Leaping Ahead: Samantha Walls ’12 on running a neighborhood day care center

Walls at the Leaps Ahead open house in November 2015.

The Leaps Ahead Learning Center currently makes its home in one corner of the former Ascension School in Arbutus, a large, sand-colored 1960s-era structure where pictures of Jesus and Mary still line the corridors. It’s a small business in a big building with an even bigger ambition behind it, and that’s courtesy of Samantha Schene Walls ’12, psychology, the young owner and director of Leaps Ahead.

“I don’t ever stop doing things,” Walls says in Ascension’s front office one bright, chilly spring morning. “I’m one of those people [who says], ‘Ok, this is done, now what can we do next?’”

Walls, who took classes year-round at UMBC while holding down a full-time job as a preschool teacher, says this is only the beginning, and that she plans to expand Leaps Ahead to other locations in the area.

The newest incarnation of Leaps Ahead is its second, having begun as a small center in the basement of Walls’ home. She’d started her own business after working in a commercial child care center for several years, and she soon found that the demand for an affordable neighborhood day care was high. People kept calling, and “I was maxed out [on spaces] within two weeks,” she says.

Walls attended Ascension for elementary school, and when the space became vacant, she met with the archdiocese, signed a lease in September, and got to work. She and her husband Erik Walls ’13, geography and environmental systems, spent two months’ worth of nights and weekends fixing the place up before opening the doors to her first class in November, and by the following April, what started out as about a dozen children in her care had ballooned into the thirties.

“We’ve more than doubled,” she says. “It’s been fantastic.”

Walls says she wears many hats as the director for Leaps Ahead. She does the billing, the payments, the hiring and staffing, and she’s been planning field trips for the summer. As word spreads in the community about the day care center, she’s given more and more tours to prospective Leaps Ahead families.

She also tries to step in and help the teachers whenever she can, having been in their shoes herself once. She’ll help make meals for the kids, or take over a class for a while so the teacher can take a lunch break. “I don’t want to be an absentee [manager],” she says.

Walls tries to bring a personal touch to every aspect of her business, and emphasizes the “home away from home” character of Leaps Ahead. The key word here seems to be home: she herself grew up in Arbutus, coming through Catholic schools here, and says that her “fantastic” first grade teacher at Ascension made her want to work with children.

“We’re very close with all the families[, and] they all have my personal cell phone number,” she says.

Parents are free to stay with their children during the day here, and many do. Some of Walls’ charges have included the children of UMBC staff members. Some of these kids have been with Walls since (literally) the very beginning, children who were babies when she was still at her first teaching job. She’s now working with the younger siblings of some of her first graduates. She’s getting to watch them grow up.

In the three-and-four-year-old classroom on this spring morning, a small group of children sits coloring in the middle of the room. Walls pokes her head in to introduce all of them, but one little girl seems to have a pressing matter for her to attend to.

“Miss Sam! Miss Sam! Miss Sam!” she pipes up, and Miss Sam asks what the matter is.

“I love you,” the girl says.

— Julia Celtnieks ’13

Have you started your own business since graduating? We want to hear from you! Head to Retriever Stories to share your experience.

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.

Read more at UMBC Insights!

Alums in the News: Cangialosi, Gimbel, Harrison and Sherman

We are proud of our alums and their constant achievements. Recently, four of UMBC’s alumni, in particular, have made it in the news and we thought you should know! 

Greg Cangialosi, photo by Baltimore Sun
Photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor, via the Baltimore Sun.

Greg Cangialosi ’96, English, was recently profiled in the Baltimore Sun’s Take 10 column. The article celebrates Cangialosi’s success on the tech scene, from the 2011 sale of his company, Blue Sky Factory, to his current roles as co-founder of Betamore and CEO of MissionTix. Cangialosi had this to say about his recent success:

“In 1996, right after college [at UMBC] I was a music promoter for about two to three years. I promoted concerts and nightclubs – everything from the 8×10, Lithuanian Hall, Recher Theatre, UMBC – all that kind of stuff. It was a brutal, cutthroat business. I got burned out on it. But that’s where I [gained] my marketing chops. That’s where I learned how to hustle.”

The Sun also talked with Cangialosi about his 10 favorite things, which include his watches, a collection of awesome caps, and tickets to great concerts. Find out the rest of Cangialosi’s favorite things.

Photo by Melissa Gerr, via the Baltimore Jewish Times
Photo by Melissa Gerr, via the Baltimore Jewish Times

Steven Gimbel ’91, philosophy, was recently featured in the Baltimore Jewish Times about his new book, Einstein’s Jewish Science. Gimbel will present his ideas from the book and lead a discussion as part of the Odyssey Program noncredit liberal arts offerings at Johns Hopkins University on March 13 at the Homewood campus.

Gimbel had this to say of about the book:

“The big questions now are at the intersections of things, and that’s what Jews have always done. This book began talking with someone in religious studies, but I’ve collaborated with people in physics, in the chemistry department, in health sciences, economics, in our education department. Being Jewish lets you look for insight wherever it is, knowing there are other routes to it.”

Read the full article from the Baltimore Jewish Times.

NPR logoMelanie Harrison ’11 Ph.D., Marine Estuarine Environ Science, recently appeared on KQED, an NPR-affiliate station in Northern California, where she discussed her upbringing and how it led to her career as an environmental scientist. Here’s a sneak peek at what she had to say:

“In those Alabama lakes, I learned to swim, bait a hook and catch catfish, bream and bass. I caught my first hook in the jaw, too, and saw my great grandmother clean and cook the fish she had caught for dinner that night. She was a great fisherwoman and gardener and my first teacher in life. She taught me the wonders of nature and the bounty it can produce, and that by doing, you can be whatever you want to be.”

Listen to Melanie’s story.

TEDx Talks logoTEDx Talks recently published a talk by Andrew Sherman ’83, political science, on the importance of harvesting intangible assets. Sherman is a Partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Jones Day and a recognized international authority on the legal and strategic aspects of business growth.

In this talk, he challenges us to find ways to better use the many assets that already exist in our communities and companies. You can watch the full TEDx Talk by Sherman below:

Do you have an achievement of your own to share?
Tell us about it in a class note!

Plotting Pedagogy: Scott Jeffrey ’81

Scott Jeffrey ’81, geography and environmental systems, named Maryland’s 2008 professor of the year.

Read more in the Summer 2009 issue of UMBC Magazine