Career Q&A: Robert Bennett ’12, Ancient Studies and History

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. Today we’re talking with Robert Bennett ‘12, Ancient Studies and History, about his work as the executive director of the William Brinton 1704 House and Historic site. 

Name: Robert Bennettrobert bennett
Job Title: Executive director of the William Brinton 1704 House and Historic site
Major(s): Ancient Studies and History
Grad year: 2012

Q: What drew you to UMBC for your studies?

I was originally drawn to UMBC’s Ancient Studies department because of its well-rounded curricula, which focused not only on Classical languages, but also ancient history and archaeology. However, UMBC was approximately 70 miles from my home, and, being a non-traditional student, living on campus was not an option for me. Eventually, through the efforts of a professor at my local community college, I was offered a full scholarship by President Hrabowski that made my long daily commute financially feasible. It was an absolutely life-changing moment.

Q: Can you recall any professors or advisors at UMBC who inspired you?

It would be near impossible to list all of the faculty who inspired me, so I’ll mention only a few. President Hrabowski always made time for me, and would speak to me whenever and wherever he saw me. Ancient Studies faculty such as Dr. Marilyn Goldberg and Dr. Jay Freyman were instrumental in advising me as well as helping me through difficult times. In the History department, Dr. James Grubb and Dr. Joseph Tatarewicz encouraged me to get a second BA in History. Dr. Simon Stacey, Dr. Anna Shields, and Dr. Ellen Spitz provided direction and guidance.

Q: Can you explain a little about the research paper you had to write for your history class, and how it opened the doors to your career path?

I was instructed to write a paper concerning some historical event in my family’s history. Unfortunately, I knew next to nothing about my family, and what I did know only went one or two generations deep. My girlfriend (now wife) suggested using my newly acquired historical skills to research my father’s line and, when I did, I found that I was descended from some of the first English settlers of Pennsylvania! I wrote about how this discovery changed my perspective concerning what it meant to have deep roots and the connection to a place. Through my research, I discovered that the descendants of one of the branches of this family owned and operated an historic house museum in West Chester, PA. I visited the house, told the Executive Director about my paper, and she asked to read it. She was retiring soon, so she sent the paper to the board of directors. The board asked to meet me, and, upon the former director’s retirement, offered me the job!

Q: What has been your greatest achievement in your career as Executive Director? Your greatest challenge?

My greatest achievement thus far has been to increase visitation and admissions by 75%. An enlarged social media presence, as well as good word of mouth, have contributed to this increase; but I believe it is really due to the personal connection to the house I possess and am able to convey to my visitors. My greatest challenge has been to keep the museum relevant to succeeding generations whose values are shaped by a changing historical landscape.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your profession?

To put it simply: making history come to life.

Q: Is there any advice you’d like to give to students at UMBC?

When I was offered my scholarship to UMBC, I was asked by family and friends what I would study. After telling them that I would major in Ancient Studies and History, most asked why I would not study something with more earning potential and employability. The answer I gave is the advice I would give: One must do what one loves.

Career Q&A: Research Assistant Allison Kelly ’12, Chemistry

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. Today we’re talking with research assistant Allison Kelly ‘12, Chemistry, about her current research project. 

Name: Allison Kellyallisonkelly
Job Title: Research Assistant, PhD Candidate
Major/Minor: Chemistry, Writing
Grad year: 2012

 

Q: What drew you to UMBC for your studies?

When I stumbled onto the UMBC website I was greeted by the words: “The school where it’s cool to be smart.”  I wanted a local college that valued academics, and UMBC seemed to fit that bill. During the course of my studies, I grew to love the focus on scholarship and the acceptance of nerd culture I found on campus.

Q: Can you recall any professors or advisors at UMBC who inspired you?

I am very grateful for my time in the UMBC chemistry department. In particular, I got to work closely with Dr. Tara Carpenter and Dr. Stephen Mang in various classes and as an American Chemical Society student member. Their commitment to undergraduate education and enthusiasm for science outreach is something I hope to emulate after finishing my PhD.  And all of the folks in the Honors College were incredibly supportive. Especially Dr. Shields, who always managed to blend professionalism and empathy.

Q: Can you explain a little about your current sustainability project?

My project focuses on polymer solar cells. The silicon solar cells available on the market can be heavy and expensive. Polymer solar cells are light weight, flexible, printable, and less expensive, but currently are not as great at converting sunlight to electricity.  Our goal is to improve the efficiencies with the goal of making polymer solar cells commercially viable. Specifically, I’m focusing on increasing the amount of sunlight the cells can absorb by adding more absorbing components to the system. But making additions to an already complex system creates complications, which I am working towards understanding.

