Career Q&A: Dennis Williams II ’14, American Studies

Every once in a while, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. Today, we’re talking with Dennis Williams II ’14, American studies, a writer, content marketer, and startup founder based in New York city. He’s also one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices of 2016, and with a story like his, it’s not hard to see why…

denniswilliamsName: Dennis Williams II
Grad Year: 2014
Major: American Studies
Job Title: Content Manager at Augment

You were named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices of 2016 for sharing your story of how you went from homelessness to, as you put it, working with Madison Square Garden in your backyard. What inspired you to tell your story, and what kind of reactions have you received since publishing it to LinkedIn? I definitely wanted to [tell] all the students who come from underprivileged circumstances, or those who don’t have the opportunity, that there’s information out there that they can go get and really build into their portfolio, into their resume, to make them better candidates and change their career path. It was a tough decision at first, but I realized that there were others who had been in similar situations…[who] could take some kind of direction from my story and implement it into their everyday lives, to hopefully get around the obstacles facing them and plaguing them. [The] reception I got was great. I believe it did [25,000 to 30,000] views on LinkedIn, but even outside of that, [I had so many conversations with people who told me] “You’re strong for sharing your story,” [and talked] about their own […] narratives. It definitely started a lot of conversations, both in Maryland and out here [in New York]. It’s introduced me […] to a lot of people I wouldn’t have met before. LinkedIn kind of pushed me to write that story. I [spoke] to them in private about my background and how I wanted to touch a certain audience, and they were like, “Yeah, you should really write that,” and I was like, “Yeah, okay, that’s an interesting idea, but I don’t really think I’m open to being that open,” you know? They explained all the positives that could come from it, and they said they’d help me craft it anyway. So yeah, [LinkedIn was] definitely a catalyst behind this story.

How did it feel to be recognized? It felt great! It was a lot of hard work. I started writing for Funny or Die in 2013, while I was interning [there], […] and I’ve been trying to break my way in for a little while. It feels good to be recognized for holding a different point of view. The thought leadership content that I’m putting out…really does depict me and my professional values, so it felt good to put good, organic, original content out there and get recognized for it. I definitely didn’t expect it by the end of the year, either.

You now work as a content marketing director for Augment. Could you tell us a bit more about what you do in that role, and what the company does? Augment…[helps] businesses use augmented reality to better sell their products. We have clients like Coca-Cola, L’Oreal, Boeing, a lot of different [companies] that use augmented reality to help their customers see the products before they want to buy them. So I manage the content marketing department, [and] what this entails is creating content […] both on the branding side, and then to drive business as well. [It’s for] inbound leads to bring in those prospects that eventually turn into clients. Augment’s based in Paris, but we have an Orlando office and a New York office, and I work out of the New York office. So I do this both domestically and internationally. [I also run a startup called Bando, which is] a mobile platform for urban news. [It’s] growing at a rate of 20 percent month-to-month, and we support all news that pertains to the urban culture. It’s everything from video to written copy, articles, things like that, and we really want to grow an audience. [It’s] positive news-sharing for those that want to digest this on a day-to-day basis. [It reflects] the culture that I come from, and I wanted to build something that my background and those that I know can resonate with.

What is your favorite thing about the work you do? I think it’s seeing all the new technology before anyone else knows about it! There’s so much that I see on a daily basis that people may not find out [about] for one to two years, and I’ve seen it happen, whether it be artificial intelligence, robots, augmented reality, [or] virtual reality. [… ]I’m also a [content] fellow at Oculus in San Francisco…so seeing all of these emerging technologies before anyone really knows about them is definitely the coolest thing about my job.

