An alumnus of the Seaford-based “MERIT” (Minority Engineering and Regional Incentive Training) program was honored recently as a recipient of the “Better Delmarva Award,” presented by Roger Marino, director, Public Relations Communications & Community Relations at Mountaire Farms Inc.
Chelina Tingle, a 2001 graduate of Sussex Central High School, was presented the award on Thursday, Sept. 26, in a ceremony at the Western Sussex Boys & Girls Club in Seaford, where the MERIT program meets every Saturday morning during the school year.
The MERIT program has been active in Sussex County since its inception in 1974. The Seaford DuPont Company, with the support of company engineers, including Scott Davidson and Seaford educator, John Hollis, developed the academic enrichment program. Now 45 years later, both Hollis and Davidson remain an active part of the MERIT program.
The youth empowerment program targets academic advancement of minority high school students. With an academic focus on science, math and engineering, MERIT also promotes a mission of service to others.
Hollis says MERIT not only focuses on the academic enhancement of the students, but also stays committed to the whole child. “By involving the family, teaching a need for personal responsibility, demanding a ‘pay it forward’ attitude and a lifelong affection for ‘giving back,’ the MERIT program prepares the student not just for college success, but personal life and career success,” he said.
Chelina Tingle is an example of just how impactful the program has been for Sussex County-area minority students. While in the sixth grade, Tingle heard about the program and saw it fitting perfectly with her academic drive and desire to be successful in college. Once applying, she was accepted for what would turn out to be more than just her academic career.
Today, Tingle is a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teacher and VEX Robotics coach for Selbyville Middle School. She is also committed to giving back to the MERIT program as a way to recognize how much it has meant to her throughout life. A volunteer with the MERIT program, Tingle has also taken a leadership role.
“I want to give back to a program that has really positively influenced my life,” she said. “I was exposed to scholarship opportunities through MERIT. I also had a network of friends from all over the county who had similar academic goals as myself. They also looked like me; this was important. Usually if you excel academically as a minority person, you are only one of two or three other minority students in the classroom. Even though we usually only came together on Saturday mornings it was helpful knowing these like-minded friends were out there.”
In addition to helping the students in the program receive college preparation, including support for mastering the SAT’s, and college campus visits, MERIT is involved in ensuring that students stay aware of scholarship opportunities.
One of the scholarships is “Carson Scholars.” The Carson Scholarship Fund was launched by Johns Hopkins Child’s Neurosurgeon, Dr. Ben Carson in 1994. In 1996, 25 students in Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia received the first $1,000 Carson Scholars awards. Since that time there have been 15,000 scholarships awarded in states throughout the country. Students can apply for Carson Scholars in grades four through 11. The student must have a 3.75 grade point average, be active in community service work and be nominated by their school.
In its 23-year history, Chelina Tingle is the only student in the United States to receive five consecutive Carson Scholar awards from sixth grade to her junior year.
Hollis considers Tingle to be “a stand out” among MERIT students that he has mentored over the past 45 years. “In over four decades of directing the MERIT program I’ve been privileged to work with some amazing, talented young people,” he said. “Chelina Tingle stands out among the almost 500 graduates of this program as a truly exceptional student, philanthropist and individual in her community. She continues to inspire young people to touch greatness and excel in academics and community pursuits.”
The MERIT program has students from school districts across Sussex County, including Seaford, Laurel, Woodbridge, Indian River and Cape Henlopen. Their school counselors nominate students as the “best and brightest,” Tingle said.
She said a MERIT committee reviews applications and students are notified of their acceptance. The students and their parents are invited to attend a two-week summer MERIT program that is held at Cape Henlopen High School. The session helps to acclimate the students to the program so that in the fall they come back ready to participate actively in the weekly academic program.
Tingle said the most recent summer session produced outstanding MERIT members. “We had an outstanding summer. We are really impressed with the students who attended our summer session,” she said. We are excited about being able to tap into the excitement that they brought to the sessions. We are looking forward to a school year where the Saturday morning MERIT sessions will really enrich our students and give them tools they can use in their tool belts at school on Monday morning.”
Tingle said MERIT is not a program that remains stagnant in how it approaches the academic enrichment of its students. “The fact that MERIT has been around for over 40 years is a testament to the ability of the program to adopt and evolve in concert with the needs of academic studies. However, the program does this while at the same time staying true to its founding mission,” she said.
Plans are already underway to “ramp up” the opportunities that students are exposed to in the MERIT program. “We are looking to place a strong focus in the coming year on the area of college preparation for our students. We hope to schedule more college visits. We are working closely with Delaware State University, Del Tech, the University of Delaware and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. We want to make sure we are exposing our students to the best opportunities that are available in our area.”
Tingle said she hopes to work with her MERIT family to help the program become the “crème de la crème” of academic programs in Delaware. “I want this program to be the biggest and best college preparatory program for minorities in the state. Many people still do not know about MERIT, even though it has been around for over 40 years. I want MERIT to be the program that sets the standard for all academic programs,” she said.
Students in MERIT are not selected just on academic standing. Tingle said there is also attention placed on their extracurricular activities and their service to the community. Students who possess attributes related to all three areas, she said, more often than not are the best candidates for the MERIT program. Students beginning in sixth grade are eligible to apply for the program.