Born Leader: Jason Chamberlain ’97

Jason Chamberlain first learned the value of investment as a kindergartener.

Urged by his parents to deposit his allowance into a savings account, the youngster quickly learned that with a little patience, his pennies would grow to nickels, his quarters to dollars.

Today, as vice president of wealth management for Smith Barney and incoming president of the UMBC Alumni Association Board of Directors, Chamberlain takes a similar approach to life, his career and his role as an alumnus. With a little effort and time, anything is possible.

“UMBC is like most things in life,” said Chamberlain, who majored in economics and has volunteered for the university ever since his graduation in December 1997. “If you are motivated, you can start ‘doing’ right away. It is easy to carve out a place for yourself and get involved in a meaningful way.”

Building Traditions

Chamberlain took the Association reins from retiring president Anita Maddox Jackson ’80, health services, who served for two years. She will remain on the board as immediate past president.

In his role as president, Chamberlain oversees the 25-person Board of Directors and guides the group in attaining goals of improving alumni involvement through events and volunteer opportunities, as well as student retention and donor giving. He formerly served as vice president of finance for the group, and he also currently sits on the Chapter of Young Alumni steering committee, of which he is a charter member. He is also a member of the Alumni Campaign Committee and the 2016 Alumni Strategic Planning Committee.

“I am delighted that Jason Chamberlain agreed to lead the Alumni Association,” Jackson said. “I have complete confidence Jason will continue our strategic plans to maintain and increase alumni involvement.”

The Making of a Leader

A native of Millersville, Chamberlain attended UMBC as a commuter. From early on, his interest in economics propelled him through classes. He later honed his developing leadership skills as a member of the fraternity Zeta Beta Tau and in the Student Government Association as speaker of the senate.

As a senior, Chamberlain took on an internship with Legg Mason in downtown Baltimore. He loved the work so much, he never left. He was hired by the firm as a Financial Advisor after graduation and achieved his Certified Financial Planner designation in 2003. Legg Mason’s brokerage firm was bought by Smith Barney in 2005, where Chamberlain continues to enjoy the challenges of investment on others’ behalf.

To top it off, Chamberlain will marry his fiancée, Becky Grabenstein, a pediatric intensive care nurse at Sinai Hospital, this December.

“My involvement at UMBC helped me hone my business sense and my sense of responsibility,” he said. “Roll it all together, and the whole package was really significant to my personal development.”

Investing in UMBC’s Future

Chamberlain already has goals for his presidency. Topping the list is his wish to get more alumni invested with their alma mater – whether as volunteers, mentors, donors or simply participants in key alumni events like the annual Legislative Reception hosted by the Association.

“I view UMBC as a critical cog in our region, and I think it’s important to support it,” he said, citing the high numbers of UMBC graduates who stay to work in Maryland and the surrounding area.

“I want to invite everyone to reconnect with UMBC,” he said. “There’s a place and a home for every talent and perspective here. UMBC has always had an extremely diverse population of cultures, and we need all of those perspectives to continue to thrive.”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally posted September 2006

Swimming Upstream: George Maroulis ’73

At four o’clock in the morning, most of the world is quietly sleeping.

However, George Maroulis ’73 is hard at work. As general manager of the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx, N.Y., this UMBC alum spends the early hours of his mornings running one of the largest fish markets in the world.

Maroulis describes the Fulton, which does over a billion dollars of business each year, as “one of a kind.” Alumni Relations staff member Carol Myers ’72, who spent an early April morning touring the facility with Maroulis, agrees.

“It’s like walking into a giant refrigerator!” she describes, noting that the chilly air helps keep the fish, which comes from as far away as Japan and South Africa, as fresh as possible.

And it’s not just the fish that come from diverse backgrounds. Thousands of restaurateurs, chefs, tourists, and New Yorkers congregate daily to take part in the unique buying experience. Their purchases range from standbys like tuna and salmon to the more exotic, such as octopus.

The Fulton’s board of directors hired Maroulis as general manager two years ago, while the 400,000 sq. ft. building was being constructed. He is responsible for everything from interacting with the thirty-plus wholesalers who base their operations at the market, to making sure the building’s lights, which appear to go to infinity, stay lit.

