The Key - May 2024

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path to graduation has been unlike any other’


For many of the 235 University of Maryland Eastern Shore graduates who received their degrees at the 137th spring commencement on May 17, it was a moment in the making.

Due to COVID, this would be the first time many of the undergraduates who started their college journey walked across a stage since middle school. The beginning of the pandemic caused many high schools to scrap their graduation plans in the spring of 2020. The result was virtual ceremonies, other non-traditional methods, or simply cancelling them altogether.

“It’s a super nervy or anticipatory moment for me because it’s technically my first real big graduation, but it also feels well earned,” said criminal justice major Chloe Ashby of Burtonsville, Maryland. “It feels like I’m celebrating for the last eight years instead of just the last four.”

After missing their previous moment in the sun, Ashby and many of her peers had to then consider where to continue their education. While many institutions closed their doors to new admissions at that time, UMES safely remained open.

In giving the student commentary, Cairo Harris, a criminal justice major from Baltimore and the outgoing SGA president, reflected on the situation and how members of the graduating class persevered during the pandemic.

“Our path to graduation has been unlike any other, marked by challenges, uncertainties, and moments of profound resilience,” she said. “In March 2020, when we left our schools, jobs, and some of us, family, our lives unfolded

in ways we could have never imagined. It was a year we thought we could not defeat, but here we are.”

As part of the ceremony, the new graduates received two surprise video messages from Vice President Kamala Harris and Maryland Gov. Wes Moore, in addition to the commencement address from Maryland State Delegate Jheanelle K. Wilkins

Wilkins, the Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, shared insight on the importance of advocacy and public service.

“Measure your success by the impact you make in our community and our world,” she said. “No matter what’s next for you, whatever the next phase is, wherever life takes you, there’s always an opportunity to be involved in your community and make an impact.”

For the students of various backgrounds receiving their degrees, their unique journeys set them on a path to the same destination – an accomplished dream.

For example, take Kamille Little of Dundalk. Coming to UMES allowed her to be part of the burgeoning Digital Media Studies program, which began during her sophomore year.

Little was able to experience her growth alongside the curriculum in its early days.

“Understanding that it was a new program, I got to see the start of the program and them getting their footing.”

Little, who plans to pursue a career in digital storytelling

PAGE 2 PAGE 3 PAGES 6-7 PAGE 4 PAGE 8 PAGE 9 PAGE 5 PAGE 10 PAGE 11 PAGE 12 Honda Team Vet School Funding Commencement NIH Grant Gerry Weston A.I. Conference Engineering Awards Hytche Pool Athletics Springfest Event IN THIS ISSUE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND EASTERN SHORE
MAY 2024
A newsletter for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends
offers an experience many were denied due to COVID-19 continued on page 3
‘We felt like celebrities’ Honda rolls outs

the red carpet for UMES All-Stars in California

It’s been said that Disneyland is known as the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

But from April 6-10, there was a destination 30 miles west exuding joy for the giddiest of those with a penchant for testing their trivia knowledge.

The Honda Campus All-Star Challenge hosted its National Championship Tournament in Torrance, California, featuring students from 32 Historically Black Colleges and Universities competing in a game involving quick buzzer fingers and quicker recall.

UMES’s delegation consisted of freshman Destenie Barnaby, sophomores Princaya Sanders and Kailey Wilson, and senior Witchell Laurier. Coaching the team was public relations director Earl Holland Jr., School of Pharmacy & Health Professions Assistant Dean for Experiential Education, Dr. Kawanda McCarthy-Williams, and volunteer April Wright

“It was an incredible experience going to nationals,” Laurier, the team’s only graduating player said. “Even though we did not reach the goal we set for ourselves, being able to take the trip to California is something that I’ll never forget.”

In Round Robin play at the tournament, UMES faced a tough road against Spelman College, North Carolina Central University, and Prairie View A&M. Although they fell short of winning the tournament title and the $100,000 institutional grand prize, which was ultimately won by Alabama-based Oakwood College, UMES received a $6,500 grant from the Honda Motor Company.

