A Correction from the Editor of UMBC Magazine


The cover of the Summer 2016 issue of UMBC Magazine you may have received in the mail has a significant error for which I would like to personally apologize to our readers.

In our image of professors then and now, the magazine cover mistakenly paired a recent photo of Professor Emeritus of Africana Studies Willie Lamousé-Smith with an archival photo of longtime UMBC professor of Africana Studies Jonathan Peters from the Albin O. Kuhn Library’s collection of university photographs.

Our magazine team has redesigned the magazine cover digitally to pair Professor Lamousé-Smith with a correct image – which we have posted on the magazine website, to our Facebook site, and to our wider UMBC Alumni site. But I did not catch the error before the magazine was sent to the printing press and then on to our readers.

As you will discover both in the “Editor’s Note” to this issue and in the story about the founding faculty of the university (“So You Want to Be a Pioneer?”), Professor Lamousé-Smith’s wisdom and spirit have played a significant role in UMBC’s rising fortunes as a university through the decades. I have reached out to Professor Lamousé-Smith personally to apologize for this error.

The many contributions and achievements of our faculty and staff are a significant part of what we are celebrating this year in UMBC’s 50th anniversary. It has been part of the mission of UMBC Magazine to tell these stories accurately. In this case, we let our readers down. We hope this note serves both to correct the record and express our regret for the error.

—Richard Byrne ’86
Editor, UMBC Magazine

Tales of Grit and Greatness: Tootsie Duvall ’75

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we’ve launched Retriever Stories, a place where Retrievers of all stripes can reflect on their UMBC experience and where it’s led them. Check out this brief promo video here, then read on for the story of Susan Mohr ’75, theatre,  otherwise known as Tootsie Duvall. She’s perhaps best known for her role as Assistant Principal Marcia Donnelly on The Wire, and has appeared in numerous films and television series over the last four decades (and counting!). We asked her what grit and greatness means to her, and here’s what she told us…

tootsie-duvallGrit and Greatness is a wonderful 50th anniversary theme for UMBC – and it resonates with me. It took a lot of grit for me to work full time, go to school full time, have my own apartment, and do plays all summer for summer repertory as a teen in the 1970s.

I also had the grit to succeed in my chosen field. I was told in high school by a male guidance counselor in 1971 that “girls” were limited in their career choices. They could be teachers, secretaries, or nurses.  My own father thought it was a mistake for me to go to college.  Unless it was to find a husband.  But I found so much more.

The greatness comes in when you consider that so many of the blessings I count 42 years later flowed from my experiences at UMBC. I met my best friend, Sherry Frank ’73, who took me in to live with her when I had no place to go at age 18.  I just met her first granddaughter, Emerson, last year.  That was great!

I also met William T. Brown, who was the chair of UMBC’s theatre department. He awarded me the scholarship that allowed me complete my education. He changed the course of my life. 

Greatness was also the opportunity to compete for a National Theatre Scholarship in Washington, D.C. Even in its early days, UMBC had one of the finest theatre companies in the country. We were in the American College Theatre Festival twice in the time I went to school there, and I won the Award of Excellence from the Kennedy Center for my participation. 

All of those experiences helped me grow as a young woman, and as a human being.  William Brown even made sure we stopped rehearsing to watch the Watergate Hearings in his office. 

Being the first woman in my family to go to college was a huge event in my life – and it led to great things for me. I was in UMBC’s summer repertory and someone came to see a play that I was in, and they recommended I try out for Totem Pole Playhouse. That lead me to noted actress Jean Stapleton’s theatre. Stapleton was brand new to a show called All in the Family, and she had won numerous Emmy Awards for her performance.

I played Stapleton’s daughter in my first professional acting experience, and she introduced me to other people who became my surrogate family. Noted character actor Howard Morton took me under his wing as my surrogate father and my dearest friend. I lived in both Manhattan and in Hollywood to advance my acting career, thanks to a person who sat in the audience at UMBC for a show one summer and thought I had potential. The people I met at Totem Pole and UMBC formed my extended family and still do 40 years later. And without UMBC, and the confidence and the friendships I gained there, my life would have been much different.

