The Office of Alumni Relations is proud of the successes of Smith School alumni throughout the world!
From entrepreneurship to marketing, accounting to logistics, and operations to consulting, Smith School alumni pursue careers in every field imaginable. Take a moment to read these interesting stories about your fellow Smith Terps!
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Sherry Dunbar '86, MBA '17: The Business Side of Science
When she was in middle school, Sherry Dunbar '86, MBA '17 was fascinated with studying organisms under the microscope. By the tenth grade, she knew she wanted to study microbiology in college. Dunbar’s interest in science started at a very early age thanks to her mother who majored in zoology at the University of Maryland, which is where Dunbar also found herself studying. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in microbiology & immunology from UMD, she went on to get a PhD in medical microbiology & immunology.
Twelve years and one PhD later, Dunbar began working as a lab director before being recruited as a research and development (R&D) scientist at Luminex, a corporation that develops, manufactures, and markets biological testing technologies in the clinical diagnostic and life science industries. After many successful years, and with an interest in learning the business side of science, Dunbar had the opportunity to move to the marketing side of the company as a director of scientific affairs, and later the senior director of global scientific affairs.
“In scientific affairs, you support the commercial operations team through product launch,” Dunbar said. “You have to prove that your products are superior, and a lab won’t just take the word of a sales or marketing guy. You really need scientific clout to verify that what you’re claiming is true.”
Dunbar’s supervisors never requested a formal business background with this role, but Dunbar wanted to further her business knowledge for herself. After working as a scientist for nearly 20 years, she decided to go back to school for her MBA.
“I wanted both the formal scientific and business backgrounds. And I was going back to school for me,” Dunbar said proudly.
Dunbar reconnected with UMD and earned a spot at Maryland Smith with the part-time MBA program so that she could continue her work at Luminex. During her two years with Smith, Dunbar earned valuable skills in sales, marketing, leadership and team building. Some of the classes she enjoyed the most were outside of her field, such as finance, international business and global economics, though she ended up focusing on marketing for her electives.
“The advantage is that I can talk the talk now,” she said. “I collaborate with the marketing teams to come up with the appropriate study, and I can do that with their jargon and in their language. I ask, ‘What do you need me to prove, who is our target audience and what is the value?’”
Because Luminex is a relatively new company, it’s continuously growing and changing, especially as the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic. They had to pivot their strategic and product marketing completely, but that’s one thing she loves about her job.
As one of only a few students in her MBA class in the medical field, Dunbar emphasizes how her MBA has helped balance her scientific degrees. She now has a broader perspective and thinks more forwardly.
“It’s never a bad thing to have a business background,” she said. “The same principles apply to all fields, and I know my MBA will continue to serve me well in my career. But, also find that thing that feeds your soul, and for me, I’m a microbiologist at heart.”
When Zohra Ibrahimi ’11 was born, her family had just fled their home country of Afghanistan due to the growing concern over the revolution and foreign intervention in the late 1980s. Her family was seeking refuge across nearby borders and fled to Pakistan. After qualifying for asylum in the U.S. through a program developed for Afghan refugees, Ibrahimi’s family settled in Prince George’s County. One degree, two majors, four jobs, and 30 years later, Ibrahimi now works in IT Security at McCormick & Company.
Despite the difficulties Ibrahimi faced with becoming acclimated with the culture and language in the U.S., she always aimed high. Throughout high school, Ibrahimi’s goal was to get into the state school and attend the University of Maryland. After attending community college, Ibrahimi earned her acceptance into not only UMD but also the Smith School, where she double majored in information systems and accounting.
“Being first-generation, I had to educate myself about schools, majors, careers, financial aid, and scholarships,” Ibrahimi shared. “Most of all, I struggled with seeking professional mentoring. I had to work retail jobs during the weekend, over the summer and winter break, rather than obtain a professional internship. I couldn’t afford to work for free, and my parents did not have professional networks. This was very common amongst first-generation college students.”
Because of this, Ibrahimi sought out additional career development support as a student at Smith and discovered a need for additional resources. With the help from Hassan Ibrahim, clinical professor of information systems, and a fellow classmate, Ibrahimi started the Smith Resume Workshop – a career seminar held weekly for Smith students to receive tips on resume and cover letter writing, job interviewing and marketing themselves effectively during job searches. This weekly workshop grew and continued even after Ibrahimi had graduated for a total of four years.
Ibrahimi always valued these close relationships she formed with her professors and credits her courses, professors, TAs, and classmates for shaping her UMD experience and strengthening both her networking skills, as well as her network itself.
When Grant Thornton visited Smith as a featured employer one day, Ibrahimi felt confident to talk with the recruiter about her goals of a career in IT auditing. Following that conversation, the recruiter invited her to apply for an IT audit advisory role, which she got. After two and a half years with Grant Thornton, Ibrahimi worked for a brief time at EY in IT risk assurance before she was offered to return to Grant Thornton as a manager.
Three years later, a recruiter with McCormick & Company reached out to Ibrahimi about their IT governance and risk compliance manager position, to support their transformational journey to enable McCormick to modernize and improve enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems globally. This role in IT security would be responsible to reinvent and automate manual processes with the latest version of SAP technologies.
“This position stood out to me because I had audited SAP systems for eight years at this point with various clients in the commercial practice,” Ibrahimi said while noting that McCormick was actually one of EY’s clients. “That’s the thing about public accounting. You never know when you’re going to cross paths with someone again!” Ibrahimi will celebrate three years with McCormick & Company next month, and she is proud of what she’s accomplished both professionally and personally.
Outside of work, Ibrahimi has coordinated multiple charity basketball tournaments that raise awareness for the celebration of young women in sports and funds for partner schools in Afghanistan. There are limited athletic facilities in Afghanistan, and many families fear sending their daughters to practice in mixed-gender gyms.
“I wanted to help newly arrived refugees connect with one another and integrate with their local communities. The diaspora has a crucial role to play in creating optimal conditions for integration. I especially wanted to have an impact on women in sports,” Ibrahimi said. By bringing the Afghan diaspora together in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area, Ibrahimi’s Afghan Hoops for Hope charity has raised funds for girls back in her home country, where women are starting to have more opportunities to participate in sports and connect on the playing field. Ibrahimi noted, “despite the underrepresentation in sports, Afghan women have a long history of perseverance. We are breaking barriers across the globe in every field, every day.”
“Your brand is everything.” Barry Danz ’92 has volunteered as a (virtual) classroom speaker four times in the past year, and he embraces this opportunity to share his experiences, advice and career journey with Smith students.
Danz loved the idea of everything that UMD was — the campus, diversity, sports — and he was excited to be a student here. Growing up with a father who spent his whole career in business, he knew he wanted to be in business, too. Thus, Danz found himself happily at Maryland Smith. Not to mention, Maryland is “in the family,” as his wife, Shelly, graduated with a degree in public relations and his son, Ryan, is a sophomore in the Smith School today.
Danz is currently the chief client officer at Ondot Systems, a division of Fiserv, where he manages an organization focused on relationships with customers and partners, and in driving client satisfaction. He has always enjoyed making connections for people, and ever since Danz was a student at the University of Maryland, he has been doing just that.
In between going to every sporting event on campus, Danz worked as a waiter at an on-campus, university-owned restaurant usually frequented by professors and visiting parents where Danz learned to connect with customers. He was also the treasurer of his fraternity, which allowed him to see the business side of the organization, helped his classmates by serving as a teaching assistant for statistics, and was a tour guide with Maryland Images.
“This was probably the first role I played making real connections for people, and I probably didn’t even realize it at the time,” Danz recalls about sharing his experience while giving tours on campus.
After a fulfilling four years, Danz graduated with a business administration and management degree and a “well-rounded background” from Smith about how businesses run and how connections between employees, associates and clients take place.
Danz’s career started at AT&T where he weaved through various marketing, communications and project roles. He then moved to Fiserv where he took many challenging roles that helped him grow into the relationship-focused executive he is today at Ondot.
“If there’s an opportunity to grow and do things outside of your comfort zone, then it’s probably the right career move,” Danz advised the students of this winter’s BMGT364 Managing People and Organization class. “You have to learn what you like and don’t like, as well as what you’re good at and not good at, and hopefully over time, these four things become more aligned.”
While at Fiserv, Danz faced new experiences and challenges when becoming a more senior level executive, staying ahead when the expectations grew higher and tackling longstanding problems. Many of his roles pushed him out of his comfort zone, but Danz understood the importance of this if he wanted to move his career forward. Oftentimes, his successes in one role led to his placement in another.
