School of Public Health Dean Dr. Boris Lushniak stands with Merrill Presidential Scholars Erin Sullivan and Kirby Rhodes and their mentors.

November 29, 2017

Two School of Public Health students, Kirby Rhodes (PHSC) and Erin Sullivan (FMSC), have received the prestigious 2017-2018 Philip Merrill Presidential Scholar award

The award honors the university’s most successful seniors and their mentors from both the university and during their K-12 careers. The students, and their mentors Assistant Professor Devon Payne-Sturges (Applied Environmental Health) and Instructor John Hart (Family Science), were honored at a November luncheon at the University House.

Rhodes, a double major in Public Health and Finance, went to high school at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, Maryland. She honored and her International Baccalaureate (IB) Theory of Knowledge teacher Andrew Collins.

Merrill Scholar Kirby Rhodes with mentors Andrew Collins and Dr. Devon Payne-Sturges.

Dr. Payne-Sturges said that Rhodes has been an outstanding student.

"Because she was a double major, she was able to make connections and bring a broader perspective to discussions in my course," Dr. Payne-Sturges said. "These characteristics are critical for advancing public health."

Throughout her schooling, Rhodes said she has benefitted from having great teachers that have taught her to reach her full academic potential.

During Rhodes’ sophomore year of college, she took her first environmental health class with Dr. Payne-Sturges. The course helped her understand the impacts of environmental health and policy on public health.

Pictured at right: Merrill Scholar Kirby Rhodes with mentors Andrew Collins and Dr. Devon Payne-Sturges.

“Her captivating classroom environment encouraged me to fully engage in discussions about environmental justice, and her emphasis on multifaceted learning has helped me become a more critical thinker,” she said.

Rhodes said that Collins taught her the value of learning and thinking critically. It made her a better student, she said.

Sullivan, a senior in Family Science, went to Baltimore’s Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School. She chose Dr. Hart and her English Teacher Michael Bruner as mentors because both teachers urged her to challenge herself and dream big.

Merrill Scholar Erin Sullivan with mentors Michael Bruner and John Hart.

Her classes with Bruner were some of the most thought-provoking of her high school career and the student and teacher developed a special mentoring relationship, she said.

Dr. Hart’s Poverty, Affluence, and Families course, FMSC 381 brought back that same feeling. 

“It was not until I took Professor Hart's class that I felt the same expectation of excellence that I did with Mr. Bruner,” she said. “Professor Hart challenged us to produce exceptional work and to overcome our own biases in order to address the most controversial social issues of today.”

Pictured at left: Merrill Scholar Kirby Rhodes with mentors Andrew Collins and Dr. Devon Payne-Sturges.

Mentoring and teaching Sullivan has been a pleasure, Dr. Hart said. 

You cannot replace an Erin Sullivan—as a student and as a person," he said. "She has a willingness to not just make herself better but those around her. Her dedication for politics and social change is admirable and I look forward to seeing the structural change she is a part of in the future."

The Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars Program, in addition to honoring top University of Maryland undergraduate students, is designed to acknowledge and celebrate the importance of teaching and mentoring in student success. 

Related Links

Philip Merrill Presidential Scholars web page

Related People
Devon C. Payne-Sturges
Related Degree: 
Bachelor of Science, Family ScienceBachelor of Science, Public Health Science (College Park)