Ejiofor Ezekwe ’09, M17, biological sciences, is now in his final year of the M.D./Ph.D. program at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and recently gave an interview for Diverse Medicine’s “Black Men in White Coats” series, which aims to highlight the contributions of African-American men to the medical profession.
As a physician-scientist, Ezekwe speaks of the importance of mentorship for young people of color pursuing careers in medicine and the sciences. “The more folks of color you have on any faculty,” he says, “the more realistic the possibility seems. That’s why mentorship is key to me, and I want it to be a massive part of my career and my life.”
This is it, folks…the end of Retriever Love Week 2017. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this year’s stories as much as we’ve enjoyed sharing them. That said, we’ve got some great stories to throw at you today, so go long!
Leslie Anderson Bechis ’08, financial economics, and Chris Bechis ’09, political science, “met by accident” at the Rites of Spring rugby tournament in May 2006, during their freshman year. Chris, a UMBC chess scholar and rugby novice, decided to ask Leslie, who was injured and unable to play, questions about the sport, and when she returned to her dorm that night and saw Chris standing outside with a group of people, she became convinced he was following her.
“It turned out [we] had been living in the same building, one floor apart — and hadn’t met once that year,” Leslie writes. The pair became “inseparable” after Leslie asked Chris to late night, and he introduced her to ultimate frisbee. While Chris and Leslie played on the Booya co-ed team together, they maintained their ongoing relationships with their first loves (chess and rugby, respectively).
After two years together, the couple broke up, but continued to keep in touch, even after Leslie graduated early. Towards the end of Chris’ last spring semester, Booya had a problem — they didn’t have enough women to play in a coed tournament at Goucher College. Fortunately, Chris knew just the girl for the job, and he reached out to Leslie. She drove straight down from a rugby tournament in Philadelphia to fill in, and Booya ended up winning the day.
“To celebrate, [we] decided [we] would never be apart again,” says Leslie.
The Bechises, surrounded by friends, family, and teammates, were married in October 2010. They are “forever grateful that they both chose UMBC and left with not only an education, but with [a] soulmate.”
Natalie Steenrod ’16, biochemistry and molecular biology, and Michael Lopresti ’15, biochemistry and molecular biology, met during Meyerhoff Summer Bridge in 2012, right before Natalie’s freshman year. They remained friendly for the next three years, but didn’t really get to know each other until they shared an upper-level biology course (“only about 25 people — very close quarters,” Natalie writes). Their first “date” (though neither of them were calling it that at the time) was to see Bo Burnham perform at Homecoming, and from there, the sparks flew.
Of course, right as they started getting to know each other better, Michael graduated. “There was concern over what steps would follow,” Natalie says, but soon enough, Michael got a full-time job in Dr. Michael Summers’ lab as a technician…right downstairs from Dr. Katherine Seley-Radtke’s lab, where Natalie was working at the time. A “summer of research and shared lunches” ensued.
When the time came for them to apply to graduate school (as Meyerhoffs do), they both landed spots at the University of Minnesota — Natalie in neuroscience, and Michael in biochemistry. They packed up and moved across the country in June 2016, and Natalie writes that their first semester of graduate school was “fantastic, made much easier by each other’s company.”
While they were on a visit home for the holidays, Michael suggested that the couple stop by UMBC “to walk around and reminisce.” They were walking by the Library Pond, when suddenly…he stopped.
A June 2018 wedding is planned, and Iffy Akinnola ’15, biochemistry and molecular biology, will officiate.
Missed this year’s go-round? Send us your love story in a class note by Wednesday, March 1, to be featured in the next UMBC Magazine!
Kimberly Ellison-Taylor ’93, information systems management, is the new chairman of the board of directors for the American Institute of CPAs. Ms. Ellison-Taylor is head of global account strategy for Oracle America, and served on the AICPA board for four years prior to accepting the chairman position.
Jerome Adams ’97, biochemistry and molecular biology, was honored at a Golden Laurel Professional Reception for African-American medical professionals hosted by the Indianapolis Recorder newspaper this past week. Dr. Adams is the first African-American to be appointed Indiana State Health Commissioner by a Republican governor, as well as an assistant professor of anesthesiology at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
Happy Tuesday, everyone! Let’s see which of our alums have made the news this week.
