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From Softball to Swab Kits: SDU Supports Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for 5th Year

Science, Discovery and the Universe Scholars gathered with Program Director Alan Peel
Science, Discovery and the Universe Scholars gathered with Program Director Alan Peel for a swab kit party on Nov. 14. PHOTO: Katie Bemb

More than 20 years ago, a University of Maryland sophomore created a Scholars-wide charity softball tournament for his Scholars practicum project.

His project has since grown and evolved into the Scholars Cup, a year-round fundraising competition for charity. Every fall, each Scholars program selects a charity based on individual program theme or student interest. It then fundraises for that organization for the remainder of the year. Students can earn points through service projects and community events, which builds community and incentivizes involvement throughout the year. These efforts culminate with the spring charity softball—now kickball—tournament.

“The Scholars Cup is a great opportunity for students to think beyond themselves, and beyond this campus, and to make a commitment to worthy causes they believe in through service and fundraising,” said Scholars Assistant Director Ben Parks. Parks was instrumental in the development of the Cup.

For the past five years—including this year—the Science, Discovery and the Universe (SDU) Scholars program has selected the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as its charity of choice for the annual Scholars Cup tournament. It’s a choice driven by the legacy of SDU alum Korryn Whited.

Whited started at the University of Maryland in 2011. “Her involvement with SDU was pretty staunch,” said SDU Program Director Alan Peel. Not only was she heavily involved in the community, Peel said, she also drove conversations forward in SDU colloquia by asking thoughtful questions.

“She really enjoyed the critical thinking in our classes, and she was a really good contributor to discussion,” Peel said. “She was usually a bit funny or cynical, but the important thing to her was to learn.”

Kathy Whited, Korryn’s mother, noted: “Korryn was elated to be chosen for the Scholars program at College Park and chose SDU, as she felt it related to her interests and studies in aerospace engineering.”

A star softball player, Whited had led her high school team to a win against a top-seeded school in a 1A quarterfinal Maryland state softball playoff game. In spring 2013, she pitched for SDU’s softball team in the annual Scholars Cup softball tournament.

“Korryn could stay focused no matter how intense and serious the softball game could be. Her passion for her teammates’ win was always a priority,” said Whited.

Personal connection

Whited was diagnosed with leukemia in fall 2013, just after earning her Scholars citation. After interning with NASA Wallops Flight Facility, she had been on track to graduate with a degree in aerospace engineering in2015. Sadly, Whited died on Feb. 12, 2014.

After her death, Peel invited Whited’s parents to throw the first pitch at the softball tournament. Though they refrained, “we felt honored that Korryn would be memorialized” through the Scholars Cup, said Ken Whited, Korryn’s father.

Since her initial diagnosis, subsequent SDU cohorts have selected LLS as their charity for the Scholars Cup. Each year, to give students an option for consideration, Peel sends out information to SDU freshmen describing the program’s connection to LLS through Whited--but he refrains from putting pressure on the charity choices and makes a point to not be present when students make their final decision. Students on SDU’s advisory board narrow down a list of charities. Then, other SDU Scholars vote.

“Students have to pick the charity they want to support so they feel motivated to go out and raise money,” Peel said. “Since Korryn’s death, it makes the choice a little easier because it’s very personal, even though these students haven’t met her.”

To date, SDU has raised and donated $8,133 to LLS in Whited’s honor.

A new cause

This year, SDU students have another reason to support LLS.

Sophomore SDU Scholar Maya Fields has been active in the Scholars community, taking on the role of peer mentor. Fields’ mother was re-diagnosed with lymphoma in January after a previous battle with the disease in 2013.

“Maya is mature beyond her years, and her mom’s situation adds more weight to choosing LLS for the Scholars Cup,” Peel said. Leukemia and lymphoma are both blood-based cancers, which is why LLS raises money for the research of both diseases.

Because Fields’ mother required a bone marrow transplant—family members failed to be a match—SDU hosted “swab kit parties” to support their classmate. Students, faculty and staff were invited to stop by and complete a swab test to see if they might prove a match for Fields’ mother.

The Fields family is currently awaiting results from the swab kits. If a student or faculty member is a match, they can decide whether to donate bone marrow.

To Parks, SDU’s committed support of LLS and now, the Fields family, demonstrates the kind of community Scholars is.

“Students have given countless hours and raised tens of thousands of dollars over the years through Scholars Cup--to LLS as well as to many, many worthy causes. It’s a wonderful example of the Scholars mission in action: Students building community while putting their learning into practice,” he said.

About the author:

Katie Bemb is a journalism major and an alumna of the Public Leadership Scholars program. She has worked in the College Park Scholars communications office since early 2016. Katie is apparently not a fan of free time, given that she seeks out new internships, jobs and campus programs each semester. Upon graduation, she hopes to use her communication skills to enact social change through domestic policy and global human rights development.

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Korryn Whited
Korryn Whited
Softball tournament 2012
Every spring, Scholars gather for the annual charity kickball (formerly softball) tournament. For the past several years, the Science, Discovery and the Universe Scholars program's fundraising for this charity effort has been centered around alum Korryn Whited, who participated in the 2012 tournament, pictured above.
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