Is there any particular aspect of your UMBC experience – a class, a professor, an internship – that’s affected your career path? I would have to say Kimberly Moffitt…she [really helped] me stay on course and manage all of the different aspects I had to deal with, both as a student and as an individual at UMBC. [All] of her direction throughout that last year and a half was a huge help to me. And even on the personal side, [she helped] me stay focused on school and on my larger professional goals, and keeping the endgame in sight. […] Just overall, the different administrations at UMBC [offer] a high level of education, encouraging you to think at a higher level [and] to push forward in that aspect[.] I think they were all an aid to helping any student be successful, so it was a huge help.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give an incoming UMBC student? That’s a good question. I would say “don’t ever limit yourself.” It may sound cliche, but in today’s age there’s an abundance of information, and you have access [to it], whether it’s through your computer or through your networks, your friends, sitting down with your professors. I was in a theater class for two years, and I would [talk to my professor] about screenwriting and developing on the theater stage. Never limit yourself, both mentally and in action. Going to get that information through those different portals is important, because there’s so many more opportunities out here that aren’t directly in front of you and aren’t explicit. I just want people to know that thinking outside of the bubble, and thinking outside of the box, can really open some doors for you.

Send us your story in a class note by Wednesday, March 1, to have it featured in the next issue of UMBC Magazine!

Alumni Awards 2016: Dr. Kimberly Moffitt, College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences

The 2016 Alumni Awards Ceremony is just hours away, and for our last profile, we’d like to introduce you to this year’s Outstanding Faculty Award recipient. Dr. Kimberly Moffitt is an associate professor in the Department of American Studies and the Language, Literacy, and Culture Ph.D. Program here at UMBC, but as we’ll see below, those are just two of the many ways she’s contributed to both our campus and the city of Baltimore.

k-moffit_headshotAs a professor of American studies, Dr. Kimberly Moffitt’s academic interests encompass several aspects of the American experience, from representations of marginalized populations to Black hair and body politics, typically viewed through the lens of the media and popular culture. She also heads the University Faculty Senate, and has recently joined the faculty of Language, Literacy, and Culture Ph.D. program, which she says both helps her to stay engaged in the research process and to cultivate the next generation of academics. Her current projects include an exploration of the ways diverse children are portrayed in Disney media, as well as an edited volume on the TV series Scandal. Dr. Moffitt is also an active and vocal presence in local Baltimore media, frequently appearing on WYPR and WEAA-FM’s The Marc Steiner Show, and contributing op-eds to the Baltimore Sun. In addition, she is the founding parent and board member of the Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys Public Charter School.

When asked what she admires about her students, Dr. Moffitt can sum it up in one word: “GRIT!” She appreciates the chance to work with strongly gifted students who work to balance academics with their other responsibilities, but who also “recognize the need for support along the way.” She fondly remembers the last day of her first Seminar on Black Hair and Body Politics in the fall of 2010, when students decided to stick around her office after dropping off their final papers. They discussed current events, class topics, plans for the holidays. “I felt like the mother hen for the first time in my academic career,” she says, “surrounded by 20+ students…not yet wanting to leave the ‘nest’ of the classroom and our shared experience, and me not ready to let them fly free, relinquishing that special moment.”

Join us for the Alumni Awards Ceremony TONIGHT at the Earl and Darielle Linehan Concert Hall.

Katie Dix ’10, American studies, on the Bay, Baltimore, and jumping in

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum to see what they’re up to and how they got there. Today, we’re catching up with Katie Dix ’10, American studies. She’s now the volunteer program manager for Blue Water Baltimore, and also happens to be one of the Daily Record’s “20 In Their Twenties” honorees for 2016.

katiedix1Name: Katie Dix

Job Title: Volunteer Program Manager, Blue Water Baltimore

Major: American Studies and Political Science

Grad Year: 2010

Tell us a bit about Blue Water Baltimore and your role in the organization.
Blue Water Baltimore is a regional, environmental non-profit dedicated to protecting and restoring our local waterways. As the Volunteer Program Manager, I work with all staff to mobilize volunteers to assist us with advocacy and community restoration projects. Annually, over 4000 individuals serve the organization during tree plantings, restoration projects, trash cleanups and routine water quality monitoring.

