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a mosaic of building details

SNAPSHOT IDENTIFIER

Top line, left to right:

Gargoyle, Preston Street side, Liberal Arts and Policy Building

Student Center

Detail over Preston Street Entrance, Liberal Arts and Policy Building

Blossom, Gordon Plaza Garden

Knights of Pythias Seal, Liberal Arts and Policy Building

Second line:

Academic Center,
Charles Street side

Street lamp in Gordon Plaza

Stained Glass Window,
Liberal Arts and Policy Building

John and Frances Angelos
Law Center

Bench in front of Thumel Business Center

Third line:

Stained Glass Window,
Liberal Arts and Policy Building

Student Center

Thumel Business Center

Street lamp on Charles Street

Gate along Gordon Plaza

Fourth line:

Robert L. Bogomolny Library

Knights of Pythias Seal,
Liberal Arts and Policy Building

Peggy and Yale Gordon Plaza Commemorative Plaque

Robert L. Bogomolny Library

Academic Center,
Charles Street side

Fifth line:

Stained Glass Window,
Liberal Arts and Policy Building

Student Center

Detail over Preston Street Entrance, Liberal Arts and Policy Building

Stained Glass Window,
Liberal Arts and Policy Building

Angel Relief, side of the
Edgar Allan Poe Statue

Second Responders

Jim Crimmins
Jim Crimmins

Many more people are struggling with food insecurity during the simultaneous health and economic crises associated with the pandemic. According to recently released studies by the United States Department of Agriculture and Northwestern University, the number of families experiencing hunger in the nation has almost doubled in the last year. Among families in Maryland, 1 in 3 households with children report that they do not have enough to eat.

Fortunately many organizations and individuals are stepping up to help, including members of the UB community. Jim Crimmins, B.S. ’13, is the day shift receiving lead at the Maryland Food Bank. The Food Bank distributed 31.4M pounds of food from March to August, an increase of 97 percent from the same time period in 2019. 

Crimmins’ responsibilities include taking in donated food from community partners and making sure that drivers have products ready to deliver to partner sites such as churches, soup kitchens and schools. He says an initial challenge of the COVID-19 shutdown was the disruption in the ways food was distributed.

“Typically we do a lot of deliveries to school systems for things like after-school programs,” Crimmins explains. “Kids still need food, and we had to figure out ways to get it to them.”  From March to August, the Food Bank provided 372,071 grab and go meals to children.

“Typically we do a lot of deliveries to school systems for things like after-school programs,” Crimmins explains. “Kids still need food, and we had to figure out ways to get it to them.”

An ongoing challenge, he adds, is not being able to plan strategically. “We are constantly re-evaluating, managing need and providing for where there are shortfalls in different areas of the state,” he says.

Crimmins says that it’s inspiring to see the dedication of the Food Bank’s volunteers who help with sorting and packing food, among other tasks. “We depend on them and they are very dedicated—even in the beginning most of them were here on their regular days,” he says. “They make it possible for us to get food to the people who need it.”

Saval Foodservice, a fourth-generation food distributor that serves the mid-Atlantic region, is helping people in a variety of ways. 

Paul Saval
Paul Saval

President and CEO Paul Saval, J.D. ’80, whose grandfather founded the company 88 years ago, says that Saval’s customer base includes more than 1400 independent, largely family-owned restaurants—an industry particularly hard hit by the pandemic. In the first months of shutdowns the company provided food to restaurant and food service workers who had been laid off or furloughed.

Now the organization has transitioned to working with nonprofits, providing food products for those in need and also lending Saval drivers and trucks to make deliveries for programs such as Meals on Wheels. “It’s worked well, because the nonprofits have the systems in place to feed people, and we have food products and the logistics to get the food distributed efficiently,” says Saval.

“My job has always been to plan for the future. But in this environment, it’s about resilience and finding ways to get through this.”

Edith Waithira
Edith Waithira

Edith Waithira, M.A ’19, who works as a project coordinator for the Maryland Stadium Authority, interned at Baltimore’s Mera Kitchen Collective during her UB master’s program in 2019. Mera is a food-based cooperative made up of women chefs from around the world. The organization empowers women by creating a multicultural community and helping them attain economic independence. Mera’s team has served more than 72,000 meals in the city since March.

