A Playwright in Bloom: Kara Lee Corthron ’99

Even as a student at UMBC, Kara Lee Corthron ’99, theatre, looked to the intricacies of human emotion to drive her writing.

Now established as one of theatre’s most promising playwrights, Corthron recently returned to UMBC from the stages of New York, Chicago and D.C. to share her love of theater with current students as they performed her new play, Wild Black-Eyed Susans, during UMBC’s Homecoming & Family Celebration weekend.

Early Recognition

Over the last few years, Corthron has racked up an impressive list of honors for her work. Her new play, Wild Black-Eyed Susans, received the 2007 Helen Merrill Award for Emerging Playwrights. In addition, her play Like a Cow or an Elephant was awarded the 2007 Theodore Ward Prize for African-American Playwrights and was produced at the DePaul Theatre School in Chicago.

Corthron was also the winner of the 2006 New Professional Theatre Writer’s Award, is a three-time recipient of Lincoln Center’s Lecomte du Nouy Foundation Award and was a semi-finalist for the 2007 Sundance Theatre Lab and Princess Grace Award. Corthron’s plays have been developed with the Ensemble Studio Theatre, Center Stage (Baltimore), African Continuum Theatre (D.C.) and at the Julliard School.

A Strong Start at UMBC

Corthron says UMBC’s theatre department helped to prepare her for the challenges of a career in theatre, encouraging her to understand the business of theatre as well as the research and work that goes into a production. Classes in script analysis gave her an appreciation for dramatic literature and helped to inspire her passion for writing.

She also believes that taking classes in theatre will benefit non-majors.

“Even takng a class in dramatic literature can help you to learn about the human experience,” says Corthron. “You read about people who have to make decisions and work through problems. Or, if you choose to get involved in a production, when you are in character you have to figure out how you will work with that person is going through. In theatre, you learn to understand other perspectives, empathy and compassion.”

Sharing the Love of Theatre

Lynn Watson, chair of the theatre department, says that current students benefited from working with Corthron’s play.

“As I watched the actors in rehearsal and worked with them on the text of Wild Black-Eyed Susans, I was particularly struck by the sophistication of Kara’s writing,” she said. “She has a keen ear for the emotional underpinning of a casual comment. Her characters are believable and identifiable — working class people living in a region where jobs are drying up — yet she imbues their speech with poetic imagery and lyricism. Her ability to intermingle lyricism and rough urgency in the speech of contemporary characters is exceptional.

“For our students, the opportunity to play these roles has made for marvelous acting lessons,” adds Watson.

“As actors dig into it, the play constantly yields up more and deeper layers. It’s exciting to see Kara’s talents passed on through her play to the development of another generation of UMBC theatre students.”

– Melissa Gilden ’10
Originally posted October 2007

“Broadminded” and Loving It: Shari Elliker ’83

Shari Elliker is one to talk. About true crime. About traffic. About movies and people and beer and whatever new and interesting tidbits pop up on her radar.

And people are listening.

As host of “The Shari Elliker Show” on WBAL morning radio and one of three on “Broadminded,” an XM Radio program described as “Sex & the City Meets the 3 Stooges,” the actress and radio personality has learned to truly enjoy the ups and downs of live broadcasting.

“When you’re live, you’re working without a net,” she said. “You’ve got to hope for the best and hope that whatever mistake you make can be fixed, or that it went by so fast no one noticed.”

Early Beginnings

Elliker started out as a film major at UMBC, but later moved into a specialization in broadcast communications via an interdisciplinary studies major. She served as general manager of the UMBC radio station, and during her freshman year secured an internship at the radio station 98 Rock, which inspired and fostered her interest in radio broadcast.

After college, she worked as a receptionist for several different media companies, hoping to work her way to the top. This route didn’t really pan out, however.

“It never works like that,” said Elliker. “Ever.”

Searching for another outlet for her speaking voice and ebullient personality, she began doing freelance acting and performing voiceovers. She spent seven years as a company member of various political satire troupes, including “Gross National Product,” and secured acting credits in “Homicide,” “America’s Most Wanted” and “Unsolved Mysteries.”

Obstacles on the Radio

In her quest to get into radio broadcasting, Elliker took some bold steps. Listening to the radio one day, it occurred to her how effectively traffic reporters get their name out to people. On a whim, she called the radio station and plainly asked, “How can I be a traffic reporter?” As it happened, the man who answered the phone was the regional manager of the radio station. Through this connection, Shari found her first job in the business as a beach traffic reporter on the Bay Bridge, which she wound up hating.

