September 2023

‘The Choice is Ours’: Convocation Focuses on Bringing Change

September 18, 2023    |  

When Laundette Jones was just 11, she spent seven months living in a tent. And it wasn’t the only time in her childhood she was unhoused.

“You know how you feel when you’re driving down [Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard] and you go over the overpass, and you see people living in a tent? Well, I know the perspectives of being in a tent and looking at others when they look down on it, too,” said Jones, PhD, MPH, an associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM).

For Jones, those months spent living in a tent, with her mother cooking dinner — often Rice-A-Roni — over a campfire, seem like a lifetime ago. In the years since, she’s earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, her PhD in environmental health, and two postdoctoral appointments. In 2005, she landed a faculty position at UMSOM. More recently, she also received her Master of Public Health.

But the challenging moments throughout her childhood are what help Jones to understand others’ lived experiences in a way a formal education couldn’t provide.

“On the academic side, I feel multilingual. I have a background in basic sciences. I also have the community and population and public health,” Jones said. “But I also have unique knowledge and a lived experience, where I don’t have to read about what it means [to be in] poverty, or to go through simulated experiences. I’ve lived through it.”

Jones was just one voice in a group of health and social services experts who spoke at the second annual University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) Faculty Convocation on Sept. 14. In addition to Jones, Glenn Canares, DDS, MSD, clinical assistant professor, University of Maryland School of Dentistry, and Amal Mattu, MD, professor, UMSOM, gave TED-like talks to a gathering of faculty and staff under a tent at Koester’s Lot.

And while each speech — from Jones, Canares, and Mattu to those given by Roger J. Ward, EdD, JD, MSL, MPA, provost and executive vice president, and UMB President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS — covered different topics, they shared the same common thread of values: bringing change and improving the human condition through community engagement and kindness, one step at a time.

“The choice is ours. The choice before us is we could wait for somebody — the city, the state, I don’t know who — to come by and fix the problems, clean up the risks around our campus,” Jarrell said. But, he added, we might be waiting a long time, and in that time, the University could falter.

“We don’t want that,” Jarrell said. “Well, we have another choice. The other choice is to actively engage — to step up as a university. … I know that’s what I’m going to do. And I know I can count on all of you to support us in this effort to make this environment a greater environment.”

The event kicked off the 2023-2024 academic calendar and was designed to inspire faculty and staff for the academic year. The program also featured the recognition of UMB’s newest cohort of Distinguished University Professors.

For Jodi J. Frey, PhD, LCSW-C, CEAP, professor, University of Maryland School of Social Work, the convocation was the perfect way to celebrate the start of the semester.

“I thought the speakers were incredible, the way that they gave us action steps to take as we leave here to make human connection,” Frey said.


The title of Distinguished University Professor is the highest appointment bestowed on a faculty member at UMB. It is a recognition not just of excellence, but also of impact and significant contribution to the nominee’s field, knowledge, profession, and/or practice.

William T. Carpenter, MD
Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, School of Medicine

Carpenter’s major professional interest has been severe mental illness, especially schizophrenia, including phenomenology, etiology, pathophysiology, anatomy, and treatment. He has made original and fundamental contributions in psychopathology, assessment methodology, testing of novel treatments, and research ethics. His specific professional assignments include service on the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) Intramural Research Program Board of Scientific Counselors and as a consultant and reviewer for NIMH and the National Institutes of Health on many topics. He chaired the NIMH Research Scientist Career Development Committee and the NIMH National Schizophrenia Plan Committee on Treatment Research. He also is the editor-in-chief of Schizophrenia Bulletin, has served on the editorial boards of numerous journals, and has authored more than 400 publications.

Robert K. Ernst, PhD
Dr. Paul and Mrs. Jean Corcoran Endowed Professor and Chair, Department of Microbial Pathogenesis
School of Dentistry

Ernst has been at the School of Dentistry since 2008 and also is an adjunct professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the School of Medicine. Ernst’s lab has been at the forefront of innovative research studying the molecular basis by which bacteria modify the lipid component of their membrane, specifically lipopolysaccharide, and how these alterations affect normal host innate immune system responses, potentially resulting in septic shock. Ernst has received more than $20 million in research funding since 2008. This work has resulted in more than 190 peer-reviewed manuscripts with 17,000-plus citations. He was named UMB’s 2017 Founders Week Researcher of the Year and 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year.