I lived and breathed the theatre at UMBC, when I was not working my way through college as a rental agent. Professor Ivan Meckler taught me the science of music and that made me see science in a very different way.  I took a lot of trips to New York to get standing room tickets to see plays and thought that was a wonderful way to learn my craft by seeing other actors on stage.

What was my favorite place at UMBC? Well, I went to UMBC before the sidewalks were in, and before the four-way traffic light was installed!  (You would think I went there in a covered wagon — but a lot has changed over the past four decades.)

My favorite place was the Theatre Green Room.  I understand that the little building where we did so many wonderful productions is going to be torn down soon. But I was always there, working on costumes, running lines, building sets.  The Green Room is where actors rest before being called to the stage. But many of us would visit in there when there wasn’t a show on, since at the time I went to the school, it was basically a commuter campus. 

When I visited campus to shoot the Retriever Stories video, I could not believe that there was a Chick-Fil-A and a bank! And also so much student housing and apartments. My first apartment was at Howland Square in Westland Gardens. And when we were not on stage or back stage, we were bothering a poor waitress named Ceil at Shooks Bar in Arbutus. A crab fluff and a diet soda were a real treat back in the days!

What would I tell incoming freshman? Put down your cellphone and talk to the people around you.  Don’t just look at life through the screen of your iPhone.  Embrace the wonderful, diverse learning community.  Take walks, talk to people, and be in the moment.  Because those moments go so fast!  I am almost 63 years old, but I still look at the world like I did 40 years ago.  Take chances!  No one thought I would last a day in California.  I was making a movie with Shelley Winters within my first 2 weeks of landing in Los Angeles.  I stayed almost nine years.  Go to as many events on campus as you can, and try to think outside the box.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  

The friendships and the relationships that you cultivate while you are at UMBC will last you the rest of your life, if you are as fortunate as I have been.  We went from hiding the fact that we smoked from our parents to hiding the fact that we smoked from our children to not smoking at all as per our doctors’ orders. Life is so short.  Don’t miss any of it. Have goals and focus on them, but take time for the sweetness of a spring afternoon to watch the redbirds and the robins.  Find balance and laugh as much as you can.  As Oscar Wilde said, “Life is too short to be taken seriously.”

Susan Mohr ’75, as told to Richard Byrne ’86 and Julia Celtnieks ’13

Tales of Grit and Greatness: Eric Messner ’01

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we’ve launched Retriever Stories, a place where Retrievers of all stripes can reflect on their UMBC experience and where it’s led them. Check out this brief promo video here, then read on for the story of Eric Messner ’01, acting, one of the three alumni featured therein. Eric is an actor who’s appeared on The Wire, Veep, and The Men Who Built America, worked with Arena Stage and Everyman Theatre, and can be heard as The Mighty Thor on Graphic Audio’s Avengers series. Here’s what he had to say about his time here at UMBC…

EricMessner206236What does Grit and Greatness mean to me? It means that working hard and your personal and professional advancement are intertwined.

I came to UMBC as a slightly older student. I went to a few years of college and then stopped and worked in the theatre world for a bit. When I returned to school, I chose UMBC and came in with a determination to learn as much as I possibly could during my time here. I won a partial scholarship upon my entry to the university and during several of my semesters here.

One of my favorite teachers was professor of theatre Xerxes Mehta (who is now retired). Xerxes told me once during work on a scene: “You’re good, Eric and your instincts are good, but you seem to hold back ever so slightly.”

I think about that phrase often, and it pushes me as an actor, and as an artist, to always try to give fully into the work I do. I think that’s a big part of the grit that I carry around with me from UMBC.

UMBC also broadened my horizons past theatre. One of the big issues with fulfilling all the requirements for a major and a particular track is that I always wanted to take all of the other classes, too. One class I took outside of theater that stands out for me was environmental science with Sandy Parker, an associate professor in the geography and environmental systems department.

