March 2023

Innovative Leadership Is Focus of UMBrella Symposium

March 10, 2023    |  


They may seem like everyday words, but during the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Women’s History Month Symposium on March 8 — International Women’s Day — those acronyms took on important meanings.

The symposium was broken into a virtual morning session and an afternoon session held in person for the first time since 2019. The event was canceled in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began and held virtually the past two years.

During a mindfulness exercise, symposium attendees learn to relax.

During a mindfulness exercise, symposium attendees learn to relax.

The morning session kicked off with UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, welcoming the nearly 200 participants. “Not only do we celebrate the achievement of women, but we also try to provide them with additional skills to improve their personal life, their professional career, their leadership skills — anything it takes to champion women and see them become successful. Of course, that’s the kind of university I want UMB to be for everyone,” he said.

Jennifer B. Litchman, MA, senior vice president for external relations, UMB, and founder and chair, UMBrella Group, which sponsors the symposium, discussed the theme of the event by saying, “There’s still much more work to be done. And that’s why we’re here today. Today is all about envisioning the possibilities for innovative leadership and putting those possibilities into practice.”

‘TRUST’ and Innovation

Morning keynote speaker Melissa Berton, MFA, Academy Award-winning producer, founder and executive director of The Pad Project, and high school English teacher, started her virtual presentation talking about what the word “umbrella” means with respect to women.

Women's History Month Symposium morning keynote speaker Melissa Berton

(Click on the graphic above to watch her presentation.)

“As any English teacher worth her salt would do, I looked up ‘umbrella’ in the dictionary and came up with two definitions,” she said. “One, a device used as protection against rain or sun. Two, a protecting force or influence. As we all know, over the centuries, across climates and continents, in rain and sun in every field, women have been umbrellas, protecting forces and influences to the generations of women that come after them. As a teacher of literature that features women and all their power, vulnerability, and beauty, it has been my joy to teach their stories to my students who inherit them.”

Berton said she came up with her own acronym as a way to share her journey from teacher to producer of the 2019 Oscar-winning short documentary “Period. End of Sentence.” and executive director of The Pad Project, which works to increase access to menstrual supplies and menstrual education throughout the world.

“TRUST: Trust your power to make a difference, Risk leaving your comfort zone, Understand your privilege, and let your own inner Student be your Teacher,” said Berton, with her documentary’s poster and her Oscar behind her. “When you can trust these values in yourself and in your partners, you can innovate in ways you never thought possible.”

Ten years ago, her students were incensed by the patriarchal world they found when reading “The Odyssey” and inspired to attend the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women as delegates. There, they learned about the plight of girls around the world who dropped out of school due to the lack of access to affordable and hygienic menstrual supplies.

“Struck by our own privilege and never having to even consider this human rights issue where girls were dropping out of school or unable to attend school on account of a natural biological process, my students and I determined on the spot that we would raise the funds to provide a pad-making machine for our sister school in India’s rural village of Kathikera,” Berton said.

She then talked about the risks involved in moving forward with the project and the documentary — not only did the students have to raise $75,000 in funds, but they also needed to discuss period poverty.

“We had to go personal about a topic that in many places around the world, including the United States, is taboo,” Berton said. “We risked leaving our comfort zone.”

She said the students, many of whom now work with her at The Pad Project, also had to understand their privilege since none of them had ever faced obstacles when buying menstrual supplies.

“Each of us, depending on the situation, carries a certain amount of privilege, and my students and I understood that it was our responsibility to admit to and take ownership of our privilege,” she said. “Privilege has taken on negative connotations recently and for good reason. Privilege with apathy is often deplorable, but privilege with empathy and understanding can be a powerful instrument for change.”

She also realized she had to let her students be the teacher.

“It was my lack of expertise in the face of this enormous undertaking that gave me the gumption to keep going. My students were bold and unafraid. And I learned with them anew about how to envision possibilities,” Berton said.

Focus on Image and Exposure

Tamika Tremaglio, JD ’95, MBA, executive director of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA), joined Litchman in a fireside chat for the afternoon session, which was attended by more than 100 women at the SMC Campus Center Elm Ballrooms.

Tremaglio discussed author Carla Harris’ acronym PIE — Performance, Image, Exposure — and said most women are incorrectly focusing 90 percent of their time on performance instead of image, which is about confidence and how you carry yourself, and exposure to different people’s stories and other conditions.  

