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Student Spotlight: Erika Maher

Portrait of Scholarship recipient Erka Maher

Student Spotlight: Erika Maher

Posted: 11.11.20

Meet Erika Maher, a bright, hard-working STEM student at University of Maryland, College Park. She hopes to one day apply her problem-solving skills to create environmentally friendly methods of air transportation. Erika credits the generous financial aid she received from Central Scholarship for allowing her to fulfill her dream of studying aerospace engineering at one of the top programs in the country. Erika explains, “Central Scholarship has made a world of difference for me, both in terms of financing my education, and as a support system.”

Erika grew up in Baltimore and earned a full-tuition scholarship to Catholic High School. Her education during these years prepared her for college and introduced her to the opportunities college financial aid could provide. The product of a single-income, single-parent household, Erika was determined to find a way to pay for college on her own. She explains that her mother is her role model, and works hard as a nurse to support Erika and her brother. To achieve her goal of self-financing her college education, and to show appreciation for her mother’s hard work and support, she held three jobs to pay her tuition.

The COVID-19 pandemic derailed Erika’s plans by eliminating all but one of her jobs. Erika was uncertain how she would pay for school and worried that she would not be able to achieve her goal of independently paying for her education. While researching scholarship opportunities online, Erika learned about Central Scholarship, and was thrilled to find that the organization matched her needs and academic goals. Furthermore, she appreciated the way in which Central Scholarships’ support system guided her through the process of applying for financial aid. She describes her experience saying, “The people at Central Scholarship are genuinely kind people, who truly care about their work and have added a very personal touch to academic scholarships. Their generous donation to my education has been a very appreciated blessing.”

Thanks to Central Scholarship, Erika is thriving at the University of Maryland. When not busy with her studies, she serves as Secretary on the Executive Board of the Society of Women Engineers, a programming board member of FLEXUS, the Living, Learning Community for Women in Engineering at UMD, and a sub-group lead for the Peru team of Engineers Without Borders. Erika is also active in Alpha Omega Epsilon, a professional sorority for women in STEM, and Women in Aeronautics and Astronautics. These activities help her develop her processional skills, bond with other STEM women and minorities, and empower her to lead in the classroom.

We are excited to see what the future holds for this young engineering student and are thrilled that Central Scholarship is able to help her achieve her goals!

Piggy Bank surrounded by coins

Thinking About College Financial Aid

Posted: 10.01.20

It’s that time of year where many students are beginning to think about financing their future college education. Central Scholarship offers a College Cash workshop every year that focuses on teaching students and their families about college affordability. Stay tuned for upcoming College Cash dates in 20201, but in the meantime here are some of our top questions attendees typically ask

Q: What is a financial aid package?

A: A financial aid package is generated by your college or university to illustrate how the cost of school will be paid for, including things like tuition, room and board, and books. Financial aid comes from four sources: the federal government, the state government, your school, and private organizations like Central Scholarship.

Q: Is financial aid “free money,” or do I need to pay it back?

A: Often it is both. Colleges do not have to list loans separately in your financial aid package, so it can be very confusing. If you are confused about what is a loan (money you do have to pay back) and what is a scholarship or grant (money you don’t have to pay back), you should contact your school’s financial aid office and ask them to walk you through it and explain in detail what is and isn’t a loan.

Q: What’s the deal with loans? Should I use them to help pay for school?

A: If possible, you should avoid loaning money to help pay for school. In addition to the initial amount of money you loan, you will have to pay back something called “interest,” which is a percentage of the initial amount of money that is added on over the years it will take you to re-pay. Basically, you will have to pay back more than what you borrowed, and it adds up! That being said, many students do not have a choice but to borrow money to help pay for school.

Luckily, Central Scholarship has an interest-free loan program to help you pay! What you borrow is exactly what you pay back – there is 0% interest on our student loans. You can read more about that program here.

Q: How do I access financial aid for college?

A: First thing’s first: you need to complete your FAFSA to access almost all forms of financial aid. If you are applying with Central Scholarship, you can apply with us between January 1st and the first Monday in April every year via our website. If you are interested in Maryland state financial aid, you can browse through their different scholarships and their corresponding requirements and deadlines on their website. Central Scholarship also encourages you to call your school directly and ask them if there is a separate process for applying for scholarships with them.


