Using Chemistry Every Day: Dr. Adam Freeman ’95 (M3)

What’s it like being a pioneer?

Ask Dr. Adam Freeman ’95, chemistry, an innovator in the chemistry of paper and one of the first generations of UMBC’s Meyerhoff Scholars. He’ll tell you the secret – keeping your eyes open for opportunity.

“You know, when I look at where I am and what I wound up doing, most of it was unplanned,” said Dr. Freeman, Senior Research Scientist for the Eastman Kodak Company in New York.

“But over time, I realized everything I was learning was part of a flow that wove together over time.”

A native of Silver Spring, Dr. Freeman knew he was interested in the sciences in high school, but he wasn’t sure what he wanted to study in college. One day, during his AP history class, the vice principal of his high school called him into a meeting to discuss the Meyerhoff Scholars program, which was still in its infancy at UMBC.

Though many of his friends planned to attend nearby College Park, he found his niche at UMBC. He also praised the “support structure” of the Meyerhoff program.

“UMBC seemed more digestible and more tangible (than College Park),” said Dr. Freeman, an “M3,” or third generation graduate of the Meyerhoff program. “It wasn’t like this big beast. It was small and I saw that I would get individual attention.”

Though he started off studying chemical engineering because it seemed to offer the most money as a career, Dr. Freeman quickly figured out his priorities lay elsewhere.

“I quickly learned that money wasn’t the driver…and I switched over to pure chemistry right away,” he said.

Following graduation from UMBC, Dr. Freeman went on to do graduate work in materials science/polymer chemistry at Cornell University and later earned his Ph.D. at the University of California, Berkeley.

Today, at Eastman Kodak, he uses chemistry on a daily basis to create technologies that support current and future imaging technologies, such as fade-resistant papers for printing photographs. His wife, Thuy Pham ’95, biochemistry and molecular biology, also uses the knowledge she learned at UMBC on a daily basis as a researcher at Bausch & Lomb.

As a researcher and innovator, Dr. Freeman urges current students to keep their options open. One never knows where or when opportunities to use one’s knowledge will arise.

“I really do think chemistry is so central to everyday life,” he said. “It’s in the things we eat, it’s in the computers we use and the plastic that’s used to make the computers…it’s all chemistry.”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally posted November 2005

Back to School: Bradford C. Engel ’89

When was the last time you thanked a teacher?

As morning bells begin to ring in a new school year, Brad Engel ’89, B.A. American studies, cert. secondary education, is doing his part to make sure teachers get some well-earned pats on the back. His new book, “T.E.A.M. (Thanking Educators Across Maryland),” features 300 thank-you letters from parents to teachers who have changed their children’s lives.

“My vision for this project was to let teachers know they are truly appreciated,” said Engel, Maryland’s 2005 Teacher of the Year, who recently was promoted to Assistant Principal at Kent Island High School on the Eastern Shore. He has taught history there for 17 years.

“T.E.A.M.” is just one of the results of Engel’s tenure as Teacher of the Year. Since accepting the honor last October, he’s also spoken at more than 100 schools, conferences and other venues, and been congratulated personally by everyone from Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick to President George W. Bush.

“It has been a very busy year,” said Engel, who came to UMBC as a student while working as an instructor for the Arc of Baltimore, which offers programs and services to people with mental retardation. Although he enjoyed teaching adults all of the useful life skills they would need to make it on their own, he longed to teach and mentor younger students.

“I wanted to work in the high school setting so that I could be a real role model to the students,” he said.

Over the years, he has learned that actions speak louder than words. In addition to chairing the Social Studies department and acting as Leadership Coordinator at the school, he also served on the School Improvement Team and chaired the Middle States Steering Committee. Engel also chairs the school-wide Mentor Advisory Program, where he advises 100 student leaders, and wrote and published “The Four Challenges of Leadership,” a textbook for the program, in 2003.

Although Engel didn’t always see himself as an administrator, his conversations with teachers across the state over the last year changed his mind.

“It completely changed my perspective of what administrators do,” he said. “It showed me that you really are still an educator no matter what you do.”