Aside from the competition of the tournament, the event featured a

celebration of 35 years of bringing together the nation’s best and brightest HBCUs.

The opening dinner featured video messages from political figures representing each of the states with institutions participating in the event. On the final night, there was a star-studded closing banquet that featured a red carpet for attendees to walk and a musical performance from singer and rapper Baby Tate.

Other activities for the students included a tour of the Honda Campus, which featured its research and development facility, and a trip to Disneyland.

Holland, who attended the NCT as a UMES student from 2001-05, said he’s happy to see the experience hasn’t changed 19 years since his last trip.

“I remember when we would mark our calendars at the start of the year for the NCT when it was held in Orlando, Florida, and how much we, as students, felt like celebrities once we got off the plane and arrived to the hotel,” he said. “Seeing the students being able to experience much of what I remember is exciting.”

When reflecting on his experience with the team, Laurier wished his involvement lasted longer than his one year of involvement.

“If I had the chance to go back in time to my freshman year, I would definitely be on the team because it’s an opportunity to show off your intellectual skills in a large environment,” he said. “I loved the practices, I loved the camaraderie, and I loved that we were able to gravitate together towards a common goal.”

UMES sophomore Kailey Wilson poses with the qualifying trophy her team received at the closing banquet of the Honda Campus All-Star Challenge’s 35th Anniversary Tournament in Torrance, California. Photo at top: Freshman Destenie Barnaby stands next to a screen that features to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Presidential Seal at the Honda Campus AllStar Challenge’s 35th Anniversary Tournament in Torrance, California.


The University of Maryland Eastern Shore has received $1,071,000 in direct federal funding for its proposed School of Veterinary Medicine. The investment came from the fiscal year 2024 funding package passed by the United States Senate in March, which was later signed into law by President Joe Biden

Funding for the veterinary school was requested by U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both representing Maryland.

The financial contribution supports UMES in its efforts to establish a new Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program. If successful, the school would be the second HBCU in the country and the first university in Maryland to offer such a program.

“This funding continues the strong momentum we are experiencing as we continue to take the steps necessary to achieve accreditation for this historic program,” said UMES President Heidi M. Anderson. “It’s an investment by the federal government in our endeavor, and we are deeply grateful to Senators Cardin and Van Hollen for their crucial support in making this happen. Their efforts will benefit UMES and the communities we serve with a School of Veterinary Medicine.”

The investment to UMES was part of $40 million in federal funds directly for Maryland within the legislation.

“Investing in the education of Maryland’s future veterinarians will help protect our agricultural economy and improve access to veterinary care,” Sen. Van Hollen said. “These funds will make UMES a regional pioneer, providing top-notch education in veterinary medicine and creating opportunity for students to enter an understaffed but critical field.”

The establishment of UMES’s new program will prepare students for careers as pet and agricultural veterinarians and support the industry’s growing demand.

“The Eastern Shore is a powerhouse for agriculture in Maryland. Establishing a program at one of the region’s premier institutions will provide more opportunities for young people to learn the tools of the trade in their own backyard,” Sen. Cardin said. “With the proven track record of UMES student and professor success stories, we know this program will provide a valuable pipeline to an industry that is in critical need of well-trained professionals.”

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and social media, said. “It did a good job of giving me opportunities including student mentorship, internships, and the ability to create intimate relationships with my professors.”

Witchell Laurier, who was born in Haiti before moving the United States, was already familiar with the school. After making a visit to campus as a high school junior, he chose UMES because it offered an affordable education.

During his time in Princess Anne, Laurier excelled while balancing membership in numerous organizations such as the SGA, Honda Campus All-Star Challenge Team, and the National Association of Black Accountants, in addition to being a tutor and a student-athlete on the track & field team.

“I have mixed feelings about today because I’m excited that I’m graduating, but I’m also sad that I’m leaving because I’ve made so many memories and friends,” said Laurier, who will be working in Atlanta at the accounting firm Grant Thornton while pursuing his CPA license. “It felt like it was just yesterday that I came with my parents to check into Murphy Hall, and now I’m going on to the next chapter of my life.”

