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Photo courtesy of Keith Harmon.

UMBC student Yaw Owusu-Boaitey dies, leaving behind a legacy of serving his community

University of Maryland, Baltimore County junior Yaw Owusu-Boaitey, who was known for his dedication and beaming smile, died suddenly on May 20, 2020. Yaw was an aspiring physician, and his friends recall his passion for serving the student body and other classmates. Active all over UMBC and in his community, Yaw was devoted to serving in Student Government Association and other local government organizations and was a mentor to younger students. He also taught English to adult learners at the Esperanza Center in Baltimore. 

Sophomore Mei Zheng remembers approaching Yaw during her freshman year when she saw him with his friends hanging out on a hammock. “We just started talking about our aspirations. When someone approaches him, it instantly feels like he’s family. His personality was radiating with positivity,” she said. 

Despite his busy schedule, Yaw helped her study for with upper-level science courses and encouraged her before exams, His kindness was boundless, Zheng said. “I knew he was a really busy person with his research and extracurriculars, but he always took the time out of his day to help me. This one time in the summer, he took two or three hours out of his day to just help me through the process of how he studied.” 

Junior Max Mason also befriended Yaw his freshman year, when they were next-door neighbors in Susquehanna Hall. “Everyday Yaw would work hard, be it in class, in extracurriculars or motivating others to become involved in something bigger. It is very rare to see an individual so dedicated and driven in their work, yet so charismatic and fun to be around,” Mason said. 

Yaw’s experiences doing research took him all over the country including Colorado State’s Research Experience for Undergraduates and also to Harvard Medical School where he was a Summer Research Intern at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. He was also a Meyerhoff Scholar. 

Candace Martinez-Doane, the Assistant Director of Leadership and Governance, recalled meeting Yaw when she first started at UMBC. “He was the kind of student, person and friend that people really value. I feel blessed to have been able to know him for even a brief time,” she said.

Yaw’s modesty impressed her as she watched him succeed both academically and socially, a rare combination. “Yaw was one of the most humble people I know, but he was probably the most deserving of praise and recognition. He had high expectations of himself, wanted to do his best and also was really a caring person who was trying to think of how he can help others,” Martinez-Doane said. “He was committed to being involved in his community through civic engagement and encouraging others to be involved through the political process.”

Junior Patrick Reid met Yaw through their mutual passion for politics and involvement with the UMBC College Democrats. One morning, Yaw and Patrick met to film a campaign for a political candidate. “There were supposed to be 10 people there to help, and it ended up being just me and Yaw,” Reid said. “It always struck me that he [had] that level of dedication and energy to get up at five in the morning. He was there because he wanted to be part of it.” 

Jodi Kelber-Kaye, the Associate Director of the Honors College, where Yaw was an active and engaged member, remembers his role as a quiet leader. “He was on his way to stardom. There’s something about him, about his graciousness and his quiet leadership. He was deeply appreciative, he’s definitely in my heart that way,” Kelber-Kaye said. 

Dr. Simon Stacey, the Director of the Honors College, echoed that sentiment. “[He was] so capable academically; one of those people who you might truthfully call brilliant,” he said. “He was an inspiration. He was the kind of person we will always need more of.”