Waithira says she is inspired by the organization’s values. “From the first, you are part of the family,” she says. “It’s natural that they would want to alleviate suffering by feeding those in need.”

While interning at Mera Kitchen, Waithira’s responsibilities included preparing food for catering events, and also for the farmers market run by the collective. In addition, she helped with event planning and execution and provided transportation for team members.

“Sharing the foods that are important to us is a way to begin conversation, and a foundation to connect on deeper issues,” Waithira says. She adds that her family emigrated to Baltimore from Kenya when she was in middle school, and says of her own mother, “I imagine that she wished she had had a place like this one.”

Organizations like these will continue to adapt to support those who need them. Crimmins says the Food Bank is continually pivoting as different counties change the way businesses and schools are operating. “Work is really intense right now, and we’re not sure what’s going to happen,” he says. “All we know is that things are constantly changing.”

Adds Saval, “This is a fascinating time with a lot of uncertainty. I remind myself, ‘patience and persistence,’ and to look for opportunities to overcome the challenging obstacles that confront us.”

Paula Novash is managing editor of the magazine.

Donor Dollars at work.

Happy Anniversaries

Three defining UB institutions are celebrating important milestones this year.

The College of Public Affairs  10 YEARS
UB’s College of Public Affairs (CPA) is the only college in the state of Maryland completely dedicated to public service. The CPA excels in areas that include healthcare, criminal justice, human services, and public policy and international affairs. Our six undergraduate, nine graduate and five certificate programs exist alongside the William Donald Schaefer Center for Public Policy and the Center for Drug Policy and Prevention, giving our graduates broad-based knowledge as they help create a stronger public and nonprofit service sector.

CPA has been recognized numerous times by U.S. News and World Report as among the best public affairs schools in the nation, a significant honor and testament to our faculty, students and programs. Our CPA graduates are employed in federal, state and local agencies and nonprofits, where they are working to improve lives and communities in Baltimore and beyond.

The Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance. 20 YEARS
UB’s Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France
Institute (BNIA-JFI) provides accurate data and objective research to
a wide range of groups, organizations and agencies to promote positive policy change. BNIA’s Vital Signs annual report “takes the pulse” of Baltimore’s neighborhoods, compiling data from 150 indicators related to demographics, crime, workforce, health, housing, education and sustainability. This data is open-sourced and accessible to community members and leaders for projects and research.

Celebratory events included July’s #BaltimoreData Week, an expanded virtual version of BNIA-JFI’s annual Baltimore Data Day. Data Day
provides interactive workshops highlighting the latest trends in community-based data, technology and tools.

UB Law’s Clinical Law Program. 30 YEARS
The University of Baltimore Law School’s Clinical Law program is currently ranked 14th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

Our clinical tradition has always focused on client representation and advocacy for systemic change. A dozen different clinics represent, on average, 200 low-income clients every year, including adults, children, neighborhood associations and other nonprofit organizations. In addition, students participate in externships in a wide range of governmental, public-interest and private-sector placements.

The clinical program’s facility is run as a law office with a teaching and a public-service mission, and many of the program’s faculty are tenured academics as well as law practitioners. We are especially proud of the achievements of our student-attorneys, and of our alumni and former teaching fellows who carry our mission with them to law firms, legal services organizations, government agencies and law schools across the country.

Civil Discourse

UB’s 2020 Ethics Bowl team
UB’s 2020 Ethics Bowl team

In February, UB Ethics Bowl team made it to the quarterfinals in 2020In a time when public discourse can be contentious and divisive, UB’s Hoffberger Center for Professional Ethics is a shining monument to vibrant discussion that moves our society forward. Since 1987, the Center has created a wide range of programs and activities that encourage us to think responsibly about the dilemmas and choices we face as professionals and global citizens.

Fred Guy, who retired in June after more than 25 years as executive director of the Center, says honest interactions that represent diverse views are crucial to our society.

“We should be promoting free, vibrant disagreement—that’s how we learn to think, and how we grow,” says Guy, who is an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Division of Legal, Ethical and Historical Studies. “Reasonable and thoughtful people can have different opinions about issues, and both opinions can be valid.”

The Center provides a wide range of resources and activities, including seminars, teaching models and research sponsorships for faculty, student internships and public programs. Topics span professions and disciplines, from business and the law to art, digital media and literature. Other Center activities include sponsoring UB’s Philosophy Club, as well as themed Ethics Weeks in the spring and fall semesters.

