To You – Fall 2009

By: Randianne Leyshon
Sep 20, 2009

Richard ByrneI am delighted that one of the features in this issue is written by John Strausbaugh ’74, interdisciplinary studies. Strausbaugh has had a successful career in journalism and cultural criticism, and is the author of a string of books that explore fascinating byways of American culture.

But I’m particularly happy to have Strausbaugh in the magazine because I would not have launched my own career without his help. It’s a story that demonstrates the power that alumni have to mentor and shape the careers of those who follow after them.

You might already have recognized the goofy face on the UMBC identification card below. (Though the Social Security number that also served as campus identification back then has been obscured.) I arrived at UMBC in August 1984, having transferred from the University of Pittsburgh, and was interested in becoming a writer.

Thanks to a continuing web of alumni relations between writers and faculty in the English Department in that era, local writers like Strausbaugh (who was writing fiction and involved in local theatre at that time) were often invited back to give readings on campus.

But Strausbaugh’s increasing claim to fame at that moment was his book and music reviewing for Baltimore City Paper – reviews in which he championed his favorites and savaged whatever he thought was inferior.

After a reading that Strausbaugh gave at the English department one semester, we got to chatting about culture. He looked past the big goofy glasses and saw that I might have some future in the journalism game. Not only did Strausbaugh start letting me hang out with him occasionally, but he also eventually brokered a chance for me to break into print at City Paper. My first review – 10,000 Maniacs’ The Wishing Chair – ran in that newspaper in November 1985, while I was still a student at UMBC.

The chance to put clips from City Paper in my portfolio was a great launching pad for my career. I gained a foothold in journalism that eventually took me great places: On tour with Uncle Tupelo. Reporting on media in Bosnia and pop culture and politics in Serbia. Covering national political conventions.

But it happened largely because an alumnus helped out a student. And while it’s a story that no doubt has been repeated thousands of times at UMBC across many disciplines and schools, it’s also a reminder that we, as alumni, can help shape futures by becoming actively involved in the lives of those who attend UMBC after us.

Want an easy way to get started? Sign up to be a Professional Network mentor. The joint effort between UMBC’s Career Services Center and Alumni Relations allows students to connect with professionals in their desired fields. Go to to see what it’s all about and sign up.

— Richard Byrne ’86

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