UVA President Jim Ryan announced at the March 3 meeting of the University of Virginia Board of Visitors that an additional $35 million would be directed to the Bicentennial Scholars Fund and an additional $30 million would be directed to the Bicentennial Professors Fund. These two matching gift programs are designed to encourage philanthropic support for students and faculty.
Recognizing the University’s bicentennial in 2016, the Bicentennial Scholars Fund was created as a commitment to realize student potential and generate major support to fund scholarships that promote excellence and diversity. Bicentennial Scholarships continue to attract and support exceptionally talented students such as Maximus Maldonado (Engr ’24).
Maximus Maldonado has given a lot of thought to the person he wants to be. His father, Gabriel Maldonado, showed him how to reach this point.
Gabriel Maldonado was one of the first in his family to go to college, at CUNY Baruch College. “He was offered full rides to Duke University and SUNY Stony Brook,” said the younger Maldonado. “He didn’t go because his mom was a single mom, and she didn't want him far from home.”
Gabriel’s father died when he was just 14 years old. His mother put him in charge of the family’s finances. She turned her paycheck over to him so that he could pay the bills and distribute spending money. He passed the determination and independence that helped him through his interrupted childhood down to his son, Maximus.
“My dad always pushed me and taught me how to do things by myself,” said Maldonado, “but he also never left my side.”
When it was Maldonado’s turn to apply to schools, his dad had his back. “He said, ‘Chase your dreams. I’m going to support you no matter how hard it is,’” remembered Maldonado. “But I didn’t know anything about college, other than just go to college.”
Maldonado was undeterred. “I went to a very good high school. A lot of those kids knew about colleges,” he said. “So I sat down with my friends and said, ‘All right, there’s 11 of you guys. Everybody give me two schools—the best schools in the country.’ So, they gave me Columbia, UVA—obviously—Duke, UNC, all these top schools.” Maldonado applied to all 22.
He received many offers of admission, including one from UVA. A generous financial aid offer from the University included support from the Hamilton Family Bicentennial Scholars Fund. The fund was created by
“Those numbers on the page were simply an opportunity in front of me,” said Maldonado. “It was an opportunity that I had worked for, but it was also a gateway into my future, and it was the first time I thought, ‘Okay, if you want to get to where you want to be, this is the first step of the biggest journey of your life.’” An accomplished pitcher and third baseman, Maldonado was also in conversations with coaches for Virginia Baseball.
Maldonado committed to UVA. That June, he and his dad drove through the night to visit the University for the first time. After a short nap in the car, they took a walk around Grounds. The buildings were closed because of the pandemic, but he still remembers being struck by the landscape. “It was beautiful.”
It was an opportunity that I had worked for, but it was also a gateway into my future, and it was the first time I thought, ‘Okay, if you want to get to where you want to be, this is the first step of the biggest journey of your life.’
Hitting Curve Balls
Maldonado also remembers the communication and care that he received from his professors his first semester, as students returned to Grounds for the first time since March 2020. “Whether my professors were struggling, or they knew exactly what to do, they communicated what they were doing. That was important,” he said. “It was a good sign for me that I was in the right place. Also, they worked with us. They were very supportive and very attentive to the curve balls that we were thrown that year.”
The pandemic disrupted Maldonado’s plans to try out for a position as a walk-on player for Virginia Baseball. The team cancelled walk-on tryouts his first year. When he returned after a summer playing semiprofessional ball for the Pelham Mets, he was offered a private tryout. He was invited back for a second, and then two more. But when Maldonado sat down with the team, he learned that they had 21 recruited pitchers returning for the 2022 season, when the team typically carries 13 pitchers on the roster.
Maldonado took the disappointment in stride and joined the club baseball team.
An injury kept him from tryouts for the 2023 season, but Maldonado was able to leverage his baseball experience to generate income over the summer by starting his own baseball clinic. “I’ve been playing baseball my whole life. I love baseball,” he said. “I thought, I coach for free, I might as well start a business. I went back to the Little League that I’ve been playing with my whole life, trained some kids, and ran a baseball clinic.”
A mechanical engineering major, Maldonado brings the same tenacity to his studies. He was recently initiated into the University’s Delta Xi Chapter of Pi Tau Sigma, the international honor society for mechanical engineers. One of Maldonado’s favorite classes—Stephen McDonnell’s Introduction to Materials Science—was also one of his most difficult. “The material was super hard, but the content was great—I wanted to learn it,” he said. Maldonado went into the final exam with a below-average grade, but ended up with a perfect score on the final and an A in the course. “I was struggling, but I was enjoying it, and it kind of opened up in the end. When you really put your heart and mind into something, and you really give it time and effort, good things will happen.”
When he’s not on the baseball field or hitting the books, you might find Maldonado on the dance floor—every week he joins the 100 or so students in Salsa Club to practice the salsa, bachata, cha cha, and zouk—or improvising in the kitchen. “I'm like a little chef on the low. Nobody really knows this,” he confessed. “I don’t use recipes. I think, ‘Alright, what do I like to eat?’ Because I like to eat. ‘What do I want to taste?’ And I add ingredients in along the way.”
After UVA, Maldonado plans to get his master’s degree in sports engineering, a field that will combine his love for baseball and his engineering studies. He may join the workforce first; he knows that a competitive job offer would be a step toward an advanced degree without student debt.
Just like the dishes he cooks up, Maldonado’s future will be his own creation, with UVA as a key ingredient. “I have role models, don’t get me wrong, but when it comes to who I want to be in the future, I want to be who I make myself to be,” said Maldonado. “For me, that’s having a smile on my face, providing love and comfort to family and friends, and not stopping myself from achieving what I know I can, whether it’s academically or in the work world, church, sports—anything.”