PhD recipient Nzinga Cardwell and her cohort in the educational leadership program started in the middle of the pandemic, but that wasn’t the only adversity she dealt with. She had to balance caring for her son who had a nearfatal medical issue.

“The faculty really supported me through the process and I was able to stay engaged with my colleagues in order to overcome those hurdles,” the Bowie resident said.

Cardwell, who teaches eighth grade reading and language arts, hopes that her fellow graduates reflect on and relish this special moment.

“Even though this is not my first go-round, I hope they know that this is the doorway to the rest of your life,” she said. “I appreciate being a part of that and witnessing that all over again. They give me hope for my own children and for the students that I teach every single day.”

Harris, Anderson, Woods

UMES receives sizeable research grant from NIH to study HSV-1 virus

‘An opportunity for research and education’

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore received a $560,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the effects of the Herpes Simplex Virus on brain neurons.

UMES’s funding, which is spread across a four-year period, came from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ (NIAID) Support for Research Excellence (SuRE) grant. The NIAID’s mission is to conduct and support research to understand, treat, and prevent infectious, immunologic, and allergic diseases, according to its website.

“This NIAID funding is one of the most difficult institutes to get a grant from because it’s very competitive,” said Dr. Victor Hsia, of the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, “So, I was very surprised that the reviewers appreciated the proposal and decided to fund the work.”

The SuRE program supports research capacity building at eligible higher education institutions through funding investigator-initiated research in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences that falls in the NIH mission areas.

“HSV is one of the most prevalent viruses that infect humans,” said Hsia, whose interest in HSV-1 research began as an undergraduate student nearly 35 years ago. “Usually, it has an acute infection through the mouth, nose, and eyes and will later establish that latent infection in the brain through the trigeminal nerve.”

Hsia said that while the virus remains dormant in most people, increased stress will cause the virus to manifest itself, often in milder forms.

“The typical manifestation is a cold sore, but sometimes it can be severe, like herpetic keratitis or encephalitis, and sometimes, it can be lethal,” he said. “People are puzzled about how a virus so strong and so robust can establish this kind of dormant infection in neurons for life.”

Key to the funding was work done by former PhD student Dr. Qiaojuan Zhang. His research found that latent neurons have “extremely high excitability comparing to the normal neurons”, which surprised the virologists. The research was performed in collaboration with Dr. Miguel Martin and the discovery was published in the Journal of Virology.

In addition to gaining a greater understanding of the effects of HSV-1 on the brain, Hsia also wants to dispel common misconceptions surrounding the virus and how it spreads.

“People believe that HSV-1 can only infect people with a lower socioeconomic status or who don’t take care of themselves, and that’s not true,” he said. “The virus can affect anybody. People can get this infection at home, in school, or in movie theaters. This funding allows for an opportunity for research and for education to the community as well.”

The application process for the funding was stringent, requiring Hsia and his team to create a hypothesis, design an experiment, show preliminary data, and then write a grant proposal. Once completed, the proposal was then submitted to the NIH through UMES’s Research Office for evaluation.

In order to receive the NIAID grant, the application score needed to fall within a range between 10 to 19, which is considered exceptional. UMES received a score of 18.

“The reviewers look at the significance of it scientifically, then look at the investigators, environment, innovation, and research strategy and approach,” Hsia said. “Our move from Somerset Hall to the Pharmacy Building helped strengthen our research infrastructure and environment, which they called ‘state of the art’.”

Dr. Victor Hsia (center) works on laboratory research studying the HSV-1 virus.

UMES Technology program students, staff and alumni collect accolades

Members of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s Career and Technology Education (CTE) program were recently honored at the state and international level for their work in advancing technology and engineering literacy for all students.

The award recipients – comprised of CTE students, faculty, staff, and alumni from UMES’s program offered at the Baltimore Museum of Industry – were recognized by the Technology and Engineering Educators Association of Maryland (TEEAM) and by the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) at their respective conferences. TEEAM and ITEEA are nonprofit professional organizations for educators.