It was an utterly fascinating class. It was also weirdly prophetic, in that so many of the things he was telling us 15 years ago have come to pass. It rekindled an interest for me in nature and conservancy, and the importance and need for the protection of the environment.

What was my favorite place on campus? The fifth floor of the Albin O. Kuhn Library. In that era, it was the floor that had all the plays, and it was far enough up to be really quiet. I went there regularly just to do homework, and, of course, to browse whatever play I could find on the shelves.

What advice would I gave to an incoming freshman starting UMBC during its 50th anniversary year?  I would say that if they can, they should try to step outside their comfort zone as much as possible. Sure, it’s not always easy, but I feel like that’s why you’re there at UMBC — to learn about the things you don’t know, and not to simply reaffirm everything you know already.

— Eric Messner ’01, as told to Richard Byrne ’86 and Julia Celtnieks ’13

Tell us your tales of grit and greatness here!

Congratulations to our 2016 Alumni Award Winners!


Each year, the UMBC Alumni Association celebrates alumni and faculty who have made outstanding contributions to their fields, their communities, and the University. This year, we honor the following individuals for their achievements:

Engineering and Information Technology:
Dr. Vince Calhoun, Ph.D. ’02, Electrical Engineering
Executive Science Officer and Director, Image Analysis and MR Research; Professor of Translational Neuroscience, The Mind Research Network

Distinguished Professor, Departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Biology, Computer Science, Neurosciences, and Psychiatry, The University of New Mexico

Dr. Ian Ralby ’02, Modern Languages and Linguistics, and M.A. ’02, Intercultural Communication
Founder and CEO, I.R. Consilium

Natural and Mathematical Sciences:
Dr. Henry Baker ’78, Ph.D. ’84, Biological Sciences
Hazel Kitzman Professor of Genetics; Professor of Surgery; Chair, Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology, University of Florida College of Medicine

Associate Director, University of Florida Genetics Institute

Social and Behavioral Sciences:
Ruby Lu ’94, Economics
Managing Partner, H Capital

Social Work:
Joseph Jones, Jr. ’06, Social Work
Founder and CEO, Center for Urban Families

Visual and Performing Arts:
Dr. Tiffany Holmes, M.F.A. ’99, Imaging and Digital Arts
Dean of Undergraduate Studies, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Distinguished Service:
Thomas Sadowski ’89, Political Science
Vice Chancellor for Economic Development, University System of Maryland

Rising Star:
Galina Madjaroff ’08, Psychology, and M.A. ’11, Aging Studies
Undergraduate Program Director and Clinical Assistant Professor, The Erickson School at UMBC

Outstanding Faculty:
Dr. Kimberly Moffitt
Associate Professor, Departments of American Studies and Language, Literacy, and Culture Ph.D. Program, College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

Join us for the Alumni Awards Ceremony on Thursday, October 6!

Learn more about our past award winners:

2015 Award Winners

2014 Award Winners

2013 Award Winners

2012 Award Winners

2011 Award Winners

2010 Award Winners

2009 Award Winners

2008 Award Winners

2007 Award Winners

2006 Award Winners

2005 Award Winners

Past UMBC Alumni Award Winners

UMBC Athletic Hall of Fame

Tales of Grit and Greatness: Erica Lauren Ortiz ’06

As part of our 50th Anniversary celebration, we’ve launched Retriever Stories, a place where Retrievers of all stripes can reflect on their UMBC experience and where it’s led them. Check out this brief promo video here, then read on for the story of Erica Lauren Ortiz ’06, acting, one of the three alumni featured therein. Erica has taken her theatre background into a successful career in digital production, and is currently Director of Digital Media and Communications at Odyssey Media. We asked her a few questions about her time at UMBC, and here’s what she had to say…

erica (1)UMBC’s 50th Anniversary theme of “Grit and Greatness” is a perfect analogy for my time at UMBC. As a transfer student, I remained close to my Howard County, Maryland roots while attending the university. I often commuted to jobs off campus while studying in the theatre department. I also taught theatre and dance classes at local studios while studying the same subjects at UMBC.