It was this uniqueness that drew Maroulis, an established businessman in the food wholesaling field, to the position – a step he may not have imagined when he was a student at a brand-new UMBC in the early 1970’s.

Maroulis still remembers being excited about attending a new campus. He recalls the “energy in the air” and the sense that “things were changing.”

Because he was interested in business administration, Maroulis chose to study economics. “I always wanted to work in a field that involved business,” he said, and at the time, majoring in economics was the best way to achieve his goal.

After he graduated from UMBC in 1973, Maroulis explains, “an opportunity presented itself” to work as a bookkeeper for a company that provided food to restaurants and hotels.

“I learned about bookkeeping and everything else,” he says, adding that during his career in the food industry, he has also worked as a buyer, distributer, and of course, in management. However, not all of his knowledge came from experience in the real world. He credits his economics courses with giving him “an understanding of how theories of economics work,” and notes that his career has been about taking the “particular perspective” he formed in his courses and using it to evaluate issues in the business world.

But for Maroulis, it’s not all about business theories.

His favorite part of his job is interacting with people. “I have an opportunity to meet people from all walks of life and from around the world,” he says, explaining that it’s a “rich experience” and an educational one as well.

“There’s nothing else like it,” he says.

– Jennifer Matthews ’07
Originally posted July 2006

A Nose for News: Jamie Smith Hopkins ’98

When it comes to spotting trends, Jamie Smith Hopkins ’98 is – appropriately – usually one step ahead of her competitors.

At 28 years old, Hopkins’ instinctive nose for news and willingness to complete months-long data studies have already propelled her to the top of her craft as a business reporter for the Baltimore Sun. Just last month, in addition to six other awards, the former UMBC valedictorian was named top journalist under the age of 30 by the National Association of Real Estate Editors.

And to think, much of Hopkins’ training came from her time as a staff reporter and editor for UMBC’s student newspaper, the Retriever.

“It was very good training,” said Hopkins, an English major with a minor in journalism, of her time on the editorial staff. “It was an interesting lesson into the First Amendment and the responsibilities that come with it.”

A Columbia native, Hopkins grew up with a slightly different path in mind – to become an animator for Disney. While taking classes during high school at Howard Community College, she started writing a comic strip called “Jamie’s World,” which chronicled the life of a college student.

Upon arriving at UMBC, however, Hopkins was drawn in by the Retriever and another lifelong love – writing. She met her future husband, Edward Hopkins ’96, interdisciplinary studies, while on the newspaper staff. During her tenure at UMBC, Hopkins also completed internships with Patuxent Publishing and the Baltimore Sun. She credits UMBC journalism instructor Christopher Corbett with helping her make the transition from student to professional writer.

“He was so very helpful all the way through,” she said. “He’d take frenzied calls at all hours saying ‘This happened! What are we going to do?’ He was always calm and talked us out of our tree.”

After graduating with highest honors, Hopkins spent a year in Iowa at the Ames Tribune. The following year, she began her career with the Baltimore Sun, starting off as an education reporter in the Howard County bureau. Over time, she moved into business writing, covering larger trend stories for the metro section. These days, her beat is the regional economy.

Hopkins’ experiences using computer-assisted reporting – which includes tracking data over long periods of time to determine trends – came in very handy following the release of the United States Census in 2000. Most recently she spent six months tracking home sales prices by zip code for a series of articles on trends in the regional housing market.

Ultimately, the research paid off. Not only did the series educate readers about the reasons for Baltimore’s housing boom, but they also won her national recognition in the form of awards from the NAREE (best overall individual entry, best serial in any medium and top journalist under the age of 30).

According to a story in the Sun, the national real estate group said Hopkins “provided riveting examples of flight from Washington to Baltimore in search of cheap housing.”

The news came as no surprise to Hopkins’ former teacher.

“The thing about Jamie was she was extremely mature and focused from the minute she came (to UMBC),” Corbett said. “She set a very high standard at the Retriever.”

Hopkins, of course, takes the recognition all in stride. As a young journalist, she knows she still has much ahead of her. However, even with her hectic daily schedule she makes time to come back to UMBC every so often.

“Whenever (Corbett) asks me to come back to speak to the students, I always do,” she said. “Because, I really do appreciate all he did for me.”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally published June 2006

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