“Enjoy the Process:” Charles Mason III ’14 on art, grad school, and his new “Two Lane Stories” exhibition

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. We recently caught up with Charles Mason III ’14, graphic design, an interdisciplinary artist and curator working in Baltimore. His latest exhibition, “Two Lane Stories,” features the work of six black male artists working across Maryland. It opened last Friday at Gallery CA in Greenmount West, and runs through August 31. 

cm3Name: Charles Mason III
Grad Year: 2014
Major: Graphic Design
Current Job Title: Visual Artist and Curator of “Two Lane Stories” at Baltimore’s Gallery CA

Tell me about how this project came about: what made you decide to curate the show? I’ve been working on this exhibition, “Two Lane Stories,” for about a year now. It started in the spring and summer of 2016 […] I was working at Morgan State University, and me and Professor E.L. Briscoe would have conversations about day-to-day life, artists, artists of color, black artists…He gave me this book called 30 Americans to read, and it was about a collection of works from…men, women, all types of people of color. And I was really inspired by that. I was like, “I’m gonna do something talking about the obstacles [facing] black male artists.” […] Originally I did want to do 10 artists. It didn’t work out that way, but I was able to work with and interview six black male artists local to the state of Maryland. […] I felt like it was important, and I felt like telling the side of their story, how they navigate through the systems of being a black artist, and being a black person, and being a black man…how they’re able to convey that in their work…and how it influences them and whether it’s an obstacle.


In choosing these artists, I was able to reach out to mentors, brothers, uncles, these people that have been influential to my work and my process. [At UMBC] I had a lot of mentors, and a lot of friendships there, but for me, being a black man, I didn’t have a lot of black male artist role models. So when I started to really go after this fine art life and really started to explore creating with painting, photography, design…I started to meet these different artists. When I worked at Morgan State University, I started to meet these really important black men artists who are here in this state, who are very influential.

I went to grad school for a little bit, right after I graduated from UMBC. I went to [the Parsons School of Design], and I was only there for three months, but there I was also introduced to a lot of different artists of color. Going to the Brooklyn Museum, going to the Queens Museum, going to all these different places, I was exposed to so much. And for me personally, it was very important that I did that. Even though I didn’t stay, I got to see fine art through a different lens. For so long, I thought fine art was this very linear thing, when it’s not. I knew abstraction [and expressionism] existed, I knew all these different things existed, but for so long I had not…gone after it. I thought a drawing just had to look like a drawing. Like if I drew a chair, it had to look like that chair. It couldn’t look like anything else, it just had to look like that chair. And that kind of followed me, for so long, but when I was able to go to grad school, it was like…wow. This is what I’ve been missing. This felt like home, like I always should have been doing this.

“Black Lives Matter?” by Charles Mason III. Image reused with artist’s permission.

Could you tell me more about your own art? What motivates you to create? My own work, again, is a mix between different mediums. Depending on the message I’m trying to convey, my medium will change. Some people might look at that as a bad thing, or others might look at it as a good thing. I look at it as just me being interdisciplinary. I love fine art, but I know for a fact that depending on what I’m trying to talk about, a painting may do it more justice than a photograph, or a photograph may do it more justice than a painting, and so on. I think that’s so important to the way I create. I am so influenced by society today, and historical context. I’m influenced by what happened in the ’60s, the ’70s, the ’80s, the ’90s, the early 2000s, whether it’s from music or whether it’s what’s happening politically…I have to express myself, to get something out, because this feeling is so overwhelming [that] if I don’t create, if I don’t do something, I kind of feel stuck. I kind of feel backed up. It keeps me sane, almost, to create. I’ve done watercolors, I’ve done paintings, I’ve done photographs. Everything has its own tone, but it all ties in back to being…socially, politically, historically aware. Context…is so important to me, and these artists that I’ve interviewed are so important to me, because my practice is this one way, but my mindset is completely different than it’s ever been right now because of the conversations that I’ve had and how they’ve pushed me to be aware of what I’m doing. Once you’re aware, you can never go back. At least I can’t go back to what I used to do, or what I’m used to thinking or perceiving. [My] practice is constantly being influenced, because the work will come, but it’s all about the mindset that sets you apart from different artists. You can have 10 different painters, but all of them paint differently because of their experiences, because of their knowledge, because of their history, because of their culture. All these things are so important to their practice, and same with me.

You are headed off to Pennsylvania for grad school in the fall. What will you be studying and what draws you to it? I will be getting my M.F.A. in fine art, which is an interdisciplinary program at Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. I applied to several programs throughout this nation and overseas…and was fortunate enough to get into five out of the six programs that I applied to. […] There were a lot of really good programs, and it was just about having the best scenario for myself. I mentioned that I went to grad school before, but I kind of went up there half-cocked, because once I graduated college, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. [New York] was one of the greatest experiences of my life, but I left, and now I feel like I’m in a better headspace, a better mindset.