Elliker later found her way onto the morning show of 99.1 HFS, but it, too, wasn’t all that she expected. She didn’t meet her colleagues until the day before the first airing, and she knew immediately that the chemistry wasn’t there. As she struggled, Elliker started to doubt herself, thinking “this is the biggest mistake of my life. I’ve worked so hard for this, and this is terrible.”

“You have a responsibility to make the show interesting,” she said. “When that wasn’t happening, I felt like I should go back to doing traffic.”

Girl Power

Fortunately, Elliker didn’t stay in a lull for long. When her friend Christine Eads pitched a show called “Broadminded” to XM Radio, a satellite radio station available in the U.S. and Canada, she joined the three-woman show for daily – and sometimes racy – chat about relationships, pop culture, and two of her “true passions” – murder and beer.

“Women have really been under-represented in the radio, it’s really remarkable,” said Elliker. “It’s changing now. You rarely hear three women, hosting a morning show, talking about what they want, just like the men do. I’m very proud of the work that we’ve done.”

“It’s Like Having Your Own Room”

With a couple of years of “Broadminded” under her belt, and some time hosting a Sunday afternoon show on WBAL radio in Baltimore, in September Elliker closed a deal on her own daily talk show on WBAL, replacing long time morning host, Chip Franklin.

“The Shari Elliker Show” features a variety of lifestyle topics and guests, including UMBC alumnus Neil Beller ’83, information systems management, as well as discussion of national and local headlines – the type of flexibility Elliker enjoys. The timeslot allows Shari to do her morning show on WBAL, and then walk into a different studio to do “Broadminded.” She said she is thankful for the support she’s been given by the station.

“I can talk about things that I find interesting and have a passion for,” she said. “If you work with a group of people, there’s this constant compromise… which is fine, but it is kind of nice to have your own show. It’s like having your own room.”

– by Melissa Gilden ’10
Originally published October 2007

A Global Perspective: Kevin Mulroe ’98, M.A.

Kevin Mulroe is the type of teacher who would travel to the ends of the earth for his students. Literally.

A teacher of gifted and talented students in Howard County, Mulroe ’98, M.A., instructional systems development, was one of just 16 teachers from across the country to receive a Fulbright-Hayes Fellowship, enabling him to spend six weeks this summer exploring India in the name of education. Throughout his journey, Mulroe visited 23 different schools and learned a lot about what works – and what doesn’t – in math and science education.

“This falls into the category of ‘lifetime experiences.’ One of my goals in life is to have as many of those as possible,” said Mulroe, an adventurer by nature. “I know that these experiences make me a better teacher, person, a better everything.”

While a student at UMBC, Mulroe worked with disadvantaged students from Baltimore City and Prince George’s County through a graduate assistantship with the Shriver Center. This experience planted the seed for Mulroe’s interest in learning beyond the traditional boundaries.

After graduating, he began his career in education, teaching fifth grade in Howard County. Just three years later, he and his wife, Sorsha, took jobs teaching at an American school in Alexandria, Egypt. He later returned to Howard County schools, earning the title “Teacher of the Year” for the county in 2005. Over the years, he has used his travel experiences to develop classes in everything from speech and debate to Ancient Egypt.

Mulroe blogged the entire time he was in India, recording his thoughts and taking photos of the people of New Delhi, the holy city of Varanasi, and some overly friendly monkeys in Bhubaneswar. He plans to spend the next few months sharing his experiences with as many people as he can, including his students. One entry reads, in part:

Yesterday we visited an organization that seeks out talented students from disadvantaged situations and seeks to bring them into the best Indian schools for the purposes of becoming engineers and scientists. It was a great program and was special for me, because it served the role of a nationwide G-T talent search. This is partly how India is changing. They recognize that their clear advantage over the U.S. and Europe is simple….1.1 billion people. They have many more potential Einsteins, Gates, Hawkins, Edisons and Curies. They know this and are getting their act together in terms of developing talent on a grand scale. India is not going away. As I have said before India is hungry and its people are hungry and not in terms of how we used to think about India’s hunger. They are hungry for innovation, wealth, opportunities, ideas, investment, education, etc.

While his travels this summer focused specifically on ways the country identifies its gifted students, and how it promotes math and the sciences among them, as Mulroe learned, the six weeks taught him much more.