I wanted to work hard to ensure I became independent. I watched my mom work hard to put me through school without a single student loan or a major scholarship. Many of the students I met at UMBC embodied a similar spirit, like the military veterans in my classes — we had all chosen a unique school, not the most popular one, and therefore knew we would need to work hard in order to achieve greatness there.

Experiencing all of the new technology and advancements in science and math happening around campus definitely influenced me — even as a theatre major. UMBC is one of the few places it was okay to be artsy and techy at the same time, and even the curriculum for acting majors is stretched far beyond acting.

What’s unique about UMBC’s acting program is [that it’s] run conservatory style, so there is a great immersion into many aspects of the art. We learned everything from puppetry, to building, to sound design. Working in my current career as a digital producer, I utilize many of the skills I learned that were non-performance related. There were also always great opportunities for collaboration between departments, like the digital puppetry collaborations between Colette Searls in the theatre department and UMBC’s Imaging Research Center.

As a student at UMBC, my favorite place on campus was definitely The Commons. It was so shiny and new when I arrived to campus, and full of all sorts of interesting spaces I kept forgetting and then discovering, like The Game Room or Flat Tuesdays. It was also right next door to the theatre, which is where theatre students spent most of our time.

But if I was a student at UMBC now, my favorite place would have to be the new shiny Performing Arts and Humanities Building. Have you seen that place? Incredible.

The thing I would tell an incoming freshman at UMBC is soak it in. Try new things. Being in “The Loop” is a safe place to explore new things and test new boundaries without the judgement of the outside world. Be yourself, and if you don’t know who that is yet, UMBC is a great place to try a few different versions out.

 Erica Lauren Ortiz ’06, as told to Richard Byrne ’86 and Julia Celtnieks ’13

Tell us your tales of grit and greatness here!

Spaces in Between: Sondheim Prize finalist Christos Palios ’02 discusses his art

Christos Palios ’02, visual arts, a photographer whose work is displayed in public and private collections across the country, is a finalist for the 2016 Janet and Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize. Before the award is announced tomorrow, Palios talks about his approach to his art, and how his education and background inform his photography.
Give me a brief overview of your post-UMBC career trajectory. After a brief stint doing multimedia design for a firm in Baltimore, I quickly realized I preferred the liberty of navigating on my own schedule. Subsequent voyages abroad (France, Morocco, Greece, the latter being where my heritage resides) forged a deep interest in subjects and stories that transcend mere beauty. Since 2007 I’ve been practicing my art full-time and selling directly to individual collectors, corporations, and the government.
Markopoulo I
Markopoulo I, by Christos Palios. From the Unfinished series.

Your body of work focuses a lot on empty spaces and non-populated areas. What draws you to those spaces? What makes you want to document that type of isolation? There’s a compelling surrealism to unoccupied spaces usually peopled to the brim or at least with a constant flow; a sociological intrigue arises without their expected human counterparts. Think Miami Beach in the dead of night, or an abandoned new structure frozen in the construction phase — such spaces transmute and take on alternative meaning.

I’ve somehow always gravitated to forgotten, ambiguous environments for the potential to tell alternative stories in universal ways. Aside from serenity and thought-provoking aspects to such spaces, I seek irregularity, deviation, and discreet subtleties to make a connection. I ask “why?” a lot.

What in your background has influenced your art? Is there anything about your UMBC experience that has influenced your work? My parents’ openness and encouragement was paramount. Additionally, I recall my professors constantly encouraging honest discourse and unabashed personal expression. Depending on student personalities, it wasn’t always pretty, but nonetheless we expected honesty and a semblance of politeness among one another during critiques. In the beginning, this was very new to me; suffice it to say, I learned to appreciate that quickly.

During one of my first art history lectures, I well recall a classmate not understanding one of Jackson Pollock’s abstract drip paintings as art. In response to this sentiment, he politely interrupted, and as all heads rose in eager anticipation, he boldly asserted his opinion: “I’m sorry, but this is total s***!” The lecture that day veered toward a different and serendipitous course of personal expression in art.