Conversation with Ben-Oni

Video Chat Series

Posted: 08.31.20

This month, Abby Case, our Annual Fund and Stewardship Manager had the pleasure of chatting with Ben-oni (Ben) Vainquer. Ben grew up in Silver Spring, MD, and became a Central Scholarship recipient last year. He is a rising sophomore at Northeastern University in Boston, MA.

Fun Facts:

  • Ben is on the “Four-year, three-month coop plan” at Northeastern.
  • He is majoring in Computer Engineering and Computer Science and minoring in Math.
  • An enthusiastic tech fan, he loves pursuing Robotics at school.

Dream Turned Reality

Ben was always involved in extracurriculars and clubs in high school, but he was never quite sure college was in his future. He didn’t know if he’d be able to finance it. “It didn’t click that I could go to college until I got my first acceptance letter in the mail. I remember thinking, ‘Wow. This is really happening!’”

Most Surprising Thing About College

Upon reflecting on his Freshman year, Ben concludes that the biggest challenge was learning how to be completely independent. “I knew that it would be tough, but I didn’t realize how challenging it would be to balance my classes, schedule, and responsibilities.”

At the end of his first semester, Ben said he had a pivotal moment where he had put about 100 hours of work into building an autonomous robotic car for class. The deadline was approaching, and in the wee hours of the morning, as he was pulling an all-nighter, he finally got the car to work. “If you would have asked me at the beginning of the semester if I could do that, I would have said no way. But I looked at all the code I had written and realized how much I had learned that semester. I felt really accomplished.”

The COVID-19 Effect

Ben explained how he took the pandemic seriously, early on. “I was worried about getting out of Boston and back to Silver Spring quickly. Luckily, I was able to store stuff at a friend’s house in the area, and as soon as we were clear to leave campus, I avoided the airport and took a bus home. There was hardly anyone on the bus, and I traveled with a mask and hand sanitizer, so I was ok.” He, like so many other students, was looking forward to so many things in the Spring. “It was weird saying goodbye to friends because we didn’t know when we’d be seeing each other again.”

In Ben’s opinion, the most difficult thing about adapting to online classes has been not really being able to ask in-depth questions. “I really like bouncing ideas off my classmates and professors. It’s so much harder to do that online versus in person.”

What do students need?

“I think the most important thing colleges can do for their students is to communicate transparently about what is going on and what could happen next. Also, students and professors should support each other as online learning is a huge adjustment.”

Heading Back for the Fall

At Northeastern, they have made it optional for students to be on campus to work remotely. Ben is choosing to move back on campus. “There’s an on-campus testing site, and they are making sure social distancing orders are in place. Teachers will be wearing face shields, and students will be wearing masks. It’s worth it for me to go back because I’m taking three labs this semester, and I thrive in a classroom setting.”

Ben, we’re so proud to call you a Central Scholar. Keep up the exceptional work, and let us know how your fall semester turns out!

Portrait of Christopher Robinson

Student Spotlight: Chris Robinson

Posted: 08.03.20

Chris is a rising sophomore at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), majoring in Environmental Science. We were able to snag him for an interview before going back to campus for resident assistant training.

Like so many others, Chris’ freshman year on campus was cut short, due to COVID-19. “Besides disrupting the routine that I had become accustomed to, switching to an online format was not as easy as it would seem,” Chris explained. Some struggles came from having professors who had never taught in a digital format, while other challenges came from being isolated at home with siblings. “In the end, we figured out how to make it work, and I was able to end the year with a 3.8 GPA.” (Impressive work, Chris!)

Part of the reason Chris chose UMES was because he could be involved with the American Fisheries Society (AFS) on campus. “[My school has] a 5-year M.S./B. S program in my field with a focus on Marine and Estuarine Science. I decided right away that was the track I wanted to follow.”