“Anytime you travel overseas to the Middle East or any developing region, I think you learn more about yourself than anything else. You really see what you are made of when you step out of your comfort zone,” he said.

“Knowing who you are is important, and I am a teacher,” he said. “If you think about what you want your child’s teacher to be, you would want a caring, well read, well traveled educator. That is what I strive to be to my students and my own children.”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally published September 2007

All That Jazz: Ric Ryder ’84

Like so many times in his life before, Ric Ryder moved to the edge of the stage. The lights came up, and a round of applause sounded throughout the audience.

Instead of bowing, however, the Broadway veteran took a step back and clapped along with the crowd for a student named Michael, who just sang 16 bars of “Why Should I Wake Up?” from the musical Cabaret for the second time.

“With only 16 bars, you want to end that BIG,” said Ryder, who taught a one-day master class in vocal performance at UMBC last semester. “Let the voice do it…you don’t need to wave your arms on that final note. There’s a big difference, right?”

Musical Beginnings

A Baltimore native, Ryder grew up enjoying everything musical. As a high schooler, he studied voice on scholarship at the Peabody Conservatory. When he came to UMBC, he did so with one driving motive – to make vocal performance his career. When he graduated in 1984, he felt technically and emotionally prepared.

“What UMBC gave me is that when I graduated, I was really a proficient musician. I really had the skills to be able to compete,” said Ryder, who has since performed everywhere from cruise ships to the Holy Grail of musical theater – Broadway.

“If I went to an audition, and they wanted me to sight read something, I could do it quickly and accurately,” he said. “The sooner you get that technical stuff out of the way, the sooner you can be able to act the song. In terms of singing, there wasn’t anything that I couldn’t do, that I couldn’t accomplish.”

Like many actors, Ryder worked his way up the chain of performance. His first job in musical theater was at Opryland USA, where he performed jazz and other standards four shows a day, six days a week. Later on, he took on a role in Barnum on the SS Norway, a passenger ship. Looking back, he is glad for his pre-New York experiences.

“Doing three to four shows a day in the hot Tennessee valley sun, you learn your threshold, what you’re capable of, how to pace yourself,” he said. “I was interested in working. And that was work that paid the bills.”

Success in the Big Apple

Since moving to New York in 1987, Ryder has found jobs in regional theater, touring companies and on Broadway. He performed in the well-received Broadway musical Starmites, which received seven Tony nominations, as well as Blood Brothers, The Music Man and Grease! in which he portrayed Doody.

“I audition all the time,” said Ryder, who shows no signs of slowing. “It’s just an ongoing process. You’re always looking for the next job. Even while you’re doing a job, you’re still auditioning, maybe looking for a job to replace that job. It never ends.”

Ryder currently works as a private voice teacher and gives master classes similar to the one he gave at UMBC. During the summer, he works at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Collaborative Artists Project 21, better known as CAP 21.

Tips for the Broadway Hopeful

Ryder put his teaching skills to work at his UMBC master class. Working with a handful of music majors, he offered suggestions on posture and expression through song. He even sang a couple of his own favorite songs – “Out There,” from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and “Maria,” from West Side Story.

As for tips for the Broadway hopefuls, he offered students the following: be well-rounded; be prepared; be passionate. He encouraged the students to take advantage of opportunities during school and beyond.

“I think college is a good experience,” said Ryder. “You get as much out of the training as you put into it, and you want to get as much out of it as possible.”

– by Melissa Gilden ’10
Originally published June 2007

Striving for Social Change: Diane Bell McKoy ’73

For anyone with anything less than a “half-full” attitude about the potential for positive social change, Diane Bell McKoy has one unwavering response.

“Challenges are just opportunities,” said the 1973 sociology graduate, who serves as president and CEO of Associated Black Charities, a Baltimore non-profit devoted to making African-American individuals and families economically self-sufficient. She is also a member of UMBC’s Alex. Brown Entrepreneurship Center Advisory Board.

“I love challenges, as it relates to improving outcomes within the community,” said Bell McKoy, who is organizing a major gala in June to support ABC’s efforts. “I am hooked on trying to figure out pieces of the puzzle to make major social changes.”

An Agenda of Empowerment

Bell McKoy came to UMBC after learning of its social work program and its connection with the University of Maryland Graduate School of Social Work. She first became interested in social work when her field placement advisor noted that her social and communication skills would be helpful in such work.

“She noticed my ability to decipher and pick up on issues and emotions and translate those to lead people to help,” said Bell McKoy, a native of Washington, D.C.

