UMBC’s Presidential Faculty and Staff Awards offer a chance to reflect, each year, on the essential contributions of university employees to making UMBC a welcoming, supportive, and successful learning community. This year’s ceremony, on April 4, was particularly meaningful as it coincided with the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski recalled hearing of Dr. King’s death when he was a 17-year-old college sophomore. Calling that time “one of the most devastating days in American history,” he led the room in a moment of silence. With those who came together to honor some of UMBC’s most dedicated educators, from all corners of the university, President Hrabowski shared, “UMBC represents Dr. King’s dream.”
Nicole King, associate professor and chair of American studies, received the Presidential Teaching Faculty Award in recognition of her community-engaged pedagogy. King focuses on helping students develop a deeper understanding of Baltimore and its residents, whether studying gentrification or local environmental concerns. “It is especially wonderful to be honored for my work teaching at UMBC because UMBC has exceptional students,” she said.
King shared two core lessons from doing public humanities work, lessons she works to share with students: “showing up matters” and “listening is essential to learning.” To fulfill UMBC’s mission, she argued, “We must bring more voices into conversations at our public university today and we must better listen to one another because that is truly what teaching and learning are about.”
Amy Froide, associate professor of history, received a USM Board of Regents’ Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, saying, “It’s pretty humbling to win a teaching excellence award at this university that is full of faculty who inspire me every day.” Froide shared her journey as a first-generation college student who wanted to become a teacher since childhood. She didn’t imagine a career as a professor until an advisor encouraged her to pursue a Ph.D. Now she wants to pay forward the support she received.
“I want to dedicate this award to all teachers, especially at this time in our history” Froide said, referencing this spring’s K – 12 teacher protests for wages, pensions, and school budgets in the U.S. and abroad. Froide commented that teaching is “one of the toughest and most rewarding professions, but it’s not a profession that always gets rewarded.” She shared what an honor it was for her to receive this faculty award and reflected, “I hope for a day when all teachers will be honored.”
James Franson, professor of physics, received the Presidential Research Faculty Award. Franson joked, “Unfortunately, it’s not quite as exciting or prestigious as being on the basketball team and going to the NCAA tournament.” Still, he reflected thoughtfully, “Research itself is exciting in its own way, and UMBC is a great place to do research.”
Several honorees revisited the long and fulfilling careers they have had at UMBC and the friendships they’ve made. “Like the Academy Awards, I’d like to take a moment to thank those who made this possible,” said Joe Kirby, assistant vice president in the Division of Information Technology (DoIT).
Kirby received the Presidential Distinguished Staff Award. He thanked family, friends, mentors, and colleagues, including DoIT Vice President Jack Suess ‘81, mathematics, M.S. ‘95, operations analysis, “For challenging me to be more than I would have thought possible, yet always promoting work-life balance and compassion over our 20+ years together.” Kirby shared, “My success is so tied to the collaboration and cooperation I receive from our faculty, staff, and students.”
Tamara Brown, executive administrative assistant for the dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, reflected on how “pleased, honored, and humbled” she felt to accept UMBC’s Presidential Distinguished Non-Exempt Staff Award. After thanking her colleagues, she added, with a smile, “I want to thank my family for putting up with my late hours at UMBC.”
That level of commitment became a familiar thread. A few moments later, Victor Fulda, recipient of the Karen L. Wensch Endowment Award for Outstanding Non-Exempt Staff, thanked his wife for putting up with 3 a.m. phone calls about urgent lab issues at UMBC. Fulda, a lab technician in chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering for 25 years, shared, “This job has been very rewarding and surprising.”
Jess Myers, who received the Jakubik Family Endowment Award, called her position as Women’s Center director “a dream job.” “To wake up every day and go to work to support and advance gender equity, to hold space for LGBTQ folks, to cultivate healing space for survivors of sexual violence, to run a scholarship program for older women returning to college…that is an award in and of itself,” said Myers.
Still, she shared, “today feels extra special to be recognized by my UMBC colleagues.” She passed along her gratitude for people across the university who have believed in her approach to growing the Women’s Center “to truly support UMBC’s vision of inclusive excellence.”
Phyllis Robinson, professor of biological sciences, also commented on that UMBC vision in describing her work to support inclusion in STEM fields. Robinson received the Marilyn E. Demorest Award for Faculty Advancement for her commitment to the professional growth of women faculty in the sciences, particularly through mentoring programs. “For me, mentoring is very simple,” said Robinson. “It’s sharing information with people and bestowing guidance and encouragement.”
President Hrabowski concluded the event with his mid-year State of the University update, highlighting key achievements across the university. These included everything from major grants, awards, and partnerships to the opening of UMBC’s new Event Center.
Whether talking about Naomi Mburu ‘18, chemical engineering, receiving UMBC’s first Rhodes Scholarship or UMBC’s recent victory over no. 1 seed UVA in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, President Hrabowski shared, UMBC is a place where “we make history.” And in working every day to achieve greatness, he reflected, “We are in this together.”
Featured image: Tamara Brown, recipient of UMBC’s Presidential Distinguished Non-Exempt Staff Award. All photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.