The AFS is a national professional organization “focused on strengthening the fisheries, advancing fisheries science and conserving fisheries resources,” according to its website. UMES has a sub-unit that is a conglomerate of students (both grad and undergrad) with a major connected to environmental and fisheries sciences. “We are an outreach program, focusing on community events such as open houses, beach clean-ups, and campus-wide education. It is a way for us to share knowledge and resources with other students and community members,” Robinson said.

Chris first learned about Central Scholarship from Harford County Public Schools scholarship page. “As a first-generation college student, one of my biggest concerns was how I was going to afford school. Being a scholarship recipient has helped take some of that pressure off and allowed me to focus on my education,” Robinson said.

While graduation still seems far away, Chris hopes to continue his education, possibly to the Doctorate level. “My ultimate end goal is to be able to have a job in environmental research that can have a lasting impact on our natural environment.”

We look forward to Chris’ future accomplishments and wish him well as he returns to campus this fall!

Kyarah Mair

Education and Advocacy

Posted: 07.21.20

Kyarah Mair is a Central Scholar and senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she is studying Public Policy & Racial Economic Inequality, a major she created. “In my junior year, I discovered that I could combine [all my interests] Economics, African American Studies, Sociology, and Public Policy into one area of study,” Mair explains.

Kyarah discovered Central Scholarship when she was figuring out how she was going to fund her education, as she was applying to colleges. “My mom’s colleague suggested we look into Central Scholarship.” It worked out! “Without [Central Scholarship’s] generous support, I would owe thousands in student loan debt.”

With more financial freedom, Kyarah has been able to hone in on what her future has in store. She landed an internship in her sophomore year with Prosperity Now, an organization working to ensure that everyone in the U.S. has a clear path to financial stability, which influenced her decision to create her major. She worked on the Racial Wealth Divide Initiative at the nonprofit. She supported their work with the Northwest Area Foundation on the African American Financial Capability Initiative: a $4.35 million investment aimed to develop and implement innovative solutions to racial, economic inequality in the U.S.

“This experience inspired me to dedicate my career to creating solutions that address racial, economic inequality, and other social and economic issues more broadly,” says Mair. “I was also inspired to find other think tanks and nonprofits doing this work. These experiences have kickstarted my career in being a racial justice advocate and scholar.”

Mair will graduate in August of this year. After graduation, she plans to take time off from school to gain work experience before pursuing a Ph.D. in Social Policy/Public Policy Analysis, Economics, or Sociology. “After I complete my Ph.D., I want to continue collaborating with think tanks, nonprofits, and government agencies centered around people of color and creating solutions that address racial inequities.” Eventually, she plans to create a public sector consulting firm that will help local, state, and federal governments address the racial equity issues their constituents are experiencing and use the profits to give back to the community.

We are so excited to see what the future has in store for you, Kyarah. Thanks for the inspirational work you are doing!

Paying it Forward

Posted: 01.27.20

Freddy Freedman grew up in Baltimore, in a Jewish Orthodox home and he knew he wanted higher education in his future. He started looking at colleges in 10th grade. He now attends Salisbury University and is studying philosophy. “College is place for personal and professional growth. I’m thankful for Central Scholarship and I’d love to have a scholarship that I fund myself one day,” said Freddy.


Helping People Help People

Posted: 01.21.20

We are pleased to feature Jennifer Cook this month. She became a social worker because of her passion for helping others. In 2018, she was the winner of the Student Loan Pay Down which paid up to $30,000 of her student debt. Jennifer was expecting to pay her student loans for the rest of her life, but Central Scholarship relieved that pressure. “Central Scholarship is honestly a guardian angel. They believe that education is a right, not a privilege and that gives me a lot of hope. Knowing they are [here for students] makes me feel a lot less alone,” said Jennifer.


From Left: Nicole Tadzong, Ndeh Tadzong, Jill Kamenetz, and Fru Tadzong

Heritage and Home

Posted: 11.20.19

When Ndeh was young, his father would frequently ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and even though his answer would change from firefighter to architect to physician, he knew for sure that he wanted a profession that helped others.

At the age of ten, Ndeh Tadzong’s parents sent him to Cameroon Protestant College (C.P.C.) Bali, a boarding school in Cameroon, West Africa. It was a drastic change from his life in the US. But living with his schoolmates away from home allowed him to have deeper exposure to his cultural heritage, therefore helping him to understand himself better and thus the impact he wanted to have on the world.