“We try to reach a broad audience, using concrete examples to promote reflection,” says Guy. “When the one facing a dilemma is a fictional protagonist in a book such as Camus’ The Stranger, or a board member in a business case, it gives people a context. Then questions such as when do the ends justify the means? or what would happen if everyone behaved this way? become something we can relate to as we formulate our ideas.”

The Center was co-founded by then-Provost of UB Catherine Gira and Baltimore businessman and philanthropist LeRoy Hoffberger. Grants from the Hoffberger Foundation (now Hoffberger Family Philanthropies) were employed to establish ethical studies across curriculum and disciplines.

In addition to many UB partnerships within the university and its alumni network, the Center also involves those in the broader community, says Guy. “It’s been invaluable to collaborate with other schools, and with Baltimore’s business and professional communities, to learn about the issues and challenges that arise for them,” he explains.

Monthly seminars, which are open to the public, feature speakers from UB and other universities as well as leaders from business, government, law, health care and nonprofits, among other arenas. Robust discussion is encouraged, as are opportunities to practice listening skills.

“We found that students are reluctant to talk openly about their views on racial issues and other controversial topics, so we started a program called, ‘Just Listen,’” Guy says. “This allowed students to share with others what their everyday lives are like given the race, ethnicity, religion or gender they are. Arguments were not allowed, only listening and comments. It was one of the more effective programs we created and at a time when it was most needed.”

“Learning to take a position and support it forces us to think long and hard about an issue, and allows us to practice civility and consensus-building.”

The Ethics Bowl is a signature activity of the Center. In these contests, four-person teams are given cases covering a broad range of issues. The teams develop a position and argument, and then compete in head-to-head rounds against teams from other schools. Each team has multiple opportunities to respond to competitors’ presentations, and the sudden-death rounds are arbitrated by qualified judges. Over the years the Center has hosted and sponsored ethics bowls at the university, community college and high school levels.

Ethics bowls help participants understand and appreciate opposing points of view, says Guy. “Learning to take a position and support it forces us to think long and hard about an issue, and allows us to practice civility and consensus-building. The students develop critical thinking skills and confidence—the activity benefits them tremendously.”

Guy, who now teaches one course a semester as an emeritus professor, calls being director of the Hoffberger Center “the highlight of my career. A lot of people can be lazy thinkers, substituting empty phrases for deep, well-considered opinions,” he continues. “UB has, and will continue to have, the ideal atmosphere for the type of discussion the Center facilitates.”

Paula Novash is managing editor of the magazine.

 

Donor Dollars at work.

A Seasoned Approach

Vanns Spices Logo

When navigating change, businesses often seek advice and input. Vanns Spices recently expanded and moved to a larger production facility, and the company reached out to UB’s Merrick School of Business. Vanns, founded in Baltimore in 1981, is a co-packer of premium spices, seasoning blends and flavorings that are distributed to restaurants, specialty stores and packaged food producers.

“The company’s leadership realized they needed some objective analysis about their business to extend and complement their existing strategy,” says Merrick School assistant professor William Carter. Carter guides his MBA students through their integrative capstone course in strategic management, helping them to analyze and make recommendations about organizational performance through case studies such as the Vanns project.

“Our students needed to understand the company’s situation and the factors involved in growth,” he continues. “Compiling and analyzing that data and using it to make recommendations is an excellent fit for a strategic management capstone.”

Carter conceived a competition in which three teams of students would develop presentations for Vanns. Initially Nick Ciotti, the company’s president, met with the class for a question and answer session. He also shared information about Vanns’ history, product list, financials and industry. 

Participant Paul (PJ) Sawchuk, MBA ’20, was impressed with how transparent Vanns was willing to be. “The information Nick shared was typical of what you would usually have in a business case study,” he says. “But this felt more organic, because we had to develop the background and challenges by working hands-on with their organization. You could appreciate that these are real people with real-world issues.”

The class toured Vanns manufacturing facility in March. Sawchuk, who works as an IT consultant, says that the physical site visit added additional value. “Having the opportunity to ask questions while on site brought a reality to the experience and made the company’s story even more compelling,” he says.

