Legends of Excellence 2017: Simmona Simmons ’74, Service and Special Projects Librarian

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…

Simmona-Simmons-4004Simmona Simmons ’74, American studies, started working as a technician at the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery in 1966, the very same year UMBC opened its doors to students across Maryland. After earning her degree, she was UMBC’s only African American librarian in the university’s earliest days, and many young minority students saw her as a role model and inspiration.

Now the Service and Special Projects Librarian at UMBC, she has served in several capacities over the years, including Head of Circulation, Head of Reserves, Head of Serials, and Head of Reference. After completing her bachelor’s degree in American studies here in 1974, she earned a master’s of library and information science from the University of Maryland at College Park in 1976, as well as a second master’s degree in American studies.

Ms. Simmons serves as the library liaison to the Department of Africana Studies, and is also a former adjunct faculty member at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies, has contributed to several academic publications, and has served on the Board of Trustees for the Anne Arundel County Public Library and the Oncology Foundation of Maryland and the District of Columbia. She has contributed to such scholarly publications as the Handbook of Black Librarianship, Notable Black American Women, and The Encyclopedia of American Gospel Music, and written the essay “It’s a Personal Thing” for Library Mosaics.

While her current role involves outreach to faculty, Ms. Simmons says she has “always loved” working with students: “As they discover new information and as they mature, it is exciting to contribute a small part to their success.” She is remembered by former students for her grace, modesty, and for being an inspiring presence within the library’s halls.

Tickets for the Legends of Excellence event on Saturday, May 6, are still available here.  We hope to see you there!

Postcards from True Grit: CAHSS alumni send their well wishes to admitted students

With college admissions season kicking into high gear, we got a few on-campus alumni together last week to send personalized notes to students accepted into the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CAHSS). Retrievers shared their memories and well wishes with accepted students across Maryland and all around the country. 

The project caught on off-campus, as well: all told, we had 61 alumni from a variety of CAHSS majors send out over 1,400 postcards to prospective students. We can’t wait to meet the Class of 2021!

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Photo courtesy of Mimi Dietrich ’70.

To learn more about opportunities to get involved as an alum, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website!

Alums in the News: UMBC’s Legal Eagles

Our alumni are making headlines! Today, we focus on Retrievers who are making waves in the legal profession.

Travis Bell ’14, political science and psychology, now in his final year at the UCLA School of Law, is one of 14 American law students receiving this year’s Gideon Fellowship. This prestigious award, part of the Gideon’s Promise Law School Partnership Program, is a three-year fellowship that places law school graduates in public defenders’ offices across the Deep South. Bell, who was the Class of 2014 valedictorian, will serve out his fellowship in Montgomery, Alabama.

Yvette Pappoe ’13, sociology, has been named a Law Student of the Year for 2017 by the National Jurist magazine. Pappoe is a third-year student at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, where she is articles editor of the University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender, and Class, a fellow in the Women, Leadership, and Equality Program, and a student attorney in the School to Prison Pipeline legal theory & practice course, to name a few.

Steven Fedder ’72, American studies, is one of The Daily Record’s 2017 Leadership in Law honorees. This award recognizes members of the Maryland legal community who have gone above and beyond in their profession. Fedder is a partner at Fedder & Janofsky LLC, a Baltimore-based firm specializing in trial litigation and employment law.

And finally, the UMBC Mock Trial Team may not have graduated yet (though their head coach Ben Garmoe ’13, political science, is an alum), but they’re taking over UMBC’s Instagram account this weekend to give us a firsthand look at the Opening Round Championship Series! Take a look here, and be sure to wish them luck!

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Have news of your own? Send us a class note for a future issue of UMBC Magazine!

Top Honors: UMBC Alumnae Make The Daily Record’s Top 100

In honor of International Women’s Day, we wanted to give a special shout-out to the eight UMBC alumnae who made The Daily Record’s 2017 “Top 100 Women” list. These women are leaders in both their professional fields and their communities, and we couldn’t be prouder of their achievements.

  • Debra Reznick Attman ’74, American studies
    • Realtor, Long & Foster Real Estate
  • Dr. Mary Way Bolt ’88, nursing
    • President, Cecil College
  • Julie Gaver, M.A. ’11, instructional systems development
    • Owner, Julie Gaver Training and Development
  • Susan Hahn ’79, sociology
    • Founder and President, HobbleJog Foundation and Swan Consulting Group, Inc.
  • The Hon. Wanda Keyes Heard ’79, political science
    • Associate Judge, Circuit Court for Baltimore City
  • MaryBeth Hyland ’06, social work
    • Founder and Chief Visionary, SparkVision
  • Alicia Wilson ’04, political science
    • Vice President of Community Affairs and Legal Advisor, Sagamore Development Company
  • Michelle Wright ’86, mathematics
    • Senior Vice President of Human Resources, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield

To purchase tickets to the awards ceremony on Monday, April 24, at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, click here.

