Around the Clock Creative: Katie Hirsch ’04

Katie Hirsch is one of the lucky few who manages to combine her passions with her job.

An animation and computer enthusiast since childhood, Hirsch has used her talent and enthusiasm for both fields in her career as a computer game developer, and, most recently, in her production of a short animated film about a hungry reptile.

Hirsch’s two-minute short, “Dragin’ On,” will premiere in this month’s Maryland Film Festival at Baltimore’s Charles Theatre.

“I was inspired to make the film because I wanted to create a made-up world with made-up rules,” said Hirsch, who graduated from UMBC in 2004 with dual degrees in visual arts (animation) and computer science.

Hirsch began the film during her final semester at UMBC. After graduating, Hirsch began working for Breakaway Games, an entertainment software company in Hunt Valley, Md. Beginning on the art side of the company, she modeled and added texturing graphics to gaming applications. She has since moved to the programming sector.

“I enjoy [programming] because every day there are new and different challenges and problems to solve,” she said.

She recognizes her training at UMBC for helping her to develop skills in coding and the use of specific art programs, but adds that learning how to think critically and solve problems has been very helpful as well. She credits many of her professors, especially her computer science advisor, Dr. Richard Chang, and her art professor Dan Bailey, with encouraging her to “push the envelope technically and creatively.”

Hirsch was very involved on campus as a student, setting records as a varsity pole vaulter while also working as a graphics lab assistant, volunteering with the Center for Women in Information Technology, and serving on the executive board for the Visual Arts Council of Majors. Additionally, she was one of the first four students to be named an IRC Fellow by the Imaging Research Center, and she was also nominated for the Computing Research Association’s Undergraduate Research Award.

As an alumna, Hirsch is still involved with UMBC. She has attended career panels and serves on the Chapter of Young Alumni steering committee, and she even set up a tour of her office for the Visual Arts Council of Majors. She wants to give something back to current students, explaining, “UMBC presented me with a lot of opportunities, and if I can’t contribute monetarily, I can at least contribute my time.”

She encourages undergrads to get as much experience in their field as possible before graduating, but to also enjoy their time at UMBC and take advantage of all of the options that are available.

With all of her experiences, Hirsch has been able to fuse her many interests in order to find a job that is perfect for her and still have time to create her short film. Centering on a rainbow-colored, “dragon-like critter” that spends his days eating colored pellets in the desert, Hirsch said “Dragin’ On” has given her the perfect imaginative outlet.

“You can create things that never existed before.”

– Jennifer Matthews ’07
Originally published May 2006

In the Eye of the Storm: Cindy Dahlstrom McNitt ’81

We’ve seen many images of the impact of Hurricane Katrina over the last six months: photographs of the hordes displaced from their New Orleans homes, video footage of the volunteers rebuilding, house by house.

But Cindy Dahlstrom McNitt sees another side of the damage. As a licensed clinical social worker from the small town of Slidell, La. – which sustained major damages, falling within the eye of the storm – she witnesses the emotional effects of the flooding on a daily basis.

“Since everyone here is experiencing some degree of stress, my clinical work is not confined to the office,” said McNitt, who graduated from UMBC in 1981 with a degree in psychology.

“More people are seeking help (wisely), but are frustrated by the limited help available to them,” due to the destruction of health providers’ offices, records – even suicides by practitioners, she said. “This only adds to the general sense of hopelessness that takes over at times.”

McNitt got her start in social work at UMBC. A native of Illinois, she originally chose UMBC because of the strong psychology program and to be close to her high school sweetheart, Tom, who was attending the Naval Academy at the time.

“While there, I took a social work class that really resonated with me,” she said. After college, she and Tom married and she earned her master’s in social work from the University of Illinois. McNitt spent several happy years working in the schools of Chicago’s suburbs while raising their first three children.

In 1995, just after the birth of her fourth child, the Navy transferred the family to New Orleans. McNitt quickly set up her private practice in the town of Slidell, which lost forty percent of its housing to Katrina, she said.

Despite the obvious troubles of the citizens of Slidell, McNitt stays positive in hopes she might help her neighbors. Since her home made it through the storm relatively unscathed, her family has opened the doors to a number of guests, including her older daughter’s family and a local contractor. McNitt’s office was “torpedoed,” however, so she has been working from home and taking to the streets to talk clients through their problems.