When Merrick School classes went virtual due to COVID-19, the students shifted their team collaborations online. “People adjusted well—it made us operate efficiently,” says Sawchuk. The teams participated in practice sessions with Carter before the actual competition, conducted in May via Zoom. Judges included Carter, Merrick school professors Frank van Vliet, MBA ’08, and Ven Sriram, as well as Ciotti and two executives from Vanns. Vanns also provided cash awards to the top two teams. 

Sawchuk, a member of the winning team, says the project was a valuable part of his MBA studies. “Working with a company gives you a practical application of your coursework,” he explains. “I would urge the capstone class to continue with this type of project.” 

The collaboration was a positive for Vanns too, says Ciotti. “Working with the MBA capstone strategy class was not only a good introspective exercise, but also yielded actionable results to improve and focus the company’s strategic growth plan,” he says. “We have already undertaken steps to implement a number of strategic elements from the winning student groups.” 

“We appreciate the ways Vanns invested in our students, and happily the outcome proved to be a win-win,” says Carter. 

on smile.amazon.com, select

Paula Novash is managing editor of the magazine.

Donor Dollars at work.

Destigmatizing a Natural Process

Margaret Johnson was shocked to realize that women in Maryland prisons did not have free access to menstrual products. She saw this as a social justice issue, one she learned about through Reproductive Justice Inside Coalition (RJIC), an organization where one of Johnson’s law students was an intern working on reproductive health policy.

“The prison came to RJIC and asked if we could do a menstrual product drive for inmates,” says Johnson, a professor of law at UB and co-director of UB’s Center on Applied Feminism. “That opened my eyes to this issue of access and to areas where menstrual injustice was happening.”

Without access to menstrual products, inmates would deal with the indignity of bleeding through their clothing. In addition, guards and prisoners who could afford to purchase products from the commissary could use them as currency for coercion. Johnson calls these unfair practices “ridiculous. Society takes people who menstruate and targets them as ‘other,’ as people to be controlled and oppressed in ways they would not for other people.”

This lack of justice in the prison system was shockingly obvious, but other examples Johnson cites are more insidious. Take, for example, the case of a 911 operator experiencing heavy, irregular bleeding due to perimenopause. Unable to leave her post, she bled onto her chair and was fired. And according to a lawsuit filed in 2019 by 19 states on behalf of migrant detainees at the U.S. border, access to menstrual products at Homeland Security-run facilities is often extremely limited or nonexistent.

Most recently, Johnson’s efforts involve working to end discrimination at state bar exams. In many states, menstruators (Johnson uses the gender-neutral term to include transgender and non-binary people) are not allowed to bring products to the days-long exam. One justification is that someone might try to cheat by writing answers on a menstrual product.

“They permit people to bring in laptops and people wear clothes. It’s possible someone stuffed the Rule Against Perpetuities into their underwear, too, but the bar doesn’t tell people they have to come naked to the exam,” Johnson says.

“A world with menstrual justice is one that includes education about menstruation and normalizing menstruation.”

Johnson explains that taboos against menstruation go back millennia. From ancient philosophers to early religious texts, many cultures are rife with myths that menstruators are dangerous or bring bad luck. Even today, she says sex education can provide woefully inadequate information about menstruation. Rather than seeing menstruation as something natural that happens to a huge portion of the population every month, society has built structures of secrecy and created an environment ripe for bullying, harassment and discrimination.

“A world with menstrual justice is one that includes education about menstruation and normalizing menstruation,” says Johnson.

In 2018, UB’s Bronfein Family Law Clinic, in collaboration with RJIC, helped pass a law mandating that prisons provide inmates with free menstrual products. Johnson was also part of a coalition to get free products in Maryland public schools. While that bill is currently tabled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson’s law students did score another big win: after petitioning the dean, UB’s law school now provides free products in all women’s and gender-neutral bathrooms.

Last year Johnson traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, as one of two U.S. representatives to a United Nations-hosted advisory group evaluating the effectiveness of policies on menstrual health and hygiene worldwide. Here in the United States, Johnson would like to see access to free menstrual products improved until they are as available in restrooms as hand soap.

“Menstruation has been hidden for so long,” she says. “And it has not been built into our public policy and legal structures for what we think of as a fair and equitable society.”

Christianna McCausland is a writer based in Baltimore.

