Over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing you to this year’s Alumni Award winners. The UMBC Alumni Association proudly honors distinguished alumni and faculty for their accomplishments and dedication to UMBC. Today we’re talking with Donna Lewis ‘86, English, about her career working as the Unit Chief for the Transportation Security Administration and her work as a cartoonist for the Washington Post News Service and Syndicate.
Name: Donna Lewis ’86, English
Job Title: Cartoonist, Washington Post News Service and Syndicate // Unit Chief, Office of Professional Responsibility, Transportation Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security
Award Category: Humanities
Q: Please tell us a little about why you chose to attend UMBC and what, if any, involvement you have with the university currently.
I chose to attend UMBC after leaving a larger university. I wanted to be a shining star, a high achiever, and, most importantly, I wanted to develop meaningful relationships with my professors, peers, and mentors. At the larger university, I just couldn’t find that level of intimacy. At UMBC, I immediately felt like a champion. I knew my peers on a first-name basis and I developed dynamic relationships with my professors, all of whom knew my name and probably much more about me. For me, UMBC felt like home and the people I met through the English Department and my classes felt like family. I sponsored my first UMBC intern in 2014 and she is now working with me again since graduating last spring! I hope to sponsor two more interns in 2015. My first intern obviously worked out great – for both of us.
Q: Is there a particular class or professor at UMBC who really inspired you?
Linda Benson inspired me to reach much farther than I was used to in my processes of thinking, writing, and analysis. I was always an outgoing and competitive student but I was at risk of being lazy in my thinking, focusing on the A grade and not the greater challenges of expanding my perspective or testing my own beliefs. Linda Benson challenged me to do more than earn an A on a paper. She forced me to keep peeling the onion and to question my thinking. After that, I knew that earning the A wasn’t the end goal.
Q: Please tell us a little about the trajectory of your career and what you are working on now.
I began my legal career in litigation, focusing primarily on issues related to disability. After 10 years of litigation, I transitioned to the management side of business in the hopes of helping supervisors deal more successfully with employees’ differences and diversity. In 2006, I accepted a position with the Transportation Security Administration. I am currently a Unit Chief in the Office of Professional Responsibility where I adjudicate matters involving misconduct. My focus these days is to be an excellent leader in the organization and in the training of future leaders.
Q: What has been the greatest success in your career? The greatest challenge?
The greatest success in my career has been becoming a syndicated cartoonist. I am a writer, first and foremost, and I have always worked hard to develop my writing skills. I have written articles and essays for every organization I’ve ever worked with and I’ve always had a personal writing project in progress. Around the time that I transitioned from the private sector to the Federal Government, I also decided to mix it up a bit with my writing and try some different forms. After a very enjoyable stint in stand-up comedy, I realized that I loved writing punchlines. One day I added a favorite punchline to a drawing and a cartoon was born. Today I have a daily cartoon and a daily comic strip, both of which are syndicated internationally through the Washington Post Writers Group. Getting syndicated is difficult proposition. There are few opportunities for syndication. I am confident that my getting syndicated is proof that hard work and dedication to taking creative risks pays off. I never dreamed or even thought of being a cartoonist and now I cannot imagine not being one. The greatest challenge? Life. Life is challenging and inconvenient. I assume most people don’t need for that to be explained.
Q: What are your proudest personal achievements?
I am proud of my ability to keep working hard no matter what the challenges are. Life is filled with ups and downs and many forces that are not conducive to following one’s dream. But hard work keeps you focused during the hard times and, hopefully, challenged during the easier times. I am proud that I listened to my mentors and just kept moving forward. The harder you work, the better prepared you are to seize good opportunities when they come along.