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!

And Now, a Very Important CYA Announcement…

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A wafting buffet of BBQ. Walls covered with canine art. And 53 young alumni, making new friends and learning about opportunities to support the Chapter of Young Alumni (CYA). That’s just a glimpse into the awesomeness of CYA’s BBQ & Brew & Info, Too! event at Blue Pit BBQ & Whiskey Bar on January 26.

CYA is well-known for its annual wine tasting and silent auction, and this year we’re engaging young alumni with volunteer opportunities to make our fundraiser even more awesome. Folks can help us reach out to sponsors, promote the event on social media, convince all their friends to buy tickets, and so much more. Did we mention that all proceeds from the event go towards the Alumni Association Scholarship? Who’d a thought attending a fabulous event with delicious food, great wine, engaging entertainment, and an unbelievable silent auction would directly support UMBC students?

Now that we’ve got you hooked, the 12th Annual Wine Tasting & Silent Auction is Friday, May 19 from 7–10pm at the B&O Railroad Museum. Tickets are now on sale for a discounted price of $35 until March 17. Visit this page to get yours today! Everyone who purchases an early bird ticket will be invited to a thank you event on March 16 from 6-8 p.m. at the Blue Pit BBQ & Whiskey Bar. Current CYA members will be there to appreciate YOU for purchasing a ticket to this year’s Wine Tasting & Silent Auction, and let you know about some exciting ways you can get more involved in this year’s event. And of course, we’ll have plenty of food to share and your first drink is on us! Stay tuned for a registration form that will be sent to you after you purchase your tickets! (There’s motivation for you.)

We are actively soliciting event sponsors and silent auction donations from local businesses and individuals. Proceeds from the silent auction benefit current UMBC students through the Alumni Association scholarship.

Questions? Interested in volunteering, sponsoring, or donating to the silent auction? Contact Jessica Wyatt, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations, at jwy@umbc.edu.

ICYMI: Bob Sima ’93, psychology, brings the music back to UMBC

In our increasingly polarized society, it can be overwhelming to keep up with what’s going on, let alone get along with folks who don’t share our worldview. Luckily, Bob Sima ’93, psychology, who left a career in the corporate world to tour the country as a musician and wellness coach, returned to campus on February 13 to facilitate a workshop entitled “Appreciating Differences in a Changing World.” Sima took a crowd of UMBC faculty, staff, and students through an afternoon of original music, breath work, and discussion on how to empathize with others.

The workshop was offered through UMBC’s Department of Human Resources and arranged by Jill Weinknecht Wardell ’99, interdisciplinary studies, manager of workplace learning and wellness. Sima says the idea of “bringing the community together” really resonated with him. “There’s a really big divide in the world right now, intellectually, philosophically, politically, and so I thought it was a great opportunity to bring the music and the other things I offer to UMBC.”

We caught some Facebook Live video of the event last week, and you can click through some photos below!

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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!

Retriever Love Week 2017: From Then to Now

Happy February 16! For our second-to-last installment of Retriever Love Week 2017, we’re leaping across UMBC’s 50-year timeline to bring you classic tales of Retriever romance…

Today’s first story takes us all the way back to 1967, UMBC’s earliest days, when Laurie Collins ’71, English, first convinced Don Collins, her now-husband, to come with her to audition for a play. “In all of her cuteness, she convinced my dad,” writes their daughter Katie Collins-Showalter ’04, English. Their first official date was the UMBC freshman mixer on September 16, 1967. Married in 1972, they’ve been together ever since, and two of their three children went on to graduate from UMBC as well.

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Don and Laurie Collins on their wedding day in 1972…
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…and two months ago.

Colin Haser ’10, chemical engineering, met his now-wife Cortney Haser ’12, chemistry education, as walk-ons on the UMBC cross-country and track teams. After marrying in 2013, the Hasers moved to Baton Rouge for Colin’s job. Their mutual love of running is what brought them together and what keeps them going: most recently, both Hasers participated in the 2015 and 2016 Louisiana Marathons. Now back in Maryland, they are expecting their first child in July 2017.

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“Here is a picture of us from Halloween 2015, dressed as a triathlon.”

Aubrey Hillman ’09, environmental studies, met her husband Justin Rohrbaugh Hillman ’08, information systems, in Susquehanna Hall on her very first day at UMBC. The then-freshman found that she “instantly” clicked with the junior living down the hall, and they bonded over “endless hours of Mario Party” in a mutual friend’s dorm room.

“One Friday night, Justin said, ‘I think I’d like to start officially dating you,’ and I agreed,” writes Aubrey. “The funny thing is, the next morning I went out and met my parents for lunch and was excitedly telling them about this new boyfriend I had. Meanwhile, Justin was still back in the dorm room, agonizing over whether we were actually a couple.”