Next Generation of Ingenuity

Michael Vandi
Michael Vandi at an event in Sierra Leone.

Michael Vandi, B.S. ’20, describes himself as a problem solver. And while a quick look at the applied information technology major’s resume confirms this, he also recalls an example from his childhood. “I grew up in Sierra Leone and we didn’t always have electricity,” he explains. “We used LED lamps that broke a lot.” From the time he was six years old, Vandi says, “I would open them up, look at the motherboards inside, and try to fix them.”

His focus shifted from hardware to software during high school, and after two years at the Limkokwing University of Creative Technology in Sierra Leone, he transferred to UB where his cousin, Bpaaki Vandi, M.S. ’19, also studied. “There is a real value at UB,” observes Vandi. “When I check my email, there’s always opportunities to get involved or to join new groups.”

Last year, one of those opportunities was joining a tight-knit group of students called the “Astrobees,” who, with mentor professor Giovanni Vincenti, participated in NASA’s annual Spacesuit User Interface Technologies for Students (SUITS) Challenge. Like their UB predecessors, the 2019 “Poegrammers” team, the Astrobees were challenged to design and create spacesuit information displays within an augmented reality environment.

“I joined the team because I wanted to show that contact tracing and protecting privacy can be done simultaneously”

Vandi, the team’s front end software developer, explains how the Astrobees’ software works with a glasses-like headset. “Words and images are projected onto what you’re seeing,” he says. “It shows the oxygen level in the top left corner, and in the middle there’s a map. When it is too dark, it goes into light mode, or dark mode if too light.” A challenge for Vandi was to display information without obscuring the user’s view. The Astrobees’ SUITS entry joins a repository of innovative technologies for NASA’s Artemis mission, which aims to put the first women and the next men on the lunar south pole of the moon by 2024.

UB Students are helping combat the pandemicAlthough the team had to present their project to NASA remotely due to the pandemic, the restrictions of COVID-19 have not slowed Vandi down. He recently helped to develop an app to track coronavirus cases by zip code without exploiting user data. Called the COVID-19 Information and Tracker (CIAT) App, the project, created by four UB students, was awarded one of six innovation prizes by the University System of Maryland.

“When I heard current contact tracing apps developed by huge tech companies sacrifice users’ privacy by tracking their locations, I knew there had to be a better way,” says Vandi. “I joined the team because I wanted to show that contact tracing and protecting privacy can be done simultaneously.” 

Vandi looks forward to publishing a report from an academic trip back to Sierra Leone, where he researched challenges to implementing e-learning there. Ideally, he says, his future path will lead him back to his home country. 

“Maybe I will be able to return to Sierra Leone, if everything works out,” he says. Wherever Vandi lands, though, he’ll be addressing bigger problems than the broken lamps of his childhood, and finding ways to make the world work better.

Tim Paggi, M.F.A. ’15, is a Baltimore-based writer.

A Case for Gratitude:George Hermina, J.D. ’90

BIO

  • J.D., University of Baltimore
  • Partner, Hermina Law Group
  • Serves on UB’s President’s Council and the School of Law’s Dean’s Development Circle
  • Volunteer mediator and adjunct
    college professor
George Hermina
George Hermina at his Fulton, Maryland home.

As an undergraduate in the early 1980s, George Hermina, J.D. ’90, studied the nascent field of computer science. Finding programming too solitary he obtained an MBA. Eventually his brother John, already an attorney, convinced
him to become a lawyer.

“I’ve always liked to learn,” Hermina says. “If I’d had someone to cover my expenses I would have been in school my entire life.”

What Hermina’s resume does not tell is the story of how inextricably bonded the Hermina brothers are by more than their law firm. They grew up in Egypt, where their father was an attorney, and moved to the United States together when they were young men. “John and I have depended on each other for a long time,” Hermina recalls. “That closeness has made us work well together.”

After working at a series of jobs to fund his MBA studies, Hermina became a financial analyst at the Maryland Public Service Commission. His brother went directly into law, eventually opening his own firm. Hermina jokes that his brother was “a great attorney but a lousy business manager,” so George agreed to join the firm and handle most of its administration. It was John who pushed Hermina to apply to the University of Baltimore School of Law.

