A Step Up: Alumni return for Career Month volunteer opportunities

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Just under 30 alumni returned to campus to help students hone their networking skills at Sweeten Up Your Network on April 11. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.

Every April, the Office of Alumni Relations is proud to participate in UMBC’s Career Month programming. From our signature Sweeten Up Your Network event to alumni-led panels on subjects ranging from work-life balance to the graduate and professional school experience, we provide opportunities for alumni to reconnect to campus and share their experience and expertise with students looking to get a leg up in their post-graduate lives. This year, over 50 alumni volunteered, and we reached out to some of them to get their take on the experience.

Emily Brown ’14, computer science, returned to campus for Sweeten Up Your Network and our panels on Balancing Expectations and Affinity Groups. She says that UMBC’s 50th anniversary celebration last fall inspired her to get involved on campus in ways that she hadn’t been as a student.

“As a CWIT [Center for Women in Technology] scholars, I didn’t participate much in the Career Center’s programs [as an undergrad], and wanted to enhance the experience for non-scholar students by giving the same level of alumni volunteer attention to their activities,” says Brown.

Brown, who works as a cyber systems engineer for the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, also says she gained valuable insights from the stories and experiences of her fellow panelists. “In both cases, learning the similarities and differences between where I work and where the other alums were working was [enlightening] to me, and hopefully to the students as well.”

Shelley Bailey ’09, mathematics, and M.A. ’10, economic policy analysis, agrees. Bailey, who works for the Social Security Administration, participated in a panel on “What I Wish I Knew in College.” She says that the panel’s diversity regarding age, background, and experience made for a thought-provoking discussion between the alumni and students.

“Common threads running through panelist recommendations [emphasized] students opening their minds to potential opportunities, taking initiative to gain new experiences, and building relationships,” says Bailey. It was an especially good opportunity for her, she says, because “I am passionate about helping those who are trying to find their way in the world through furthering their education and pursuing work experiences.”

Students also had the chance to hear from alumni who have gone into business for themselves, as an April 19 panel sponsored by the Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship brought Alex Chizhik ’97, economics, COO and general counsel of VIMRO and Rob Deford ’93, geography, owner and president of Boordy Vineyards, back to campus.

The two alumni, along with fellow panelist Kara Redman, CEO of Backroom, offered candid insights into starting and growing one’s own enterprise. “Unless your business plan is to win the lottery, nothing comes easy,” cautioned Chizhik, but all the panelists agreed that the work of building a business was a reward in and of itself.

Deford, who operates Maryland’s oldest winery, emphasized careful planning, and urged students to take stock of their personal circumstances when deciding whether or not to start a business. He also said that a focus on product quality, sustainability, and community responsibility can take a business far: young entrepreneurs, he said, can “do well by doing good.”

— Julia Celtnieks ’13

Want to learn more about our alumni volunteer opportunities? We’d love to welcome you back! Click here for details on how to get involved.

Alums in the News: Tobin, Dzirasa receive top honors

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David Tobin. Photo by Bryce Richter.

Triple alumnus David Tobin ’91, physics, M.S. ’93, applied physics, and Ph.D. ’96, applied physics, has received the University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research. Tobin, an atmospheric researcher at the Space Science and Engineering Center (SSEC) at UW, was honored for his extensive work with satellite instruments, which has contributed a great deal to modern understanding of weather trends. Read more about Tobin and the award here.


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Delali Dzirasa, third from left, on stage at the Baltimore Innovation Awards. Photo by Stephen Babcock.

The Baltimore-based software company Fearless (formerly Fearless Solutions), founded by Delali Dzirasa ’04, computer engineering, has been named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Maryland Minority-Owned Small Business of the Year for 2017. This isn’t the first honor for Fearless, or for Dzirasa himself: just last fall, the company was named the Design/Dev Firm of the Year at Baltimore Innovation Week, and Dzirasa took home an Alumni Rising Star Award back in 2011. The company, which got its start in the bwTech incubator and expanded to a new Inner Harbor office last year, counts 13 alumni and two current students among their ranks.

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Alums in the News: Foisor wins U.S. Chess Championship

foisor2UMBC double alumna Sabina Foisor ’12, modern languages and linguistics, and M.A. ’14, intercultural communication, has officially been ranked the top women’s chess player in the nation after taking first place at the U.S. Chess Championship in St. Louis in April.

Foisor was seeded sixth out of 12 finalists from across the country. She won her final match 8-3 against Michigan’s Apurva Virkud in round 11 of the championship. The reigning women’s champion, UMBC chess team alumna Nazi Paikidze, placed second in this year’s tournament.

Foisor, who was born in Romania and arrived in the U.S. in 2008 to play for UMBC, is a Woman Grandmaster in chess and a former European junior champion, as well as a four-time member of the U.S. Women’s Olympiad.

