Legends of Excellence 2017: Earnestine Baker, Former Executive Director of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program

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…

IMG_3495_cropEarnestine Baker, known affectionately to her colleagues as “Ernie,” was first hired as UMBC’s Coordinator for Minority Recruitment in 1983. In 1992, she became the first Program Director of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, and was promoted to Assistant to the Vice President of Institutional Advancement and Executive Director of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program in 2002. Under her direction, the Meyerhoff program became an integral part of campus life and culture, and achieved a sterling reputation for preparing minority students for graduate and professional programs in the sciences, mathematics, and engineering. Mrs. Baker presented the program as one of the blue ribbon reports to Congress in 2003, and in 2009, the program was recognized by Science, the nation’s leading journal of scientific research, news, and commentary, for having “what it takes” to help more minority students earn science degrees.

Since its inception in 1993, the Meyerhoff program has graduated over 1,200 students, and counts 231 Ph.D. graduates, including 45 M.D./Ph.D.s, among its alumni. Mrs. Baker was instrumental in increasing its cachet among institutions of higher learning, and has represented UMBC on both the national and international stages, from participating at the 2012 College Completion Symposium with then-U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, to accompanying a delegation of University Members to Beijing, China, Cape Town, South Africa, Seville, Spain, and Bali, Indonesia.

Mrs. Baker is remembered by those who worked for and with her for her steely resolve in the face of challenges, especially in the early days of the program, and for the values she instilled in her students and staff. In many instances, the connections Mrs. Baker forged with her students stayed intact long after they left UMBC, as she continued to offer them guidance and network on their behalf as they pursued graduate study. In 2008, she received the University System of Maryland Board of Regents’ Award for Extraordinary Public Service to the University or the Greater Community for her dedication to the Meyerhoff Scholars Program and the students it served. Since her retirement in 2013, Mrs. Baker has continued to serve on several STEM advisory boards, and is currently serving as a contractual worker at UMBC.

“While growing up, I had a community who inspired me to work hard and to be the best that I could be,” she writes. “I knew that I wanted to [and needed to] give back and help others in the manner that I had experienced.” With the Meyerhoff Scholars Program in the place it is today, both within the UMBC community and in the national sphere, Mrs. Baker has more than paid it forward.

Register NOW for the Legends of Excellence Awards Brunch on Saturday, May 6!

ICYMI: Ejiofor Ezekwe ’09, biological sciences, on diversity and mentorship

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.”

Catch the full video below:

Have news you’d like to share? Send us a class note!

Retriever Love Week 2017: The Flying Discus of Love

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.”

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Chris “Peaches” Bechis ’09 and Leslie Anderson Bechis ’08.

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.

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Luckily, mutual friend and fellow Meyerhoff Tolu Omokehinde ’16, biochemistry and molecular biology, was there to capture the moment.

A June 2018 wedding is planned, and Iffy Akinnola ’15, biochemistry and molecular biology, will officiate.

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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!

Alums in the News: Myers (M1), Ellison-Taylor, Adams

Let’s see who made the news this week…

myersOliver Myers ’94, M1, mechanical engineering, M.S. ’96, mechanical engineering, and Ph.D. ’07, mechanical engineering, who’s now an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Clemson University, recently spoke to the USM Foundation about the effect the Meyerhoff Scholars program has had on his life and career: “You don’t consider the impact when you’re going through school, but thinking about it now, it weighs heavily.”

ellison-taylorKimberly Ellison-Taylor ’93, information systems managementis 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.

adamsJerome Adams ’97, biochemistry and molecular biologywas 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.

Tell us your big news in a class note!

Alums in the News: Harvard M.D./Ph.D. candidate Kinde; UMBC staffer Banerjee

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Let’s see which of our alums have made the news this week.

benyamBenyam 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.

poulomiPoulomi 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.

Head to alumni.umbc.edu to send us your updates!

Alums in the News: The Brothers Dzirasa

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…

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Kafui Dzirasa ’01, right, on a panel with President Barack Obama and Atul Gawande at the White House Frontiers Conference. Photo by Tracy Certo.

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.

 

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Delali Dzirasa ’04, third from left, takes a selfie with his Fearless Solutions team on stage at the awards ceremony. Photo by Stephen Babcock.

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.

Any professional or personal accomplishments you’d like to share with us? Head to Retriever Stories today.

 

Alums in the News: Kafui Dzirasa ’01, M8, receives presidential award for research

kafuiKafui Dzirasa ’01, M8, chemical engineering, has received this year’s Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE). It’s the highest honor the U.S. government can bestow on a young researcher, and Dr. Dzirasa is one of 105 awardees selected by President Barack Obama.

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.

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