Katie Bemb hadn’t intended on becoming a Terp. As a high school senior, she applied to the University of Maryland (UMD) regular decision but was strongly considering another university in the Washington, DC, metro area.
That inclination began to change after her best friend—who had applied early action to UMD—got accepted into College Park Scholars. Students who apply early action are automatically considered for the living–learning program.
“Once my friend told me about Scholars, I started to look more into it,” Bemb says. “And once I read more about the different Scholars programs, I started to get excited about UMD. When I read the description for Public Leadership Scholars, I felt like I was meant to be in the program.”
Bemb, who by then had been admitted into UMD, self-nominated to be considered for Scholars. With her subsequent acceptance into the two-year program, she decided to enroll at UMD.
All in on leadership
“Katie is an all-in kind of person, and she has been all in on leadership ever since she came to the University of Maryland,” says Scholars Executive Director Marilee Lindemann. Indeed, Bemb began to make her mark on campus soon after she arrived in the fall of 2015.
“Katie was a standout in the program,” says Jen Littlefield, director of undergraduate studies for the School of Public Policy. Littlefield served as director of the Public Leadership Scholars program during both of Bemb’s years as a Scholar. “She was always the one to volunteer. She seemed to hit the ground running in all that she did.”
And Bemb did a lot. Her freshman year, UMD’s School of Public Policy hosted Climate Action 2016, the follow-up forum to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. Bemb was among a group of first-year Public Leadership Scholars students who volunteered to help organize the conference. “They were critical to making that conference happen,” Littlefield says.
Freshman year was also when Bemb began working for College Park Scholars as a communications student worker. In her subsequent years on campus, she participated in both the Rawlings Undergraduate Leadership Fellows and the Global Fellows programs; worked as assistant managing editor for two student-run publications, The Diamondback and Stories Beneath the Shell; and served as an undergraduate teaching assistant for two different courses. She juggled one to three additional part-time jobs or internships each semester.
She also self-published a book on sex trafficking, which grew out of a project for the Rawlings Fellows program. Students did a community action project addressing the question, “If you had 24 hours to change the world, what would you do?” After proposing a social media campaign and book to educate people about sex trafficking in the United States, Bemb says she and her project partner decided to do the book “for real.”
“Voices Against Sex Slavery in America” was published in April 2017, when Bemb was 20 years old.
Supporting the whole person
Even with her many commitments, Bemb continued to contribute her time and skills to the Scholars community. As a communications student worker, she wrote profiles of Scholars students and provided social media support. She pitched in at Scholars events. And she served as a student ambassador at Scholars recruiting events.
“I care a lot about Scholars,” says Bemb. “I’ve seen how it makes a difference for underclassmen and really love everybody who works here, so I just couldn’t leave.”
She adds: “I haven’t worked anywhere as long as I’ve worked with Scholars.”
According to Brent Hernandez, a Scholars assistant director who helped supervise Bemb, that speaks to the unique role that College Park Scholars can play in students’ lives. “We offered a supportive environment where we simultaneously nurtured and challenged Katie,” he says. “We gave her responsibilities where she could grow as a student, future professional and a person. We supported all of Katie, not just the student side of Katie.”
Brave enough to reach out
Bemb’s many contributions across campus have earned her multiple recognitions. These include Top Ten Freshmen in 2016; Sophomore Leader of the Year in 2017; induction into the Omicron Delta Kappa (ODK) national leadership honor society; College Park Scholars’ Meghan Price Scholarship Award for Leadership and Public Service in 2018; Undergraduate Student Staff Recognition Award from the Office of Undergraduate Studies in 2018; and finalist for Spirit of Maryland Award in 2018.
“Katie’s example is one that, if you want something, you have to be brave enough to reach out,” Littlefield says. She mentions how Bemb, after filling out her self-nomination form for Scholars, cold-emailed Littlefield about her interest in the Public Leadership Scholars program. Bemb was professional in her email—“but in a way, it took nerve for her to email,” Littlefield says. “And whatever she took on, she would give it her all and be amazing at it.”
Littlefield says the lesson for future Scholars is to not be afraid or shy—to go after opportunities.
Littlefield adds, “The other lesson with Katie is to get to know your faculty and staff, in Scholars and beyond. Katie naturally wanted to know us and got to know us and wanted to help. She has a lot of people in her corner when she needs us—and she’s there for us too.”
As Scholars’ Lindemann says, “Katie exemplifies the Scholars ideal of having wide-ranging interests and a strong, caring commitment to making the world a better place.”
This month, this once-reluctant Terp is taking her all-in attitude and commitment outside the confines of campus: She graduated Dec. 18 with a degree in multiplatform journalism and minors in International Development and Conflict Management, and Public Leadership. Naturally, she graduated a semester early.