“Your brand is everything,” Danz stressed as his biggest key takeaway. “Someone will always be talking about what you’re doing. If you’re doing a good job and making a difference, opportunities will present themselves.”
These are the pieces of advice Danz loves sharing with Smith students now. “Being able to share what I’ve learned in my career is great because there’s nothing better than learning from someone who’s already been in the role you want,” he said. “When the alumni team reached out to speak in the classroom, it was a no brainer for me to be able to take this opportunity.”
Danz looks forward to volunteering as a classroom speaker again in May and hopes that one of these times, he’ll be back on campus with the students themselves – And what a bonus if his son would be sitting in class too!
Matthew Bosley ’06 started his time at Maryland Smith as a finance major and ended up graduating with a degree in marketing. It was through both of these degree areas that Bosley was able to build the foundation to be the successful financial advisor that he is today.
Growing up in Baltimore County, Bosley always knew he wanted to attend the University of Maryland. Once on campus, he quickly became involved in various organizations, including joining a fraternity, completing programs with QUEST, and taking a job at The Diamondback. In addition to his education from Smith, Bosley credits a lot of his professional success to this job at The Diamondback.
“I got a job at The Diamondback selling advertisements, and this opened my eyes to a performance-based culture that rewards you for your work,” Bosley said.
Bosley was tasked with discovering local College Park businesses with which The Diamondback had no relationships and calling and knocking on their doors to ask for advertisement placements. He remembers taking the “No”s very personally at first, but quickly came to accept them on his journeys to the successes. He now sees what great training that was for life after college.
By his senior year, Bosley earned an internship at Merrill Lynch, which eventually led to a full-time offer. Fifteen years later, now a senior vice president, Bosley is still with Merrill Lynch.
Looking back at his time at Smith, Bosley fondly remembers his professors, marketing and finance courses and extracurricular opportunities that laid the foundation for his career. He advises current students to take full advantage of their time at the school.
“Take advantage of the career resources. Network with other students through clubs and events,” he highly suggests. “And don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone.”
Bosley recognizes the importance of networking, especially in his industry, and he is grateful for the strong Smith alumni group in the DMV area. Bosley began building his own network while at Smith, and he often kept himself occupied with events and opportunities outside of the classroom.
“I would stress that while all of the classwork at Smith is very important, it might be equally, or even more important, to take advantage of all the non-classwork programs offered,” Bosley concludes.
Throughout his career with Merrill Lynch, Bosley has earned several awards and been named to several lists, including the Forbes/SHOOK America's Top Next-Generation Wealth Advisors lists in 2017 and 2018 and the Forbes Best-in-State Next-Generation Wealth Advisors lists in 2019 and 2020.
Rear Admiral Deborah Haven ’79 says she did everything “backwards” when it came to joining the military, but that didn’t stop her from reaching one of the highest ranks in the U.S. Navy. Haven grew up in a very patriotic household with multiple family ties to the military as her father was a World War II C-47 pilot who dropped paratroopers in France on D-Day.
Haven attended Maryland Smith for her undergraduate degree knowing it was a strong business school, but her own tie to the service didn’t come until a few years later. While at Smith, she took a transportation and distribution management course, now known as logistics, and soon realized this is what she was passionate about. She began thinking about organizations that would allow her to work in logistics and that had a global presence. Around the same time, a marketing professor told Haven to “go where the action isn’t.” With the Vietnam War having recently ended, going into the military was not the norm, but for Haven, all signs pointed that way.
At first, Haven worked as a civilian in logistics in the Navy. Because of this experience, coupled with her education, she was invited, at the age of 30, to join the Navy through the Direct Commissioning program. This is not a typical path, but Haven still earned one of the highest rankings in the Navy. With roughly 340,000 sailors in the Navy, there are less than 300 admirals and less than ten percent are women. Haven attributes much of this success to the leaders and her sponsors in this program.
“I was a late bloomer. I never dreamed I would become an admiral,” Haven said. “But the program’s leaders provided sponsorships that allowed me to hone my talents and move to the next level.”
In addition to her sponsors, Haven says her success also came in part from her education at Smith. One class in particular stands out among the rest: executive writing.
“I learned how to take complex information and transfer it to a concise document that a busy executive would have time to understand and make decisions from,” Haven said. “That skill set me apart in many organizations I was affiliated with.”
Throughout Haven’s military career, she held various positions. As a reserve officer, Haven had the opportunity to participate in contingency operations around the globe. She set up a logistics hub for humanitarian assistance support to the citizens of Haiti after the catastrophic earthquake in 2010. She worked on logistics support for U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait and later on support for Syrian refugees in Jordan.
As commander for the Defense Contract Management Agency, she provided quality assurance oversight for all contracts outside of the U.S., which included 26 countries around the globe. As a rear admiral, Haven had the opportunity to travel the world and talk to CEOs in many countries where women weren’t seated at the table in the boardrooms.
“It speaks volumes of how wonderful our nation is that women have the opportunity to earn this rank,” Haven said.
Now that Haven has retired, she does independent consulting and executive career coaching to help others move their careers to the next levels. The advice she would give to current Smith students is this: “Embrace change. Empower your team. Be accountable. Always remember, the world is depending on your leadership.”
While Rob Grossman, MBA ’08 was a student at Smith earning his MBA, he landed himself an internship at Pratt & Whitney, an aerospace manufacturer with global service operations, as the Commercial Serviceable Assets intern. Twelve years and four positions within the company later, things have come full circle, and Grossman is now the managing director for Commercial Serviceable Assets where he leads the CSA business in the sale and purchase of aircraft, engines, modules and parts.
Grossman’s interest in aviation and aircrafts extends back to high school, when he completed a senior project on aviation after an assignment asked the students to “try something that you might consider as a future career.” Unsure of how serious he was about aviation, Grossman attended the University of Maryland for his freshman year of undergrad. After just one year, he turned back to aviation, transferred to, and graduated from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. After graduation, Grossman served as a flight instructor and corporate pilot for five years. Because of the spontaneous lifestyle of pilots, and because he ultimately didn’t feel challenged, he decided he wanted to get into the business side of aviation. This is when Grossman’s and the University of Maryland’s paths crossed again as he chose to attend Maryland Smith for his MBA.
While at Smith, Grossman deeply connected with his classmates, professors and various businesses. He attended numerous conferences to seek out network and job opportunities, and it was at one of those conferences in Atlanta, GA where he met employees from Pratt & Whitney and arranged an interview. This interview turned into a four-month internship, which then turned into a full-time job offer.
“Going from a cockpit to an office is a hugely different atmosphere. It’s a culture shock,” Grossman said about his career transition. “Smith’s MBA program did a good job preparing me for this shift.”
Grossman has held many roles in his 12 years at Pratt & Whitney, and he still uses what he learned in his MBA classes today. He’s held the position of shop supervisor on the assembly floor, and he’s worked in quality management, as well as in procurement. During his time managing warehousing and logistic services and operations globally, he created a consolidation plan and oversaw unprecedented growth. Now in his third year as the managing director for Commercial Serviceable Assets, he’s supported the company in tripling their profits in the past three years.
“Being able to fall back on what I learned at Smith, especially what I learned from Joe Bailey who was the associate department chair for Decisions, Operations and Information Technology at the time, has been great,” Grossman said. When asked about a specific example, he recalls pulling together an Altman Z-Score analysis when one of his executives asked him to create a comparison of competing bidders. After Grossman proved how effective employing this metric can be, using an Altman Z-Score analysis is now standard procedure at Pratt & Whitney Global procurement.
Grossman has two pieces of advice for current Smith students: “While the employers in the local region are more likely to recruit, that doesn’t mean you need to stay local. There are a lot of great opportunities outside of the D.C. area,” he said as he reflected on his own career journey. He also highly encourages students to leverage relationships with alumni. “There’s no harm in building those connections,” he said. “Be brave, and reach out!”
For Alex Josowitz, MBA ’10, the pandemic has been a busy time, and an important one.
Alex Josowitz grew up surrounded by math and science. His mother was a public health scientist and his grandfather spent most of his career as a military chemist developing decontaminating agents for chemical and biological warfare. So it didn’t come as a big surprise when Josowitz went to college to earn an engineering degree because of his own math and science strengths.