Following her graduation from UMBC, Bell McKoy earned her master’s degree in social work in 1975. Although she spent some time as a case worker, she eventually found her calling in the administrative side of social work, spending ten years with Empower Baltimore Management Corporation, then serving as a senior fellow with the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

There, she developed a different level of patience to focus on using resources of relationships in the African-American community to further enhance her social change agenda. She also created a program called “More in the Middle,” which works to develop a greater African-American middle class, and pays attention to improving the outcome of low wealth African-Americans.

“Challenges Are Just Opportunities”

Bell McKoy started her work at Associated Black Charities in November 2006. In addition to instilling positive economic goals, ABC also serves to educate African-Americans on how they can make a difference in their community by contributing their time and talents to various projects. The work is never boring and always fulfilling.

“ABC has continued to stretch me, stretch my thinking, stretch my ability to connect in relationships,” said Bell McKoy.

“I see people get disconnected, and the reality is, if we all aren’t trying to pay attention to make a difference, then we can’t become a strong economic state and sustain that over time,” she said. “It’s not about being black, it’s about bringing together a stronger community, a stronger country, whether it’s African-American, Latino, or whatever minority group. If we’re not trying to close that gap, then we’re not trying to make America strong”.

ABC is one of five national organizations to receive the 2007 National Leadership in Action Award from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which recognizes outstanding philanthropic work done in minority communities by non-profit organizations.

Blazing the Trail for all Entrepreneurs

Over the years, Bell McKoy has contributed to her alma mater in a variety of ways. As a member of the Alex. Brown Center Advisory Board, which strives to infuse the university with the attitude, activities and ideas that will inspire entrepreneurial accomplishment in all its forms, she has found a way of combining her work and volunteer lives.

“Entrepreneurs have a focused agenda, and having those critical thinking skills like an entrepreneur is important,” for just about everyone, she said.

In addition, Bell McKoy is one of the original founders of UMBC’s Second Generation Scholarship, which is given annually for undergraduates who demonstrate a commitment to the advancement of minorities. She also spoke in the video shown at UMBC’s 40th anniversary celebration, crediting UMBC with further developing her critical thinking skills, her analytical skills, and her ability to translate those skills into a strategic mindset, which is extremely important in running an organization like ABC.

Although her work is often difficult, Bell McKoy thrives knowing she’s making an impact.

“We currently have a limited staff, so like any entrepreneur, I’m doing multiple jobs,” she said. “I don’t believe in stress. I believe that I’m blessed and highly favored. I love challenges.”

– by Melissa Gilden ’10
Originally posted May 2007

Sibling Revelry: The Hughes Family Five

For the Hughes family, nothing says “way of life” quite like the letters “UMBC.”

Over the course of three decades, five out of eight Hughes siblings – J. Barry ’71, history; Stephen ’76, economics; Kevin ’79, economics; Brian ’80, mathematics; and Maureen Hughes Shields ’85, American studies – worked their way through college, eventually earning the first college degrees in their family’s history.

“The decision to attend UMBC was a no-brainer,” said J. Barry Hughes ’71, history, who currently serves as Judge of the Circuit Court for Carroll County. “Having the five of us live at home during college also kept us closer growing up… and we remain a close-knit family.”

Small Beginnings

The Hughes’ eight children grew up in a tiny Cape Cod in Relay, Md., and attended local Catholic elementary and high schools. In 1967, when the time came to attend college, son Barry started looking into the brand-new school down the street – UMBC.

Attending UMBC made it possible for the Hughes siblings to work while attending school, as well as continue to live at home. Even as college students, they had to squeeze into the house’s two small bedrooms – five boys in one, three girls in the other. Despite the tight quarters, an educational spirit drove the family.

“Much of the dinner table conversation (back then) centered around issues or ideas we were studying in school,” including women’s liberation and war, said Stephen, who acted in a number of plays (at one point he ran lines with former student Kathleen Turner) during college and after law school became a founding partner at Pope & Hughes.

Haven’t I Seen You Before?

Although each sibling’s college years were spaced out considerably from the others, they did overlap occasionally.

During his later years, brother Kevin – now a self-employed Certified Public Accountant – recalls having some trouble registering for classes due to his freshman brother Brian’s unpaid parking fines. (“Sorry, Kevin!” writes Brian, now a professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University.)

Kevin also was able to use some of his elder brother Stephen’s books.

