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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Alums in the News: GOOOOAL! Edition

Let’s see who made the news this week…we may have a bit of a theme going with this entry.


Geaton Caltabiano ’14, psychology, will play another season with the Baltimore Blast after seeing action in 14 games in his first year. While at UMBC, Caltabiano was named an America East Player of the Week, and also received a Coaches’ Award for his high academic achievement off the field.

Maceo Rojas ’99, modern languages and linguistics, has coached the St. Vincent Pallotti High School girls’ soccer team to the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland (IAAM) Championships. While the Pallotti Panthers fell to the top-seeded Park School in Saturday’s championship game, they had a 12-3 regular season record, and made it to the second seed in their conference.

Met any big goals recently? Send us a class note!

Alumni Awards 2016: Galina Madjaroff ’08, Psychology, and M.A. ’11, Aging Studies

In the weeks leading up to the 2016 Alumni Awards Ceremony, we’ll be profiling each honoree in detail here on the blog. The Rising Star award is given annually to a graduate of the last 10 years who’s excelled in their field. This year’s Rising Star is Galina Madjaroff ’08, psychology, and M.A. ’11, aging studies, undergraduate program director and clinical assistant professor at UMBC’s Erickson School.

g-madjaroff_headshotGalina Madjaroff transferred to UMBC from Montgomery College to earn a biology degree and go on to dental school. “Fortunately,” as she puts it, “life takes you to places you never thought you would find yourself.” Madjaroff had grown up in Bulgaria in an inter-generational family, and as such found herself drawn to the aging services program here at UMBC. That particular upbringing “was one of the [things] that sparked my passion for the aging field,” she says. As an undergraduate and graduate alumna, Madjaroff has worked for the Department of Aging Services in some capacity since 2005, beginning as a student worker in website maintenance. Currently, she is the undergraduate program director for the Erickson School, as well as a clinical assistant professor in that department. Madjaroff is also working on her Ph.D. in human-centered computing here at UMBC, and she says her main goal is to develop technologies that improve the lives of older adults with dementia and cognitive decline. In addition to her responsibilities as a staff member, teacher, and student, Madjaroff also serves as a faculty mentor to student organizations, and performs advising and committee work. “The greatest challenge [in my career] has been managing time!” she says. Madjaroff credits Dr. Judah Ronch, dean of the Erickson School, as a source of inspiration and encouragement to her throughout her career. Her husband, Fred Reitz ’10, political science, is also a UMBC alum, and together they have a daughter, Amelia.

Join us for the Alumni Awards Ceremony on Thursday, October 6, at the Earl and Darielle Linehan Concert Hall.

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.

Happy Retriever Love Week!

A couple of weeks ago, we put out a call on social media for couples whose love stories began at UMBC. We got so many great responses that while Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, we’ve decided to extend the holiday through Friday to share your stories on the blog. Happy Valentine’s Day the Second through Sixth!

6A62BF94-A2AB-498D-851A-7D908DC79B425698E789-DEBD-4338-9169-2032D4566156 (1)In August 2000, Kenneth Knight ’03, information systems, and M.S. ’05, information systems, was a transfer student looking for advice on his classes. During a fire drill, a mutual friend led him to Angela Washington Knight ’03, information systems, and M.S. ’05, information systems, and from then on, Kenneth says, they were “inseparable.” They have been married since September 2003. (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Knight.)

IMG_5400Leah Concannon Mayer ’02, psychology, met Patrick Mayer ’02, philosophy and political science, the first month of their freshman year at UMBC, and the two were longtime friends by the time they started dating in 2003. They dated long distance while attending graduate school in separate parts of the country, and got married in 2006. They both work at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Michigan, where Patrick is an assistant professor of philosophy and Leah directs the McNair Scholars Program, and have two children. (Photo courtesy of Leah Mayer.)

Kat Joe PicJoe Fleshman ’14, economics, met his wife Kat Schuster Fleshman ’14, theatre, during their freshman year at UMBC. They started dating in early 2011 and “quickly became attached at the hip.”

“UMBC was so important to our relationship because we grew up here together. We have great memories of [H]omecomings, Quadmanias, and working with ResLife and the Commons to leave our marks on the campus. We gave everything we had to this school, and it gave us more than we could have ever hoped for in return. We were lucky to have many of our closest friends and UMBC family involved with our wedding in June 2015.

“I know I’m the happiest I’ve ever been because of the opportunities that UMBC gave us to allow our relationship to blossom,” Joe writes. (Photo courtesy of Joe Fleshman. And yes, that is Nick Offerman of Parks and Recreation and UMBC Homecoming 2013 fame.)

image.pngStephanie Fields Lightfoot ’95, sociology, worked at the UMBC Bookstore as an undergrad, and Leon Lightfoot ’94, information systems management, was a frequent browser among the shelves. In 1993, Stephanie says, “he finally got the nerve” to approach her, and so began their courtship. A visit to the Shriver Center during her senior year led Stephanie to join the Peace Corps, a decision Leon supported “with hopes that [she] would return to him after two years.”

Indeed, when Stephanie stepped back onto U.S. soil after her service, Leon was waiting there with a ring. After 17 years of marriage and two children, Stephanie says, “If it weren’t for UMBC, there would be no Lightfoot family of [four].” (Photo courtesy of Stephanie Lightfoot.)

Read UMBC Magazine’s 2014 feature on UMBC couples here.


Meet the Staff: Arooj Rana ’06, 50th Anniversary Program Assistant

Here in the Office of Alumni Relations, we spend a lot of time telling stories about and talking with our wonderfully supportive alums. However, we’ve decided to turn the tables and take time to get to know the people behind the scenes – the  advancement and alumni relations staff members who are hard at work on behalf of our alumni. Today we’ll be hearing from Arooj Rana ’06, psychology, who is one of the 50th anniversary program assistants in the Office of Alumni Relations. She is also working towards a master’s degree in public policy at UMBC.

arooj.jpgName: Arooj Rana

Job Title: 50th Anniversary Program Assistant

Focus Area: Alumni Engagement and Outreach

Years at UMBC: 8.5 total, with a break in the middle

Grad Year: 2006 and 2016 hopefully!

Where are you from originally? Maryland via Pakistan

What do you love most about UMBC? I love that it always feels like home. I had been on campus for eight years [,as both a student and an employee,] and then left for five. When I came back, the campus was just as inviting and comfortable as I left it. I was glad to see so many familiar faces that were just as welcoming now as when I started at UMBC so many years ago.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?  My favorite thing about my job is hearing stories from alums about what things were like “back in the day.” It humanizes the campus in a way that makes it easier to understand and to appreciate all the great things that have happened here. Hearing those stories helps you understand the soul of the campus and why “grit” is a talent.

Who do you admire and why? I admire [UMBC’s Vice President for Student Affairs] Dr. Nancy Young because she is an excellent representation of what a strong independent woman is, [and] her story makes you appreciate her accomplishments even more. She is one of the most open-minded, intelligent, and thoughtful people on campus. Her actions and decisions show that she cares about the soul of the campus.

If you could be another staff member for a day, who would it be and why? If I could be any other staff member for a day, I’d be the Chief of Police at UMBC. I feel like this job generates good stories, and I could ride around in the UMBC police cars or segways. I’d flash my badge around a bit for that day.

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 news, head to the Insights blog!