When Josowitz was younger, his mom and grandfather received a grant to develop a product for decontamination. With this grant, they developed a disinfectant that could kill organisms better than most disinfectants already on the market. Together, they started a side business selling this product to a few businesses primarily in the food manufacturing and dental sectors.
In the meantime, Josowitz graduated from Vanderbilt University and began working for a civil engineering firm. After a year at the firm, he realized he wasn’t being challenged, and although he was unsure of what he wanted his next steps to be, he began looking into graduate school. Around the same time, his mom asked if he wanted to spend a year working at the family’s small business. Fourteen years later, Josowitz is the proud President of this same family-owned business, Sterilex.
Josowitz loved working for the family business, but he knew he needed a stronger business background to grow the company, so he enrolled in the Maryland Smith part-time MBA program. Throughout the past 14 years, Josowitz has grown the company from five employees and one product to more than forty employees and multiple product lines covering numerous industries. Josowitz credits his time at Smith as having an immensely positive impact on how he was able to grow the business.
“Being able to work while taking classes and literally implement what I was learning in real time was extremely helpful,” Josowitz said. “I was able to talk to professors and classmates about real-life challenges.”
For the past seven years, Sterilex has seen an average 35% sales growth increase year-over-year. Now with COVID-19, the company is expanding at an explosive rate. Sterilex’s disinfectant was one of the first EPA-approved disinfectants against COVID-19. New industries began contacting them for their products including for use in employee welfare areas, such as locker rooms and restrooms, car manufacturing companies, airports, restaurants and grocery stores. Sterilex has even hired several new employees this year, and their manufacturing team has been working around the clock.
“Keeping people safe is at the top of our mission,” Josowitz said. “We are a mission-driven business, and we take our responsibility seriously. We are committed to maintaining a high level of integrity to do the right thing.”
Josowitz considers this pandemic a “generation-defining moment.” He believes people and corporations will be much more concerned with disinfection and hygiene, and he is proud of his family-owned business for flourishing during this challenging time.
Josowitz’s biggest piece of advice for current Smith students and young people beginning their careers is: “Always refresh what you learn, and think outside of the box.”
Heather Maier, MBA ’91, has always had a creative and business-oriented mind. Her interests in design and art were balanced with her skills in math and finance. And now, her year-old business, Hedy’s Gems, combines all of these.
Maier was born and raised in the DC area and earned her bachelor’s degree in math & business from Wake Forest University. After college, Maier moved back to DC and worked in retail banking with the goal of making a career in the world of finance.
Early in her career, Maier realized she needed an advanced degree in finance if she wanted to be part of the management team at her company. She recalls her father, a UMD alumnus, being instrumental in her decision to earn an MBA degree. Upon completion of the full-time MBA program, she held financial analyst positions in the DC government before moving to Los Angeles to work for The Capital Group.
Maier subsequently moved back to the DC area in 2004 to raise her two children and team up with her twin brother, who owns a large structural concrete company. Capitalizing on her entrepreneurial talents, she opened a woman-owned business that won numerous contracts for large public and private commercial projects. After several successful years, she left the business, got remarried and relocated to Naples, Florida in 2015.
Maier found that her skills were a great fit for residential real estate and joined Premiere Plus Realty in the Naples office. She joined a women’s giving circle in Naples to expand her network and give back to her community. Through the giving circle, she was introduced to the founders of Wings of Shelter International, which is an organization that is focused on helping victims of human trafficking, specifically teen girls.
She immediately fell in love with the organization’s mission and found herself being called to do more. What started with a jewelry beading hobby has turned into a full-blown jewelry making business that benefits human trafficking victims. “I let my heart be my guide,” Maier said, and she started without a business plan but had a goal to make a big impact.
Maier’s education from the Smith School encouraged her to think outside of the box on how to differentiate her company and its charitable contributions. She created Hedy’s Gems and founded a donor fund at the Community Foundation of Collier County, which allows profits from sales to be matched with charitable contributions thereby leveraging each sale to have a larger impact.
Hedy’s Gems had a successful first year of business and Maier now has a production manager and an online presence. They focus on sourcing materials from small and women-owned businesses around the globe, with her motto being Helping Others One Gem at a Time.
In partnership with the University of Maryland, you can shop online at www.hedysgems.com and on her Instagram @hedys_gems and use code UMDSAFE for 10% of sales from Turtles (Testudo earrings) and Freedom Collection to be donated to UMD Safe Center that supports trafficking victims.
In 2017, Rahul Vinod ’11 and Sahil Rahman ’12 opened the doors to their first restaurant, RASA – a fine, casual Indian restaurant in the Navy Yard neighborhood of Washington, DC. They not only wanted to run a successful restaurant, but they also wanted to be proud of their business and its involvement in the community. Helping the community is exactly what RASA is doing now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As much of the hospitality industry faces challenging and uncertain times, RASA has closed its doors to in-dining business but has remained committed to supporting its community. RASA is providing free take-out meals for all hospital workers, school children and RASA’s own team members and their families.
“Community and connection have always been at the heart of what we do at RASA,” Vinod said. “The least we can do is offer our front-line hospital workers free meals.” Many children rely on school for their food, so RASA is aiding in ensuring the kids in their own neighborhood don’t go without meals.
This love for their community comes from two major parts of Vinod’s and Rahman’s lives: their Indian roots and their upbringing in restaurant families. Their fathers were business partners and owned fine-dining Indian restaurants together since 1991, so Vinod and Rahman quite literally grew up within these restaurants. They realized many of their friends had never experienced Indian cuisine, so they were always bringing them to their parents’ restaurants. They wanted to make Indian food more accessible, and in high school, they wrote a business plan together to start an Indian restaurant.
After graduating from the Smith School, both Vinod and Rahman went on to work on Wall Street. Vinod worked in investment banking at BNP Paribas while Rahman was a business analyst at Deloitte. “Our experiences at Smith were instrumental to the foundation of building our business,” Vinod said. “We had a restaurant background on a personal level, but we took a more methodical approach to starting a business thanks to Smith.”
After four years in their corporate roles, they looked back at their high school dream of owning a restaurant and decided to turn this dream into a reality. Before they opened RASA, the soon-to-be business partners traveled to India to increase their knowledge of the intricacies of Indian cuisine. Here they had the opportunity to visit Akshaya Patra, which runs the world’s largest midday feeding program that feeds 1.8 million children each day through hundreds of schools across India. While working with Akshaya Patra, they visited one of their production kitchens and even assisted in feeding the kids.
This mentality of giving back strongly influenced RASA’s reaction to the world’s current pandemic. Even after losing more than 65% in sales once DC restaurant restrictions were set, RASA put their community above all else. RASA is currently open 6 days a week to produce takeout and delivery orders, as well as these generous free meals.
“Within a few days, the whole world shifted,” Vinod said. “Most restaurants in DC are small, local businesses. The sad reality is that we’re all just struggling to get by. We’re all trying to do the best we can.”
In addition to the obvious effects of these restrictions, RASA had to hold on opening its second location, which was scheduled to open in DC’s Mount Vernon neighborhood the week of March 23. Vinod is confident that once everything settles, they will be opening the doors to this second location, as well as continuing the development of their third location in Crystal City.
An educator, connector and community builder. This is how Sherika Ekpo, MBA ’09 describes herself at the core. As the current global diversity & inclusion lead – artificial intelligence at Google, she works to create strategies that will build and sustain an inclusive work environment. She aims to increase the representation and promotion of Black and Latinx talent as well as female tech talent in the organization. Ekpo focuses on building a representative hiring pipeline, creating promotion and retention strategies, and ensures that the culture of her business unit is inclusive.
Ekpo had not always planned a career in human resources. In fact, she entered her full-time MBA program at Smith with the intention of pursuing consulting work. Because of her people management skills and her natural instincts to coach others, Ekpo’s career counselor at Smith helped her discover her love for HR and assisted her in landing an HR internship at GE. Additionally, a required HR class with Prof. Kudisch solidified her interest, and her strengths, in the field.
While at Smith, Ekpo felt like she was introduced to an extended family from all over the world. Her classmates opened her eyes to diverse perspectives and allowed her to engage in analyzing business problems using a global lens. Now in her HR career, Ekpo ensures there is always a diverse pipeline of candidates.
Prior to working at Google, Ekpo worked at the United States Digital Service. During her time with this government agency, the executive team was 60% female, and she fed off the strong, female energy. Here she discovered that women could have more of an impact in the tech field if HR remained strategic about hiring and retaining diverse employees.
