McDaniel's top student is going places

Flashcards. Eric Spioch admits they may be a little old-fashioned. But the low-tech staple for young children learning their numbers and letters helped him achieve a double major in Spanish and Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies at McDaniel College.

"I have a good mind for memorizing things," said Spioch, 21, last week as he wrapped up his final classes at McDaniel College. "I'm a flashcards guy. It's a little elementary, but it works for me."

Of course, the 2009 Westminster High graduate also worked hard throughout his college years, balancing fun and studies to great success.

That effort was honored earlier in the semester when he received the 2012 Portz Award as the outstanding honors student at a four-year college in Maryland from the Maryland Collegiate Honors Council.

The award, given annually since 2004 by the council, recognizes honors students who excel academically and through community involvement.

Criteria include a student's grade-point average, overall and in honors courses, as well as letters of recommendation from faculty and completion of a student project.

"It's my biggest achievement," Spioch said. "I'm excited about it."

Spioch is the second student from McDaniel to earn the award, which also includes a $500 stipend. Eric Lemmon, who graduated as McDaniel's first quadruple major in physics, chemistry, biology and biochemistry, received the award in 2010.

In addition to majoring in Spanish, Spioch will graduate from McDaniel this weekend as one of the college's first four students to major in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies.

That will not be his only experience overseas. He's also excited about his upcoming trip to Morocco this June. As the recipient of a State Department of Critical Language scholarship, Spioch hopes to become even more fluent in Arabic while staying with a host family in Morocco.

"It will be a real immersion experience," Spioch said, of the trip. "The experience will take my degree and pump it up a bit."

Spioch is no stranger to traveling to faraway lands. During the spring of his junior year at McDaniel, he spent a semester abroad in Cairo, Egypt.

He wrote regularly about his adventures, including his volunteer time at Children's Cancer Hospital of Egypt, at

It was trip he had wanted to take since his youth, first just to see the sites and then later to appreciate the culture.

"Egypt has always been on my list," Spioch said. "I wanted to see the pyramids. It's why I studied Arabic. I appreciate contemporary Arabic culture and the ancient side is always cool."

Per their request, Spioch kept in touch with his family daily to assure them he was safe while he was in Egypt. He discovered that for any one tense moment, of which there were only a few, there were numerous times when people were helpful.

Upon his return from Egypt last year, Spioch visited his alma mater, Westminster High School, to give a presentation about his trip to a class taught by his former honors government teacher, Jessica Smith.

"I told them not to be intimidated if they were interested in these things," Spioch said, of his presentation. "I encouraged them. People are people everywhere."

"He did a real cool presentation," Smith said last week, of her former student's appearance in her classroom. "It was very well-rounded with the experience, the language and the culture."

Smith isn't surprised by Spioch's success. As both his former teacher and track coach for three years, Smith got to know Spioch both in and out of the classroom.

"He's just great overall," Smith said, of Spioch. "He is very thoughtful and insightful. He's curious, asks questions and tries to understand and know more. I'm excited he is doing really well. It doesn't surprise me at all."

After this summer's trip to Morocco, Spioch's plans are not yet firm. That uncertainty, he admits, has him a little concerned.

"This year has been much more the stressful year," said Spioch, whose college experience also included a tenure as senior class representative with the Honors Program and running on both the track and field and cross-country teams. "Not so much school, but the real issues. I don't know what I'm doing."

His goal is to work and live in Washington, D.C.

"They have a lot of interesting organizations and government organizations," Spioch said. "It's the place to be."

For now, the soon-to-be graduate is enjoying his final week at McDaniel, attending various senior events on campus and visiting close high school friends at their schools. He also may allow himself a little time to relax.

"I 'veg out' occasionally, picking out a television show and going for it," Spioch said. "I sit back and relax."

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