Woman conducts an orchestra, hands outstretched

Leaders in public service, music, and addiction research to address UMBC’s Class of 2019

At UMBC’s upcoming commencement ceremonies, students and their families and supporters will hear from three distinguished speakers, each honored as a leader in their field. They include a UMBC alumnus recently elected county executive, the first woman conductor of a major American orchestra, and one of the world’s top addiction researchers.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski.

On Wednesday, May 22, new Baltimore County Executive John “Johnny O” Olszewski, Jr. will speak at UMBC’s graduate commencement ceremony. Olszewski is a lifelong Baltimore County resident who frequently speaks of his strong belief in the power of public service. He earned his Ph.D. from UMBC in public policy in 2017. He also holds an undergraduate degree from Goucher College and master’s degree from George Washington University.

After college, Olszewski returned to his community to teach social studies and special education at Patapsco High School. The experience affected him in a profound way. As he recently wrote in the Baltimore Sun, “I am a teacher. I don’t work in a classroom anymore, but my days teaching at Patapsco High School have shaped me into the person I am today. They shape the kind of county executive I want to be.”

In 2006, Olszewski was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates at age 23. He served for nine years and was the youngest person ever elected as chair of the Baltimore County Delegation. During his time in the General Assembly, he championed numerous bills, including paid sick leave for all Maryland workers. His advocacy for Baltimore County focused on economic development and education reform, two issues he has continued to focus on as county executive.

Olszewski lives in Dundalk with his wife, Marisa, and their daughter, Daria.

BSO Music Director Marin Alsop

UMBC will host two undergraduate commencement ceremonies on Thursday, May 23. Maestra Marin Alsop, music director for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO), will speak in the first ceremony to graduates in UMBC’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; the School of Social Work; and the Erickson School. She will also receive an honorary doctor of fine arts degree.

BSO Music Director Marin Alsop. Photo by Adriane White.

Alsop has spent her career dedicated to showing how music really does have the power to change lives. As a conductor, educator, and leading advocate for the arts, she inspires musicians to give of their best in performing for all audiences. As a pioneer in a traditionally male-dominated field, she created a fellowship for women conductors in 2002. All 17 of the fellowship’s recipients remain involved in the field and five are now American music directors.

When she was named BSO music director in 2007, Alsop became the first woman conductor of a major American orchestra. She also holds roles as the principal conductor and music director of São Paulo Symphony Orchestra and chief conductor of the ORF Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra. In September 2013, Alsop made history as the first female conductor of the BBC’s Last Night of the Proms in London and was immediately invited again for 2015.

As a student of the Leonard Bernstein’s, she was awarded the Koussevitzky Conducting Prize and is the only conductor to receive the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. In 2008 she founded OrchKids, which brings together musicians and youth from some of Baltimore’s most challenged neighborhoods. The program works in partnership with six public schools and has served over 1,000 children.

“I believe the arts are an incredible opportunity, especially for young people, to gain self-esteem,” Alsop has said previously, in The Baltimore Sun. “When you start to see yourself mastering something so complicated [as a musical instrument], then you can see yourself mastering something else.”

“I wish we could reach thousands of kids,” she shared. “There are so many kids who deserve this.”

NIDA Director Nora Volkow, a leading addiction researcher

NIDA Director Nora Volkow. Photo by Mary Noble Ours.

Physician Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), will address undergraduates from the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, College of Engineering and Information Technology, and interdisciplinary studies during UMBC’s second undergraduate commencement ceremony on May 23.

Volkow became director of NIDA, part of the National Institutes of Health, in May 2003. As the lead funder of world-wide research on the connections between health and drug abuse and addiction, NIDA brings together a wide diversity of scientists who develop and implement solutions for one of the world’s most pressing and urgent public health issues.

Volkow’s own research has been instrumental in demonstrating that drug addiction is a disease of the human brain. Her focus on neurobiology has helped make breakthroughs in other public health issues such as obesity, ADHD, and aging.

Volkow was born in Mexico, earned her medical degree from the National University of Mexico, and carried out her psychiatric residency at New York University. She has taught in the department of psychiatry and was associate dean of the Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine. Prior to her tenure at NIDA she held leadership positions at the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory, including director of nuclear medicine, chairman of the medical department, and associate director for life sciences.

To date, Volkow has published more than 600 scientific articles and edited three books on neuroimaging for mental and addictive disorders. She was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2000 and twice has been named one of Time Magazine’s “Top 100 People Who Shape our World.” She will receive an honorary doctor of science degree at the ceremony.

Community members who are not able to attend the ceremonies in person can view them live through the commencement webcast or follow them on Twitter @UMBC and through #UMBCgrad. Videos of the remarks will also be available online after the ceremonies.

This story was written by Marie Lilly, director of community engagement.

Featured image: BSO Music Director Marin Alsop. Photo by Margot Shulman.