However, she recognizes that her pipeline of future talent at Google is still heavily male-dominated, and she wants to overcome this challenge by encouraging more young females that tech and data science are fields for them, too. She encourages women to avoid limitations society may place on them and to stop being so critical of themselves.
“A lot of times women don’t want to raise our hands because we don’t want to be seen as being unable to deliver,” Ekpo says. “But don’t be afraid to ask for help. Dream big and play to your strengths.”
She values the differences in the way men and women think and lead. And throughout her career, she has noticed that these varying perspectives allow for more balanced decision making. She knows how important it is to have women in leadership alongside men. Ekpo knows women can inspire not just other women, but all people and professionals by celebrating successes.
“Inspiration often comes from seeing the accomplishments of other women,” she says. "If she can do it, then I can too! Once [women] succeed and get to the top, we must remember to reach back and pull others forward."
Peter Cannito, MBA ’01 always knew he wanted to be a U.S. Marine since an early age. His father was a veteran of the Vietnam War, and he wanted to follow in his footsteps and proudly serve. After college, Peter was commissioned as an officer in the Marine Corps in 1994. When Peter was reaching the end of his tour, serving as a logistics officer at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California, he started planning his next steps and decided to look into attending a business school for his MBA.
With an undergraduate degree in Finance, and knowing he ultimately wanted to end up in the industry, earning an MBA felt like the best transition for him from the military to the business world. And he felt Maryland Smith brought together the right combination of core business, technology and entrepreneurship educational resources. The Dingman Center in particular stood out for him at the time as one of the first of its kind programs to help prospective students gain direct experience with the start-up community.
Once at Smith, Peter sought out Rudy Lamone, who is also a veteran, to be his mentor. That was the beginning of a relationship that still persists to this day! “It was the height of the dot com bubble, and starting high growth, venture backed companies was still a relatively new career to pursue. Smith was at the forefront of educating a new generation of entrepreneurs, and I was taking a new venture finance course that exposed me to a world of opportunities that could make my ideas a reality,” said Cannito. “It was a very exciting and formative time for me.”
Peter incubated his first company, Onsyss Mobile Computing, which built software for handheld computers, while at Smith; culminating in May 2001 when he won the UMD Business Plan Competition under the emerging technologies category that resulted in some seed capital for his fledgling venture.
After graduating with his MBA, these formative experiences eventually led Peter on a path toward his most recent position as CEO at Polaris Alpha, a private equity financed, high technology, national security and defense contractor. Throughout his career, however, he never strayed too far from the veteran community and the importance of service. While working at Polaris Alpha, Peter teamed up with a military family focused non-profit called TAPS – Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, that provides assistance to those who have lost a loved one in the line of duty. Polaris Alpha worked with TAPS to start a golf tournament fundraiser that raises money from businesses in the Aberdeen, Maryland community for the families of our fallen heroes.
After leading the sale of Polaris Alpha to a strategic buyer, Peter is now currently an Operating Partner at a private equity firm, Aero Equity Industrial (AEI) Partners, where he informs investments in companies in the national security space. AEI is a unique investor that combines professionals with finance and engineering backgrounds, which allows them to leverage operationally relevant experience when selecting and managing their portfolio.
When asked about the overall outlook for this industry, Peter said: “It’s positive. The threat to cyber is (unfortunately) growing, and the two biggest trends driving this industry are the persistent global threat to cyber and the space domain.” He also acknowledged that buyer behavior is changing and businesses have to transform quickly to stay relevant. This also provides new opportunities for startups and allows the government to become more agile in keeping up with a rapidly changing technology landscape.
With 25 years of experience in the national security industry, Peter advises students to “Keep an open mind to the diversity of perspectives that come from customers, employees and other stakeholders. We all have blind spots, and the best leaders surround themselves with people that can challenge their thinking. There is no monopoly on good ideas, and sometimes they come from places you least expect.” He also emphasizes the need to give back. “Leadership is about service,” he adds, “The most rewarding moments in my career have always begun with an opportunity to serve others.”
As a woman in the C-Suite of a multi-national financial services group, Kerry-Ann Betton Stimpson, MBA ’01 is passionate about being a part of any conversation that helps bring about gender balance in the workforce. This has always been a passion of hers, as Stimpson grew up in Jamaica, where approximately 80 percent of undergraduate and graduate-level students are female, and women make up the majority of the national workforce!
After earning her bachelor’s degree in management studies in her home country of Jamaica, Stimpson came to the United States to pursue an MBA. With the proximity to D.C., nearby family members and the quality of the MBA program, she knew the Smith School was the perfect match. While at Smith, Stimpson immersed herself in not only her education but also the cultural experiences provided to her through her peers.
When offering advice to current Smith students, Stimpson says: “I highly recommend students take full advantage of all professional and personal development opportunities the school offers. Don’t just go to class and go home. Get involved, give back and participate.”
She still recalls great memories with her Smith professors, especially her first marketing professor Judy Frels and is extremely thankful for the multitude of projects she challenged herself with throughout her studies. Outside of her own coursework, she kept herself busy by serving as a teaching assistant for a business communications class, joining the Black MBA Association and volunteering with Greater DC Cares.
Her only regret during her time at the Smith School? “I didn’t leverage my alumni network enough. There’s nothing like building a network of alumni and hearing about their career journey.”
Nevertheless, Stimpson’s own career is extremely successful. She returned home to Jamaica after earning her MBA. “With my exposure at Smith and having an international MBA, I was in a job within the first four weeks. I really cannot complain about my career trajectory,” Stimpson said, as she thinks back to her first job, post-MBA, ultimately moving up to Senior Marketing Manager. Today, Stimpson serves as the Group Chief Marketing Officer for JMMB Group where she’s accountable for the marketing strategy for JMMB’s portfolios in Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Trinidad and Tobago. The JMMB Group is one of the leading financial groups in the Caribbean, and though men tend to dominate the CEO roles in the financial services field in Jamaica, the company was co-founded by a woman and its board of directors comprises of 40 percent women.
Outside of her career and family life, Stimpson plays her part in supporting the development of the next generation of women. She counsels teenagers at a one-week summer camp, and as part of the We Inspire Women and We Inspire Girls movement in Jamaica, she gives motivational talks to high school females on how to love themselves and live their best lives.
Even as a little kid, Devin Regan ’09 had an entrepreneurial spirit. “I sold the valuable Pokémon trading cards to shops. I charged my classmates for drawings I made. I mowed lawns.” He knew from an early age he wanted to become an entrepreneur and start his own company.
Fast forward a few years, when it came time for college, he still had this same mindset, along with an interest in working with people and a desire to learn the ins and outs of business management. Coming from a self-proclaimed “big UMD-loving family,” Regan enrolled in the University of Maryland and knew the Smith School would make him feel right at home.
While navigating his way through various business courses, Regan found marketing to be the major best suited for him and his career goals. He was then thrilled to learn of the sports commerce and culture minor that the University offered, and even more thrilled about the Smith School Sports Management Fellows program. Regan was an avid sports fan and ran track at Maryland, so the fellows program connected all of his personal and professional interests.
After graduating, Regan worked in a number of marketing and sales positions until he finally took the entrepreneurial leap in 2016 and co-founded Maverick VR, a virtual reality entertainment provider. Regan became infatuated with virtual reality when he tried a demo at an event, and he knew he had to get into the VR field. Regan and his business partner explored a few business models until agreeing on acting as an event service provider.
“The events industry was a perfect match for virtual reality because it provides guests with a unique and memorable experience. There’s a great need for that in the events space,” Regan said.
And that’s one of the biggest pieces of advice Regan has to offer Smith students or alumni looking to start their own business. Make sure there is a need for your product and that the product or service is valuable. “Make sure your product is truly valuable and that you’re not just trying to get eyes on something. Have clients lined up before you launch so you know there is already credibility and sales coming in.”
Acting as the CEO of Maverick VR for three years, Regan had the opportunity to serve countless clients, including our very own University of Maryland for a freshman welcome event at Stamp Student Union. Regan watched Maverick VR continue to grow and eventually sold the company toward the end of 2019.
Around this time, Regan was unfortunately diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. However, this diagnosis was the catalyst for his career change and the reason he decided to sell Maverick VR. While facing recovery from skin cancer and looking to be preventative moving forward, he learned that material used in average clothes hardly protect your skin from UV rays. “I needed shirts that are lightweight and breathable enough to keep me comfortable while exercising, but also protective enough to minimize my UV exposure when outdoors,” Regan said. “So I decided to create the exact shirt I was looking for.”
