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Biology major wins UMES' top undergraduate award

  • Vasavi Veerapaneni is 2018 Bernstein honoree

    Thursday, April 5, 2018
    Vasavi Veerapaneni

    Vasavi Veerapaneni was eight when she and her family moved to the United States from India.  She mastered a new language in the ensuing 11 years and is now on the verge of earning a degree in biology from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. 

    Along with a stellar academic record, her work ethic and volunteerism inspired her professors to select her to receive the 2018 Richard Bernstein Achievement Award for Excellence, UMES' most prestigious individual undergraduate honor. 

    The award was made public at today's 65th annual spring Honors Convocation and was a closely held secret until the winner was announced. 

    “I was shocked,” Veerapaneni said. “I wasn't certain at first I heard it correctly.” 

    When she stepped on stage and listened to a summary of the nomination describing her accomplishments, she said her “knees were shaking. I couldn't believe they were talking about me.”   

    Named for a prominent Salisbury entrepreneur and philanthropist, the Bernstein honor is a $5,000 stipend awarded to a senior “who has demonstrated leadership at the school or community, conducted scholarly efforts with high potential to sustain scholarly efforts despite adversary and personal challenges to earn a degree.” 

    The money will come in handy; she's looking to study medicine in graduate school. 

    As an immigrant, Veerapaneni at first felt isolated at her elementary school and was too shy to try new things.  Overcoming the obstacles of a new language and culture with the support of family and mentors at school, she soon knew education was her refuge.

    She excelled, graduating a year early from high school and at age 19 is completing her studies at UMES in three years and with a 4.0 grade point average. She is a member of the Richard A. Henson Honors Program.

    Her older sister, Subha, is a second-year pharmacy student at UMES

    At UMES, Veerapaneni volunteers as a tutor for Biochemistry I and II, two “gateway” classes for many science majors.  She is highly influential as she guides students toward success helping them to “study smart” and learn material rather than just rely on memorizing. 

    Her professors attribute her success to her good-natured personality, sense of humor and humility.  Last fall, the success rate of students increased 10 percent in Biochemistry I due to Veerapaneni's tutoring. 

    Veerapaneni credits Dr. Jennifer L. Hearne, a biochemistry professor in the Department of Natural Sciences, with instilling in her the confidence she could succeed as a science student in college. 

    “I'm thankful for everything she's done for me,” she said. 

    Veerapaneni also is a WileyPlus (an online assignment platform) student partner assisting biochemistry students with their accounts, completing their assignments and using available resources for success. 

    Her volunteerism is spread to the community as a PLUS Volunteer at Peninsula Regional Medical Center.  She has assisted patients and visitors for the past three years and said she recently found a part-time job working in the Salisbury hospital's orthopedics and urology departments. 

    Veerapaneni said she's grateful for the opportunities UMES has provided her as an undergraduate, and the Bernstein honor reinforces that appreciation. 

    “I've had wonderful opportunities here,” she said. “I've seen myself grow in ways I never imagined.”