In addition to the issues that naturally arise from close-quartered living, loss of jobs and homes, and general disarray, McNitt has dealt with everything from suicides to peoples’ worries about “the next hurricane” to fears of falling branches.

“We’re all trying to assimilate something known locally as the ‘New Normal.’ This is one of the biggest challenges in this huge region of destruction and lost, but evidence of hope, too,” she said. “We’re not ‘all better’ yet, but with help, we can get there. This can be a pretty city again…maybe a new ‘New Normal!’”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally published April 2006

Engineering a Bright Future: Brian and Annica Wayman ’99

Many people claim to know the formula for true love.

In the case of Brian and Annica Wayman ’99, both Meyerhoff Scholars and mechanical engineering grads, however, it’s easy to see how it all adds up. For them, math + science + UMBC = lasting romance.

“I guess it was probably a combination of having the same classes and seeing each other all the time,” laughed Brian, who, like his wife, the former Annica Warrick, is pursuing his doctorate in mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. Married since 2001, they also have an eight-month-old son, Donovan.

Like so many relationships, the Waymans might never have met if not for a particularly well-timed intervention by fate. In this case, fate went by the name of UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski.

Close to graduating from high school, Brian had already decided to attend UMBC, but Annica was far from making the same decision.

“I hadn’t even applied to UMBC,” she said. However, during an appearance by Dr. Hrabowski at a cultural diversity event at her high school, the two met and started talking about UMBC. “He was telling me about the Meyerhoff Scholars and he offered me the scholarship on the spot…I was floored.”

The two met soon after, at the “Summer Bridge” program held for Meyerhoff Scholars in the months before their freshman semester began. From the start, they found themselves working well together.

“We had to get together in groups of four or five and build a portable shelter” for the homeless, said Annica. “We had to work closely together a lot, and it just sort of went from there.”

As students at UMBC, both Brian and Annica stayed very active in campus activities. Brian served as president of UMBC’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers and the Engineering Council of Majors. Annica, a dance minor, also took part in MARC U*STAR, or Minority Access to Research Careers Undergraduate Student Training in Academic Research, and acted as president of UMBC’s chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta public service sorority.

They also completed internships, which helped them to focus in on their doctoral research, which for both involves bioengineering. Brian’s research focuses on how mechanical factors such as blood flow affect arteries. Annica is conducting research concerning certain types of cell adhesion. Both of them have received honors in their studies, and both hope to finish their degrees this year and work in the medical device industry.

Despite the pressures of balancing their research and family life, the Waymans seem remarkably cool, calm and collected – just like an average family.

“It’s challenging, but rewarding,” said Brian. “We do our best to balance our work and our family life.”

The best reward, Annica said, is seeing her son at the end of the day.

“The challenges presented to us are the same as those presented to any working family trying to balance their careers with raising a child,” she said. “You can have a day when nothing goes right (in the lab), but then you can come home to see this smiling face who doesn’t care about that at all…It’s wonderful.”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally published March 2006

A Writing Life: Jadi Keambiroiro ’79

Every morning, before she does anything else, Jadi Keambiroiro sits down at her desk to work on her novel, Killing Ants. Nothing can distract her – she’s worked too long to get to this point to take it for granted.

“I am really where I need to be right now,” said Keambiroiro (formerly Gloria Green), who earned her bachelor’s in English in 1979.

Today, nearly 25 years after graduating from UMBC and following a 15-year career in development, she has what she always wanted: a writing life. In addition to her creative writing projects, Keambiroiro also started her own press, Three Sistahs Press, with two friends two years ago.

A Baltimore native, Keambiroiro’s experience at UMBC nurtured the writer already blossoming within her. As an English major with a minor in fine arts, she became involved with the Black Student Union, organizing arts festivals and poetry readings. She also wrote for the BSU’s publication, Voices, and took advantage of the many literary opportunities her teachers offered her, in particular Professors Acklyn Lynch (Africana studies) and Reza Baraheni (English).

