It is with much sadness that we inform the campus that Alex Rittle, President of the Graduate Student Association (GSA) and a Ph.D. candidate in Geography and Environmental Systems (GES), passed away unexpectedly. We do not yet have details on services to celebrate Alex’s life but will share them with the community as they become available.
Alex will be remembered for his kindness and his commitment to helping his fellow graduate students succeed at UMBC. His involvement with GSA began as representative of the GES Graduate Student Organization from 2016 to 2018. He was later elected to serve as Chair of the Graduate Experiences, Achievement, and Research Symposium (GEARS) Committee 2018–2019. He was currently serving his second term as President of the GSA, and was active in UMBC shared governance, serving on the University Steering Committee 2019–2020. He also represented UMBC on the University System of Maryland Student Council and served on the joint Graduate Council linking UMBC and the University of Maryland, Baltimore. As a student representative from UMBC, he was both confident and eloquent as he worked to ensure the graduate student perspective was heard and understood.
Janet Rutledge, Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School, remembers that “Alex was a tireless and enthusiastic advocate for graduate students. It is telling that one of his last projects was spearheading an initiative to produce a graduate student survey, to learn how graduate students were doing during the pandemic, and discover ways in which GSA and the University could help.”
We will remember his authenticity, his passion for education, and his ability to make us think and laugh. All of these qualities shone through in his message of hope and congratulations for our Graduate School Class of 2020. In his pre-recorded Commencement remarks, Alex said of UMBC, “the compassion here is contagious…a UMBC grad knows that accomplishments are not about the attention or the notoriety that may or may not be received. No, we do what we do because we want to make the world, our community, and our homes…better.”
We will also remember his dedication to his academic studies. Alex began his Ph.D. program at UMBC in fall 2015 and reached Ph.D. candidacy in fall 2019. In 2017, Alex was among only four students awarded a prestigious Coastal Resilience and Sustainability Fellowship from Maryland SeaGrant. Matthew Baker, professor of Geography and Environmental Systems and Alex’s doctoral advisor, recalls that “Alex really took to the combination of applied science and outreach he was exposed to at Maryland SeaGrant. It was his dream to become a fellow for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, where he would have an opportunity to contribute to federal science and technology policy.”
Alex’s GSA colleagues remember him as a compassionate and thoughtful leader who inspired all to speak up and voice their opinions and ideas, and who did so without ever passing judgement. Fariha Khalid, former GSA Senator, said, “Alex managed to open every meeting with a lighthearted joke or funny stories that made everyone feel welcome and brought even the most important of conversations back down to earth. His ability to lead such a diverse group of graduate students looked so natural, and he always managed to find the perfect balance between professionalism and friendliness.”
A strong advocate for the UMBC graduate community, Alex spent countless hours searching for ways to improve the lives of students on topics ranging from student mental health and food and financial security to international student issues, graduate assistant rights, and opportunities for research and creative achievement. Samantha Fries, GSA Vice President says, “His heart was so big, and the genuine, deep compassion he felt for his peers was always evident in his words and actions. His loss will be felt greatly by many, and we will strive to honor him by continuing the wonderful work he has done to better the lives of the UMBC graduate student community.”
Deanna Cerquetti, former GSA Vice President, noted, “It’s hard to put into words how devastating it is to lose Alex Rittle. As the leader of the GSA, he truly worked hard to give graduate students a voice at UMBC, all with a natural charisma and sense of humor that made everyone feel welcome. Though it’s incredibly difficult to imagine UMBC without him, I know the impact he had on our community will inspire us all to be kind to one another and to continue to work together to make things better.”
Meghan Lynch, Chair of GSA Legislative Concerns, remembered, “I felt so welcomed and encouraged by Alex. I could tell he embodied all of what I know to be true of UMBC: authentically showing up, especially when times are tough, and ensuring people come together for the better. Alex made everyone feel that they were truly part of the community.” GSA Historian Kylie Hoffman added, “Alex’s compassionate leadership and actions will not be forgotten. He never failed to put a smile on the faces of those he crossed paths with, and he spent countless hours searching for ways to improve the lives of students. He will be dearly missed.”
GSA Administrative Assistant Dawn Galindo shared, “Alex was truly blessed with a wonderful sense of humor and quick wit that will forever be missed yet always remembered with great fondness. Alex was pure joy.”
We know that many in our community are deeply affected by this news. Students in need of emotional support can contact the Counseling Center at (410) 455-2472 on weekdays, 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., or the after-hours support line at (410) 455-3230. Employees can access support through the Employee Assistance Program.
During this challenging time in this most challenging year, we leave you with the heartfelt advice that Alex provided to the Class of 2020: “Lead, challenge, ask difficult questions, be wrong so that you can be right later, push yourself, do not let the small defeats distract you from the larger victories, and lastly, love and care for one another like your life depends on it.”
President Freeman Hrabowski
Provost Philip Rous
Janet Rutledge, Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School
Mehrshad Devin, President, Student Government Association
Samantha Fries, Vice President, Graduate Student Association
Bobby Lubaszewski, President, Professional Staff Senate
Orianne Smith, President, Faculty Senate
Melody Wright, President, Non-Exempt Staff Senate