“My experience at UB was fantastic,” Hermina states. “The professors were so caring, so kind, so knowledgeable. My own brother  John supports UB over his own alma mater. Even after graduation, when we ran into questions, we’d call a UB professor.”

The Hermina Law Group’s work naturally bent in an international direction given the brothers’ ability to speak Arabic and understand cultural context. Their breakthrough case was helping Egyptian authorities get compensation for port cranes damaged by an American vessel.

Today the practice is split between consumer protection class action litigation and work for foreign missions and embassies. The foreign mission work deals with issues related to immunity as well as helping embassies manage myriad administrative woes, like employee disputes. Hermina also assists students from overseas who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. It’s work that’s changed recently.

“I think that if you have a good heart, things will work out. It’s amazing how things worked out for me against tremendous odds.”

“Our work has been limited both by the pandemic and by the current administration,” Hermina explains. “There are fewer students coming to the United States. With COVID-19, there’s not a lot of trade going on and embassies are closed.” He adds that many civil cases have been sidelined while pandemic-embattled courts focus on other priorities.

Hermina has plenty to keep him busy. He’s a volunteer mediator, an adjunct professor at Thomas Jefferson and Stevenson universities, and serves on both Kurt Schmoke’s President’s Council and the law school’s Dean’s Development Circle. “I truly love UB and it has given me so much. I feel I should give at least some of my time and money to the school,” he says.

Despite the volatility in the United States today, Hermina says that, “Even with the problems we have, this is the kindest place on earth as far as I’m concerned.” His own story is sprinkled with tales of people helping him out when he needed it most.

“I think that if you have a good heart, things will work out,” he states. “It’s amazing how things worked out for me against tremendous odds.”

Christianna McCausland is a writer based in Baltimore.

Celebrating Every Chapter:Buthaina Shukri, M.S. ’00

Buthaina Shukri

BIO

  • M.S., University of Baltimore
  • Career counselor and alumni relations
    and development professional
  • Assistant to the President, Community
    Action Council of Howard County
  • Former director of UB’s Career Center and manager of publications for the School of Law

In January Buthaina Shukri, M.S. ’00 retired from a 20-plus year career in higher education. “I had planned a family trip to the Galapagos Islands,” she says. “But, pandemic.”

Cancelling the trip was disappointing but Shukri is looking forward to her “third act” as assistant to the president at the Community Action Council of Howard County.

“It’s the best of all possible worlds, meaningful part time work at a nonprofit in my community,”  she says.

Shukri has successfully navigated a variety of transitions, from coming to the United States at age 5 to living internationally. Her Iraqi father and British mother met when her father attended university in London. Shukri was born in Germany while her father was in medical school, and the family moved to Austria where he continued his studies. “My socially activist father was nearing graduation and did not want to return to the increasingly oppressive atmosphere in Iraq,” she says. “My parents had become good friends with a couple from Newton, Massachusetts, who offered to sponsor our family to emigrate. We became U.S. citizens in 1972.”

Shukri attended college in New York and lived in California before moving to Berlin, then part of West Germany, where her first husband was stationed with the U.S. Army. “We saw the Wall come down,” she recalls. The couple moved to Seoul, South Korea where Shukri began her career as a job assistance counselor. “I worked with U.S. military personnel when the armed services were being downsized,” she explains. “From the beginning I enjoyed the relationship building.”

Upon returning to the States, Shukri took a position as UB’s assistant director of Career Development and Cooperative Education. The area evolved into The Career Center, and she eventually became its director and also completed her UB master’s degree.

“I was always in awe of the drive and resilience of UB students,” Shukri recalls. “I remember a mentee who would bring her 3-year-old to our meetings after she’d worked all day and before her finance class. One employer said to me, ‘I know your students aren’t going to grow up on my time and money—they know who they are and are going to be successful.’”

“I met so many donors who came from unusual or humble beginnings, who were determined to prevail no matter what. Often they would credit an institution or professor who started them on a path. It’s great when you can share those stories.”

After what she calls “nine wonderful, fulfilling, stimulating, and growth-filled years,” Shukri opened a private practice in career counseling, which allowed her to be more available to her daughter Jessica, then in high school.
She returned to UB as publications manager for the School of Law and several years later moved on to work in alumni relations and development at The George Washington University.