As a new vice principal, Engel looks forward to working with students in areas of discipline and leadership. He feels strongly that students need individualized attention, and that students must be treated with dignity and respect – something he has always tried to do in the classroom.

“You have to listen to them and help them understand that they are valuable members of society,” he said. “It’s almost magical when you can see a child turn around. It happens one student at a time.”

“T.E.A.M.” will be released within the Maryland school system on October 8. To read passages from the book, visit “T.E.A.M.” online at

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally posted September 2005

Eyewitness to History: Vikki Valentine ’96

As the world reeled amid the latest terrorist attacks in London last month (July 2005), Vikki Valentine pushed her fears aside to do what she does best – tell it as she sees it.

Even as the world appeared to crumble around her, the former Retriever reporter and editor gathered tidbits of color commentary from the front lines in order to write the stirring “An American in London, Watching Brits ‘Press On,’” for National Public Radio online.

“It is hard, nearly impossible to put your emotions aside when in a situation like that,” admits Valentine, who studied English at UMBC and later went on to write for the Baltimore Sun, Discovery News, NPR and an assortment of other print, radio and web news outlets.

“I haven’t been in a bombing situation before, and hope not to do it again…but I tried to block out the sadness, anger and fear by thinking about how angry my editor would be if I screwed up,” she said. “It’s a mind game, but it worked!”

On leave from National Public Radio for a year while studying for her master’s in the history of medicine in London, Valentine found herself smack dab in the middle of history on July 7 when terrorists bombed the city’s subway system in several places, killing more than 50 people. In covering the event, Valentine called upon her powers of observation to record the average citizen’s reaction to the tragedy, everyone from white collar workers to drunks to Marylinn Benniman, an ambulance driver during World War II who now volunteers with the Red Cross:

She had spent this day trying to ‘soothe’ the injured with ‘extra cups of tea.’ She was not without righteous indignation and not above rebuke, however mild. ‘It’s a wicked, wicked thing he did,’ she told me, referring to the planner of the attacks. ‘I hope he can’t sleep at night.’

Valentine has plenty of practice documenting the details of life in her writing. At the Sun, she wrote local features – a profile on the one-armed high school tuba player, for instance – and later moved on to stories of more national interest, such as the 30th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons. As her career progressed, Valentine wound up specializing in science and health journalism, which drove her to London to study the history of medicine.

But Valentine’s initial interest in journalism began at UMBC, when she joined the Retriever news staff her junior year. Not only did the experience convince her to switch majors from anthropology to English, it gave her the confidence she needed to start a career in journalism.

“The Retriever was great practical experience…and a way to see whether reporting would be a good fit for me,” she said. “It was a good chance to learn and practice a totally different form of writing. There’s a big difference in how you write an essay or research paper vs. a newspaper story.”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally published August 2005

The Wedding Planner: Linnyette Richardson-Hall ’84

This time of the year, Linnyette Richardson-Hall’s phone never stops ringing.

The brides – 22 of them this season, to be exact – call her about the important details of their weddings at all hours of the day. Should they go with organza or satin gowns? Fresh tulips or gardenias? Garden tents or opulent ballrooms? At every turn, Linnyette’s ready.

“People think being a wedding planner is so glamorous, but it’s not,” said the Baltimore native who, in addition to running a high-profile business – Premiere Event Management – also serves as a consulting “wedding diva” on the Style Network’s “Whose Wedding is it Anyway?

“It’s really hard work,” she said. “Television has glamorized this business, but there’s a lot of pressure. (Weddings are) a financial investment and an emotional investment.”

So, how did a sociology major with interests in religion, politics and economics wind up becoming an expert on all things matrimony? Richardson-Hall certainly didn’t see it coming following her 1984 graduation from UMBC.

“Did I have any idea I was going to be a wedding planner?” she asked. “Of course not. I had a degree, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do.”

Following graduation, Richardson-Hall “fell into” the financial industry, working her way up the ladders of a variety of local institutions. She then moved into telecommunications, serving as a regional administrative manager for what would later be known as MCI While her career fulfilled Richardson-Hall’s need to work with people, it still left her craving more.