I am a believer in service; organizing people around a common mission and goal has always been a rewarding experience for me and I am thankful to do it full time with Blue Water Baltimore. There are so many people who want to better their community but need guidance and resources to do it. I always look forward to expanding the capacity of a group by utilizing the skills and talents of volunteers and celebrating the work that we can only accomplish together. I want individuals and organizations that volunteer with Blue Water Baltimore to feel ownership of the programs and projects they work on, a connection to our collective mission to achieve clean water and appreciation for their hard work and dedication.

We live in a city that depends on the landscape. Baltimore’s economy, politics, and culture are defined by our relationship with water that surrounds us: the Chesapeake Bay.

What is your favorite thing about the work you do?
Working with communities and volunteers is the best part of my job. I believe there is power in working alongside someone. When you plant 100 trees, clean a stream or build a greenhouse, you feel a sense of ownership over the project. More importantly, you feel a connection to people that also put in the work. You don’t just walk away from it; it becomes a part of you.  I have a large network of communities because of this work. My profession is covered in sweat and soil and  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You were recently recognized by The Daily Record as one of Maryland’s “20 in Their Twenties.” How did that make you feel, and what’s next?
It feels really satisfying to make the list. There are so many talented and hardworking people that are recognized. It is a great honor and I am glad that there will be some attention on the work that I have been doing with so many others.

In the next 20 years, I see myself focused on community growth and cultural sustainability through effective land use. I intend to be a public servant that will guide our cities to function in a more humane manner, restore the environment, and operate in a way that is responsive to population needs. It is my goal to engage in planning methods that not only enhance the natural resources and built environment of a community but also its culture. To get there, I am seeking experience and philosophies that help me serve a public and advocate for justice (both social and environmental). I expect — and hope — that this will be a lifelong process.

This fall, I will leave Baltimore for the first time to study Community & Regional Planning at the University of New Mexico. While it will be difficult to leave the city during such an exciting and hopeful time, I am excited to return to school and to live in a landscape so culturally and physically different from where I have lived before. I know I have experience to share and personal views to challenge.

Was there anything about your UMBC experience – a class, a professor, an internship experience – that inspired you to go into nonprofit work? What was your path after UMBC?
Dr. Ed Orser, Dr. Nicole King and Dr. Warren Belasco changed my life forever. The AMST courses I took with them challenged both my perceptions and lifestyle. I had the opportunity to explore concepts of food security, public spaces, community development and cultural sustainability; this led me to my undergraduate research on urban environmentalism and ultimately, the work I do now. I also owe gratitude and recognition to faculty and staff I worked with at UMBC: Dr. Tyson King-Meadows and Jennifer Dress. They pushed me harder than I thought was possible by simply feeding my motivation, providing me with the resources I needed and making me think.  I can’t say enough about any of these people. It is such an honor to know them and they are in my thoughts often.

My training in the humanities and social sciences has helped me perceive my work in a context much different from my science trained colleagues: civic ecology as a way to address many of the complex social ills that plague our urban communities.  Aside from environmental decline, Baltimore faces many other challenges; poverty, crime, systemic racism, poor public transportation and government dysfunction plague the urban community. Environmental degradation is directly tied to these issues. The culture, history, and economy of the city and state are directly tied to the water.  I feel a strong connection between the environment and issues of food security, public spaces, community development and cultural sustainability. While the last few years my work has been focused on natural resources, I have always been interested in one thing: people and an increased quality of life. For the last decade my academic pursuits, professional career, and volunteer activities have been directed towards this goal; they have also put me in a position to create networks and programs that allow us to work effectively towards a more humane metropolis.

After graduation from UMBC, I accepted a position as the Community Greening Resource Network (CGRN) Coordinator with the Parks & People Foundation. CGRN, pronounced “See Green,” an annual membership program assisting individuals, community gardens, schools and green spaces throughout the City of Baltimore. Restoring vacant lots, exploring opportunities to alleviate food deserts, advocating for site development and land protection, organizing communities and educating the public about health became my full-time life. I began this position as an AmeriCorps*VISTA and transitioned to a full-time staff member to continue the development and implementation of the program.  After I moved to Blue Water Baltimore, I joined the Board for the program.