“Between the two of them, I read just about everything,” she said, explaining that both teachers also helped her to meet a number of poets, such as Paul Robeson, Jr., Angela Davis and Allen Ginsberg. “That’s probably the roots of my writing, right there.”

Following graduation, Keambiroiro worked for a slew of local newspapers, including the Afro-American in Baltimore. She spent three years living in Bermuda – the birthplace of her husband – and then came back, with her family, to live in Baltimore. Instead of pursuing writing, however, she chose a more “stable” career in fundraising, working 15 years for the Baltimore Zoo, the National Aquarium and Mercy Medical Center.

All along, though, the urge to write never left her.

“I never stopped writing,” said Keambiroiro, who tends to focus her creative works on “strong women” carving out paths for themselves. “I tried to stop, but then it would hit me that I needed to be writing again.”

This time, the decision meant a major life change. Keambiroiro quit her fundraising job and started working as an associate publisher for Black Classic Press, the second oldest African-American press in the country. She also started a master’s degree in creative writing and publishing arts at the University of Baltimore, which she completed in May of 2005.

The decision has paid off. In October, Essence magazine published her poem, “Death and the Sea.” Over the summer, she taught creative writing at the Community College of Baltimore County, and this semester, she’s an adjunct professor at Villa Julie College. As for Three Sistahs Press, the group published its first book of poetry last year, and is currently working on putting together an anthology of writing by 19th century African-American women entitled Broken Utterances.

For Keambiroiro, the life she has achieved has been well worth the journey.

“When I left UMBC, my intention was to become a writer,” she said. “I just got a little sidetracked.”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally published January 2006

All the World’s A Stage: Jeff Ware ’74

They say practice makes perfect, but Jeff Ware might beg to differ.

After more than 30 years of practice as a working actor – all the years on stage, the bit parts in television shows, the movie roles – Ware is well aware of the reality of his craft. He knows the learning never really ends.

“Acting is really like plumbing or like woodcutting,” said Ware ’74, theatre, who is appearing this month and next in CenterStage’s production of Motti Lerner’s The Murder of Isaac. “It’s a craft. You have to practice it.”

Given the challenge of his current role as Eliahu – an Orthodox Israeli ex-soldier hospitalized with post-traumatic stress disorder, for which he studied endlessly the history of fundamentalism in Israel – it’s a good thing Ware has never been one to rest on his laurels.

The son of two actors, Ware didn’t actually realize his interest in the “family business” until he was 19. As a freshman at Ohio University, it took getting incredibly sick at a rock festival – and a semester of recovery and deep reflection – for him to discover his love for theatre.

“I’d always been around (acting), but I was a wise guy. I thought I was going to be a lawyer,” he said. “When I decided to act, I knew I needed to change schools.”

Ware’s father, whose family was from Baltimore, pointed him in the direction of UMBC. As a transfer student, Ware immediately took to the close-knit theatre department, learning as much about the technical aspect of the stage as acting itself.

In his senior year, Ware competed for acting scholarships at the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival, earning regional “best actor” accolades for his performances from Hatful of Rain and Constantinople Smith. He later competed nationally, winning enough scholarship money to study at the Webber Douglas Academy for Dramatic Art in London for three years.

As much as he loved London, however, Ware had already set his sights on New York.

“I came back to New York and I just started acting,” he said. “New York is a tremendous town, a big town. Everyone comes in thinking they’re a big shot. And then you get beat up for a little while.”

Over the years, Ware has appeared in a little bit of everything, from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, to episodes of “Law & Order,” to movies such as Stephen King’s Thinner and Teachers with Nick Nolte.

In The Murder of Isaac, which Ware describes as “a brilliant political expose” of politics in Israel, Ware’s character Eliahu participates in a “play within a play” about the actual assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. To prepare for the role, Ware researched not only the current political climate of Israel, but post-traumatic stress disorder and fundamentalist cliques within the orthodox Jew community.

Though he admits the show may seem heavy, Ware encourages viewers to come to it with open minds. As in all good theatre, he said, the audience must allow itself to be overcome by the story, the characters.

