UMBC faculty and staff award recipients place community at the core of their success

By: Sarah Hansen M.S. '15
Apr 7, 2022

At UMBC’s 2022 Presidential Faculty and Staff Awards (PFASA), Tamra Mendelson, professor of biological sciences and recipient of the 2022 – 2025 Presidential Teaching Professor Award, said she loves “getting to the core of a concept” in her research and teaching. In her large introductory biology courses, which Mendelson has been teaching with humor, creativity, and enthusiasm since her arrival on campus in 2006, the concept might be an idea like natural selection. But as awardee after awardee addressed the audience, both in person and online, it became clear that all shared the same “core concept” of UMBC: community.

“Teaching and research make me want to come to work every day, but it’s the community here, and Dr. Hrabowski in particular, who’ve made me want to come to UMBC every day,” Mendelson said.

Yonathan Zohar, professor and chair of marine biotechnology and the 2022 – 2025 Presidential Research Professor, added, “This recognition is not about me, it’s about us,” adapting the opening quote from President Hrabowski’s book, The Empowered University. Zohar’s work, nurtured diligently over more than three decades, has in the last few years brought in more than $10 million dollars of research funding, earned international awards, and is poised to reimagine the seafood industry as we know it.

And yet, Zohar says, “None of my research accomplishments would have been possible without the ‘about us’ spirit at UMBC—the spirit that together we can make everything and anything happen.”

Bill LaCourse and Yonathan Zohar shake hands on stage
Yonathan Zohar, right, accepts his award from Bill LaCourse, dean of the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences.

Supporting each other

Helena Dahlen, executive administrative assistant in the Division of Information Technology and the 2022 – 2023 Presidential Distinguished Staff Award for Non-exempt Staff recipient, recalled becoming an active member of the community when she started at UMBC in 2015. She joined book clubs, participated in wellness events, attended lectures, and more.

“It felt like I had moved into a small community,” she says. “Almost like a village, surrounded by brilliant people of all ages.” The supportive environment has allowed Dahlen to do her best work at UMBC and to give back. She generously contributes her energy to programs like Retriever Essentials and the Maryland Charity Campaign, and she serves as president of the Non-exempt Staff Senate.

Finally, Michael Pound, director of environmental safety and health and the 2022 – 2023 Presidential Distinguished Staff Award recipient, got to the heart of the matter. Recalling the challenges of managing the university’s response to the pandemic with a team of dedicated colleagues, he says, “I just couldn’t be prouder to work with these great folks.”

Marc Olano and Danyelle Ireland shaking hands on stage, both smiling
Danyelle Ireland, right, accepts her award from Marc Olano, associate dean of academic programs and learning in the College of Engineering and IT.

Beyond imagination

The UMBC community, all of the awardees emphasized, has grown through years of thoughtful care and collaboration. It’s taken decades to cultivate the UMBC ethos of community support and shared leadership.

“It’s hard to express how far we’ve come,” reflected President Hrabowski, as he offered remarks at his final PFASA as UMBC president. “Growing up, I could never have imagined the concept of UMBC—people from all over the world coming to study, to seek the truth, to get to know people different from themselves.” 

UMBC’s newest awardees highlighted how that vision has become a reality, and Pres. Hrabowski honored all that they have contributed. “Leadership isn’t about one person at the top; it’s about what we all do,” Hrabowski said. “When we say we care about UMBC, what we’re saying is we care about each other.”

President Hrabowski at a lectern, people on stage and in the audience applauding
The audience applauds President Hrabowski as he makes remarks at his final Presidential Faculty and Staff Awards.

Honoring excellence

UMBC’s other named awards honor members of the UMBC community who embody the university’s ethos, such as Diane Lee, retired vice provost and dean of undergraduate education; Marilyn E. Demorest, professor emerita of psychology and former vice provost for faculty affairs; and Teresa Lupinek, the late former executive administrative assistant to the president. This year’s recipients include:

Mark Berczynski, M.S. ’17, lecturer, engineering and computing education program
Diane M. Lee Teaching Award

Danyelle Tauryce Ireland, associate director, Center for Women in Technology
Jakubik Family Endowment Staff Award

Nichole Zang Do, M.A. ’15, program management specialist, biological sciences
Karen L. Wensch Endowment Award for Outstanding Non-exempt Staff

C. Jill Randles, assistant vice provost and assistant dean, Academic Engagement and Transition Programs
Teresa Lupinek Endowment Award

Tamara Bhalla, associate professor, American studies
Marilyn E. Demorest Award for Faculty Advancement

Margaret Holland, associate professor, geography and environmental systems
Marilyn E. Demorest Award for Faculty Advancement

Narsingh B. Singh, research professor, chemistry and biochemistry, and affiliate faculty, computer science and electrical engineering
UMBC Research Faculty Excellence Award

Kimberly Moffitt and Margaret Holland on stage, both holding Holland's award
Margaret Holland, right, accepts her award from Kimberly Moffitt, dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

USM Board of Regents awardees

This year, UMBC also had two University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents Award recipients. These awards represent the highest honor bestowed on faculty and staff across the USM by the Board of Regents. Awardees are selected by the Council of University System Staff and approved by the Board. The awards recognize faculty and staff for excellence in teaching; research, scholarship, and creative activity; public service; mentoring; or innovation. 

UMBC has received an outsize share of these awards over the years, demonstrating the strength of our faculty and staff across all areas of achievement. This year, Marjoleine Kars, professor of history, received the 2022 USM Board of Regents Award for Excellence in Scholarship. Her latest book, Blood on the River: A Chronicle of Mutiny and Freedom on the Wild Coast, has received widespread acclaim for its discussion of a nearly successful rebellion of enslaved African and Indigenous people in the Dutch colony of Berbice in the 1860s.   

Lee Blaney, associate professor of chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering, received the 2022 USM Board of Regents Award for Excellence in Teaching. Blaney has received awards previously for exceptional mentoring and for engaging his students in high-impact research. His laboratory focuses on contaminants of emerging concern, such as compounds found in pharmaceuticals and personal care products, in waterways such as Chesapeake Bay.

Lee Blaney, Marjoleine Kars, and Victor Fulda in front of a gold UMBC backdrop
From left to right: Lee Blaney, Marjoleine Kars, and Victor Fulda.

Celebrating together

This year’s ceremony was the first in-person PFASA event since 2019. With that in mind, the ceremony also honored awardees from 2020 and 2021.

Victor Fulda, engineering technician, chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering
2021 University System of Maryland Board of Regents Award for Exceptional Contribution to the Institution or Unit to which the Person Belongs

Jamie Gurganus ‘04, M.S. ‘11, Ph.D. ‘20; faculty, mechanical engineering; associate director, engineering education initiatives; and director, Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning
2020 – 2021 Diane M. Lee Teaching Award

Jonathan Zwi, instructor and affiliate artist, music
2020 – 2021 Diane M. Lee Teaching Award

Header image: Recipients of awards who accepted them in person at this year’s PFASA. From left to right: Marjoleine Kars, Michael Pound, Jamie Gurganus, Maggie Holland, Nichole Zang Do, Jill Randles, Danyelle Ireland, Tamra Mendelson, Yonathan Zohar, Helena Dahlen, Freeman Hrabowski, Tamara Bhalla, Victor Fulda, Jonanthan Zwi, Narsingh Singh, Lee Blaney, Philip Rous.

All photos by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.

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