Regan co-founded Rayward Apparel in November 2019, which produces UPF 50+ sun protective apparel while remaining practical and comfortable for outdoor activities. Regan is excited to see Rayward Apparel evolve and can’t wait to see what’s in store for this industry in the coming years.
A published author in fiction and poetry, a law school graduate, a recruiter with 16 years of experience and now, an entrepreneur. Elizabeth McCourt ’91 has achieved a lot since graduating from Maryland Smith, and she can tell you firsthand, careers do not always follow a linear path
Elizabeth attended the University of Maryland because of her interest in business and politics. While in school, she discovered she was also a skilled writer, so she took a variety of literature classes in addition to her business classes. She even worked on Capitol Hill her senior year. But after discovering the multitude of opportunities within other corporations throughout her 300- and 400-level courses, she landed her first job out of college at Morgan Stanley.
With politics and law still an interest in the back of her mind, Elizabeth earned her law degree and worked as an attorney for four years. However, with the help of her undergraduate business degree, she eventually found her place in recruiting. With 16 years of recruiting experience, she came to realize that thread throughout the entirety of her career was her desire to coach people and help elevate their skills. Because of this, she founded the McCourt Leadership Group, which is a global executive leadership coaching and consulting firm.
“Entrepreneurship can happen slowly and develop over time. It doesn’t have to be this big ‘all at once’ thing,” Elizabeth says. She took her time to slowly develop her business into what it is today, and she’s proud of and grateful for the opportunities she’s given to mentor and inspire people. And she doesn’t forget where her foundation came from. She often comes back to Smith to connect with students and alumni through class panels and webinar opportunities. Her biggest piece of advice for Smith students is to take classes outside of your comfort zone. “Take business courses that interest you, but also take a course that strikes a wild hair. Language. Shakespeare. Take something off the typical path to flex your brain in a different way.”
For Elizabeth, it was these non-typical (as a business major) literature courses that helped her become a published author of Sin in the Big Easy, a mystery novel. She is currently working on her second book about leadership development from the nonlinear path, which reminds all professionals that you don’t have to do what is expected of you, and you can always craft your own path.
Frank Goertner, EMBA ’17 is serving double duty as both a Smith alum and a Smith employee! He recently joined the Smith School as Director of Military and Veteran Affairs in August of 2018, just one year after graduating from the business school himself. After earning an MA in International Relations from the University of Maryland (more Terp pride!), he embarked on a career as a Naval Officer where he worked his way to the rank of Commander
Growing up, Frank always asked himself “How will I serve” not “Will I serve” this country, and he quickly learned that the U.S. Navy offered the greatest opportunities to achieve three of his goals: Continue learning new skills, see the world and learn to fly. His 21 years of service involved roles as a naval aviator, foreign area officer, personnel chief, political-military affairs advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and leading analysis in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations on future Navy missions and requirements.
As he neared retirement from the Navy, Frank, still eager to expand his knowledge and skillset, sought out an EMBA. He knew Smith had a great reputation, and to him, Smith felt like the obvious choice. “Smith and the University just felt like home to me,” said Frank. “And the school had the most diverse and most inclusive environment for cohort-based study offered by any business school I considered.”
With an undergraduate, masters and executive MBA degree, along with 21 years of service with the U.S. Navy, Frank then decided to explore the next step in his career. He looked at positions in the private sector, public sector consulting and government agencies, but was thrilled to see this opportunity pop up at the Smith School. “I stepped back and thought this is the perfect opportunity for me to stay engaged with the veteran community,” Frank said. “There was also the added bonus that I would be able to work with young people who are still studying and eager to make a difference in the world.”
Being in his role just eight weeks, he knows this is where he belongs, and he believes the Smith School has everything it needs to be the country’s premier business school for military and veteran students. He just wants to leave current Smith students with one piece of advice: “There are a million and one ways to serve your country and your community. Explore as many as you can, and respect them all.”
In May of 2007, Svetlana Saitsky crossed the stage to receive her diploma. After a full and enriching four years at the University of Maryland, Svetlana was graduating from the Smith School with a BS in marketing and a job offer straight out of college. However, when the Dean asked if she was excited to start her new job, she replied: “Actually, I’m not taking the job.” Svetlana wanted to see more of the world, so she traveled for 6 months before beginning her first job at TransPerfect, which was the world’s largest private translation company at the time. With a solid business background, Svetlana hit the ground running.
Four months into her role as an Account Executive, the company needed someone to run a satellite sales office in Sydney, Australia, and Svetlana jumped at the opportunity. Even as one of the newest and youngest employees, she hit the goal requirements and was offered the opportunity. She ultimately left TransPerfect, because it wasn’t a culture fit. Looking for a less cutthroat culture, Svetlana then moved on to work for companies like AdRoll, and Robert Half International, and soon after on a short project for Google, which was her dream company while studying at Smith. Still not feeling “at home,” she began doing her own consulting work, served as a contributing writer and photographer for various blogs and publications, and took several positions with a handful of companies. She even ended up back at Google X as part of the team to launch Google Glass.
After navigating through careers, Svetlana has finally landed her dream job of corporate coaching full-time. It wasn’t until one of her own bosses told her that she needed to work for herself and was really meant to coach others until she took the leap. She now works with both individuals and corporations and coaches managers and executives on being positive leaders, creating a happy workplace and the importance of “mental wealth.”
Svetlana is very grateful for the University of Maryland and the Smith School for helping her achieve happiness in her career. Identifying as an artist, but wanting a strong business foundation, Svetlana discovered creativity and business actually mix quite well. “Creativity is everywhere. It’s in how you run a meeting and in the colors you use in a PowerPoint. Artistry is a way of expression, and that’s what the business world needs. That’s what makes companies like Google and Apple so innovative.”
Some of her favorite classes at Smith were design marketing, international business and strategic management, taught by Gosia Langa-Basit, who became an important mentor for Svetlana and with whom Svetlana still keeps in touch with today. In fact, one of Svetlana’s biggest pieces of advice for current Smith students is to get a mentor. “Never be scared to tell people you admire them, and ask them what they did,” she says. She also advises students: “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t.” She recognizes her story as “different,” but is glad to have always stayed true to herself to land the career of her dreams.
Katie Praske Brandt '01, now works as a senior advisor at ARG. The Virginia-based IT consulting and brokerage firm helps over 3,000 companies and non-profits make the best technology decisions for their business. The company was founded in 1991 by her father Gregory Praske ’77, who is also a Smith graduate. Prior to joining her father’s company, Katie spent nearly 15 years at Maersk leading a variety of corporate projects and customer supply chains. Every transaction is international when you work at Maersk, the world’s largest container ship operator. “Supply chain management gives you a really literal illustration of global business. Each shipment touches at least two countries. You can’t do anything in isolation.”
Her education at Smith allowed her to work on projects with students from diverse backgrounds and cultures, which prepared her for Maersk, a truly international organization where most people work in their second language. The job required Katie to function as a type of translator. She took corporate directives from Maersk HQ in Copenhagen and explained them to front-line workers at ports around the world. She also carried information back the other direction. “I spoke fewer languages than most people at Maersk, but I did the most translating,” says Katie. “I helped people in different departments and at different levels understand each other.”
Cultural and language barriers added complexity. But Katie built relationships of trust by focusing on communication, empathy and mutual respect. She says that’s what it means to have a global mindset. “People all have the same basic needs, but they’re under different pressures and have access to different types of information. You have to pause and see impacts from different perspectives.” In that way Katie still functions as a translator, bringing people together and building understanding. Relationship building gives Katie confidence to talk to people from any background or industry. Many people want what’s comfortable, but Katie says her global mindset pushes her to new frontiers. “You can’t be in a position that’s truly international and has global impact if you’re not willing to work outside your familiar surroundings.”
Having held multiple positions at Maersk across five different locations for a span of 15 years, Katie became versed in a wide range of job functions and expanded the breadth and depth of her talents among several departments. She gained invaluable skills that equipped her with the experience which now helps her in the role of a strategic growth advisor at ARG.
Katie was part of the QUEST program while she was at Smith, where she consulted for government entities and companies, which gave her practical business, project management, and teamwork experience. With the benefit of perspective, that exposure propelled her to reach for the variety of opportunities that were available to her, and not limit herself. This summer, Katie will return to Smith to teach a supply chain management course for the online MBA program.
