Peter DeMuth, with University of Maryland President C. D. Mote, at the May 2008 graduation ceremony where he received the University Medal.
Doctoral bioengineering student, MIT
Of the thousands of graduates from the University of Maryland College Park each year, one is selected as the University Medal winner – the most outstanding graduate. For 2008, from a class of 6,300 graduates, Peter DeMuth, a 2004 graduate of Loch Raven High School was honored with the prize.
“This year, the university recognizes you as the graduating senior who best personifies academic distinction, extraordinary character, and extracurricular contributions to the university and the larger public,” University President C.D. Mote, Jr., wrote to DeMuth. “It is the highest honor the university can bestow on a graduate…Those who nominated you conveyed eloquently their admiration for your many accomplishments. They were all deeply impressed by your outstanding academic record and your ability to move seamlessly between academic activities and initiatives that demonstrate your unwavering commitment to serving the needs of others. Your successes on and off campus are testimony to your integrity, thoughtfulness, and pursuit of excellence in everything you undertake. The University Medal is intended to honor those students who achieve at the very highest level, and you embody this standard.”
DeMuth is graduating from the University of Maryland with a 4.0 average in his double major of biochemistry and chemical engineering. After getting married in August, he will move to Boston to begin a doctoral program in bioengineering at MIT.
His current research involves uses for nanoparticles in drug therapy and diagnostic imaging. “You can fill these porous particles with a drug or imaging materials to be released only at a specific target, such as cancer cells or bacteria,” DeMuth said. “It’s been exciting to see results that are extraordinary. Nanoparticles have tremendous promise to be effective without causing the collateral damage that many current treatments do.” DeMuth sees bioengineering as having “the potential to revolutionize medicine as we know it.”
DeMuth has submitted two patent disclosures related to his work and, in April 2008, presented original research at the 235th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. This summer he is preparing submissions to two major research journals.
His mentor, University of Maryland professor Philip DeShong, said, “Peter is up there with the best I’ve ever taught.” Professor Sandra Greer agrees, describing DeMuth as "the best undergraduate student" she has encountered "in nearly 30 years at the university."
When asked by the University to name his most important influences, DeMuth listed, “God, my parents, fiancée, family, and friends…faculty mentors at the University of Maryland…great math and science teachers in high school…the public school system and AP opportunities.”
After completing Oakleigh Elementary School and Ridgely Middle School, DeMuth says that he and his parents considered many options for high school, including private schools.
“We decided that Loch Raven High School was the best choice, primarily because of the Advanced Placement program. I credit the AP program at Loch Raven for allowing me to do what I did in college.”
DeMuth began his freshman year at University of Maryland with 30 college credits because of his Advanced Placement coursework at Loch Raven. “This allowed me to finish the double-major in four years and graduate with 170 credits.”
The Advanced Placement system, DeMuth notes, “is really unique because you get advanced course material in a small class size.” In a high school AP course, he says, there may be 20 students, personalized instruction, and easy access to the teacher. In contrast, a freshman-level math or science course might have 200 or more enrolled students and limited access to the instructor or teaching assistants.
DeMuth continues, “It seems like public high schools, like Loch Raven, offer great opportunities for students who are very driven and looking for more challenging coursework. The whole Loch Raven experience was really important for my development in math and science. I was able to take two whole years of calculus in high school. The teachers – like Mr. [Scott] Bidwell, who taught me calculus – were really excited, enthusiastic….They were great teachers, even better than some I had in college.”
Beyond his academic pursuits, DeMuth was active in college as a member of the Navigators Christian Fellowship and as a volunteer for At Jacob’s Well (a Baltimore-based organization that provides housing for those living with mental illness). In high school, DeMuth played lacrosse and as captain, led the varsity soccer team to the 1-A state semi-finals for the first time in 25 years. As an Eagle Scout from Boy Scout Troop 124, he refurbished some of the outbuildings at Hampton Mansion, securing materials and a crew of 50 volunteers to re-side and paint the buildings.
Asked for any advice for current students, DeMuth says, “I would say that opportunities to gain college credit in high school are incredibly valuable. Hard work in advanced classes allowed me to gain a better understanding of course material and to have more flexibility in my college coursework. Also, introductory courses in college can be more difficult because of large class sizes and inaccessible professors. Conversely, high school classes offer personalized instruction and teacher support that facilitate better learning. The work I put into high school, specifically AP courses, has more than paid off. I was able to gain a better understanding of course material in a more supportive, lower stress environment, with better instruction, and because of this I was able to pursue more interesting coursework in college as well as rewarding extracurricular activities such as undergraduate research.”
Photo courtesy of Mike Morgan, University of Maryland.