Can hundreds of committed UMBC alumni, students, faculty and staff spread the word about our exceptional public research university and its 50th anniversary to almost 70,000 alumni and the rest of the world?
The first wave of those “hundreds” – including more than 200 alumni – gathered at Homecoming 2015 in a tent on UMBC’s new campus entrance to kick off a year-long effort to do just that.
It was a festive evening where old friends reconnected and new relationships were forged. In coming together, attendees found unity in the fundamental power of unique UMBC stories across many decades to enrich lives and engage others in telling the story of the university.
The brand for UMBC’s 50th anniversary also made its debut at the event. UMBC 50: Grit and Greatness blends the pioneering spirit of the students, faculty, staff and academic leaders who built a new university in Maryland and the successes in teaching, research and diverse excellence that have thrust UMBC into the public conversation about best practices in higher education.
“Your Story Is Our Story” was a key theme of the evening, and amidst music from the UMBC Jazz Ensemble and the clinking of cocktail glasses, alumni told their stories in video booths installed for the event, or scrolled on a large screen inside the tent.
The kickoff event also featured alumni storytellers selected from diverse backgrounds and decades who shared their experiences from the stage, preceded by remarks from their fellow alumna, Adrienne Jones ’76, psychology, who serves as Speaker Pro Tem of the Maryland House of Delegates.
In her time in Annapolis, Delegate Jones has helped UMBC find the resources to grow along with its achievements and ambitions. But she also observed that “whatever I am able to accomplish for our alma mater is possible because UMBC is such a great story – your story.”
Some alumni storytellers summoned up the spirit of volunteerism to UMBC that animated the event. Diane Tichnell ’70, political science, and a member of the very first class to graduate from UMBC, recalled the opportunities that UMBC provided its very first students in 1966: “The watchword of that day was ‘innovate, innovate, innovate.’ We couldn’t do anything else.” Tichnell also challenged her fellow alumni: “Stick close to this campus. Make sure that the students now and the students in the future have the same chance.”
Other stories directly spoke to the theme of UMBC’s 50th anniversary year. Corey Fleischer ’05, ’08 M.S. mechanical engineering, and a founder of UMBC’s successful Mini-Baja racing squad, recalled taking that team from the challenges of its first races to eventual triumphs. The winner of the engineering-themed TV competition Big Brain Theory: Pure Genius told the audience: “Anything worth doing requires a significant amount of grit. And the amount of grit really helps define that total greatness.”
The stories also reminded the audience of UMBC’s power to change lives. “I learned so much from being on the UMBC campus,” said Joseph Jones ’06, social work, founder of Baltimore’s Center for Urban Families (CFUF). Encouraged by President Hrabowski to earn his degree at UMBC after working past a troubled youth that included a stint in jail, Jones observed that “I learned how to be a scientist in social services by coming to this honors university.”
Reflecting on the many stories told that night, President Freeman A. Hrabowski, III observed “In each case, it was the story of a transformation. Of grit, and then, of what I want to call ‘moments of greatness.’ It is not that we, as an institution, are great. It is that we aspire to greatness and we have moments of greatness.”
The upcoming year will be filled with many more stories of grit and greatness. And, as with any kickoff, this is just the beginning. And UMBC is seeking many more of the “hundreds” of alumni who will volunteer to help the university forge personal connections with thousands of alumni over the coming year.
There are other ways to get involved as well. The organizers of the university’s 50 anniversary celebrations are seeking ideas for events that celebrate UMBC’s legacy and look to the university’s future as well. There is even a competition open to alumni and the university to propose ideas for events that will connect more alumni to UMBC in its anniversary year and provide support and funding to make them happen.
You can be part of the party. And part of the story. Go to 50.umbc.edu to find out more.
Image: Guests at UMBC 50th anniversary launch celebration. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.