John Jacobs '81, former Executive Vice President at Nasdaq, now retired, is involved in a number of projects including academia, consulting, and board work. With over 30 years of his professional life dedicated to Nasdaq, John created and launched "QQQ," one of the first Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs), among the most successful and widely traded financial products to ever hit the market. A visionary leader, he was instrumental in growing the once 80-person company to a globally recognized brand. Retired but not slowing down, he shares his expertise through teaching, upholds a rigorous fitness routine, and most importantly, spends quality time with his family. Having been at the helm of Nasdaq's index business and as one of the most influential trailblazers in the financial world, John's humility, passion, and authenticity is truly inspirational.
At the very beginning of John's three decade long Nasdaq journey, he served as a qualifications analyst, reviewing the financial statements of public companies. As a graduate of the University of Maryland's accounting program, John had a solid education foundation. His accounting classes prepared him to be technically proficient, his marketing classes taught him to think about problems differently, and his finance classes tied it altogether and helped him understand the flow of business. John knew his way around financial statements, and was thoroughly prepared for the job. John remarks, "if you graduated from Maryland's business school, you could compete with anyone, but you had to be proactive to earn success."
There are numerous opportunities and career growth when moving both horizontally and vertically in a company. There were times in John's career where he had to make a decision about whether to make a lateral move, or climb the next rung on the corporate ladder. In most cases, taking the lateral job allowed him to be fluent in a variety of disciplines and opened doors to new possibilities. John explains, an upward trajectory and horizontal growth are not mutually exclusive and can complement each other very well. Early on, he learned to focus on the job and not the money, "it's about the opportunity itself, if you keep looking at it that way, you will acquire invaluable skills and expand your horizon. Money will take care of itself over time."
A mentor to many, John attributes his career success in part with having mentors along the way to help navigate his journey. He emphasized the importance of seeking out the opinions of others, and asking for constructive feedback to highlight problems and create a plan to improve or resolve it. It's okay to mistakes as long as you figure out what went wrong, and vow to do better next time. One of the biggest takeaways from John's career was that he learned not to reinvent the wheel. You are faced with a multitude of problems during your career, and while the problem may be different, the nature of the challenge is the same. Ask people for advice; it will provide perspective and an idea of how to approach and solve the problem. John also encourages leveraging Smith's alumni network to reach out to people for connections, and by the same token, pay it forward. Always look for ways to add value - it goes a long way.
In the workplace, we are trained to be analytical and to problem-solve. This is an extremely valuable skill to have, but the flip side is that possibilities are confined to carefully calculated outcomes. "The best ideas are the ones where you don't limit yourself to why you can't do it." Your path will continue to pivot, but as long as you stay the course, and remain flexible yet steadfast, you won't end up too far from your goal. For John, being a fearless Terp means you need to have an idea of where you want to be and find a way to get there. Know that there will be some sort of disruption, but keep at it because perseverance pays off. Be prepared for opportunities to surface at the most unusual times so that you turn them into successful outcomes.
With a strong interest in social impact, Sagar Doshi '15, a Smith finance major, created his own major with the IVSP department, Social Innovation and Philanthropic Management. Sagar began his journey in social impact as part of Social Innovation Fellows, a year-long program that explores social and environmental change through business, created and sponsored by the Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC). In his sophomore year, Sagar took this interest to new heights. He traveled to Honduras with ambitions of ending extreme poverty and violence by building a school in an at-risk community. Together, Sagar Doshi and Anderson Sloan '15, also a Smith Terp and currently at IBM, continued this effort through entering the Do Good Challenge in 2014, where they won the first place award and secured $8,500 to put towards funding an entire school.
Now a Strategy and Operations Consultant at Deloitte, Sagar channels his passion for social impact into his job, spearheading education and sustainability projects at Deloitte. Outside of their daily jobs, Sagar and Anderson launched a new non-profit initiative in March 2017, One Thousand Schools. This organization, in partnership with Students Helping Honduras, brings young professionals together on a one-week service project to Honduras to build a school for a community in need. On their first pilot trip back in July 2017, thirteen young professionals traded in their cell phones and laptops for shovels and gloves, rolled their sleeves up, and got to work. They got their hands dirty with moving cinder blocks, making cement, and flatting out the classroom floor of dirt every day at the work site.
After returning from their trip, they worked tirelessly to fundraise for the school they started building, Escuela Marina Yolanda Melendez, and recently reached their goal of $25,000, which will fund the completion of construction. School is scheduled to start in late January 2018, and will house both day and evening classes in three classrooms for 135 kids. Sagar is looking forward to visiting the school when they go back for their second service trip in February 2018. Knowing that he's part of a greater undertaking to provide access to quality education, however much, propels his commitment of making a meaningful difference in the lives of those less fortunate.
What's so remarkable is that there were people from different walks of life and professions that went on this trip. Not having hot water for a week, consultants, teachers, and lab workers alike, labored day in day out. Sagar made a thought provoking comment about this project, that he hopes to avoid the stigma of #SaveTheWorld, but rather, going forward with the intention of learning about a world problem and doing the best you can to help towards a solution.
For Sagar, being a fearless Terp means taking on difficult endeavors with determination, but also learning from the drawbacks. When you have an idea, be receptive to feedback because there's always more to learn and gaps to fill. Sagar talks about how his education from Smith gave him the experience and skills sets to create a business plan, think through strategy, and plan out tangible steps that he needs to accomplish his goals. The courses that he took has enabled him to make better decisions and given him a different perspective that has been critical to the success of his ventures. And he's been 'paying it back.' Sagar has been a champion for the Deloitte mentor-partnership between Deloitte and CSVC's Change the World Program, and has even returned to UMD as a featured guest judge of the Do Good Challenge. Sagar is on a quest to do more and in search of social impact and sustainability projects that he is passionate about.
He hopes to inspire more people with shared passions to join him in building One Thousand Schools! The next service trip is February 17-24, 2018, and there are still spots available - click here to learn more and sign up. You can also reach out to Sagar directly via email.
"Get out there and don't be afraid to fail." That's what fearless ideas means to Richard Blackman, MBA '84, a 22-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and experienced entrepreneur.
Richard, a double Terp, received his bachelor's degree in psychology, and a few years later, his master's in business administration.
It was through his education at the Smith School that Richard gained the confidence do anything, and made him an indispensable civil servant at the EPA. There, he led a seven-person team that oversaw the entire agency's budget, developed reports for the US Office of Management and Budget, and fielded congressional inquiries related to spending.
He became the resident expert on all budgetary issues, and after numerous hours of answering internal questions about the process, he identified opportunities to innovate and improve office operations. Richard developed a creative and engaging training on the budgetary process, and quickly realized he loved it. He became so good at it, the agency made it part of his job description.
Earlier this year, Richard retired from the EPA. Now in his second act, he took his passion for training and joined the Smith School's executive communication team where he helps MBAs prepare for their next careers. His goal is to help pass on a legacy that allows student to "find something they love to do and succeed."
A double Terp, Steve Washington earned his bachelor's in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland, and went on to pursue his master's in electrical engineering at Howard University before returning to UMD for his Executive MBA degree. With a knack for solving problems and keen analytical skills, Steve took a strong interest in software development, and became a civilian contractor for the DoD, supporting national defense agencies. Continuously learning and always seeking new challenges, he dove into the commercial sector after six years of working in the defense sector, where he gained hands-on experience in internet protocols, networking and web development.
In 1999, Steve started an electrical contracting company, building smart homes systems and solutions to be internet and wireless ready, it was the early phases of installing technology for the home. Business quickly took off and he secured several large contracts with home builders and local government contracts such as structured wiring for a prison in Maryland. Fast forward five years, the company had achieved considerable success, but Steve didn't stop there. He jumped at the opportunity when a friend from his DoD contracting days reached out to him about starting a company together, leveraging predictive analytics to improve business decisions and operations for businesses. Together, they started a predictive analytics firm, and scored contracts with big names such as Intel, Sysco, Kraft and Heinz.
As the company steadily grew, Steve wanted a solid business foundation to help him make better decisions to take the company to the next level, and that's what led him to the EMBA program at Smith in 2015. He returned to the classroom to fortify his skills, exchange insights with his peers, and was inspired by new ideas that he took back to his company. He learned a lot about himself through feedback from classmates, self-assessment tests, and introspection. He realized there is no set formula for success and that there is more than one way to reach your goal, understanding this gave him confidence. Part of being successful comes from good decision making, but also not second guessing yourself. When you doubt yourself, it holds you back. Steve explained that you are always making the best decision you can with the information you have at that particular time.
