Together We Rise — Annual Scholarship Luncheon

Published: Mar 29, 2019

Students and honorees at the 8th annual scholarship luncheon.
(Students and honorees at the 8th annual endowed scholarships luncheon.)

In an average gathering on campus, members of a crowd will generally have some connections, like shared Facebook friends or a favorite professor. At UMBC’s 8th annual Endowed Scholarship Luncheon this month, however, the ties went much deeper.

Here, student recipients of endowed scholarships were able to meet and mingle with the backers of the financial support that’s helping them succeed. For many students, it’s the first time meeting their donors — and a special opportunity to say thank you.

Meeting Your Match

Jonathan Acuna-Lopez ’19, English, recipient of the Sandy King Geest Endowed Scholarship met the eponymous donor at the luncheon, as well. “It makes me feel really happy [to meet Geest]. After today, I know what this person is like: you’re the same as I am, you worked hard the same way I’m working hard.”

Standing next to Acuna-Lopez, Sandy Geest ’72, English, listens to him recite their similarities. She adds, “Like Jonathan, I was the very first in my family to go to college. He and I both grew up in Montgomery County. He’s a literature major, and I was also a literature major.”

Jonathan Acuna-Lopez, Sandy Geest, Linda Wiratan and Jay Geest gather at the luncheon.
Jonathan Acuna-Lopez, Sandy Geest, Linda Wiratan, Jay Geest, and CAHSS dean Scott Casper gather at the luncheon.

Discovering these ties gives depth to what could be a simple financial transaction, but both Geest and Acuna-Lopez know that it’s so much more.

“It’s good to give back and help someone else,” Geest says, smiling up at the much taller student. “When you’ve had enough struggle yourself… I worked several jobs to pay for school, so I felt like it was really something I wanted to do.”

Early on, Geest gave the modest amount she could afford. “I gave $10 — $5 to the Alumni Association and $5 went to the English department.” But after deciding to create the endowment, Geest and her husband Jay redirected their giving to support the English department.

Acuna-Lopez has his eyes set on graduation in December 2019 and is considering pursuing a master’s degree in secondary education at UMBC. “I know personally I wouldn’t be here without the help that my teachers gave me and the support that they gave me, so I feel like it would be nice to change someone’s life in that way.”

Ties that Bind

Alison Mayas, mother of twin UMBC graduates with twin degrees — Jhilya Mayas and Rabiah Mayas M8, ’00, biochemistry and molecular biology — likes to say that Freeman Hrabowski made a liar out of her.

“When my girls were growing up, I told them they could go anywhere they wanted for college,” says the recently retired executive vice president of MayaTech Corporation, a company she started with her husband Jean-Marie Mayas. But then she heard Dr. Hrabowski spreading the word about UMBC, “and he was speaking my language.”

So when Jhilya and Rabiah finished high school, Mayas drove them straight from their home in Silver Spring to start their summer classes in the Meyerhoff Scholars Program.

Jean-Marie and Alison Mayas with student Evan Carlyle.
Jean-Marie and Alison Mayas with student Evan Carlyle.

Now, the Mayas family endows a scholarship for the next generation of Meyerhoff Scholars.

Evan Carlyle ’22, M30, biochemistry, is the recipient of their Fredricka Pemberton Harris award. “I chose UMBC because of the people,” says Carlyle. “And I received the offer to be a part of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which was a dream come true…at UMBC I feel like I am actually learning and having my knowledge and understanding tested.”

Sitting next to the Mayas at the luncheon, Carlyle was able to fill them in on his goal to use his future Ph.D. to provide education to inner city communities on HIV, STD, and STI transmissions. He quickly found overlap between his career goals and the path laid by his donors through their company MayaTech, which among other projects provides technical support to various agencies that work in the HIV+ community.

“The fund has allowed me to focus on my studies by alleviating the strain many students today feel from financial insecurities,” comments Carlyle. The extra help “motivates me since I realize that my career aspirations are being supported.”

Scholars’ Success

Key speakers for the event included donor Helen Phillips ’98, ’01 M.S., mechanical engineering, who started giving to honor her mother — a medical technician who set an educational example by stepping outside of the traditional career boundaries for women in her day. Phillips herself returned to school as an adult to study mechanical engineering. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” says Phillips, who recently started giving to an endowed STEM scholarship.

Rhodes Scholar finalist Linda Wiratan ’19, biochemistry and molecular biology, also took the stage, emphasizing the relief that comes from pursuing rigorous academics without worrying about debt or food and housing insecurity. As a recipient of two scholarships, “these awards not only showed me how hard work can open doors to countless opportunities, but also gave me the financial freedom to focus my efforts and pursue them.”

President Freeman Hrabowski ended the event with his characteristic mantra that “success is never final.” Right now, UMBC has 180 endowed scholarships, but his goal would be to see 200 or more permanent funds established to further the success of students like Wiratan, Carlyle, Acuna-Lopez, and the dozens of other recipients who enjoyed the luncheon.

Alison Mayas left feeling inspired.

“This space, this staff, that man, and the students here collaborate and support each other — that’s the kind of stuff that appeals to me, and UMBC does it well,” she said.

Helen Phillips, Freeman Hrabowski, and Linda Wiratan.
Helen Phillips, Freeman Hrabowski, and Linda Wiratan.


All photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC Magazine.

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