“When we get into our job, we put our head down, and we focus on performing,” Tremaglio said. “Most of us are not going to get any position that we’re in because we are not performing. Where are you going to stretch yourself? The reality is, particularly when you get in the workforce, you should be focused on image and exposure. So you should flip it around because none of us are going to fail.”

Tremaglio, who has been in her role with the NBA players union for a little over a year and is now representing the players in collective bargaining agreement negotiations that determine major issues such as salaries and drug testing, said right now she has to focus on performing.

“I am focused on: How am I going to perform? How am I going to come out at the end of the day? That’s what is important to our players. That’s what I want to make sure that I do well,” she said. “I am here to protect our players. I’m here to support them, and I’m here to amplify them, to tell people how wonderful they are. This has been the greatest and most rewarding gift to serve in this role with 450 of the most talented men in the world, who are also incredibly compassionate.”  

Tremaglio described needing to think outside of the box at the 70-year-old union and tells her employees, “I want you to imagine the possible. Before you say no to anything, I want you to imagine what it would be like to do that. We could always end up at no, but I want to know that you’ve taken certain steps to consider things before you decided that this is not a possibility.”

She said when thinking about the obstacles she has faced during her career, she remembers the acronym FEAR, which could stand for “Forget Everything And Run” or “Face Everything And Rise.”

“Sometimes with the experiences that we have, I’m often so surprised that people hadn’t thought about what the lesson was,” she said. “We end up back in the same situation because we haven’t been taught the lesson. So I have learned that through all of those obstacles, I have to step back sometimes and say, ‘What did you come to teach me? What am I going to take from this experience?’ Instead of giving the experience itself power.”

When Litchman asked what she would tell her younger self, Tremaglio read an impactful letter she had written to herself, in which she described her mother having her when she was 18 as well as being injured by a drunken driver when Tremaglio was 9.

“Perhaps in those uncertain moments, she realized that I wasn’t a mistake,” she read. “Regardless, you can be certain that that day will come, and it won’t be for the reasons that you’ve thought. It won’t be because of the letters behind your name, the amount of money that you make, the fancy shoes. It will be because of the impact that you make on the world, simply because you exist and live a life of gratitude and service to others. This is where you will find fulfillment, your purpose.”

She ended her talk with Litchman by pointing out that she succeeded another woman as the NBPA executive director.

“The reality is that what we should be striving for is not to be the first and perhaps the only but rather to look at who we’re bringing up behind us,” she said.

Award Winners and Sessions

After audience questions with Tremaglio, the three UMBrella Award winners were recognized:

  • 2023 Person of the Year – On the Rise: Jennifer Chapman, JD, MLIS, research and faculty services librarian, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
  • 2023 Person of the Year – Leading the Way: Saifa Poole, assistant to the senior vice president, Office of External Relations, UMB
  • 2023 Champion of the Year: Deborah Prout, MAS, special assistant to the dean, University of Maryland School of Nursing

The event concluded with a mindfulness workshop, “Leading with Clarity, Calm, and Compassion,” led by Allison Morgan, MA, OTR, E-RYT, founder and CEO of Zensational Kids, and a social hour.

Earlier, the event featured five interactive virtual breakout sessions:

  • “Personal and Purposeful Leadership” presented by Rajshree Agarwal, PhD, Rudolph Lamone Chair of Strategy and Entrepreneurship, and director, Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets, University of Maryland, College Park
  • “Innovative and Inclusive Leadership: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Leadership and Integration” presented by Diane Forbes Berthoud, PhD, MA, chief equity, diversity, and inclusion officer and vice president, UMB, and professor, University of Maryland Graduate School
  • “A Tangled Web: Perfectionism, Risk-Taking, and Innovating” presented by Rebecca Malotke-Meslin, founder, Pleasantly Aggressive Coaching & Consulting
  • “Dare to Be Authentic: Unleashing the Power of Innovative Leadership” presented by Isabel Rambob, DDS, clinical assistant professor, Department of Neural and Pain Sciences, University of Maryland School of Dentistry, and founder, Rambob Training Services
  • “Lighting a Flame: A Roadmap for Inspiring and Influencing a Culture of Innovation” presented by Jill Weinknecht Wardell, MA, director, Workplace Learning, Organizational Development, and Wellness, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and executive coach.