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Glamour’s 20 Amazing Young Women: Sarah Hemminger, Founder of the Incentive Mentoring Program

Sarah was honored as one of Glamour’s 20 Amazing Young Women at the 2010 Glamour Women of the Year Awards. Read about the other honorees here.

Sarah Hemminger

Year in school and school:
completed PhD in Biomedical Engineering in January 2010
Your email address:
[email protected]
Your website:

Your “claim to fame” – aka why you were part of Glamour’s 20 Amazing Young Women!:
In 2004, I founded the Incentive Mentoring Program (IMP), a non-profit that transforms youth at high risk for failing high school into college-bound community leaders. Hundreds of IMP volunteers serve Baltimore City students who face challenges such as substance abuse, gang violence, sexual assault, domestic violence, homelessness and an incarcerated parent.
What are you doing to change the world?
IMP empowers struggling teenagers to break the cycle of poverty, drugs and lack of education by surrounding them with “Families” of mentors who fill critical gaps in academic and social support. To date, 94% of IMP students have graduated from high school and matriculated to college.
Students are surrounded with an “IMP Family” of 6-10 mentors who instill in them the values of learning and service. IMP Families do everything it takes to help these students, including coordinating medical and mental health resources, home refurbishment and remodeling, job placement for parents and students, utility supplement resources, and daily packed lunches. They provide mandatory one-on-one afterschool tutoring, SAT preparatory classes, and exam review sessions. IMP Families meet with teachers at least once per week. They also give morning wake-up calls before school and rides to school, organize college visits, and assist students with every facet of the college application and financial aid process. Each IMP student also participates in monthly community service projects to benefit society and instill IMP’s core values: endless hope, unwavering humility, learning from everyone, others before self, adaptability, and family. Community service is a critical break from a reactionary survival approach to one of empowerment that they can affect change in themselves and their environment.
What was your inspiration for this?
The inspiration for the Incentive Mentoring Program (IMP) came from the obstacles my husband has overcome. When Ryan was eleven, his mother was in a car accident. Unable to work, she began selling narcotics and became addicted. His family lost their home, and Ryan began failing school. Some teachers took a special interest in him, providing tutoring, clothing, food, and more. With individualized support, Ryan graduated high school and attended the United States Naval Academy. I realized that there must be others like Ryan, who struggle with insufficient support, not insufficient potential. As a graduate student in biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University, I drove by Dunbar High School everyday. The striking contrast between the prestigious institution and the dilapidated high school stirred me. I realized that there must be other students who, like Ryan, were struggling, not because of lack of potential, but due to insufficient support.
What is a quotation or message that drives you?
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” – Albert Schweitzer
What has been your proudest accomplishment so far?
Growing a diverse family in the Hopkins and Baltimore community.
What would you say was the “coolest” moment in your life thus far?
Ryan and I are from Indiana and were at home one year for New Year’s Eve.  We went out with my parents to a local bar to celebrate.  Ryan went to order a drink and standing next to him was Peyton Manning and Mike Vanderjack.  Ryan is such a huge fan.  The look on his face was like a kid meeting Santa Claus for the first time. It was so great to watch him have that moment.
What is a challenge you’ve faced while trying to achieve your goals?
I found it incredibly challenging to juggle pursuing my PhD and IMP at the same time.
In 10 years I hope… to have found balance.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
scientific research
What 3 adjectives would people use to describe you?
passionate, persistent, adaptable
What is your biggest weakness?
I tend to get grumpy when I don’t eat.
Who is your hero and why?
The IMP students. Their honesty and openness is both humbling and contagious.
Who is your biggest cheerleader, supporting you every step of the way?
My husband Ryan, my father Tony, my mother Jill and my mentor Reza have supported me every step of the way in entrepreneurship, science and life.
Describe your idea of a perfect day.
One where I had a creative idea.
What do you like to do outside of your work?
Teach aerobics, figure skate, run, dance, go to Navy football games, travel
Which of this year’s Glamour WOTY award winners would you most like to meet and why?
I would like to meet Drs. Hawa Abdi, Amina Mohamed, and Deqo Mohamed because they serve as a way of life.
What was your favorite part of Glamour’s WOTY Awards?
The speech by Jake Glaser. 
What did you wear to Glamour’s WOTY Awards?
Who did you bring as your guest to Glamour’s WOTY Awards?
my husband, Ryan
Who do you think should win a Glamour WOTY Award next year?
Deborah Bial, Founder and President of the Posse Foundation
What is your favorite thing about Glamour magazine?
I love that it celebrates both inner and outer beauty.
What does “glamour” mean to you?
Confidence to take risks
How does it feel to be honored as one of Glamour Magazine’s 20 young women who are already changing the world?
What advice would you give to our college women readers?
Be compassionate. We’ve all had struggles, and there is no one who has ever overcome struggles completely on their own. Everyone has had somebody who has reached down and helped pull them up at some point in their life. Including you!

Cara Sprunk has been the Managing Editor of Her Campus since fall 2009. She is a 2010 graduate of Cornell University where she majored in American Studies with a concentration in cultural studies. At Cornell Cara served as the Assistant Editor of Red Letter Daze, the weekend supplement to the Cornell Daily Sun where she also wrote for the news and arts section and blogged about pop culture. In her free time Cara enjoys reading, shopping, going to the movies, exploring and writing.  
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