UMBC welcomes a remarkable class in an exceptional year

By: Kait McCaffrey
Aug 27, 2020

UMBC spirit pack with pins, stickers, and other giveaways
UMBC welcome pack for new students, fall 2020.

The start of UMBC’s academic year may look a little different from years past, but Retriever pride remains steady as ever. New students won’t get to experience walking through a tunnel of cheering faculty and staff on way to Convocation this fall, but the Retriever community has been working hard to show the incoming class just how important they are through special online events, personal messages, and even a new welcome box full of UMBC gear. 

Spirit pack with UMBC pennant and paw print pin
UMBC spirit pack for new students. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.

A masterclass in grit 

The newest pack of Retrievers includes over 1,600 first-year students and nearly 1,000 transfer students. They’ve set impressive academic standards for themselves, with an average SAT score of 1266 for the class of 2024. Just as important are the strengths they bring to UMBC that are less easily quantified. 

These new Retrievers come to UMBC after a challenging spring, working through a quick transition to a virtual environment and missing important milestones, like in-person high school graduation. In managing these challenges and confronting uncertainties about the future, they have forged a class with a shared sense of unity before ever setting foot on campus. 

“I am extremely excited about this year’s entering class of students, especially in light of the challenges many faced related to COVID-19 as they finalized their college choice,” says Dale Bittinger ’16, M.P.P., assistant vice provost of undergraduate admissions, orientation, and school partnerships.

“Even in a remote environment, our new students were able to appreciate our sense of community, its values, and the opportunities here,” says Bittinger. “These factors played a key role in their decision to attend UMBC. I look forward to all they have to contribute to our campus community.”

Welcoming international students

In a meaningful trend for UMBC, this year’s class saw an increase in international students.

“I am very excited to welcome UMBC’s new international students to our academic community,” says David Di Maria, associate vice provost for international education. “UMBC continues to attract the best and brightest minds from around the world, even in a mostly online environment.” 

Man in suit and tie stands in front of  several international flags
David Di Maria in the UMBC Commons. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.

Tchuissi Mbu Nyamsi is enrolled in UMBC’s M.P.S. program in data science at the Universities at Shady Grove. She shared her international path to UMBC at the university’s annual Fall Opening Meeting on August 20, emphasizing key UMBC values: honoring diversity and the importance of empowerment and grit.

Woman smiling at camera
Tchuissi Mbu Nyamsi speaking at the Fall Opening Meeting.

“I want to empower and inspire the younger generation by demonstrating that everything is possible if you are laser-focused and strategically work hard,” Nyamsi said. “As a cosmopolitan woman who has lived in Brazil, Spain, and now the U.S., I also want to highlight the importance of being open-minded to different cultures, and the importance of learning new languages.” 

Appreciating connections

Typically, UMBC’s Fall Opening Meeting attracts around 300 participants. This year, nearly 900 faculty, staff, and students registered for the community event, held a week before the start of classes. More than a thousand excited messages poured in from the community, in celebration of the start of fall, through social media and the event’s live chat. 

UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski addressed the community from a popular piece of public art on campus, called The Forum, located near UMBC’s Performing Arts and Humanities Building. He said, “It is significant that we decided to make these statements here at The Forum…because The Forum is built to build community, to give us an opportunity to talk about the big ideas, and to appreciate our connecting through the arts, to each other.” 

After hearing from President Hrabowski and other campus leaders, the UMBC community jumped in to let new Retrievers know that they’ll be supported through every step of their UMBC journey, and offered advice to welcome them. 

Words of welcome

UMBC celebrated Convocation on August 26, including joyful remarks from faculty, staff, and students, and a special Retriever pinning ceremony. Student Government Association (SGA) leaders Mehrshad Devin ‘22, biology and physics, SGA president, and Calista Ogburn ‘21, public health, SGA communications director, shared memories of their first year on campus, and offered heartfelt words of advice to new students.

A man and a woman with face masks on next to a dog mascot.
Mehrshad Devin ‘22, biology and physics, and Calista Ogburn ‘21, public health, getting on-campus COVID testing with an assist from True Grit. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.

In her first year on campus, Ogburn said, “I learned about the importance of having friends that help with my growth.” She continued, “most of my friends today are from the student organizations I discovered during my freshman year.”

Parents and daughter in UMBC clothing
Leondra Turman ‘95, information systems, and her husband Stephen Turman ‘96, psychology, moved their first-year daughter Mia into Leondra’s old dorm. Photo courtesy of Turman family.

Change the world

Lee Blaney, associate professor of chemical, biochemical, and environmental engineering and UMBC’s 2020–2023 Presidential Teaching Professor, didn’t want new students to miss out on the opportunity to be grilled by a professor. He addressed students during virtual Convocation asking, “Who knows what they want to do with their life? Who’s nervous about being online this semester?” 

Lee Blaney in his UMBC lab. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.

These may seem like daunting questions, but the overwhelming response was that, no matter how you answered, you’re not alone. Blaney shared that he wasn’t sure of his own life path until half-way through his undergraduate experience, and it was connecting with the right professor that made the difference.

A profess and student do an experiment in a lab, wearing protective gear
Lee Blaney, and Daniel Ocasio ’17, chemical engineering, working in the lab.

“I can tell you that your professors have been working hard to adapt to this new situation,” said Blaney. “My best advice to you is to show up—be present in class and with your new peers. Ask questions. Let your professors know what’s working and what’s not working. This is a new world for us, and we’re going to need to work together to move you forward with your education and your career goals, so you can go out and change the world.”

Banner image: UMBC spirit box. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.

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