“We are very humbled to receive these accolades as they demonstrate the quality of the students, faculty, and staff that are connected to the programs at BMI,” said Dr. Tyler Love, a professor in the Department of the Built Environment who also serves as the program director at BMI. “These awards are just

one small way to highlight the challenging yet rewarding work they do on a daily basis that is critical for our local school systems and our state.”

Recipients of awards included Love, a 2009 graduate of UMES; Zachary Bartemy, Arielle Santercangelo, Melvin Gill, Marianne Hollerbach, and JoAnn Eliff.

Santercangelo, an alumnus of the TEE program now teaching in Florida; Gill, the TEE department chair at Chesapeake High School in Anne Arundel County, and Love each were recognized by the ITEEA during its 2024 conference.

Hollerbach, who recently retired from UMES after 10 years of service, and Eliff, currently in her 24th year with UMES’s programs at BMI, were recognized by TEEAM as Distinguished Service Award winners for their dedication to the field of TEE in the state.

In addition to the national and international accolades, Bartemy was named the 2024-25 Somerset County Public Schools Teacher of the Year. Bartemy, who is

certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards as an engineering teacher, established an engineering and robotics program in the school system and has collaborated on projects with UMES, Purdue University, and NASA.

Love attributed the program’s most recent successes to the ground work set by his predecessor, Dr. Thomas Loveland.

“These awards speak to the quality of our programs, support provided to our students, and commitment to local school systems and the state to fulfill our mission as an HBCU and Maryland’s only 1890 land-grant university,” Love said.

Looking forward, Love wants to focus on future CTE program initiatives, including proposed certificate programs in work-based learning and career counseling, designed to meet the criteria required by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future law. Each of the programs received approval from the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents and the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

Melvin Gill accepts his award from the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association. Arielle Santercangelo accepts her award from the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association. University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s Career and Technology Education professor Dr. Tyler Love accepts the Silvius-Wolansky award from ITEEA’s Council on Technology and Engineering Teacher Education.

Spring 2024 Commencement

Stephon Kirkpatrick is hooded as he receives his Ph.D in organizational leadership.

SANS Graduates Dayla McCullough (Enviromental Science) and Kamarie Mills (Pre-Vet) get ready before commencement.

Rhune’ Liverpool celebrates earning her bachelor’s degree in biology.

Amie Panneh, a member of Sigma Gamma Rho, smiles for the camera as she earns her bachelor’s degree in biology.

President Heidi M. Anderson presents a certificate of Professor Emeritus to Dr. Cynthia Gill.

Photo: Todd Dudek, UMES Ag Communications All photos by Megan Raymond unless otherwise noted


The 54th SGA President (criminal justice) and the 55th Miss UMES, (sociology) walk arm-in-arm off the stage after bachelor’s degrees.

Marley Omole smiles ecstatically as he earned his bachelor’s degree in hospitality and tourism management.

Diamond Nimmons celebrates earning her bachelor’s degree in general agriculture.

SANS Graduate Bokary Sylla, a chemistry major poses with Harry the Hawk before commencement.

Bryan Campbell points to the sky after receiving his bachelor’s degree in aviation science. Photo: Todd Dudek, UMES Ag Communications

‘Big shoes to fill’

Delmarva Public Media general manager Gerry Weston announces his retirement

It’s said that you’re always supposed to leave something better than when you found it, and that’s the case for Gerry Weston upon his arrival at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore seven years ago.

As Weston, the general manager of WESM, and later Delmarva Public Media, calls it a career on June 28, he leaves both WESM and the public radio station partnership in a better position than he found it. In all, Weston’s involvement in radio spans nearly 50 years.

“I started to think that maybe it was my time to step aside, let someone else come in with new blood and new energy,” Weston, 72, said. “We have a great thing going now, and to develop Delmarva Public Media with three stations instead of one … it’s a great opportunity for this organization to take the next step forward and strive.”

As WESM general manager, Weston facilitated essential technical upgrades to the station, including the repairs to the station’s tower, a new transmitter, replacement of the previous antenna that was struck by lightning, the installation of the station’s new roof, and the ongoing renovations of all three studios.