Q: What has been your greatest achievement throughout your project? Your greatest challenge?

Daily troubleshooting, especially at the beginning, is the most challenging part of research: doing experiments that worked yesterday but not today; using established, “easy” techniques and failing; determining which step(s) of a ten step process is causing the problem. I spent two months simply trying to get my controls up to par.

But after almost two years, I’m finding my feet, playing a bigger role in directing my project, and finally getting significant results.

Q: Is there any advice you’d like to give to students at UMBC?

Give a smile and a “thank you” to the Chartwells folks.

Q: Do you have a favorite memory from your time at UMBC? 

It’s impossible to pick just one! There was a lovely Friday evening when I had the opportunity to serve dinner at a homeless shelter, played capture the flag on campus, and camped out in a dorm lobby to watch the Lord of the Rings with some friends. We paused in the middle to walk out to Pig Pen Pond and “watch” a foggy sunrise. It’s certainly not my only good memory, but one that encompasses many of my favorite things about the UMBC community.

Career Q&A: Adam Kurtz ’09, Visual Arts- Graphic Design

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum about what they do and how they got there. Today we’re talking with author Adam Kurtz ‘09, Visual Arts,  about his career and new book, 1 Page At A Time.adam kurtz

Name: Adam Kurtz
Job Title: Studio Designer for Ad Agency
Grad year & Major: 2009, Visual Arts (Graphic Design) with a minor in art history and certificate in media & communications

Q: Can you tell me a little about yourself and your background with graphic design?

I’m originally from Toronto and moved to D.C. with my family in my teens. I came to Baltimore to attend UMBC and stayed for a few years before moving to Brooklyn. As a teen, I would build websites, teaching myself code and design as I went. It wasn’t always pretty! It was my way to connect online, create something entirely myself, and communicate my passions. I knew that was what I wanted to study, and have worked in related industries since graduation: at a film production studio, an internet marketing firm, and now, a big-name ad agency in Manhattan.

Q: What drew you to UMBC for your studies?

UMBC was recommended as a state school that had a true graphic design program. Truthfully, I was new to Maryland and didn’t do very much research. I wish I could say I came to UMBC because of its great X or amazing Y, but the truth is I came in blind. I am so lucky and grateful that UMBC turned out to be as amazing for me as it was. I could not have anticipated any of that. UMBC gave me a solid education and myriad experiences on campus, from student events and life to on-campus jobs that taught me real-world skills.

Q: Were there any particular influences in your life that contributed to your blog and book?

Everything I make is influenced by life. These are not great literary works. I’m not doing anything particularly unique. I’m complaining and oversharing just like everyone else online. The difference is that I make something out of it. I put feelings into words and words onto objects and then I hold them and never let them go. The book is a hybrid activity book, workbook, journal, and more. It’s sort of my process, the introspection, the collecting, the preserving memories and feelings for later. It’s also about fighting the overwhelming nature of the internet. Slowing down, pacing yourself, counting your way through a year, and exploring creativity every single day, so that you can “make” it through.

Q: Can you recall any UMBC professors who inspired you?

I had a lot of great professors, but I think the single most inspiring teacher I had was Laura Schraven, a coordinator in The Commons who I worked with at commonvision, the campus design and print center. I worked on projects for student groups, learned about production as well as communicating abstract ideas and concepts with people who aren’t as “design-minded.” As a mentor, Laura gave her all, far beyond basic design instruction. My book is loosely based on a calendar series that I self-publish annually, the first of which was printed and bound there. I think I honestly didn’t understand that I can literally make anything I need with the tools at hand before that experience. It was a very empowering thing to realize. When I visit campus as an alumni I always try to visit… commonvision gave me a whole lot.

Of course the Visual Arts department is wonderful as well. I loved design classes with Peggy Re, was lucky enough to have artist Laure Drogoul as a professor when she taught a few courses, and I think Sandra Abbott at the CADVC is a wonderful human being. And Jason Loviglio in the Media Studies department, who is very smart and awesome (you can quote me).

Q: You have created a strong fan base for your online blog. Can you explain the purpose of it and how it got started?

There is absolutely no purpose. My blog is entirely personal and I simply post visual scraps I make and things I like. I refer to it as my “scrapbook, soapbox, diary, and jukebox,” because that’s really all it is. It surprises me how much people like what I do, and I never expected that. It was just a way to share and it grew slowly into whatever it is today.

Q: How did yadam kurtz2ou get the idea of creating the “daily creative companion” book, 1 Page At A Time?