“He still had some of his notes from the classes he took,” he said, joking, “and most of his textbooks looked like they had never been opened!”

A True Family Affair

Once youngest daughter Maureen was ready for college, all her brothers had already graduated. She did, however, find a new kind of family in the faculty of UMBC. Close to leaving school to get married her junior year, Maureen found the support she needed to graduate after all.

“Tupper Webster, Nita Barbour and Mary Duru were such mentors and role models,” said Mrs. Shields, who went on to become an educational diagnostician. “They went above and beyond for me so that I could complete my senior year.”

In addition, brother Brian met his future wife, the former Linda B. Walden ’81, mathematics, at UMBC. The couple will celebrate 27 years of marriage this year.

Even beyond the five graduates, other members of the Hughes family have not been able to resist the pull of classes at UMBC. Sister Lil Hughes Knipp attended for a couple of semesters before finishing her degree elsewhere, and several of the siblings children have either applied to UMBC or will soon be Retrievers themselves.

The spirit even inspired the family matriarch, Lillian.

“Our parents, and particularly our mother, were fascinated by the new world of ideas that was opening up before us,” said Stephen. “It was a time of great debate and discussion in our household. This was so true, that after shepherding five children through UMBC, my mother enrolled and took several UMBC courses!”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally posted April 2007

To Protect and To Serve: Bob Garrity ’73

After more than 30 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Garrity has pretty much seen it all.

He has traveled the country as an agent, worked on high profile cases, and helped to steer the organization into the highly-technical 21st century. It’s no wonder he’s still excited about the job after all these years.

“I consider myself very fortunate in that even after 30 years of serving as a Special Agent, I still jump out of bed each morning and look forward to going to work,” said the 1973 sociology and psychology double-major graduate. “Like many FBI Agents, I don’t consider this a job; to me it’s a calling.”

Garrity, who currently serves as Deputy Chief Information Officer and Business Progress Reengineering Executive for the FBI, will detail elements of his work when he headlines UMBC’s upcoming Visionaries in Information Technology Forum March 29 at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel.

A Strong Background

Like many UMBC students, Garrity was born in Baltimore. He met his future wife, the former Shirley McPhee ’74, psychology, and her sister, the former Linda McPhee ’74, psychology, during an Eagle Scout ceremony put on by his Boy Scout troop. After graduating from Parkville High School in 1970, he made the choice to attend UMBC based on the small class sizes.

He had hoped to play lacrosse, as well, but the need to work part-time to pay for college and living expenses cut seriously into practice time. Instead, he concentrated on school and work.

“So much for my lacrosse career!” he said.

Following graduation, Garrity attended the University of Baltimore, School of Law. In 1974, he and Shirley married. The following year he earned his law degree, and the year after that entered the New Agents Class at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He subsequently earned a master’s degree in public administration while in the FBI.

Thirty Years, Ten Transfers

One of the things about the FBI Garrity most appreciates is the fact that it always keeps him on his toes. Transferring from office to office every few years certainly helps with that.

After training in Quantico, he served in field offices in Savannah and Statesboro, Ga., New York (where he first started dealing with foreign counterintelligence, specifically the Soviet Military Intelligence), Washington, D.C., Dallas, Texas, and Jackson, Miss.

In addition to working with counterintelligence against the KGB, Garrity had a major role in shaping policies and procedures following the conviction of former Special Agent Robert Hanssen of espionage. In July 2001, he also oversaw assessment of records management during the latter half of the Oklahoma City bombing trial. He has served in his current position, in which he identifies business practices most in need of re-engineering, since 2005.

“There is an endless amount of variety in the work I have been privileged to perform, and all of it has been exciting, important work,” he said.

“Nearly everything we do has a significant impact on the citizens of this great country. The FBI has an incredibly important and diverse mission, so there is never a dull moment.”

The Future of the FBI

Looking at its nearly 100-year history of intelligence-gathering, Garrity is more than aware of the FBI’s need to stay ahead of the curve. During his talk at the Visionaries event, he will discuss the challenges and opportunities the FBI has faced and will continue to face in a post-September 11th world.

“It is more important than ever that the FBI transform itself from a post-crime, investigative agency to a pre-crime, preventative agency,” he said.

“The whole paradigm of how we operate has changed. It is no longer acceptable to wait for another act of terrorism and then find, arrest and bring to trial the guilty. We must do all that we can, in collaboration with our international, federal, state, local and tribal partners to prevent the next act of terrorism.”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally posted March 2007