While graduation season is underway, congratulations are in order for 17 students from Baltimore who are among the UMB (University of Maryland Baltimore) CURE Scholars Program’s inaugural cohort of high school graduates who completed a noteworthy goal. In partnership with the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the free mentoring program is producing future STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), research and healthcare leaders. On May 6, 2022, the historic graduation ceremony was held at Westminster Hall, located in Baltimore, Md.
Ayishat Yussuf, 18, was selected to be the inaugural valedictorian of the 2022 CURE Scholar’s graduating class. She told The Baltimore Times newspaper that she heard about UMB’s CURE Scholars Program back in 2015, when she was a fifth grader. Students begin participating in the sixth grade. Accepted applicants like Yussuf are required to remain committed to the program throughout their high school years.
“My mother introduced me to the program and helped me fill out the application,” Yussuf said. “Through this academic enrichment program, I was able to be involved in the realm of STEM. I was able to meet so many doctors, scientists, (and) researchers… that discussed their career paths and passion for STEM.”
Yussuf reflected upon attending the program on Saturdays, while learning about various health-related topics. CURE’s middle schoolers meet Tuesdays and Thursdays after the school day ends, in addition to showing up on Saturday morning to take a step toward gender and racial representation in STEM. CURE’s mission—which is tied to empowering the next generation — was founded in response to the lack of diversity in cancer research, healthcare, and STEM fields.
“Women made gains – from 8% of STEM workers in 1970 to 27% in 2019 – but men still dominated the field. Men made up 52% of all U.S. workers but 73% of all STEM workers,” according to statistics provided by the United States Census Bureau.
Dedication to prepare for the future paid off for Yussuf in more ways than one. The Bonner Scholar who is headed to Spelman College, located in Atlanta, Georgia. She credited UMB’s CURE Scholars Program with inspiring her to apply for the scholarship. Key program goals for the Spelman Bonner Scholar Program are “increasing the access of low-income students to a quality college education” and “transforming students, communities and campuses through service,” according to information provided on Spelman College’s website.
“I’m honestly blessed,” Yussuf said, acknowledging the gift of opportunity. “My career plans are to become a pediatrician and healthcare advocate by obtaining my bachelor of science degree in Biology on the pre-med track.”
Through the UMB CURE Scholars Program, the ambitious teenager was able to conduct and present an assortment of research projects, including female and male breast cancer and DNA extraction. Additionally, Yussuf explained that she aspires to “leave a positive mark in the community through her career endeavors” and publish more books beyond her first work called “The M.e.l.a.n.i.n Guide.”
Dr. Gia Grier McGinnis, the Executive Director of UMB’s CURE Scholars Program, has been integral in guiding students like Yussuf through the STEM and healthcare pipeline. McGinnis has worked with the Baltimore-based youth since 2019.
“The program provides year-round, hands-on STEM learning, social work support, and mentorship for 115 West Baltimore youth,” McGinnis said. “Many of them have persevered through difficult circumstances, but they don’t let that define them and that is incredibly inspirational.”
Sixth grade recruits come from Green Street Academy, Southwest Baltimore Charter School, and Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School. After completing the middle school program, the high school program begins in ninth grade. A final step entails their invitation to join the program’s alumni network. It allows graduates to receive additional support. Ironically, students who did not initially consider college as an option, “collectively received” over 140 fall, college acceptances.
“The thought was that if we can reach these promising youth early, provide caring adult role models in these fields (STEM, cancer research and healthcare), and support them holistically, we can move the needle,” McGinnis said. “In a city that can often be misperceived as down and out, these young people are a great example of what Baltimore can produce—intelligent, determined young leaders that will solve our world’s most pressing challenges.”
Please visit https://www.umaryland.edu/cure-scholars/program-details/ for more information about the UMB CURE Scholars Program.