An editor from Penguin reached out and basically said “what if you do the things you are already doing with your ‘Unsolicited Advice’ calendars, but make them a book?” and I said “okay yeah that sounds cool.” Essentially. I never sought out to make a book.

a. Why do you think it’s important for creative people to seek out constant inspiration in their daily lives?

I don’t know if I would make that statement. I think creative people already find inspiration in everything. But I also don’t like the distinction of “creative people.” That is limiting. My book is not for “creatives.” My book is for human beings, for anyone with a pulse. We’re all creative in some way, that’s maybe what makes us human at all. It’s not quite for children, it’s not quite for teens. It’s just exploring yourself and your own little world. Writing and drawing however you can. Taping scraps of things to pages, sharing content online with others who have the book using the provided hashtags…. This isn’t so much about being inspired as much as realizing that if you just do one thing every single day, it will grow from nothing into SOMETHING. I guess you could say that’s a lesson I learned myself, as I was posting scraps and watching them build, not realizing what I was making.

Q: What exactly does this book entail and what do you hope it accomplishes?

The book is a daily exercise, a quiet moment for yourself, and a diary that kicks your ass a little bit. I’m not a bully necessarily, but I do encourage you… strongly. “Drink water,” “take a nap,” “go back and do that page you skipped.” I think this could be really great for anyone who needs a little help moving along, someone who has maybe abandoned journals in the past. This is a fun, weird, silly book, but it’s not a coincidence that the title sounds a little bit like a recovery slogan. All of us internet-age cellphone brains need to chill out.

Q: What does your future look like with your website? Do you plan on writing more books?

I am still actually coming to terms with the fact that I am a published author, in multiple languages (with more on the way). It feels crazy. I really did not dream of being an author, though to others, a book seems like an obvious progression of what I’ve been doing online. I have a full-time job, and this isn’t it. I am just happy to keep making nice things, and it’s exciting that people have noticed. I’m working on a product collaboration for a pretty major brand due out next year, plus plenty more self-released items. A Kickstarter campaign for my 2015 weekly planner, which I enjoy handling personally as a year-end tradition. I’m just going to keep creating tangible feelings in my own little ways, turning pages until there aren’t any left.

 Visit Adam’s website.

Round Up: UMBC in the News, 12/12

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!

Grit & Glory: NCAA Men’s Soccer Semifinals

College Cup FB Cover PhotoThe UMBC Men’s Soccer Team will travel to Cary, North Carolina, for a semifinal match in the NCAA Division I Men’s Soccer Championship against the University of Virginia on Friday, December 12, at 5 p.m. This marks the first time in UMBC history that one of our teams has advanced to the Final Four in a Division I tournament.

We’re all very excited here at UMBC and we want you to be involved in this historic occasion no matter where you are. Whether you watch the game decked out in black and gold at a local restaurant or travel to Cary to see the action firsthand, you can find all the information you need on our College Cup website.

Go Dawgs!

This #GivingTuesday, UMBC Students Need Your Help

Giving Tuesday 2014_asb pic

The Thanksgiving leftovers have dwindled away and many of us have put a significant dent in our holiday shopping lists, having bustled through Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. Three years ago, Giving Tuesday was established to encourage us to to break away from the consumerism and chaos that has swallowed up our holiday season and return to a spirit of giving.

This year, there are a number of great causes to consider at UMBC for Giving Tuesday.

While many students will enjoy much-needed time off from classes with family and friends over their spring break this March, four different groups of students will be giving back to the community on service trips through Alternative Spring Break.

They need our help.

Each of these trips requires resources. It’s gas for vans or a plane ticket on trips that are further afield. It’s food and accommodations where they’ll be staying. Sometimes, there are even fees associated with the opportunity of participating in the projects. The more we can help them raise now, the less money each student participant will have to pay out of pocket in March. Even a modest gift of $10 or $20 will make a difference.

These students are making an impact in the world beyond UMBC, and they need your support. Please consider donating to one of the Alternative Spring Break projects, or to any of the other worthwhile student-led projects that are affecting change both on and off campus.

Your commitment truly is a gift that will keep on giving, and our communities will benefit from the great work of the students this spring.

Thank you!

Support UMBC Students on #GivingTuesday

We’re Grateful for YOU!

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With the Thanksgiving holiday upon us, we would like to take the time to thank you, our alumni, for your continuous support of UMBC. Thank you for keeping the UMBC spirit alive after graduation, and for spreading Retriever Fever wherever you go.

Thank you for showing our students – through all of your amazing achievements – what can be accomplished when you reach for your goals and truly live out your experience here at UMBC.

Your dedication to the university makes it what it is today, and for that we are grateful. Thank you for being a part of the UMBC family.

Happy Thanksgiving!