“He’s done a lot for the station and we’ve come a long way,” said Daphne Chatham, the business office and bookkeeping specialist for Delmarva Public Radio. “But the collaboration was the biggest thing. Bringing three stations together was huge. Those are big shoes to fill.”

Weston’s collaboration with Salisbury University led to the formation of Delmarva Public Media, comprised of the jazz, blues and NPR news format of WESM, classical radio station WSCL, and the “rhythm and news” format of WSDL. Delmarva Public Media’s launching, which happened in the middle of the pandemic, pooled together resources each of the stations lacked in one way or the other – management, fundraising operations, and on-air personalities.

“Gerry’s personality and style lent itself to marshaling the resources of both universities to the idea of maximizing their exposure,” said Rick Givens, a member of Delmarva Public Media’s Community Advisory Board.

“The partnership shows the initiative and foresight that only a person with his capacity could usher in.”

Givens, who previously worked closely with Weston during their time at Salisbury University, said Weston’s radio expertise was key to his staying power in the evolving medium.

“The thing that comes to mind instantly is his passion and love for radio,” Givens said. “His knowledge and experience of leading a radio station has positioned the management and the organization to succeed upon his departure and into the future.”

The Delmarva Public Media partnership allows the three rural public stations to offer collaborative services rather than competing against one another, putting the organization in a good position to continue meeting the community’s needs now and in the future.

The person leading that future for the moment is Judy Diaz, Delmarva Public Media’s deputy manager, who assumes Weston’s role in the interim. Diaz said the three-station format allows the organization to be “more experimental” including the addition of more homegrown content coming from students at both UMES and SU.

“We have students who are interested in creating jazz content, students interested in creating news content, and students interested in possibly creating urban alternatives,” she said. “In moving into those other formats, we can work with them to build and define the next generation of public media content and public media leaders. That’s something that can be attributed to all the work Gerry’s done.”

As for the future of Delmarva Public Media, Weston wants to make sure that the musical programming doesn’t become an afterthought as the station continues to grow its presence.

“I hope that there’s a sensibility, not only for news and public affairs, but also for music,” he said. “It’s important that we cover local news on Delmarva, but the music is also important for WESM and for WSCL.”


‘This is going to put UMES on the map’

UMES hosts conference on facial recognition and A.I. use in law enforcement

As artificial intelligence tools and facial recognition see increased use in law enforcement, there’s a need to ensure best practices are followed.

The discussion on utilizing the emerging technology to foster trust and create regulation standards highlighted the May 10 “Facial Recognition Technology in Law Enforcement: Regulations and Trust” conference, organized by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

The forum is part of UMES’s research on the use of facial recognition technology in the justice system, funded through a grant from the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention’s “Building Accountability and Trust” program. The conference’s panel included remarks from state politicians, federal government officials, researchers, and UMES president Heidi M. Anderson.

“We wanted to invite speakers from different backgrounds who represent different viewpoints based on their roles,” said Dr. Lily Tsai, an associate professor in the criminal justice program at UMES, and co-principal investigator in the research. “They are all experts in terms of using facial recognition and how to regulate these biometric data.”

Dr. Sandeep Gopalan, the Interim Vice President for Research at UMES, said the growing use of artificial intelligence has become a “hot topic” with the population as the technology continues to impact how they live and work.

“This is a clear example of how AI impacts people in the law enforcement context, because ultimately facial recognition technology relies on machine learning and deep learning, which are techniques in AI,” he said. “People want to know what happens when the police use technology to recognize or identify people based on images procured from the internet.”

In some cases, there are drawbacks to facial recognition, such as diminished accuracy in identifying people with darker skin tones.

“Most people believe that facial recognition technology is 100% accurate when law enforcement agencies use it,” Tsai said of the results from a survey of the general public taken as part of the research. “But the reality is that there is misidentification. There are errors, and this is something that most people don’t understand.”

Gopalan said these limitations with the current technology hit close to home, especially among the members of the UMES campus community.

“That’s a huge problem for us as an HBCU because potentially our students, when they are on campus or externally exposed to this technology, may face bias,” he said. “So, if we understand it, hopefully some of our students will be on the building side of these algorithms to make sure that these biases are removed to the greatest extent possible.”

