By Abby Burton
The College Park Scholars program was introduced to the University of Maryland to create opportunities for students interested in community building and interdisciplinary learning.
Twenty years since its start, the program is celebrating its accomplishments while implementing a variety of changes looking forward.
Inviting about 900 freshmen into the Scholars program every year, it allows students to choose from specific areas of interest to study during their first two years.
Each of the 11 programs allows students to not only study their areas of interest in the classroom, but to live in halls with students in their program as well.
The Scholars staff is planning an anniversary gala in November to which they will invite alumni and former faculty members for “an event that brings people together,” said Benjamin Park, the assistant director of College Park Scholars and Scholars Cup advisor.
Parks also said that faculty members hope the weekend includes a viewing party of the university’s football game on Saturday and a potential event in the Cambridge community Sunday morning.
“The whole idea behind it is to reconnect with alumni,” Parks said, including that he envisions a weekend that will involve “telling the story of Scholars,” with alumni sharing their experiences at the university and how Scholars programs haveinfluenced their lives.
Dr. Dave Eubanks, the associate director of College Park Scholars, said the anniversary also provides an opportunity for him and other faculty members to look back on the progress thus far.
“It’s kind of an opportunity for us to reflect on what we’re doing and who we are,” Eubanks said.
In the spirit of looking forward, College Park Scholars introduced a variety of major changes for its students this year, such as creating the Scholars Cup, a new Scholars programand living-learning “neighborhoods” for students in similar programs.
The Scholars Cup was created to add on to the Step Up to Bat for Kids Annual Charity Softball Tournament, in which students from each of the 11 Scholars programs compete to win points and money for a charity of their choice.
The Cup includes a variety of events throughout the year, such as trivia nights and games, leading up to the softball tournament in the end. Parks said the tournament has become a tradition after 17 years.
“We’ve already well-surpassed any fundraising we’ve done in the past,” Parks said, who said he hopes to learn more about planning to make the Scholars Cup a tradition that gets students excited to compete.
“The Scholars Cup is a great way to build community within the Scholars program as a whole,” said Olivia Collins, who serves as an assistant coordinator on a committee of six students planning the Scholars Cup.
“It also really promotes the service aspect of Scholars which I think helps students get more involved and committed to the charity their program is playing for,” the freshman physiology and neurobiology major said.
Sophomore government and politics major Sam Wallace said he realizes how the Scholars Cup can build community, but he’s unsure how many students will take the time to participate.
Tina Luthers, a sophomore family science and psychology major, said she helped to create the idea for the Scholars Cup and led the event planning this year. Luthers said that although there is much to improve, the Scholars Cup has been a great success thus far.
“We’ve never seen Scholars this united before,” Luthers said.
Next year, a brand new program will join the Scholars community and compete in the Scholars Cup.
Justice and Legal Thought will become the twelfth program available to incoming freshmen invited to College Park Scholars.
“Twelve is kind of the peak number, so we’re pretty excited about that,” Parks said.
Throughout the years, College Park Scholars has grown steadily, Parks said, with some programs evolving and some dropping out along the way.
Part of the evolution of the program will include the creation of “neighborhoods” within the Cambridge Community starting in the fall.
The neighborhoods will house students in similar programs in specific dorms within the Cambridge Community in order to encourage talented students with similar interests to collaborate with one another, Parks said.
“When we put them together, we give them the opportunity to learn from each other,” Eubanks said.
“Our hope is that people will kind of embrace it,” Parks said. “We’re going to be talking to students and evaluating it from their perspective.”
A great deal of the collaboration that the College Park Scholars faculty hopes to see come out of the neighborhoods will need to happen “over time organically,” Parks said, who hopes to see students with similar interests plan projects or field trips to enhance their living-learning experience.
“The neighborhoods that Scholars is creating will bridge different programs together even if they have specialized interests,” said Kimberly Gregory, a sophomore family science and sociology major. “The hope is to continue fostering inter-program activities and make the Scholars community truly a living and learning environment.”
“The way they’re changing the dorms and neighborhoods is really going to open the door for collaboration,” Luthers said.
“I know I made a lot of friends through seeing them in my dorm and in classes we had together,” Wallace said. “Putting similar programs together would help students meet others who might have the same classes for their major.”
With the celebration of the 20th anniversary, as well as the implementation of new programs and changes, the fall semester of 2014 will be one of reflection for the Scholars community.