At UMBC, she was part of the team that won the national collegiate championship in 2009, as well as president of the Russian Club. She now lives in Texas, and analyzes chess games and techniques on her YouTube channel.

Getting Connected: SAA and Alumni Board team up for Community Conversations

20170417_193939On April 17, about 25 students and five members of the Alumni Association Board of Directors got together for the first ever Community Conversation, an event where students living on campus had the opportunity to connect with alumni, build their network, learn valuable skills, and ask for advice in regards to professional school, career options, and more.

Two members of the Student Alumni Association (SAA), Aamin Haroon and Karndeep Singh, wanted to create a relationship building opportunity with students living on campus, since many SAA networking events attract a higher number of commuter students.

Alumni were stationed at tables with signs indicating the topic they wanted to talk about, and students rotated between tables throughout the course of the event. The alumni started off talking about themselves and their topic, and provided the students the opportunity to ask any questions that they had. We had the students complete a survey before they left to receive feedback for the event. Many students enjoyed it, and the alumni definitely enjoyed spending time with a very engaged group of students.

— Jessica Wyatt, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations, and Karndeep Singh ’18, Co-President of the UMBC Student Alumni Association

Alumni in Attendance:
Andrea Thomson ’11, Economics and Political
Science
Budget and Policy Analyst, Maryland Department of Budget and Management

Brian Frazee ’11, Political Science
Director of Government Relations, Maryland Hospital Association

Curtis Schickner ’12, Economics
Senior Investment Analyst, Constellation Energy

Arsham Mirshah ’08, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology
Co-Founder, WebMechanix and Outbound Ops

Danielle Burnett ’00, Information Systems, and M.S. ’05, Information Systems
Founder and President, Applied Technology Services

Greg Kostrikin ’06, Financial Economics
Vice President, Poverni Sheikh Group
President, Premira Property Management

Legends of Excellence 2017: Dr. Willie Lamousé-Smith, Professor Emeritus and Former Chair of Africana Studies

Hosted every five years by the UMBC Chapter of Black and Latino Alumni (CBLA), the Legends of Excellence Awards Brunch honors the achievements and contributions of faculty and staff who have made a significant impact on the lives of UMBC’s black and Latino students. In the weeks leading up to this year’s event, we’ll be profiling each of this year’s honorees here on our blog. Read on for today’s bio…

Lamouse-SmithDr. Willie Bediako Lamousé-Smith first arrived at UMBC in 1975 to direct what was then known as the Division of Afro-American Studies. As the university re-organized its academic structure, his role evolved along with it, as he became the department’s first Chair. In his 33 years at UMBC, he established himself as both a key architect of what would eventually become the Africana Studies department, and a steadfast advocate for the students he taught.

Before coming to UMBC, Dr. Lamousé-Smith was the Associate Director of the Program of Eastern African Studies at Syracuse University’s Maxwell Graduate School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, and had taught sociology at Makerere University in Uganda and the Free University of Berlin after finishing his Ph.D at Germany’s University of Muenster. Throughout his academic career, his research focused primarily on the politics, demography, and economics of Africa and its diaspora, and he is the author of several influential papers on these subjects.

Given his expertise, he was instrumental in adding courses on the African diaspora to the program’s curriculum, and also established the W.E.B. DuBois Lecture Series, which continues to bring distinguished scholars and activists to campus each year. In 1997, the department changed its name to Africana Studies to reflect its new focus, thanks in large part to his scholarship. He has also provided expert testimony on African affairs to the U.S. House of Representatives, the United Nations, and the Organization of African Unity, and co-authored the Africa Interactive Maps CD-ROM series. He authored the initial 200-page proposal for a master’s degree in African-American Studies at UMBC, and served as the now-defunct program’s chair from 1988 to 1991.

In addition to his stature as a researcher, Dr. Lamousé-Smith is also remembered by his former students as a dedicated teacher and mentor. “As a parent who did not spare energy or resources on the education of our children,” he says, “I regarded all students in the frame of striving for quality education.” Particularly in his first two decades at UMBC, he says, many of his students were the first in their families to go to college, and he saw it as a moral duty to guide them to their full academic potential. No matter what role he held in his department’s administration, he remained a full teaching faculty member until his retirement in 2008.

He also says that one of his proudest moments, as an educator, was “standing by [minority] students, and standing up with them” in their fight for racial equality on campus. “While they could not have foreseen the consequential impact of their demonstrations on the campus for racial justice and equality,” he says, “UMBC would not be what it is today but for them.”

Register NOW for the Legends of Excellence Awards Brunch on Saturday, May 6!