Were there any particular professors or courses at UMBC that had an impact on you? Tell us a little more about those. There were quite a few professors who challenged me in ways I hadn’t been challenged, who saw something, who were very approachable. [IRC director] Lee Boot was my mentor, a friend of mine, a really good friend who’s introduced me to these really phenomenal artists. I didn’t meet him until I became a McNair Scholar, and Cynthia Hill [and] Dr. April Householder were very influential to me as well, just pushing me. [Kwame Ansah-Brew taught] an African-American music class, but he was just so fun to listen to and to hear talk. […]

I was at UMBC longer than I should have been, honestly, but I figured, since I was here, I would learn different things that I’d always wanted to learn. I always wanted to learn the piano, and I had to literally, like, ask. Because I’m not a music major! I wasn’t a music major, so I had to ask, I had to talk to somebody and express to them that I really wanted to learn. And I did. I learned it, I had fun. I wish piano classes were a little more affordable, or I’d still be learning now. It was very influential to me. All these different people have been important to my growth overall, from undergrad to now. [A] professor by the name of Vin Grabill in the visual arts department, he was very influential. He was my mentor when I became an Undergraduate Research Award recipient. I had a lot of fun at UMBC, mostly because…I found people, and I found things and subject matter that I could get into. That was really important to me.

“I Am (Abstract),” by Charles Mason III. Image reused with artist’s permission.

What’s your number one piece of advice for an incoming UMBC student? Have fun, and don’t rush the process. We get so caught up in wanting to graduate at a certain time, or just do something at a certain time…[You’re] going to learn so much from the classes that you really care about. You may be a biology major, but learn an important life lesson from an art teacher, you know? [We’re] so worried about graduating and finding that job that we forget to actually enjoy our undergraduate [experience]. I’m not even talking about partying and stuff like that…I’m talking about really having fun in the classes that you take. Even if you’re taking all math classes…you may not want to be an artist, but if you love art, take that class! If you love history, take that class. Because you’ll never get this time again, really, to be an undergraduate, to be that young person, just having that experience and being able to fail. And not everyone is looking at you to succeed all the time, because you’re still figuring it out. Even when you’re 30, you’re still trying to figure things out. […]

Creating a diamond takes a lot of pressure, and that pressure that you get from undergraduate or graduate school…is important to your development and you should have fun doing it. Take that time. Enjoy the process.

At UMBC, we create new pathways and transform lives every day. Learn more here.

Alums in the News: Christos FC, home to several UMBC alumni, faces off against D.C. United

Christos FC; photo by US Soccer.

Baltimore-area soccer club Christos FC, whose roster features several UMBC alumni, faces off against D.C. United tomorrow as the last amateur team in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

Among Christos’ ranks are Pete Caringi III ’15, psychology (also an assistant coach here at UMBC), Phil Saunders ’15, health administration and policy, Geaton Caltabiano ’14, psychology, and Levi Houapeu ’15, financial economics. 

You can read more about the highly decorated “team that doesn’t practice” in this Baltimore Sun profile. Tickets for tomorrow’s game are available here.

Support tomorrow’s champions by making a gift to UMBC Athletics today.

Ticket to Wine: 12th annual Wine Tasting & Silent Auction raises over $4,800 for student scholarships

CYA-Wine-Tasting17-9500Who doesn’t love trains? Guests got to revisit their love of the rails at the B&O Railroad Museum on Friday, May 19 for the Chapter of Young Alumni’s 12th Annual Wine Tasting & Silent Auction. Members and supporters of the UMBC community came together for a night of fundraising that raised over $4,800 for student scholarships.

The night featured remarks from Leslie Walker-Wilson ’74, psychology, past president of the UMBC Alumni Association, and Courtney B. Wilson, Executive Director of the B&O Railroad Museum.

Another highlight: a special video message from Dr. Freeman Hrabowski.

CYA-Wine-Tasting17-9223While guests mingled and ate delicious food, they listened to music from UMBC’s own Jazz Ensemble. They also had the opportunity to purchase raffle tickets and bid on silent auction items. Thanks to our local business partners, we featured packages such as Charm City Date Night and Northern MD Wine Tour.

Relive the night by visiting our Facebook album or the Pixilated photobooth gallery.

Want to help us raise more scholarship funds? It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3!

  1. Visit giving.umbc.edu and select Give Now from the menu.
  2. Select Event when asked what prompted you to give to UMBC.
  3. Select Other from the gift designation drop-down, and add Alumni Association Scholarship – Current Use in the field below.

Thank you!


— The Chapter of Young Alumni Board

All photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.

A Step Up: Alumni return for Career Month volunteer opportunities

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

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.

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.

Got news for us? Send in a class note for the next issue of UMBC Magazine!

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
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