College Park Scholars was born out of a movement to revolutionize undergraduate education at the University of Maryland in the early 1990s under the leadership of President William E. “Brit” Kirwan.

1993: A New Plan for Undergraduate Education

The dean of Undergraduate Studies, Ira Berlin, met with the director of Resident Life, Patricia Mielke, and the director of Undergraduate Admissions, Linda Clement, to discuss a new venture. All were well versed in the literature of higher education that encouraged building learning communities for undergraduates as a way of fostering student success. They believed that a living-learning community could be created by pooling resources available in the Academic Affairs and Student Affairs offices.

Cumberland Hall was selected as the site for the new venture named College Park Scholars. Nancy Shapiro, a faculty member in the English department, was selected to serve as executive director, and four faculty directors were chosen to administer four freshman living-learning programs. Each academic program was named and sponsored by a participating college and staffed with faculty and graduate assistants from that college:

  • Arts was sponsored by the College of Arts and Humanities;
  • International Studies, by the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences;
  • Life Sciences, by the College of Chemical and Life Sciences (now the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences); and
  • Science, Technology and Society, by the A. James Clark School of Engineering.

1994: The First Scholars Arrive

In the spring of 1994, Shapiro and her tiny staff invited the first group of freshmen to participate in College Park Scholars, and some 450 accepted the call. Curricula for the programs were established in time for Scholars to be launched in September 1994. Freshman communities were created by grouping the students in programs that lived together and shared at least two common courses.

1995: Three New Programs

In 1995, Scholars added three new programs: Advocates for Children, sponsored by the College of Education; Environmental Studies from the College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences (though ES moved into the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 1999); and Public Leadership from the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. With these additions, the Scholars community also added Centreville Hall to accommodate increased enrollment.

1996: Grant Money to Teach Research

In 1996 Scholars added one more program, bringing the total to eight, and admitted more than 700 freshmen. The new program was American Cultures (later renamed Cultures of the Americas), sponsored by the College of Arts and Humanities. Plans were approved to build classroom and meeting spaces for the Scholars community in the old Cambridge Dining Hall and to renovate and add Cambridge Hall to the Scholars family of residences.

Also in 1996, College Park Scholars was awarded a $211,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Post Secondary Education (FIPSE) to develop a technique for teaching undergraduate students about research. Students in Scholars received credit for working in the National Archives or in other primary sources as the staff in Scholars worked strategies for so-called "Discovery Projects." Work funded by this grant continues to expand Scholars’ ties to the research community on campus and to teach our students how the world of research operates.

1997: New Executive Director

In 1997, some 800 new freshmen arrived, along with a ninth College Park Scholars program: Science, Discovery and the Universe, sponsored by the College of Computer, Mathematical and Physical Sciences. The founding director of Scholars, Nancy Shapiro, accepted a position with the University System of Maryland and an acting executive director, Katherine McAdams, a faculty member from the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, was appointed. (The “acting” was removed from McAdams’ title in May of 1998.) In the fall of 1997, the Scholars staff answered literally thousands of contacts from students interested in the program.

1998: Community Expansion

Scholars was recognized as an exemplary living-learning community by the Joint Task Force on Student Learning. In the fall of 1998, Scholars launched Business, Society and the Economy, sponsored by the College of Business and Management. Cambridge Hall joined the Scholars community.

In the fall of 1999, Scholars completed its expansion with the addition of its final two programs: Earth, Life and Time, sponsored by the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Physical Sciences, and Media, Self and Society, sponsored by the Philip Merrill College of Journalism. The Cambridge Community Center was also added to our community as it opened its doors to Scholars classes and programs.

2001: Alumni Involvement and Recognition for Innovation

In 2001, Scholars took steps to form an alumni association and initiate fundraising activities. In the Maryland Association for Higher Education's annual honoring of innovative and effective programs, College Park Scholars was hailed as "a natural lab for innovation and experimentation."

2002: U.S. News and Report – “Programs that Work”

External accolades began the 2002-03 academic year with U.S. News and World Report's annual survey of colleges and universities recognition of Maryland's living-learning initiatives -- of which Scholars is the largest program -- as ranking third, nationally, in the publication's new category of "programs that work." In the fall of 2002, Katherine McAdams announced her intention to return to the journalism faculty. Greig Stewart, an associate dean in the Philip Merrill College of Journalism, was appointed Scholars’ third executive director.

2004: Milestones and Challenges

Scholars approached its 10th anniversary facing significant budget challenges similar to those that were occurring when the program was initiated. To meet those challenges while continuing to seize opportunities to enrich the educational experiences of our students, Scholars strengthened its partnerships with the division of Student Affairs and the academic units sponsoring Scholars programs. The University’s strategic planning efforts in 2007 challenged all units, including College Park Scholars, to assess their strengths and identify purposeful realignment and growth. As a result, the Colleges of Arts and Humanities and Education concluded the decade-long runs of Cultures of the Americas and Advocates for Children after having awarded 616 and 866 academic citations, respectively. The new School of Public Health recognized an opportunity and launched the College Park Scholars Global Public Health program. The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources reengineered its program, Environmental Studies, into Environment, Technology and Economy, and the College of Computer, Mathematics and Physical Sciences transformed Earth, Life and Time into Science and Global Change. Strategic planning also challenged each Scholars program to revisit its academic requirements to align them with the University’s new General Education program.

2013 and Beyond: Scholars Hits Its Twenties

The 20th class of College Park Scholars arrived on August 27th, 2013, convening in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center to inaugurate a new tradition – the Scholars Convocation, a lively yet moving ceremony of welcome to our community and program. A year later, Greig Stewart stepped down after twelve years of adept and thoughtful leadership, and Marilee Lindemann, faculty member in English and founding director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies, became Scholars’ fourth executive director. At the same time, Scholars launched a new program, Justice and Legal Thought, in collaboration with the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences and the College of Arts and Humanities.

In November of 2014, more than 250 alumni and friends gathered at the Riggs Alumni Center to celebrate twenty years of living and learning in the Scholars community. To honor this happy milestone, founder Ira Berlin and his wife Martha established the Martha and Ira Berlin Legacy Fund Scholarship to support Scholars students who have demonstrated academic excellence and an interest in expanding their Scholars experience by participating in research, community service, internships, or study abroad. Their generous gift was at that point the largest in the history of Scholars.

As exciting as College Park Scholars' first two decades have been, today is one of the most exciting moments in Scholars' history. The globalization of information and the convergence of technologies and research, demand an informed and talented citizenry. Our governments, industries, and educational institutions need people who can think across disciplines while they simultaneously build on the knowledge they have researched more deeply in their major areas of study. Interdisciplinarity and community have been – and continue to be – the foundation of College Park Scholars. Making connections between ideas, people, and opportunities is what we practice. Our students -- and alumni -- will be well prepared for the world ahead.