In his fourth year of boarding school, Ndeh campaigned and was elected to the position of Assistant Health Prefect. He was a student assistant to the school nurse. If the nurse was not available, ailing students sought out Ndeh’s help for an array of health issues. He ran a basic health assessment, took students to the hospital if they needed to go, and brought them food.

“Cameroon Protestant College Bali taught me to be disciplined, independent, and responsible,” Tadzong said, “Discharging my duties as a Health Prefect confirmed to me that I wanted to become a physician. It was quite a privilege to help students get better.”

In 2017, Ndeh moved back to The States and finished out his junior and senior years at Randallstown High School. He knew he wanted to pursue engineering and medicine in college, so his guidance counselor told him about Central Scholarship.

We were so impressed with Ndeh’s application and story, we awarded him the Kevin Kamenetz Scholarship in August 2019. He entered UMBC in the fall and is expected to graduate in May 2023 with a degree in chemical engineering. We look forward to the positive impact he will make on the world!

From Philosophy to Public Health

Posted: 11.14.19

Kashay grew up in a community in Baltimore City where affordability of healthcare, health literacy, and access to consistent care prevented people from flourishing at home, work, and school. She didn’t recognize the disparity in access to healthcare until she began socializing with her peers who lived in more affluent areas and realized the differences between communities.

In 2015, Kashay heard about Central Scholarship from her high school college counselor. She received her first award in 2015 which helped with her undergraduate costs at Notre Dame of Maryland in Baltimore, where she graduated in 2018 with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy and a minor in Biology. When she was accepted to graduate school, she decided to reapply for a Central Scholarship award to offset the cost of her degree. She is incredibly grateful for the support she has received from Central Scholarship and ecstatic to graduate from Johns Hopkins with a Master’s in Health Administration in 2021.

Kashay’s interest in pursuing a career in public health came from her background in philosophy. Aristotle introduced the notion of eudaimonia, or human flourishing. He argued that human actions are all based on our desire to flourish, which is the highest good attainable in life. She pondered the variety of circumstances people could find themselves in, which would prevent them from attaining eudaimonia. The health inequities she witnessed, growing up, was certainly a roadblock.

Her philosophy is that every individual has a right to flourish over their lifetime—a feat that cannot be accomplished without attaining and maintaining a certain threshold of health. Kashay has made it her mission to increase health care access and equitable delivery of health care services to encourage all human beings to flourish.

We continued to be inspired by the work she does and impressed by her diligence. Keep up the admirable work, Kashay!

Building the Next Generation of Leaders

Posted: 11.05.19

Devon was about 10 years old, growing up in Baltimore City, when he first decided he wanted to go to college. He had always been a gifted child, but when he learned about engineering through the Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement program it sparked an interest that would begin to shape the rest of his life.

Central Scholarship first crossed paths with Devon when he attended a College Cash® event to learn about navigating college affordability. He was hesitant to attend because he wasn’t sure how the session could possibly help him reduce his financial burden. Those concerns disappeared as soon as he walked in the door. He was able to learn how to understand financial aid letters, how to find scholarships, what makes a strong essay, and the importance of networking. He left College Cash® feeling energized.

“After reviewing what I had learned, I felt like I won the lottery. I had learned all of the keys to winning a scholarship. I was so excited and I felt like I would eventually burst if I did not share my newly obtained knowledge.”

Devon is currently finishing up his senior year at Morgan State University as an electrical engineering major where he has been an outstanding student, interned at Intel and Facebook, and became President of his fraternity, Iota Phi Theta Fraternity, Inc. Under his leadership his Iota Phi Theta was awarded Chapter of the Year by the Eastern Region and Organization of the Year by Morgan State University. He has become a remarkable leader, setting the bar high for his chapter, and has used his platform to develop programs that promote scholarship and leadership among students.

His involvement in Iota Phi Theta also showcases his strolling and stepping talents and just one of the many reasons we are so proud to call Devon a Central Scholarship scholar!