered that working in STEM and health care professions would allow them to help communities, and if their careers were not centered in service, they would not be satisfied with their lives. 

“One thing I loved about CURE is that it shows you how to love what you do [while] making sure you’re giving back to the community,” said Yussuf. 

Her experience in the program even inspired her to write her first book, “The M.e.l.a.n.i.n Guide,” a self-improvement book filled with self-care activities, advice, affirmation and inspiring quotes. 

In the fall, Yussuf will attend Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia to study biology with the hopes of becoming a pediatrician in the future. She will be the first person in her family to attend college. 

In Sander’s case, the UMB CURE Scholars Program prevented her from pursuing a law degree, which she realized was not her passion. She plans to attend UMB for undergraduate studies, and after, she wants to go to graduate school to become a clinical social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist. 

“My biggest takeaway from CURE in general is that even though opportunity isn’t equal, talent is. We have people from the lower-middle class to the upper-middle class, and we all have talents in a variety of ways,” said Sanders. “It’s just that some people may not get a chance to apply [their talents] because they don’t have opportunities, and CURE gave us opportunities to equally show our talents.”

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