When asked about fearless ideas, Steve stressed the importance of being bold in the face of uncertainty. Even in the smallest of victories, it instills a sense of confidence, and small wins amount to big accomplishments over time. He also talked about how he has overcome his obstacles by trying new things that are outside his comfort zone, and even from a negative trial, you learn something. Having that perspective will give you that extra boost of confidence to go for it. Believe that you have what it takes, don't be afraid to hypothesize, test, and learn from mistakes. To keep up in this fast paced world and what sometimes feels like swimming against the current, adaptability and staying agile is key.
While his ventures keep him extremely busy, Steve is committed to giving back to his community in Baltimore, where home is. With STEM programs and technology jobs on the rise, he shares his expertise and knowledge by volunteering his time to tutor his community in software applications. He hopes to help build skillsets that will open doors to a wider array of opportunities, and show more people that with the right training and tools, software development jobs are accessible.
If the Smith School had a master's program for selling, Sherri Locke, MBA '82 could be a professor. After completing her undergraduate degree in French Literature at New York University and spending time in Europe, she enrolled at the Smith School because she was looking for something different in life.
In her last semester at Smith, she was asked to intern at IBM in a sales position. Sherri had no prior sales experience, and it was not what she expected.
She quickly learned sales was a sophisticated art form, and her training at Smith was key to success. She feels Smith taught her the fundamentals, like clear, concise business writing and decision analytics, that enabled her to meet client needs.
Fearless ideas are critical in business, although Sherri pointed out that organizations are often slow to adopt creative solutions. In her most recent position at Kaiser Permanente, she found a warm embrace for innovative ideas. There, she started a dog therapy program to help patients in recovery programs at over 20 medical center locations. Sherri's therapy dogs have helped patients in the infusion, internal medicine, and adolescent behavioral health departments. Although she has recently retired from her day job at Kaiser, she continues to work with the dog therapy program. The work has been extremely rewarding, and Sherri is now looking to expand her program to all Kaiser Permanente locations in the DC region.
What separates the top performers from everyone else? According to Smith graduate and Googler, Arhaan Saksena, MS '15, it's a focus on the big picture. "Always ask yourself, what is the larger problem that you're trying to solve?" It's crucial to define the overarching goal first, and work smartly to resolve the issue. Otherwise, you will end up spending time and resources on tasks that may not be aligned with the actual problem. It's about asking the right questions to tackle the right problems.
Prior to attending Smith, Arhaan obtained his bachelor's in computer engineering and worked for the multinational financial corporation American Express, and one of the "Big Four" accounting firms, Ernst and Young. With a few years of technical expertise under his belt, he recognized it was important to understand the impact of organizational decisions through business lens, which led him to Smith. During his time at Smith, he found his niche and leveraged opportunities that enabled him to build the skills necessary to be an expert in technical product sales. Arhaan was very involved with the efforts of building the Smith community through organizing social and networking events. Additionally, he collaborated with industry leaders to bring professional development workshops to Smith graduate students.
Arhaan's strong technical background, coupled with Smith's Masters of Information Systems program, provided a well-rounded education that helped hone his business acumen. This laid the foundation for Arhaan's career. He has always gravitated towards the business side of things, and the formal education allowed him to apply his knowledge and technical skills in a non-technical role. Arhaan stressed the importance of going off the beaten path and finding ways to set yourself apart. Ask yourself the question: What makes your brand different?
In addition to its global-perspective, Arhaan believes what makes Smith unique is a culture that is never satisfied with the status quo. To him, fearless ideas means the willingness to take risks and not being afraid to fail. Upon graduation, Arhaan was faced with the decision of taking a secure job from a big global firm in New York or pursuing an opportunity at a unicorn in its early stages in Silicon Valley. He took a leap of faith, packed up and moved to the west coast to work at Apttus, where he took on a lot of responsibilities and grew immensely in a short period time of time, which ultimately paved the way for landing his job at Google. Today, as a sales engineer, he helps enterprise customers transform their businesses and enable innovation through Cloud Computing. Forbes estimates the Global Cloud spending to reach $390B by 2020, Arhaan is fearless in the face of this opportunity and all the challenges it presents.
The pursuit of fearless ideas is what makes Smith School graduates unique. It is the defining characteristic of our culture, and that fearlessness makes it easy to spot a Terp beyond the walls of Van Munching Hall.
One of our fearless graduates, Michael Dobslaw '01, a senior manager at Ernst and Young, who, in his free time, is pursuing his passion for history and augmented reality through the development of his mobile application, reVistor.
Michael grew up not far from the University of Maryland, and from an early age, developed an interest in US history. He would often visit historical battlefields, such as Malvern Hill in Virginia, and wonder what it would be like to be in the middle of the action.
While an Honor's student at the University of Maryland, Michael obtained many of the skills necessary for him to be successful in his career and allowed him to follow his passion. He leveraged his project management experience and training to develop reVistor, an application that recreates historical events using augmented reality. For example, one of the sites currently live is a reenactment of first flight, which can be accessed on reVistor when in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina at the Wright Brothers Memorial.
At this time, reVistor supports only a few sites in the United States. However, with Michael's innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, the application has scaled at an exponential rate.
Michael's goal is straightforward. He wants to make history before he can teach it. He is well on his way toward achieving this goal!
Katie Breen remembers advising her classmates to "do things that are scary" as the commencement speaker for the Smith School of Business in May 2012 when she earned her degree in marketing. Doing the "scary" thing is exactly what she did to land her in her current position as Marketing Manager at a start-up called Shinesty, a company that sells outrageous, fun and wild clothing.
After deciding she didn't belong in the cube farm world of corporate agencies, Katie was hired as the eighth employee at Shinesty in 2015, just six months after the company's creation. In her time with Shinesty, Katie's position has been ever-evolving, and she's been involved with everything from search engine programming to marketing project management to running the internship program. "I've had to figure things out myself and establish processes from the bottom up because the rules were totally unwritten," she says.
While at Smith, Katie's digital marketing classes laid the groundwork for her career, and taking classes in operations, finance and accounting provided her with a comprehensive perspective of businesses and the intricacies and inner workings of a company's operation. With this foundation, she took the risk to jump into the startup world, and she couldn't imagine herself anywhere else.
Katie has helped Shinesty grow tremendously, and the company has now more than tripled in size at 30 employees. Just recently, she and nine of her colleagues, were filmed for six weeks by MTV2 on working as a millennial entrepreneur. When asked what advice she would offer current Smith students, Katie says, "Follow your career interests, but follow them in a way that will lead you to the work environment where you will be most happy, even if they aren't typical or traditional. Sure there may be higher risks at startups, and you'll need to be hungrier for those opportunities, but for me, there's a much higher reward."
LaKisha Greenwade, MBA '11 known by her clients, followers, and peers as Coach L, is the founder and chief executive officer of Lucki-Fit, a platform that empowers individuals to look and feel their best in all aspects of life to become lucky in life and business.
A 2011 graduate of the University of Maryland's part-time MBA program, LaKisha's pursuit of her fearless ideas have been the driving force behind her success. While balancing a full-time career working as a human relations consultant to the federal government, the rigor of a part-time MBA program, and other extracurricular activities, she recognized her role as a social influencer and passion for leveraging technology for personal development. This revelation led her to start her first business.
Launched in early 2016, Lucki-Fit provides a variety of services and events for leaders and entrepreneurs. Two of Lucki-Fit's flagship events are The GLAM Retreat – an exclusive retreat for leaders and influencers to practice self-care, development, and networking – and GLAM Tech – a platform for innovators and entrepreneurs to connect, collaborate, and design fashionable, wearable tech.
LaKisha adamantly believes in the power of one's personal brand. If ever given the opportunity to teach a course at the University of Maryland's Smith School, she would focus on the importance of developing and managing a personal brand and best practices for networking.
She's an innovator, entrepreneur, social innovator, and most of all, fearless. Her message to students and Smith alumni is simple: take advantage of the endless opportunities on campus and don't be afraid to chase your passion.
LaKisha was recently inducted into the prestigious Forbes Coaching Council and will be speaking at the 2017 SXSW Festival.
