Making UMBC Shine

Published: Apr 8, 2019

Behind the scene shots for the new brand video.
Behind the scene shots for the new brand video. (Behind the scene shots for the new brand video.)

Alumni in the filmmaking industry are behind the scenes of UMBC’s new brand video.

Last week, UMBC rolled out a sparkling new brand based on more than a year’s worth of community input. With it launched a fresh new homepage and icon, as well as a video meant not only to pull at the heartstrings of #RetrieverNation, but to welcome new Dawgs into our special community.

Woven through the video are scenes and sentiments that many in our community will immediately recognize. But what you might not know is that there was as much Retriever effort put in behind the scenes as there was captured by the camera. Here’s a sneak peek at the Retriever alumni—directors, producers, gaffers, and makeup artists—who helped make this video a success.

Reconnecting and Directing

For UMBC’s video producer, Corey Jennings ’10, economics, this project was the culmination of months of collaboration with campus partners—partnerships that he created as a student on campus. In directing a video to announce the launch of the University’s new brand, Jennings instinctively knew the strengths of his alma mater to highlight.

In the UMBC community, he says, “we all knew in the back of our minds there’d be this flashpoint where we could say ‘look and see.’ The 2018 NCAA upset and our first Rhodes Scholar [Naomi Mburu ’18, chemical engineering] gave us an opportunity to tell our story in a larger way, and through this brand launch we’re given the chance to refocus the narrative of UMBC.”

Corey Jennings directing on set.

Jennings points to an unscripted moment of the production that made the cut when President Hrabowski is chatting with students on set. “It was just Freeman being Freeman,” says Jennings. “Your character is who you are,” Hrabowski said to the small group gathered. “Through his words, we found a story we didn’t even know we were telling. Something like this happens in almost every interaction with leadership here,” says Jennings. “They truly care about the community.”

While Jennings knew that the project’s executive producer, Liz Norton, was also a fellow alum, the rest of the Retrievers on set were a surprise to him, but only slightly. “The University is deeply ingrained in the local production industry,” says Jennings, whose wife Carly Faye Engelke ’08—a Linehan Scholar and a dance major—is active in the Baltimore performing arts scene. Even the project’s videographer Kyle Deitz can trace his Retriever roots through his mother, Mary M. Deitz, who earned her degree in economics from UMBC in 1982.

Through the investment of students and alumni and staff in the UMBC community, says Jennings, “this video allows us to reflect on who we already are and the truth that we’ve always been this way, but maybe the outside world just didn’t know.”

A Makeover for the Ages

Alexis Arenas ’01, history, didn’t anticipate being the makeup artist for a film production at her alma mater, but as a history major, she knows the importance of returning to the past. “It’s an honor to play a part in telling the story of the future. I enjoyed my time here so much, I want to bring UMBC to a wider audience.”

Tucked away in a corner of The Commons, Arenas stood by her makeup staging area, ready to touch up the faces of the UMBC talent on set. In the past, she’s brushed the faces of Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, and Lin-Manuel Miranda, but today’s star is someone slightly more familiar: President Freeman Hrabowski. Between shots, Arenas commented on the many campus changes in the past two decades—in her time, she said, students’ central hangout space was the University Center.

As a member of the Makeup Artist Union in New York and having trained in London, Arenas sees a clear tie from her roots at UMBC to her career based in Ellicott City today. “UMBC taught me research skills, and research is necessary to what I do,” said Arenas, who often works on period piece films and vintage projects. “History is integral to being a top notch makeup artist.”

When Alexis Arenas arrived as the set's makeup artist, she proudly claimed her alumna status.
When Alexis Arenas ’01 arrived as the set’s makeup artist, she proudly claimed her alumna status.

Putting UMBC in the Best Light

Daniel Stack ’10, fine arts, the gaffer—or the chief lighting technician—of the film crew, boasts quite the UMBC family tree. His parents both graduated in the first decade of graduating student classes, and his mother is a member of the Founding Four (Anne Brant Stack ’72, English, and W. Stewart Stack ’78, interdisciplinary studies). His wife, Elise Stack ’03, English, is also a UMBC alumna, as is his brother, and several cousins.

One thing people should know about UMBC, said Stack, is this: “If one person in your family comes to UMBC, everyone else will come to UMBC, at least that’s what I’ve learned.”

Stack was a Linehan Scholar who immediately started working in the family business. His father started Serious Grip and Electric in 1983 (we recommend their website for the most thrilling About Us page on the internet). As the gaffer on set for this project, he’s literally in charge of letting the best parts of UMBC shine—from lab beakers to sports bleachers.

In charge of lighting on set, Dan Stack ’10 is part of a complex family tree of Retrievers.

Nerd Pride Production

Liz Norton ’06, visual arts, is the executive producer on set. Another former Linehan Scholar (who showed up to the first day of the shoot in her UMBC vs. University of Virginia bracket t-shirt) was clearly happy to be back on campus, repping her Retriever pride. Norton works at Three Seas, a collective of boutique creative companies. She reached out to UMBC creative services after UMBC’s NCAA 2018 upset. With reignited pride in her alma mater, she suggested collaborating on future projects.

Thinking back on what’s stayed the same since her time on campus, Norton immediately replies: “Nerd pride. We’re here and we’re ourselves. We’re proud to be excited about whatever cool is going on at the University.”

Liz Norton stands in for the basketball players as the crew gets the lighting ready for the shot.
Liz Norton ’06 stands in for the basketball players as the crew gets the lighting ready for the shot.

After coordinating the project behind the scenes weeks in advance—including organizing the crew and equipment and managing the timeline and budget—Liz now watches her production advance smoothly throughout the day, Norton notes, “there’s so much diversity here that the video captures so well. There’s diversity among the students, but the students also pursue diverse interests.”

On the last day of the shoot, again wearing black and gold, Norton reflects on the project, “The creators’ vision for this video resonates with me in terms of community and character. UMBC has stayed really consistent with these things over time.”

In charge of lighting on set, Dan Stack is part of a complex family tree of Retrievers.

Behind the scene shots for the new brand video.


All photos courtesy of Marlayna Demond ’11, Raquel Hamner ’20, and Ana Isabel Martinez Chamorro for UMBC.


Cast: Giavanni Powell, Kennedy Lamb, Linda Wiratan, Joe Sherburne, Ryan Odom, Lloyd Ekpe, Laura Schraven,  Mia Rickenbach, Darian Garcia


Director of Content Development: Jenny O’Grady
UMBC Video Producer/Director: Corey Jennings
Executive Producer: Liz Norton
Producer: Dave Willis
Director of Photography: Kyle Deitz
Assistant Camera: Nate Spivey
Gaffer: Dan Stack
Audio: Lorenzo Millan
Hair/Makeup: Alexis Arenas
PA: Alex Papalitskas
PA: Andrew Hwang

Special Thanks: UMBC Athletics, Center for Art Design and Visual Culture, Campus Life Operations, Commonvision, UMBC Dance Department, Michael Summers, Summers Lab Staff, UMBC Transportation, Residential Life

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