Eventually, the two got on the same page, and were married in 2011. They’ve moved all across the country for Aubrey’s graduate work, starting with her master’s and Ph.D. in Pittsburgh and her postdoc in Columbus, Ohio. They now live in Lafayette, Louisiana, where Aubrey is a tenure-track assistant professor.

“I never fail to stop and consider how my life would be different if we hadn’t both been coincidentally living on the same floor in Sus,” she says.

All of our Retriever Love Week 2017 stories coincidentally live in this same tag! Check them out.

Retriever Love Week 2017: Your Own Personal Geek Squad

Happy Day-After-Valentine’s! We’re continuing Retriever Love Week 2017 with even more tales of romance that YOU, our fantastic alumni, sent in. Let’s share the love…

Jisoo Beanland ’02, visual arts, met her husband Brian Beanland ’01, information systems, at a friend’s party in the summer of 1999. They both had overlapping circles of friends and were friendly acquaintances for a while, but as Jisoo writes, “It wasn’t until he graduated, and my computer broke down a lot, that we really made a connection.” Their love blossomed over AOL Instant Messenger, “the most crucial communication tool for the early 2000s,” as she would message him when she had computer problems. “He was my personal geek squad!”

Brian finally asked Jisoo on a date in July 2001, the summer after he graduated, and they were married on December 27, 2003. Their daughters were born in 2006 and 2011. Jisoo says that over the past 16 years, what she appreciates most is the chance to grow up together “without losing…the spark we shared [back at UMBC].

“Marrying one another has made us better. Our careers took off, [and] we were able to achieve many things, to include copious traveling. I cannot thank UMBC enough for helping us find one another. We are still having fun after all these years!”

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Brian and Jisoo in 2002…
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…and in 2017. Jisoo: “The 15 years have been kind to us.”

Faith Dillon ’14, history, met her boyfriend Brian McAlpin ’14, business technology administration, through the Hispanic and Latino Student Union’s Latin Dance Club back in 2011. “I immediately liked him, and after the summer break [I] was going to ask him out, but he had started dating someone else in the club,” she writes. Nonetheless, they remained good friends, and after several years of crushing, they finally got together in March of 2016.

“Turns out all of our friends wanted us to date too!” she says.

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Brian and Paige.

Check out our 2017 stories here, and our 2016 stories here. You can also share your own love story in a class note!

Retriever Love Week 2017: First, An Update!

Happy Valentine’s  Day, Retrievers! Last week, to continue our official-ish Retriever Love Week tradition, we put out a call on social media for stories from couples who met here at UMBC, and this year’s submissions didn’t disappoint. We’re starting off this season of love with a blast from the past, courtesy of Kiara Berg ’15, business technology administration. She and Justin Mahaney ’15, business technology administration, were featured last year, and they had an exciting update for us…

kiara-justin-2Since Valentine’s last year a lot has happened, of course! I moved from my job with NASA to a job with a cybersecurity company after graduating [from] UMBC, and Justin […] just got hired for a cybersecurity position with the government. I’ve been back [to UMBC] a couple of times…to [attend] presentations and to accept some more awards last spring. In May 2016 we moved to our new apartment in Crofton to still be close to UMBC [and] Baltimore as well as DC [and] work. We are still living here until we decide to move, [and] we would like to move out west and also buy our own house one day.

I bought my own car which we took on a lot of trips this summer (it’s a red convertible VW Beetle, perfect for me!). We did our yearly trips to the Ren fair, baseball, football, and hockey games, Ocean City for Justin’s birthday, and weekend getaways to Williamsburg Busch Gardens[.] We would like to visit my family in Sweden sometime soon. [We] also plan on traveling to Ireland, where Justin’s family is from, as well as Germany, and England to see Chelsea play live[.] Greece is on the list too, because he likes the history.

For Halloween we dressed up in a Star Wars theme (of course), and right before Christmas chaos he took me on a tour in the National Harbor and up the Capital Wheel to ask me if I want to spend the rest of my life with him. Of course I said yes!

We also have a lot of small and furry pets now too because I love little animals. Our long haired hamster Hamilton is reaching 28 months of age, and we have two new hermit crabs named Leonidas and Themistocles. We are also fostering homeless guinea pigs until they find their forever home (we currently have two who are three months old), and are in the process of  adopting our own long haired guinea pig female who’s around five months old right now so that we can give her a forever home while also helping others in transition.

[…] We don’t have a wedding date yet but we are planning on being on the beach, by the water, or maybe even on a cruise. And last night I actually found my wedding dress! Hopefully next year when we have a new update, there will be a nice wedding photo of us to show off. 🙂

Submission has been edited for length and clarity.

Click here to check out last year’s Retriever love stories. Of course, even if you missed the boat for submissions, your tale of romance is always welcome in our Class Notes section!