Your bio says you started out in design and animation. What made you decide to move into photography? Demand for the kind of work I aspired to do (special effects) required a move out-of-state to NYC or Los Angeles, for example. Which is something I didn’t wish to pursue at the time, particularly since it entailed moving further away from my family. (Greeks stick together, it’s a thing.) Additionally, by then my dabbling in photography grew into a more serious interest. So looking back, it wasn’t a decisive moment where I just knew this was it; rather, it became something I transitioned into experientially beginning with my travels in Southern France and while visiting family in Greece.
Catharsis, by Christos Palios. From the Conversations series.

What advice do you have for young artists, particularly those in college? There is much truth to the overdrawn maxim of “get out and shoot.” To that I’d add: be open. The more commonplace images I’ve captured [and thought were awesome], the greater my desire grew to hone my craft, to look deeper into subjects. I’m a proponent of unyieldingly challenging oneself and to consider conceptual aspects of stories. Search for narratives untold, or familiar ones expressed uniquely and cohesively from one’s point of view. This is a good way to gradually foster a unique visual style. If one feels a project hasn’t matured, try putting it aside and look back in a short while, as hard as it may be; a lot of truth and clarity may rise to the surface as a result of that discipline.

I’ll echo one more piece of advice I was given by a photographer friend: visit galleries and museums frequently, it’s a tremendously invaluable source of education and inspiration.

— Julia Celtnieks ’13

Music for a Cause: Rebecca Metheny Mason ’01 on advocacy through art

5295991In 2008, when Rebecca Metheny Mason ’01, music, heard a moving speech on human trafficking, she knew she had to act. So, she helped form a task force at her church. She and her husband Steve Mason ’01, biological sciences, became involved with Love 146, a Connecticut-based organization that seeks to educate the public about child trafficking. But she was most inspired to take unique action when a choreographer friend put on a benefit performance for the victims of trafficking, with dances inspired by their stories.

“She’s able to use her passion for dance and combine it [with work for a cause]…what can I do?” Metheny Mason asked herself. Then it clicked: the classically trained flutist and one-time Linehan Artist Scholar would start using her music to make a difference. She’s hosted benefit concerts for various anti-trafficking groups since 2011, and now, while parenting two young children, is continuing to establish her brand of activism in the D.C. area.

Before dedicating her life and art to this cause, Metheny Mason had been a private flute teacher for many years, coaching students in a variety of age groups. One job had her going into middle and high school band rooms to coach students for competitions and concerts. When she first became aware of how pervasive human trafficking was (and is) throughout the world, she was living in New York City and finishing her D.M.A. at Stony Brook University, playing with a small orchestra in Staten Island and teaching private lessons for undergraduates.

For her first benefit performance, held in 2011 over Freedom Week, she paused in between songs to discuss trafficking statistics in the composers’ countries of origin, and proceeds went to the Girls’ Educational and Mentoring Services (G.E.M.S.). For her second benefit for Love 146, she decided to take a more emotional approach, selecting pieces that would evoke the idea of love, the idea of children.

She held her most recent benefit this past March for the D.C.-based organization Polaris, and she says she’s pleased with both the turnout and the response to her brand of awareness-raising: “It’s been very, very positive.”

Metheny Mason says people are often surprised to learn of the real scope of human trafficking…and that it often happens in their own back yards. But she hopes that her performances will help spur people to action, and now that she, her husband, and their children have relocated from New York to Northern Virginia, she still tries to perform whenever she can, though she says her family keeps her “very busy.” She envisions her next benefit as a wine and cheese tasting with a slate of French music.

Her hope, when her children are a little older, is to go back to teaching college students. For now, though, her focus is on her family and her advocacy. It’s not always easy — she mentions rehearsing for her benefit concerts while her youngest daughter naps in the afternoons — but it’s worth it.

“Do whatever works,” she says.

Have an exciting project you’re working on? Let us know in a class note!