It wasn’t until Richardson-Hall planned her very own wedding for 300 guests in 1993 that she truly found her calling. She thrilled in the planning, the details – and the compliments she received from her guests.

A year later, she launched Premiere Event Management and, “and it’s been going gangbusters ever since,” she said, laughing.

With an ever-growing list of clients, television and publishing commitments and a side business training wedding planner wannabes, Richardson-Hall appears to have found a niche, catering to a clientele interested in creating something new and different – often while preserving the traditions of a variety of cultures.

“I don’t do cookie-cutter weddings,” said Richardson-Hall, whose Web site touts several of her weddings, including a Carribbean-themed “Moonlight on the Beach,” a formal “Hollywood Glamour” event, and a “Fall Fantasy” wedding, complete with wreaths and décor meant to bring the colors of autumn indoors.

In handling such events, Richardson-Hall seems to have found the secret to wedding planner success: knowing that the bride is always right.

“I get very close to my clients. There are so many details, but they trust me implicitly,” she said. “They’re all a creative challenge.”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally posted in July 2005

Investing in his Future: Don Blair ’89

Question: How do you surprise a guy whose job it is to see ahead into the financial future?

Answer: Make him think he’s emcee for the night, then — quick! — pull a fast one and hand him the award.

“They got me!” admitted investment banker Don Blair ’89, of Tampa, Fla., who was named this year’s UMBC Economics Alumnus of the Year. “It was great to be back and to catch up with everybody.”

The economics department honors one graduate every year and celebrates the winner’s work at a banquet. Dr. Charles Peake, economics professor emeritus, said Blair exemplifies what the department is all about.

“Number one, he was a great student,” he said. “Number two, he’s been an active alum and he’s contributed to the university. That’s exactly the kind of person we look for.”

Blair started out at UMBC an engineering major, taking economics classes as electives just for fun. However, the more econ classes he took, the more the Catonsville native got hooked.

“I just got a lot more excited about those classes,” including “Money and Capital Markets” with Dr. Peake, he said. “The topics we covered were really relevant.”

After graduation, Blair worked as an accountant for two years in Baltimore. When he passed his CPA exam the same year, he did so with flying colors, earning the Elijah Watt Sells Gold Medal Award for the highest score in the nation.

Blair later earned his MBA from the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia in 1994, which allowed him to move into investment banking. After working for Goldman, Sachs & Co. in New York for three years, he joined Raymond James & Associates in Tampa, where he currently serves as Managing Director of Investment Banking and head of IT services.

Somehow, he manages to balance his career with his family life. He and his wife, Laura, have three kids — Allie, Bo and Luke — which mean Blair spends an awful lot of time coaching T-ball.

“We’ve got a lot going on,” he said, laughing. “It’s challenging, but you’ve got to keep your priorities straight.”

— Jenny O’Grady
Originally posted June 2005

A Winning Strategy: Kathleen Warnock ’80

If you’re ever in the position of having to choose teammates, pick Kathleen Warnock.

Not only was she calm and collected in “the hot seat” on ABC’s “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” she walked away from the game with a cool $50,000.

“I’m a big fan of game shows,” said Warnock, an editor with Frommers travel guides in New York who graduated from UMBC with a degree in interdisciplinary studies in 1980.

Warnock may be understating her devotion a bit. In fact, she has appeared on no less than four trivia game shows – from an obscure VH1 flop to the heights of gamedom, Jeopardy – always leaving at least a little richer than when she arrived.

Warnock seems the perfect candidate for tests of random knowledge. In addition to her work as a travel editor, she’s a playwright – one of her shows, “Grieving for Genevieve,” will be performed in New York this summer – and she’s a contributing editor with ROCKRGRL magazine. While a student at UMBC, she acted as sports editor and editor-in-chief of the Retriever, minored in ancient studies, and even took a stab at fencing.

But her winnings on the daytime version of “Millionaire” in March blew all of her other game show appearances away. Warnock attributes her good fortune to the fact that she was able to sit in on a taping before hitting the hot seat herself.

