When asked if she ever gets overwhelmed as the assistant director and curriculum coordinator for the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) CURE Scholars Program, Lauren Kareem, MEd, smiles serenely and admits, “Every day.”
But you would never know it.
“Her calm and reassuring temperament is an asset in our high-energy, fast-paced, often-precarious community outreach work environment,” said Robin Saunders, EdD, MS, executive director of the UMB CURE Scholars Program.
Kareem recently was named UMB Employee of the Month for October and was surprised with the award by President Jay A. Perman, MD.
“I want you to know what people said about you, and I pulled out a few phrases — consummate professional, seeking additional responsibilities, attending to details, tireless work ethic,” Perman said. “I have seen those things in action … and your passion for the kids.”
Kareem has been with the University since June 2016. Previously, she spent five years teaching science, math, and special education in Boston and Washington, D.C. She was looking to teach robotics over the summer when she learned about this position.
“I thought, ‘That’s very, very cool,’ ” she said.
Her primary responsibility involves creating curriculum and activities for UMB’s Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE), a pipeline program that is preparing 80 West Baltimore middle schoolers for health and research careers this year and will continue with an additional 25 middle schoolers each year while funding is available. She also is responsible for communicating with the parents and families of students in the program, the teachers and principals at the three feeder schools, and the University partners and stakeholders. She even does a little teaching occasionally, explaining that no two days are the same.
“I love how dynamic it is and the amount of freedom I have. As a teacher, I had my hands tied a lot,” she said. “[Here] I have a lot of latitude to do what is best for the students, to be creative. … I feel like the job is so important. It matters, and it makes a huge difference and is incredibly fulfilling.”
Saunders said that Kareem relates well with students, parents, teachers, colleagues, and community partners. When asked to describe her, one mom of a CURE scholar said, “You can tell she really cares about my son because she sends out weekly messages and responds to all my calls. She has helped him to work hard and helped our family get through hard times.”
Kelly Quinn, PhD, coordinator of UMB’s Community Engagement Center, said Kareem is “excellent” to work with.
“Part of what I admire is how she nurtures these relationships with families, cheering for their successes and helping through challenges,” Quinn said. “Our work is hard, and Lauren makes things go smoother with grace and humor.”
Kareem admits that the job can be stressful and she puts in long hours, including evenings and most weekends.
“The amount of work she handles truly is astounding and yet she gives the appearance of handling things seamlessly and without deviating from UMB’s standards of excellence,” said Malinda Hughes, BSN, MA, chief of staff in the Office of Academic Affairs and the Graduate School as well as a UMB CURE mentor to several middle school scholars.
Kareem credits her mentor teachers for her work ethic. She explained that as a teacher, you don’t get much recognition for the work you do. At UMB, however, there are amazing resources and an incredibly supportive team that is passionate about its job and the program’s goals and missions. She was surprised to win the Employee of the Month award, but reassured that she must be doing the job well.
“It requires a lot of effort to do it the right way, but our children are worth it,” Kareem said. “It’s definitely a labor of love for me. There is no way I could do this if it weren’t.”
— Betsy Stein