“It asks people to think a little bit. It asks them to use their imaginations,” he said. “But if we do our job, the audience should have a wonderful time.”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally published February 2006

Two of a Kind: Robert Cartwright ’80 and Ryan Cartwright ’06

Not surprisingly, Robert Cartwright ’80 felt a bit of déjà vu watching his son, Ryan, cross the finish line at the America East Conference Championship in Binghamton, NY, last month.

Almost exactly 30 years before – as a freshman economics major at UMBC in 1975 – his team also came from behind to win the Mason Dixon cross country conference championship.

“This is such a coincidence, it’s just unbelievable,” said the elder Cartwright, of Perry Hall, an All Conference performer during his years at UMBC. “It sort of choked everybody up.”

The father-son connection was just the icing on the cake for this year’s men’s team. Picked fifth in the pre-season rankings, they placed five runners in the top 16 to take the Division I conference title. The team later finished 21st overall in the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional meet, with the women’s team placing 22nd.

Runners Izudin Mehmedovic of Columbia and J.J. Wetzel of Crofton earned all-conference accolades for their performances in the America East conference, while head coach Murray Davis and staff were selected as men’s coaching staff of the year for the conference.

“You know it’s really nice to be able to be successful at all levels,” said Davis, who is in his fifth season coaching the team. “So many things have to come together for a season like this.”

UMBC recently honored the 30th anniversary of the 1975 cross country team’s Division II conference title during Homecoming. Like the current men’s team, their predecessors were not favored to win.

“I was just a freshman. We were a young school and we didn’t have such a good record,” said Robert Cartwright. “Then, all of a sudden we started winning meet after meet, and nobody could really believe it.”

Cartwright’s son, Ryan, a senior information systems major, was UMBC’s sixth finisher during the American East conference and third for UMBC at the Mid-Atlantic Regional meet.

The pair started running together after Ryan was injured playing soccer in middle school. The father gave his son tips, and soon encouraged him to join his high school track team.

“I would run with him for about a year and I couldn’t keep up with him,” said Ryan. “Later on, though, I got better. He would say, ‘I was successful (running at UMBC), maybe you would be, too.’”

Over the years, the pair has accumulated numerous running medals and trophies. And though the elder Cartwright no longer competes, he can always look to the father-son awards wall in his basement for inspiration.

“He has a lot more awards than I ever got,” he said. “I’m really proud of him.”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally published December 2005

From UMBC to Costa Rica: Justine Wagner ’04

Just a few months after graduating from UMBC, Justine Wagner, Spanish and economics ’04, traveled to Costa Rica on a Fulbright Research Award.

Wagner conducted research for a study on the effects of government social spending on poverty at the Institute of Economic Science Research of the University of Costa Rica with Professor Juan Diego Trejos, who has worked with UMBC Professor of Economics and Wagner’s mentor, Tim Gindling.

As part of her award, Wagner also had the opportunity to attend a Fulbright Enhancement Seminar in Honduras, where Fulbright Scholars studying in Central America presented their research. “The seminar was really the capstone of the whole experience; it was great to meet with other young scholars and discuss our work,” said Wagner.

At UMBC, Wagner took advantage of the many opportunities available to support research by undergraduates. As a sophomore, she spent a semester at the University of Granada. In her junior year, she began working with Gindling on his research on minimum wages in Costa Rica and received a Provost’s Undergraduate Research Award, which she used to travel to Costa Rica in order to collect data, talk with government policy makers and meet Costa Rican researchers. It was on this visit that she first met Trejos. Wagner then presented her work at Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day in her senior year, and published in an article in the 2005 UMBC Review.

Wagner said that her experiences at UMBC were invaluable and that she received a great deal of support. “The community of faculty and staff at UMBC want to see the best for every student,” she added.

“Justine was an excellent research partner,” said Gindling, who has received two Fulbright Fellowships to conduct research and teach in Costa Rica. “She has the ability to both work well with others and also the initiative to take a research problem and solve it on her own. The combination of fluent Spanish and knowledge of economics was especially valuable for our research project and for her ability to obtain the Fulbright Fellowship.”

Wagner is now using her skills and experience in economics at the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division, where she is a research analyst, but she is also interested in applying her interest in language and international affairs in a graduate program.

Originally published November 2005