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…
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