What do Seaford, Delaware, and GOP presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson have in common? The answer is: the Minority Engineering Regional Incentive Training program (MERIT) program. John Hollis, of Seaford, is the director of the MERIT program and long-time friends with Carson.
MERIT aims to get minorities involved in STEM education and, since 1974, 350 students—97 percent, graduated from college. In the early 1990s, Carson spoke to young African American MERIT students who struggled to reach graduation. According to Hollis, Carson mesmerized the kids because he was not only a skilled surgeon but also a wonderful speaker. After this encounter, Hollis got Carson to work as a motivator and fundraiser with the MERIT program. Carson’s sons also participated in the three-week MERIT summer program.
Originally, the MERIT program only operated during the school year, but now extends into the summer to maintain momentum towards academic success. During the school year, MERIT offers: team-building engineering competitions—think fighting robots, in- and out-of-state college visits, academic enrichment field trips, and science club meetings. The summer programs functions through in-kind support from Delaware Technical Community College, and focuses on intense preparation in math, computer, and communication skills.
In addition to academic success, the program focuses on a whole-child approach. The program emphasizes parent engagement, teaches personal responsibility, demands a “pay it forward” attitude, and helps student develop a desire to give back. Similar to the Vision Coalition of Delaware’s Student Success 2025 plan and other Delaware initiatives, MERIT encourages students to not just be proficient, but to exceed their own expectations. The MERIT program prepares students for college success and equips them with the necessary skills to excel in their personal life and career.
MERIT demonstrates the ability for Delaware to produce great leaders, educators, and innovators, if we give students the correct levers for success. Commitment to education and attention to whole-child support can lead students to a career, college, or even the White House.
Note: John Hollis was a finalist for the first year of iEducate Delaware (2012).