Benyam Kinde ’10, M18, biological sciences, was recently featured in a homepage profile on Harvard Medical School’s news site. Kinde, an M.D./PH.D. candidate at Harvard, is perhaps best known for his research on the MECP2 protein, which has a role in the neurodevelopmental disorder Rett syndrome. The profile discusses his parents’ influence on him and his brother, Isaac Kinde ’05, M13, biological sciences, his research career, and how he hopes to mentor young scientists in his father’s homeland of Ethiopia.
Poulomi Banerjee ’16, health administration and policy, was featured in a Baltimore Sun story about adjusting math requirements for liberal arts students. Banerjee, who took statistics over calculus at UMBC to fulfill her graduation requirements, said the former discipline has proven to be helpful in her current line of work as a program assistant for the Division of Student Affairs: “I think it’s great that they’re allowing that option for students. I couldn’t imagine not having that option.” Current student body president Bentley Corbett-Wilson ’17, music, was also interviewed for the article.
Happy fall, and happy return of the Alums in the News feature! Here’s a brief update on the goings-on in a very accomplished UMBC family…
Kafui Dzirasa ’01, M8, chemical engineering, spoke alongside President Barack Obama on the Presidential Panel on Brain Science and Medical Information at the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh last week. Dr. Dzirasa, now a researcher and professor at the Duke University School of Medicine, received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers earlier this year for his work with neural pacemakers. You can watch the stream of the event here.
Delali Dzirasa ’04, computer engineering, and his software company, Fearless Solutions, took home the Design/Dev Firm of the Year award at this year’s Baltimore Innovation Week. Fearless, formerly housed at bwtech@UMBC, was recognized for their work on a federal program that helps small businesses in Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) zones.
Dr. Dzirasa earned both his M.D. and Ph.D. from Duke University. He is now an assistant professor of psychiatry, behavioral sciences, and biomedical engineering at Duke’s medical school. As head of the university’s Laboratory for Psychiatric Neuroengineering, he is working to develop a kind of pacemaker for the brain that can jump-start neural circuits and, as he puts it, “reconnect [the] soul to the mind” in patients with neuropsychiatric ailments like schizophrenia.
This isn’t the first time Dr. Dzirasa has been recognized for his groundbreaking research. In 2013, he received the Sidney R. Baer Prize for Innovative and Promising Schizophrenia Research from the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. He and the rest of this year’s PECASE recipients will be honored at a White House ceremony this spring.
UMBC is always full of hard-working people who aspire to do great things, and the class of 2014 is no exception. Today, we wanted to share with you what some of our recent graduates are planning to do with their Retriever education.
In a mere four years at UMBC, Valedictorian Travis Bell, psychology and political science, completed six internships, studied abroad in Chile, and received a mentorship for pursuing a career in public affairs. Along with being the UMBC Club Soccer President and the UMBC Pre-Law Society Founder and Treasurer, Bell was also selected as a finalist for the national Harry S. Truman Scholarship and won both the Outstanding Senior Award in political science and the Louis Cantori Memorial Scholarship. With his recent graduation, he plans to continue his education to earn a J.D. at the UCLA School of Law.
Blossom Tewelde, biochemistry and molecular biology, came in to UMBC as a science major and later found herself excelling in poetry. In the realm of science, the Meyerhoff and Howard Hughes Medical Institute scholar won the Donald Creighton Memorial Scholarship for Outstanding Senior Undergraduate Researcher in Biochemistry.
Tewelde also explored her talents in poetry, was soon published in UMBC’s Bartleby, and earned the Malcolm C. Braly Award. She plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Melissa Lomax, English literature, brought a lot to the table. While at UMBC, she was president of the Maryland Association of Blind Students and held active membership in the National Federation of the Blind of Maryland. Lomax was also chosen to travel abroad to Damascus as a part of the Open Hands Youth Abilities Summit, where she “worked with Syrian youth on the topic of the United Nations Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.” There, she helped develop the comic Silver Scorpion by Liquid Comic about an empowering superhero who has a disability, which has been featured on NPR and in Time Magazine. Lomax now plans to be the Youth Services Coordinator for the Blind Industries and Services of Maryland.