Joshua L. Rosenthal graduated from the Smith School in 2007 with his MBA and his MS in Operations Research. During his time as a student, Josh recognized the need for alumni and students to connect both virtually and face-to-face, so he launched one of the first online communities at the Smith School – SmithPeeps. From 2007-2015, SmithPeeps served as a conduit for students and alumni to share ideas and jobs, answer questions, and to organize in-person and online events.
Josh works as a Director of Solution Architecture in the enterprise software industry and lives with his wife and family in Friendship Heights.
If you were a student again, is there anything you would do differently?
I would relate all course assignments towards a single job role or industry niche. Each month, I would blog an article applying what I learned. Posting articles would have increased my visibility while giving me relevant feedback from industry enthusiasts. Also, I would have taken even more time to network with classmates.
What is the first website you access in the morning?
Reddit.com/r/RealEstateTechnology and other subreddits, followed by LinkedIn.com. Since the late 1990s, I have been getting my news and information online, often from social media.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
A un-retired entrepreneur.
How did you become interested in your field?
I help salespeople in the software industry sell enterprise products by clearing technical roadblocks presented by potential customers. I became interested in this niche because I wanted to operate in a space where I could marry my two childhood interests, business and technology.
By joining startup companies and those in transition, I have collected best practices in what I call “straddling the [enterprise software] sale” – pre-sales & solutions architecture followed by customer success management. I have been applying my expertise independently and now as a Director of Solution Architecture for an innovative software security product.
What does the phrase “Fearless Ideas” mean to you? How does a Smith degree help alumni develop Fearless Ideas?
“Fearless Ideas” is the thinking that allows someone to take a step beyond the boundaries of the current mindset. However, ideas are only the first step in an entrepreneurial journey. After all, the value of an idea is dependent upon its implementation.
As a young professional, I embarked upon my first entrepreneurial endeavor, InteractiveInstruction – video that updates itself upon the viewer’s interaction and builds a profile about them. The idea later proved itself successful, but not in the way that I implemented it. I didn’t bridge the current thinking to the value I was offering potential customers. As a result, I repeatedly faced rejections such as, “video will never be big on the Internet”.
Recovering from that experience, my degrees from Smith provided a framework from which I can better assess the opportunity and my implementation.
What is something people don’t know about you?
I founded James Madison University’s Breakdance Club, which now hosts one of the largest annual competitions in the United States. Founding a first-of-its-kind university club gave me the chance to perform with celebrities, represent my university internationally, and to support the local Boys & Girls Club and other charities.
What advice would you give to current Smith students?
Work backwards. Determine where you want to be and then map the steps to get there. As you follow your plan, subsequent steps will appear more clearly to you. In addition, your plan will help you assess distractions as they arrive. And if you find yourself late to this idea, remember that “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
What does being a Smith School alumnus mean to you?
Being an alumnus of the Smith School means being part of an international professional network. Smith alumni are leaders and doers in the Washington, D.C. region and throughout the world.
Seble Alemayehu, MBA ’12 and Felekech (Fei) Biratu, MBA ’13 started as high school friends, and after a similar journey through life, a move around the globe and two MBA degrees from the Smith School, they now are proud co-founders of Yenaé, an online-based, high-end fashion jewelry brand.
Alemayehu and Biratu grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and interestingly moved to the U.S. on the same plane after completing their high school. Once in the US, they went their separate ways, each earning a bachelor’s degree from different universities in different states. Alemayehu earned her degree in business administration and landed an internship at EY in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, while Biratu earned her degree in applied economics and finance and worked at United Healthcare Group.
Both women then pursued their professional careers in the Washington, DC area, where they found themselves living in the same city since they had left their home, Ethiopia. Alemayehu went into federal government consulting and Biratu worked as a financial analyst at AOL.
Both women then decided to apply to the Smith School Part-Time MBA Program. After a fulfilling few years at the Smith School, pursuing their MBA while working full-time, Alemayehu and Biratu agree that their experiences while earning their MBAs were some of the most impactful experiences in their lives.
“When you come in, and when you leave, you are completely two different people,” Biratu said. “I found another layer of myself that I didn’t know was there.”
Biratu loved the supportive community and the interactive classes at Smith. She took advantage of the study abroad program and traveled to Brazil. After earning her MBA, she decided to leave the corporate world. Biratu moved back home to Ethiopia and began working as an independent consultant in hospitality.
“My journey at Smith was one of the most impactful experiences in my life,” Alemayehu agreed. “Smith taught me the need to be bold, to not sell myself short and to be confident.”
Coming from an entrepreneurial family, Alemayehu knew she always wanted to start her own business, which is why the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship was a huge draw for her to Smith. She also took advantage of the study abroad program and traveled to Israel and Australia. After working at Booz Allen Hamilton post-graduation, Alemayehu also decided to take a break from the consulting industry and visit her home of Ethiopia.
Finding themselves in the same place at the same time once again, Alemayehu and Biratu reconnected over coffee, and that’s where the concept for Yenaé really launched. When Alemayehu returned back to the U.S., with an idea in tow, she, on behalf of Yenaé participated in the 8-week Lean Startup Dingman Jumpstart Program. This program provided them with the well-rounded experience needed to start a company and taught them how to effectively build something from the ground up, without getting caught up in the traditional way of building a business.
Before starting the program, they had the idea to focus on creating a customizable jewelry brand targeted primarily toward the wedding industry and special events. However, because of the program, they were able to test and validate all their assumptions behind their business idea. This helped them to re-define their value add and the desired target audiences they wanted to serve, jumpstarting the road to what Yenae has become today.
With Biratu still living in Addis Ababa and Alemayehu in Virginia, they look at their geographical locations as an opportunity, rather than a challenge. Through their dedication, help from their close support systems and the experiences they gained at Smith, Yenaé launched in November 2018 featuring designs inspired by two African countries: Ethiopia and Eritrea. As a two-woman company, they wear many hats to keep the business running, including designing the jewelry themselves. As their brand continues, they’re excited to feature all the rich culture and heritage of the different African countries.
When asked what advice they would give to current Smith students, they said: Invest your time in making personal connections outside of a structured classroom setting, grow your professional network, keep pushing through the challenging times and take care of yourself and your emotional well-being.
Life coaching, executive coaching, career coaching. Many of us have heard of and possibly even experienced these various coaching styles. But Eugene Vassilas ’10 brings a unique coaching style to the table: Human Development Training. Eugene works as a high-performance coach to get individuals out of their own heads and into their own bodies. He combines executive coaching and life coaching because he believes personal and professional development are so closely linked.
“My workshops have a huge component of mindfulness and body awareness. Whether you’re talking to your boss or under a tight deadline at work or having a difficult conversation with a friend: it’s how you maintain a state of inner and outer balance,” said Eugene. “I help people reverse the natural human response of shrinking in the face of a challenge.”
A Maryland native, Eugene was attracted to the University of Maryland because of the campus, its proximity to DC and its diversity. He grew up in a multi-cultural home and is polylingual, so he wanted to be surrounded by a diverse community. He took advantage of the international programs and participated in three study abroad programs in Thailand, Vietnam and Dubai.
“Smith enabled me to look at things not only in a college context but more at an international and global context,” Eugene said.
By his senior year, Eugene was on track to graduate with a dual degree in marketing and logistics, but he always had an inner desire to study psychology. On a whim, he decided to drop all of his logistics classes and enroll in five psychology courses, setting him up to graduate with a marketing major and a psychology minor. Eugene felt like this was the perfect pair.
“I think it made my marketing better,” he said. “Psychology made me better able to understand people in business, too.”
Now Eugene helps individuals create their best lives. Speaking six languages, he has taught at various venues in multiple countries, including the U.S., Brazil, Italy and the Netherlands. He’s taught communication, self-development and charisma workshops in formal settings, as well as at festivals like Burning Man. He’s learned that whether they’re in a costume at a festival or in a suit at a business conference, everyone wants to be the best version of themselves.
“Communication is one of the most common things we do, but it is also one of the most complex,” Eugene said. “We help simplify that and give them the skills to become a better communicator.”
Eugene will always be grateful for the extremely supportive Smith community and advises current students to reach out to and connect with as many people as possible within this community. There’s no doubt the experiences you gain from Smith build a strong foundation, but Eugene encourages Smith students to study other topics.
“With full love to Smith, its students are not single-dimensional humans,” he said. “You don’t exist in a vacuum, so honor your other interests too.”
Be sure to check out Eugene Vassilas’ latest book coming out in April! The Rebel’s Bible is a book about mindset mastery and personal empowerment for millennials.