“I had a chance to spend the day watching and coming up with my strategy,” which was to use all the tools provided to her, she said. “I used all of my life lines, and all of them got me further along in the game.”

Warnock breezed through the early rounds, easily answering questions concerning compote and geldings. When a tough math question came up, however, she called her first life line, her brother-in-law, a science teacher in Montgomery County. Later on in the game, the audience helped her correctly narrow down the answer to a question about a NATO embassy bombing and up the stakes to $25,000.

After successfully using up her final strategic play – the option of switching one question for another – Warnock finally met her match with the following $100,000 question: What planet was once named “Georgium Sidus” in honor of England’s King George III?

Really, now. Does anyone know the answer to that? (It’s Uranus, by the way.)

“It was like, OK, it’s time to go home,” said Warnock, happy enough with the fifty grand. “And I walked away a winner.”

– Jenny O’Grady
Originally posted May 2005

2006 UMBC Alumni of the Year & Distinguished Service Award Winners

Originally posted Spring 2006

Outstanding Alumna

Natural & Mathematical Sciences
Diane Auer Jones ’88, M.S. Applied Molecular Biology

In addition to a successful career as an entrepreneur, government policy maker and administrator at Princeton University, in November Jones was appointed Deputy Associate Director for the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy. She also has served as an active member of the UMBC Research Park Corporation’s board of directors for the past eleven years.

Outstanding Alumnus
Steven Eidelman ’73, American Studies

After serving for three decades as an advocate for people with disabilities – most recently as national executive director of The Arc of the United States – Eidelman last fall was named the University of Delaware’s first Robert Edelsohn Chair in Disabilities Studies, as well as a Senior Fellow at the university’s Center for Disabilities Studies. In his new position, Eidelman also develops leadership training programs for government and not-for-profit managers who support people with disabilities.

Outstanding Alumnus
Visual & Performing Arts
Billy Kemp ’95, Visual and Performing Arts – Music

An accomplished multi-instrumentalist and producer, Kemp received three nominations from the Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) in 2004 including best producer. In 2003 Kemp produced Grammy-nominated and Wammy award-winning singer Debi Smith. He has been the composer for the regional Emmy award-winning Maryland Public Television series, “Outdoors Maryland,” since 1997. He has been adjunct faculty at UMBC since 1996.

Outstanding Alumna
Social & Behavioral Sciences
Lisa L. Dickerson ’78, Political Science

Prior to her appointment as the first African-American female Administrator for the Maryland Transit Administration in 2005, Dickerson served as Assistant Secretary for Equity and Economic Empowerment at the Maryland Department of Transportation, and before that garnered successes working as a congressional fellow in Washington and serving as vice president of a national telecommunications firm. During his time in office, President George H.W. Bush also appointed Dickerson to the prestigious Committee for Small Business and the Republican Council of 100.

Outstanding Alumna
Engineering and Information Technology
Donna Stevenson ’87, Information Systems

As head of Early Morning Software, Stevenson is one of only a few minority women CEOs of an IT company in Maryland and the rest of the United States. She remains an active volunteer at UMBC, most notably as a member of the Center for Women and Information Technology advisory board and a mentor-in-residence for the ACTiVATE program, which promotes entrepreneurship among women.

Distinguished Service Award
Michael L. Oster ’74, Economics

As chairman of the UMBC Economics Advisory Board since its inception in 2001, Oster has helped shape the council’s objectives, facilitate scholarships and internships for students and created many valuable connections for the University. An accomplished banking executive, Oster joined BB&T in 1999 as a regional president and became Maryland Group President in 2001. His time and talents also benefit the boards of a number of worthy organizations, many of them in his home, Carroll County.

Visionary Leadership Award

The Alumni Association Executive Board will present this special award to the Reginald F. Lewis Event Committee in recognition of their achievement in advancing the mission of the Alumni Association. The committee members are:

Kisha Matthews ’03
Yvette Mozie-Ross ’88
Devin Walker ’89
James Wiggins ’75
Gary Brooks ’79
Michael Sterling ’85
Juan Holcomb ’81
Crystal Watkins ’95