Retriever Love Week 2017: From Then to Now

Happy February 16! For our second-to-last installment of Retriever Love Week 2017, we’re leaping across UMBC’s 50-year timeline to bring you classic tales of Retriever romance…

Today’s first story takes us all the way back to 1967, UMBC’s earliest days, when Laurie Collins ’71, English, first convinced Don Collins, her now-husband, to come with her to audition for a play. “In all of her cuteness, she convinced my dad,” writes their daughter Katie Collins-Showalter ’04, English. Their first official date was the UMBC freshman mixer on September 16, 1967. Married in 1972, they’ve been together ever since, and two of their three children went on to graduate from UMBC as well.

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Don and Laurie Collins on their wedding day in 1972…
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…and two months ago.

Colin Haser ’10, chemical engineering, met his now-wife Cortney Haser ’12, chemistry education, as walk-ons on the UMBC cross-country and track teams. After marrying in 2013, the Hasers moved to Baton Rouge for Colin’s job. Their mutual love of running is what brought them together and what keeps them going: most recently, both Hasers participated in the 2015 and 2016 Louisiana Marathons. Now back in Maryland, they are expecting their first child in July 2017.

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“Here is a picture of us from Halloween 2015, dressed as a triathlon.”

Aubrey Hillman ’09, environmental studies, met her husband Justin Rohrbaugh Hillman ’08, information systems, in Susquehanna Hall on her very first day at UMBC. The then-freshman found that she “instantly” clicked with the junior living down the hall, and they bonded over “endless hours of Mario Party” in a mutual friend’s dorm room.

“One Friday night, Justin said, ‘I think I’d like to start officially dating you,’ and I agreed,” writes Aubrey. “The funny thing is, the next morning I went out and met my parents for lunch and was excitedly telling them about this new boyfriend I had. Meanwhile, Justin was still back in the dorm room, agonizing over whether we were actually a couple.”

Eventually, the two got on the same page, and were married in 2011. They’ve moved all across the country for Aubrey’s graduate work, starting with her master’s and Ph.D. in Pittsburgh and her postdoc in Columbus, Ohio. They now live in Lafayette, Louisiana, where Aubrey is a tenure-track assistant professor.

“I never fail to stop and consider how my life would be different if we hadn’t both been coincidentally living on the same floor in Sus,” she says.

All of our Retriever Love Week 2017 stories coincidentally live in this same tag! Check them out.

Alumni Awards 2016: Dr. Henry Baker ’78, Ph.D. ’84, Biological Sciences

In the weeks leading up to the 2016 Alumni Awards Ceremony, we’ll be profiling each honoree in detail here on the blog. This year’s distinguished alum in the Natural and Mathematical Sciences category is Dr. Henry Baker ’78, and Ph.D. ’84, biological sciences. At the University of Florida College of Medicine, Dr. Baker is the Hazel Kitzman Professor of Genetics, as well as a professor of surgery and chair of the department of molecular genetics and microbiology. He is also associate director of the University of Florida Genetics Institute.

h-baker_headshotAs a researcher at the University of Florida College of Medicine, Dr. Henry Baker looks at patients’ genes to determine how they will respond to certain types of treatment for traumatic injuries, as well as what their prognosis might be. The Catonsville native got his start when UMBC was, in his words, “that new college down the street,” conducting undergraduate research in Dr. Frank Hanson’s laboratory. “The biological sciences curriculum was exceptionally well laid out,” he says, “and the integration with undergraduate labs was phenomenal.” After completing his doctorate under the mentorship of Dr. Richard Wolf — someone who Dr. Baker says had the greatest impact on his career — he went on to a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School before accepting a faculty position at Florida, where he’s been ever since. Over the past three decades (and counting), he’s risen in the ranks from assistant professor to endowed professor and department chair, and also sits on the executive and medical admissions committees. He has stayed in contact with his Ph.D. mentor over the years, and says he is proud of how far UMBC has come since he was a student here, particularly in the achievements of President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski and the Meyerhoff Scholars Program. He also takes pride in his relationships with friends, family, and colleagues, and in working with diverse groups of people to help them achieve their goals.

Join us for the Alumni Awards Ceremony on Thursday, October 6, in the Earl and Darielle Linehan Concert Hall.

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