As a result of the interest in the conference, Tsai is optimistic of the institution’s increased role in becoming both a thought leader and trend setter on the subject.

“This is going to put UMES on the map,’ she said. “Facial recognition and AI tools are advanced technology, and there’s more research to be done in this area and in the future.”

Gopalan added that the project will ultimately result in recommendations being submitted to the Governor’s Office. The researchers’ goal is for better policies and practices in the use of facial recognition technology to be implemented at the state level.

Dr. Sandeep Gopalan, the Interim Vice President for Research at UMES, addresses attendees at the Facial Recognition Technology Conference on May 10, organized by UMES. Dr. Gretta Goodwin, Director of the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s Homeland Security and Justice team presents during the Facial Recognition Technology Conference. Photos by Zilal Mohamed
‘I hope it helps build a community here’ Hytche Athletic Center pool reopens after long hiatus

When Najaah Lawrence enrolled at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, one of the draws was the swimming pool housed in the William P. Hytche Athletic Center.

But when she arrived, the venue was inactive – much to her dismay – due to the COVID pandemic.

“The pool was what got me here, because it was displayed on their website and I used to compete in swimming,” the senior sports management major said. “So, when I found out it was closed, it was a downer for me.”

Now, Lawrence and the rest of the campus community can satisfy their yearning for floor-level cannonballs and taking laps again following the aquatics center’s recent reopening.

“I was the first person called,” she said. “I’ve sent emails about getting the pool opened for years. So, when I was asked if I wanted to work at the pool, I said ‘absolutely’ because I want to manage a pool as part of my career.”

Lawrence is working with Renee Clarke, the new director of recreation and aquatics to help operate the pool on weekdays. The spring pool sessions varied between multiple 90- to 120-minute blocks on weekdays based on lifeguard availability.

“Getting the pool up and running was one of the big priorities when I started here,” said Clarke, who also oversees additional activities such as intermural sports. “It took us a little less than three months to get it ready, and that’s something attributed to the hard work from Facilities and VP (Tara) Owens and others, who made it all happen.”

In the first few days since the pool’s reopening, there

was an already a stronger than anticipated turnout. Nearly 50 students used the pool during a late afternoon session on April 29, with that number surpassed two days later with 107 students.

Sophomore Nev Schreiber, who had often heard stories of the pool from family members who attended UMES in the past, said she was “super excited” about the opportunity to use the facility.

“My enthusiasm about the pool being opened is a 10 out of 10,” she said. “I’m hoping that now we don’t have to drive 30 or 40 minutes just learn how to swim, and that this helps to build community here at UMES.”

Presently, there are six lifeguards on staff, including Lawrence, with the hope of expanding the grouping and allowing for more swimming hours. Clarke, also a certified lifeguard, said there are plans to offer lifeguard certification courses in the future.

In addition to that, Clarke said water aerobics and swimming lessons should be available to students, staff, and faculty during the fall semester. Survey results showed swimming lessons were heavily requested.

As for this summer, Clarke said pool hours will be posted weekly and based on lifeguard availability.

For Lawrence, seeing the aquatic center reopen has rekindled her enthusiasm for swimming, something she hopes to parlay into a career using her degree.

“It means everything to me because some people forget that the pool is a hospitality business,” she said. “You have to make people feel good about coming somewhere like a restaurant or a store. So, it really warms my heart that people want to come and swim because swimming is my passion.”

From left to right: UMES students Olivia Fuller, Norbely GonzalezSantiago, Pamela Anderson, and Mikaela Bieniemy enjoy the recently reopened pool at the William P. Hytche Athletic Center.

UMES hires new women’s basketball coach


Willis has more than 20 years of collegiate coaching experience

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore Department of Intercollegiate Athletics announced the hiring of Malikah Willis as the head women’s basketball coach.