“I met so many donors who came from unusual or humble beginnings, who were determined to prevail no matter what,” she says. “Often they would credit an institution or professor who started them on a path. It’s great when you can share those stories.”

Recently Shukri and her husband Jeffrey Boutwell trained as contact tracers, helping health departments find and inform people who have been exposed to someone with a positive COVID-19 status. Shukri also looks forward to making a difference in her newest role at the Community Action Council, which provides food and housing assistance, including help with energy and weatherization needs, as well as early childhood education resources, to lower-income residents of Howard County.

Shukri became a grandmother in September 2019. “I come from a tiny nuclear family and now I want to gather memories for my grandson Jack,” she explains. Besides recording family history, a longtime interest, she’s writing letters and postcards to Jack: “It’s a way to capture the experience of his family living in this extraordinary time.”

Paula Novash is managing editor of the magazine.

FIRST AND GOALS: VERLANDO BROWN, M.S. ’15

Verlando Brown
Verlando Brown on UB’s campus.

BIO

  • M.S., University of Baltimore
  • Operations Assistant at Baltimore Mayor’s
    Office of Children and Family Success
  • Founder of First-Gen Baltimore
  • Thought Partner, Michelle Obama’s
    Reach Higher Initiative

Sometimes all it takes is one person to encourage you to go for your goals. Verlando Brown, M.S. ’15, had several people supporting him during key moments in his life, including a high school guidance counselor, a UB admissions director and former First Lady Michelle Obama. And now, he’s become that encouraging person for other first-generation college students.

Growing up in West Baltimore in a single-parent household, Brown credits his mom for keeping him in school. “My mother was a big proponent for education,” he says. “I was not out in the street, selling drugs or going to jail.”

Brown attended Frederick Douglass High School. “It was rough,” he says, but it was also where his guidance counselor sparked his interest in higher education. “She said, ‘I believe in you, you are smart enough. I know for sure you can make it through college,’” he recalls. “Those were some really powerful words.”

Brown was accepted to Towson University in 2006. It was his first time living on his own, and like many students in his situation, he struggled at first. Statistics show that one-third of first-generation college students drop out within three years. Common issues include “impostor syndrome,” or feeling like you don’t belong, and balancing work and school, since many of these students must work one or more jobs outside of class.

“The university really wants you to learn, and really wants you to make a difference in people’s lives, in the city, the state and this country.”

Brown advises first-generation college students to join at least one organization or club to get involved, even if they’re shy. “Trust me, I know how it feels. But just try to introduce yourself. People will help you and be there for you,” he says.

In fact, he adds, he came close to dropping out his first year at Towson. “What stopped me was the support system that I was able to find and create. Those people said, ‘We’re not going to let you give up on yourself.’” Brown would like to see better mental health support for first-generation college students, to help them avoid struggling as much as he did.

Seeking better job opportunities after attending Towson, Brown found himself on UB’s website. “When I read about the Human Services Administration program,
I loved it. And UB as an institution, something grabbed me about how the school would help you apply what you learned in the classroom to the real world,” he says. A meeting with the graduate admissions director, who encouraged him and even waived the application fee, sealed the deal. “At UB, I felt like I mattered,” says Brown.

In an effort to support his peers, Brown created an event called First-Gen Baltimore. At First-Gen, Brown made another fateful connection: he enticed Eric Waldo, executive director of Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative, to be the evening’s keynote speaker. “Eric said he was really impressed and he invited me to the White House to meet the First Lady,” says Brown. Waldo also connected him with Forbes, and Brown has since written several articles for their website.

In Washington, D.C., Brown shared his story with students from around the country. When he was introduced to Mrs. Obama, “she gave me a big hug,” says Brown. “It was absolutely amazing.” And when he graduated from UB with his master’s degree, he received a personalized letter of congratulations from then-President Barack Obama.

Brown has worked at several nonprofits including Thread, Inc., an organization that links Baltimore youth with volunteers to build supportive relationships. Now he is an operations assistant at the Baltimore City Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success. In this pandemic year, he fields more requests for assistance than ever. “We’re doing the best we can to help people,” says Brown.

Of UB, he says, “The university really wants you to learn, and really wants you to make a difference in people’s lives, in the city, the state and this country.” And Brown, by all measures, is doing just that.

Abigail Green, M.A. ’01, is a writer based in Baltimore.