Rising Together

Published: May 6, 2021
(President Hrabowski talks at the alumni awards)

Since 2009, as part of its Alumni Awards celebration, the UMBC Alumni Association names one “Rising Star” recipient each year who exemplifies early career and professional achievement. Prior to our October 2021 award ceremony, we’re spending some time with awardees from the past decade to see where they are now—and how they’ve grown in their fields while maintaining ties to UMBC. 

Software that Empowers the Community

In this installment, UMBC Rising Stars and Fearless coworkers Delali Dzirasa ’04, computer engineering, and Kelsey Krach ’14, anthropology, discuss their Retriever networks and the responsibility of working in the civic tech space. The vision for the software company was to provide digital services, but specifically tools that empower communities and create good change. “Software with a soul,” Dzirasa, CEO, says.

And their methods caught the attention of the Retriever community. In 2011, Dzirasa won the Rising Star award from the UMBC Alumni Association, and in 2019 Fearless project manager and designer Krach, won the same award for her contributions to human centered design. Here’s a little secret they both share—as members of Retriever-filled families, neither Dzirasa nor Krach initially saw themselves going to UMBC, but the campus won them over as high schoolers and the pair can’t help but hype their alma mater.

Access for All

This story follows UMBC Rising Stars Galina Madjaroff Reitz ’08, psychology, M.A. ’11, aging studies, Ph.D. ’18, human centered computing, and Sondheim Scholar Aaron Merki ’05, political science, as they discuss their mutual goal to uplift the dignity of elderly, cognitively impaired, and low-income individuals. Reitz is using tech to assist older folks and Merki is creating accessible communities through a different path—law and philanthropy.

Growing up in an intergenerational household helped focus her research with assistive devices, says Reitz, who received UMBC’s Rising Star award in 2016. Merki, who received the Rising Star in 2010, tries to carry the values of the Sondheim Program’s namesake and his mentor—the late civic leader Walter Sondheim—into his own work in creating accessible communities.

Creating Technology that Protects Us

As we embrace life in a technologically immersive world—scrolling out of habit or relying on a life-saving medical device—there’s a common question many of us have about the tech we’ve come to depend on: How can we best harness it to protect us? From malware and scams, but also from disease and unnecessary pain?

Here, UMBC Rising Stars Isaac Kinde’05, M13, biological sciences, and Christopher Valentino ’02, M.S. ’06, information systems, discuss their roles in the healthcare and defense industries, respectively. Both alumni discovered their passion for their work while at UMBC and have dedicated their careers to early prevention against disease and cyber warfare.

Building an Inclusive Workforce

“If a woman sets the table, everyone wants to pull up a seat,” says Alicia Wilson. “It’s important for women to set the table—to be in positions of leadership—so they can build a strong team.”

Indeed, the following Rising Star Alumni Award recipients have not just set the table, they’ve helped build it.

In this virtual conversation, UMBC Rising Stars Alicia Wilson ’04, political science, Nicole DeBlase ’06, financial economics, and Lauren Mazzoli Zavala ’15, computer science and mathematics, M.S. ’17, computer science, discuss their leadership roles in economic development, finance, and engineering and their concerted efforts to make these career paths more available to women and other underrepresented communities.


Header image of the 2019 Alumni Award ceremony in the Linehan Concert Hall by Marlayna Demond ’11.

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