Willis comes to UMES with more than 23 years of collegiate coaching experience, including stints at Kennesaw State (2022-24), Mississippi State (2021-22), Eastern Michigan (2020-21), Texas Tech (2019-20), College of Charleston (2017-19), Georgia Tech (2013-17), West Virginia (2009-13), Norfolk State (2007-09), Elizabeth City State (2004-07), Cheyney (200304), Chicago State (2002-03), and Illinois-Chicago (2001-02).

“During our national search, we received an influx of interest from qualified candidates. After a thorough review of each candidate, Coach Willis stood out as the best person to serve as our head women’s basketball coach,” Vice President of Athletics, Tara A. Owens said. “Coach Willis has a proven track record of successful recruiting while building winning programs. She comes to UMES with a tremendous vision for Hawk basketball. Under her leadership, our women’s basketball team will reach new heights of success on the court, in the classroom, and in the community.”

Willis takes over a UMES program coming off a 15-15 overall record and an 8-6 ledger in MEAC play this past season.

A highly-touted recruiter, Willis has helped compile seven top-25 recruiting classes, including four while at West Virginia and three at Georgia Tech. She has signed two McDonald’s All-Americans and coached 16 student-athletes to allconference honors during her time in the Big East, Big 12, ACC and the SEC. In addition, Willis has coached five players who have been drafted into the WNBA.

At her most recent coaching stop, Willis was integral in the development of a Kennesaw State program that achieved several milestones which included its first 3-0 and 4-0 starts to an Atlantic Sun schedule in program history. The squad also set a program record for an ASUN regular season win streak at six-straight games. The Owls also led the conference in doubledoubles and offensive rebounds per game.

Prior to the success at KSU, she spent a season serving as the assistant recruiting coordinator and player development manager while coaching a pair of Mississippi State All-SEC selections.

Other coaching career accolades include accomplishments at Georgia Tech and West Virginia. During her time at GT, the Yellow Jackets reached the NCAA tournament once while going to three postseason WNIT appearances and reaching the championship final once. While

at WVU, Willis was part of a Mountaineer team that played in the NCAA tournament during all four years of her tenure, including the 2009-10 team which set a schoolrecord with 29 wins in a single season.

“As I prepare for this opportunity at UMES, I appreciate and thank the campus community, President Heidi M. Anderson, Vice President Tara Owens and the search committee for choosing me to lead our women’s basketball program,” Willis said. “I am thrilled to be a part of this great institution as we build Hawk women’s basketball into a perennial championship contender. I look forward to working with our current players while immediately working towards building a highlyskilled and dynamic roster of student-athletes. Our ultimate goal is to put every student-athlete in a position to succeed on and off the floor.”

A four-year letterwinner at Iowa, Willis helped the Hawkeyes to a pair of Big Ten titles in 1995 and 1996. Willis graduated in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in arts, media studies and African American world studies.

She played two seasons professionally, both overseas in Poland (1998-99) and Finland (1999) as well as a season in Sao Paulo, Brazil (2000).

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The Key / May 2024

“We take you as you are, whatever stage you are at in life and try to teach you and inform you about the doors you’re traveling through,” she said. “That’s one of the most beautiful things that I love about UMES.”

Justice Brown, the communications coordinator in the office of Admissions and Recruitment and a 2023 UMES graduate, said the Springfest engagement day is a great opportunity to meet prospective students where they are.

The event was the culmination of a weeklong celebration themed “Project 1886” in reference to the year of UMES’s founding.

Following the engagement day morning sessions, groups of applicants, admitted students, and their chaperones and parents received tours of the campus before wrapping up their day at the annual Springfest carnival. The carnival, which was open to the public, featured appearances by various campus groups and organizations, on-stage performances by UMES employees Garrette Schmidt and Marques Hale, the UMES Muses ensemble, and capped off with a set by rapper Flo Milli

Likely students and their parents traveled to Princess Anne with the intention of receiving a full schooling in UMES traditions, even clapping in sync with every chant of “Hawk Pride, Catch It!” as if they were old pros with it. The Hawks-in-waiting also had the opportunity to get the peer perspective and insight on what it takes to navigate the rigors of college life during studentled panels.

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore held its annual Springfest engagement day on April 26, featuring daylong offerings centered on the UMES student experience.


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