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Heroic Gala Highlights Founders Week

It was a night for superheroes at the 18th annual Gala of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) on Oct. 17. The fun tone was set early when UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, was interrupted during his opening remarks to tend to "an emergency."

The lights dimmed and "Superman" music filled the Hyatt Regency Baltimore ballroom. "Is it a bird, is it a plane?" boomed from the sound system followed by the arrival of a flying Perman as "Captain UMB" on the large video screens next to the stage. Fighting such evils as childhood obesity and neighborhood poverty, the video showed "Captain UMB" and his fellow superheroes, including the 2013 Founders Week award winners, are "saving the day" with their efforts and initiatives such as Promise Heights, MPowering the State, and the Institute for a Healthiest Maryland.

After the video, a sheepish Perman returned to the podium, now wearing a red cape. He proceeded to recognize all the superheroes in the black-tie crowd of 600, including legislators, philanthropic supporters, business partners such as platinum sponsor Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., colleagues from the University System of Maryland (USM) and the University of Maryland Medical System, the UMB Foundation, UMB leadership, faculty, staff, students, board members, community leaders, and more. "I believe every guest here this evening is a superhero," Perman said.

The Gala is the culmination of Founders Week, which honors the past, present, and future of UMB, the founding institution of USM, with a series of events. Staples include a staff luncheon, research lecture, student cookout, and entrepreneur presentation. This year's events included the opening of UMB's new Seven Scholars University store (based on the seven schools that make up UMB) and celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Health Sciences and Human Services Library.

"Yesterday I had the privilege of speaking at the opening of the exhibit 'Evolution and Influences: The HS/HSL at 200,'" Perman said. "You must see this exhibit, which is open through December."

Former State Senator and USM Regent Francis X. Kelly Jr. said he was humbled when he was introduced to speak about UMB's six-year "Making an Impact Worldwide" capital campaign he chaired that raised $665 million before its conclusion in December. "I probably deserve the least credit of anyone for the success of that committee and I thank many of you in this room for your support." He also said private support was more important than ever to higher education with state and federal funding continuing at its present levels being "unrealistic."

The capital campaign was about more than numbers, however. This was exemplified as students from each of UMB's professional schools (dentistry, law, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, social work) related in a video how the scholarships that resulted from "Making an Impact Worldwide" had changed their lives.

Then Perman told his own story about the transformative nature of scholarships. The UMB president, a pediatric gastroenterologist and chair of pediatrics at the UM School of Medicine from 1999 to 2004, told the crowd he had always wanted to be a physician. But when Perman was 13, his father died. His widowed mother was a seamstress "who got paid by the hat." So family finances were tight. Perman worked his way through college, shelving books in the campus library at Northwestern University and working summers as a mail carrier. He was admitted to Northwestern University medical school, even though Perman and his mother had no idea how they would pay "the fortune" for tuition.

"But one day, about three weeks before medical school was to start, I got a letter in the mail," Perman said. "And the letter said, 'Congratulations! You are the Ploner Scholar. Your medical education is paid for.' So here I stand before you, a physician, yes, and privileged to be a president, no less, of a great University. All because of Mrs. Louise Ploner, who I never had the privilege of meeting. The students out there need Mrs. Ploners. There are many of you in this room who are like Mrs. Ploner and there need to be more."

After dinner, a video presentation featured four more UMB superheroes, the Founders Week Award winners.

Magaly Rodriguez de Bittner, PharmD, BCPS, CDE, FAPhA, professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice and Science at the School of Pharmacy, was recognized as Entrepreneur of the Year for her groundbreaking work as a "social entrepreneur," directing the School's Center for Innovative Pharmacy Solutions (CIPS) and translating CIPS business solutions into the marketplace by launching the award-winning Maryland Patients, Pharmacists, Partnerships (P3) Program.

Brenda Ali, office manager for Claire Fraser, PhD, director of the School of Medicine's Institute for Genome Sciences, was recognized as Public Servant of the Year for her volunteer work with James McHenry Elementary/Middle School, where she has led reading programs, coat, book, and school supply drives, coordinated a fitness fair, and organized an annual Halloween celebration that has grown into a "Spooktacular" science learning program.

Internationally renowned for his pioneering observations on ion channels and calcium signaling in the heart, W. Jonathan Lederer, MD, PhD, was honored as Researcher of the Year. Lederer, a professor in the Department of Physiology at the School of Medicine and director of the Center for Biomedical Engineering and Technology, has published 225 papers, including 19 in the prestigious journals Science and Nature.

UMB's Teacher of the Year is Paula Monopoli, JD, a professor of law at the Francis King Carey School of Law. A dedicated mentor, scholar, and teacher who receives glowing evaluations from her students, Monopoli also is founding director of the Women Leadership & Equality Program -- the first in an American law school.

"Can you see why I am so humbled to lead this institution?" Perman said at the conclusion of the award winners' video. "It's because of them and people like them. Congratulations!"

Founders Week concluded with a festive food truck rally on Friday.

Photo galleries of Founders Week events:
Student Cookout
Seven Scholars Bookstore Opening
Staff Lunch
Founders Week Gala

-- By Chris Zang




Posting Date: 10/18/2013
Contact Name: Christian Zang
Contact Phone: 410-706-2074
Contact Email: czang001@umaryland.edu