Legends of Excellence 2017: Earnestine Baker, Former Executive Director of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program

Hosted every five years by the UMBC Chapter of Black and Latino Alumni (CBLA), the Legends of Excellence Awards Brunch honors the achievements and contributions of faculty and staff who have made a significant impact on the lives of UMBC’s black and Latino students. In the weeks leading up to this year’s event, we’ll be profiling each of this year’s honorees here on our blog. Read on for today’s bio…

IMG_3495_cropEarnestine Baker, known affectionately to her colleagues as “Ernie,” was first hired as UMBC’s Coordinator for Minority Recruitment in 1983. In 1992, she became the first Program Director of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, and was promoted to Assistant to the Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Executive Director of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program in 2002. Under her direction, the Meyerhoff program became an integral part of campus life and culture, and achieved a sterling reputation for preparing minority students for graduate and professional programs in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. Mrs. Baker presented the program as one of the blue ribbon reports to Congress in 2003, and in 2009, the program was recognized by Science, the nation’s leading journal of scientific research, news, and commentary, for having “what it takes” to help more minority students earn science degrees.

Since its inception in 1993, the Meyerhoff program has graduated over 1,200 students, and counts 231 Ph.D. graduates, including 45 M.D./Ph.D.s, among its alumni. Mrs. Baker was instrumental in increasing its cachet among institutions of higher learning, and has represented UMBC on both the national and international stages, from participating at the 2012 College Completion Symposium with then-U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, to accompanying a delegation of University Members to Beijing, China, Cape Town, South Africa, Seville, Spain, and Bali, Indonesia.

Mrs. Baker is remembered by those who worked for and with her for her steely resolve in the face of challenges, especially in the early days of the program, and for the values she instilled in her students and staff. In many instances, the connections Mrs. Baker forged with her students stayed intact long after they left UMBC, as she continued to offer them guidance and network on their behalf as they pursued graduate study. In 2008, she received the University System of Maryland Board of Regents’ Award for Extraordinary Public Service to the University or the Greater Community for her dedication to the Meyerhoff Scholars Program and the students it served. Since her retirement in 2013, Mrs. Baker has continued to serve on several STEM advisory boards, and is currently serving as a contractual worker at UMBC.

“While growing up, I had a community who inspired me to work hard and to be the best that I could be,” she writes. “I knew that I wanted to [and needed to] give back and help others in the manner that I had experienced.” With the Meyerhoff Scholars Program in the place it is today, both within the UMBC community and in the national sphere, Mrs. Baker has more than paid it forward.

Register NOW for the Legends of Excellence Awards Brunch on Saturday, May 6!

Legends of Excellence 2017: The Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington, Former Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs

Hosted every five years by the UMBC Chapter of Black and Latino Alumni (CBLA), the Legends of Excellence Awards Brunch honors the achievements and contributions of faculty and staff who have made a significant impact on the lives of UMBC’s black and Latino students. In the weeks leading up to this year’s event, we’ll be profiling each of this year’s honorees here on our blog. Read on for today’s bio…

Jamie Washington_500x500 2014 MCCAThe Rev. Dr. Jamie Washington arrived at UMBC in 1986 as the Assistant Director of Residential Life, and at first, he says, he “wasn’t sure how [he] would be received” by the campus community. “As an openly gay, African-American, Christian man,” he writes, “I had experienced my share of people not being willing to engage fully.” However, he inspired a generation of students by being his most authentic self, and “[showing] up in truth, compassion…and excellence.”

Given his background in social justice work, the Rev. Dr. Washington was initially hired to help improve diversity training for resident assistants and professional staff in ResLife. Over his 16-year career at UMBC, he played several key roles in the administration, serving as Multicultural Affairs Coordinator, Assistant to the Vice President for Student Affairs, Director of Student Life, and, finally, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs. Washington also taught as an affiliate faculty member in the Departments of American Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Social Work.

The Rev. Dr. Washington left UMBC in 2002 to answer a call to ministry and attend Howard University School of Divinity.  During his time in divinity school, the Washington Consulting Group (WCG), his diversity consulting firm, began to grow. In 2015, WCG was named one of the top 10 global diversity consulting groups in the world. Dr. Washington serves as the company’s president and CEO, as well as the co-pastor of Unity Fellowship Church of Baltimore and the President and Co-Founder of the Social Justice Training Institute. In addition to his M.Div. from Howard, he holds a B.S. in therapeutic recreation and music therapy from Slippery Rock State College, an M.S. in higher education and student affairs and a second M.S. in counseling and counselor education from Indiana University, and a Ph.D. in counseling and personnel services from the University of Maryland.

Washington’s former students remember him as a man of integrity, who was “instrumental in developing leaders at UMBC.” Washington, for his part, counts them as his “greatest success.”

“They taught me what it means to be a servant leader, [and] that authenticity would, in fact, lead to deeper and more impactful relationships,” he writes. He remains connected to campus today by working with the Meyerhoff Summer Bridge Program, as well as through Residential and Student Life, the departments where he made his mark on the university.

Register NOW for the Legends of Excellence Awards Brunch on Saturday, May 6!