As a first-generation college student, my family did not understand the correlation between my degree and paid stub or my major and chosen career field. They still don’t but to me, it all makes sense. Everything I have chosen to do since my graduation from undergraduate school is connected to the concepts I explored in my classes and in my undergraduate research.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give an incoming UMBC student?
Jump. Put yourself out there and explore. Dive deep into the things that get you excited or angry or blissful. Connect with your peers and professors. Ask questions that make people think. Explore the things that will make you think for a lifetime.

I started UMBC in 2006 when we were celebrating the 40th Anniversary. I remember listening to speakers just before the fireworks went off above the library, knowing that I was in the right space. UMBC is something special and you should celebrate that grit and greatness this year and well into your years as an alum. You are surrounded by a community of knowledge, wisdom and support. Everyone around you wants you to be a part of the revolution: contribute new knowledge and innovative ideas to address the complications and issues that are present in our world.

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Read about where your fellow Retrievers have been since graduation, and tell your own story here!

Link Roundup: UMBC in the News

Here’s who (and how much snow) made the news this week:

For more campus community happenings, head to UMBC News.

Alums in the Community: Vitale, Barbosa

UMBC is proud of all that our alumni go on to achieve, and we’re especially proud that we’ve graduated so many people who bring their talents and skills back to their communities. Today, we recognize Clolita Vitale ’75, theatre, a former UMBC employee who has just been appointed to the USM Foundation Board of Directors, and Ray Barbosa ’09, a former Retriever basketball player who, after playing professionally for several years, has been honored by his high school, and is now coaching in his home state of Pennsylvania.

 

vitale
Vitale on a recent visit to UMBC.

Clolita Vitale ’75, theatre, has been named to the University System of Maryland (USM) Foundation Board of Directors, after over thirty years of USM experience. In addition to her degree from UMBC, she holds a B.S. from the University of Maryland University College and a J.D. from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. She worked at UMBC as a director of procurement before becoming University Counsel, a position she held until she moved on to Constellation Energy (later Exelon) in 2008. Now retired, she continues to volunteer with Senior Legal Services and the Esperanza Center in Baltimore.

 

barbosa
Barbosa as a high school basketball player.

Ray Barbosa ’09, American studies, has been inducted into the Allentown-William Allen Hall of Fame for basketball. As a Retriever, he helped the men’s basketball team to an NCAA tournament berth, and played basketball professionally in Puerto Rico for five years after graduating. He is now head coach at Bethlehem Catholic High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

 

Share your good news with us in a class note!

 

 

Link Roundup: UMBC in the News

One of the things that makes UMBC great is how wonderful our alumni, students, faculty, and staff are. Because of these amazing people, UMBC often finds itself “in the news,” so each week, we’ll be sharing with you a round-up of the most newsworthy achievements from our community.

For more UMBC community updates, head to UMBC News.

Roundup: UMBC in the News

One of the things that makes UMBC great is how wonderful our alumni, students, faculty, and staff are. Because of these amazing people, UMBC often finds itself “in the news,” so each week, we’ll be sharing with you a round-up of the most newsworthy achievements from our community.

  • Kimberly Moffitt, American studies, appeared on WEAA-FM’s The Marc Steiner Show on Monday to discuss the Freddie Gray case, Maryland political happenings, and the recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood location in Colorado.
  • Ellen Hemmerly, bwtech@UMBC, penned an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun on the city’s future as a cybersecurity hub, citing its proximity to the federal government and to defense and intelligence contractors, its preponderance of cybersecurity firms, and its potential to attract even more startups in the coming years.
  • Christopher Shuman, Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, confirmed findings from NASA’s Operation IceBridge that both the north and south polar ice caps have decreased dramatically in height, saying this is “not at all surprising given what we have observed with other sensors.”
  • Jason Loviglio, media & communication studies, called for more diversity in the podcasting world after attending the 2015 Podcast Movement in Texas earlier this year.

For more on these stories, and for even more UMBC updates, head to our brand-new news website!