Claire Fraser, PhD
Dean E. Albert Reece Endowed Professor and Founding Director, Institute for Genome Sciences, School of Medicine

A pioneer and global leader in genomic medicine, Fraser is one of the most highly cited investigators in microbiology. In 1995, she was the first to map the complete genetic code of a free-living organism — Haemophilus influenza — the bacterium that causes lower-respiratory tract infections and meningitis in infants and young children. This took place at the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., where Fraser served as director from 1998 to 2007. Her discovery launched a new field of study: microbial genomics. In 2007, Fraser launched the Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS), bringing 60 researchers and staff with her. IGS now holds over 25 percent of the funding awarded by the Human Microbiome Project. She served as director of IGS until March 2023. 

Donald G. Gifford, JD
Jacob A. France Professor of Torts, Francis King Carey School of Law

Gifford joined the Francis King Carey School of Law in 1992, when he was named dean and professor. He served as dean through 1999, initiating the efforts to build the current law school building, obtaining legislative approval and funding for the building, and raising most of the private contributions for its construction. Gifford’s teaching and research interests include torts, product liability, advanced torts, and legal negotiation. He is the author or co-author of five books, including a torts casebook and a legal negotiation text, and numerous articles about topics such as mass torts, product liability, technological change and tort law, how race affects the substantive law of torts, and medical malpractice. 

Geoffrey Greif, PhD, MSW, LCSW-C
Professor, School of Social Work

Greif has been at the School of Social Work since 1984 and served as associate dean from 1996 to 2007. His current research, teaching, and practice interests include child abduction, family therapy, adult friendships, adult family relationships, and interracial families. He is the author of more than 150 journal articles and book chapters and 15 books, including four that he co-edited. More recently, Greif has explored horizontal relationships with the publication of “Buddy System: Understanding Male Friendships”; “Two Plus Two: Couples and Their Couple Friendships”; “Adult Sibling Relationships”; and “In-Law Relationships: Mothers, Daughters, Fathers, and Sons.” He also is a member of various community-based boards, including the Open Society Institute Leadership Council and the Shriver Hall Concert Series.

Margaret M. “Peg” McCarthy, PhD
James and Carolyn Frenkil Endowed Dean’s Professor and Chair, Department of Pharmacology, and Director, University of Maryland-Medicine Institute for Neuroscience Discovery, School of Medicine

McCarthy is a leading neuroscientist who has been with School of Medicine since 1993, making significant discoveries related to gender differences and the brain. Her seminal research focuses on the influence of steroid hormones on the developing brain with a special emphasis on understanding the cellular mechanisms that establish sex differences — i.e., the numerous, novel mechanisms by which steroids permanently organize the developing brain differently in men and women. McCarthy was named UMB’s Researcher of the Year in 2015 and a UMB Champion of Excellence in 2017. She has been an associate editor of Hormones and Behavior since 2004 and served as associate editor of the Journal of Neuroscience (2007-2011) and editor of Endocrinology (2008-2013).

Fadia T. Shaya, PhD, MPH
Professor, Department of Practice, Sciences, and Health Outcomes Research, and Executive Director, Behavioral Health Resources and Technical Assistance Program, School of Pharmacy

In addition to her School of Pharmacy roles, Shaya directs the informatics core at UMB’s Institute for Clinical and Translational Research and is an affiliate professor at the School of Medicine. Shaya, who was UMB’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, teaches clinical and graduate policy courses and mentors pharmacy, medical, graduate, and postdoctoral students and junior faculty. Her mentees and students have taken positions in government, academia, consulting, nonprofits, and the health care industry. Her work focuses on building strategic partnerships, taking into account the social determinants of health, to optimize the effectiveness and reduce the risk of prescription drugs and medical devices. Her implementation/dissemination research is based in human data science and uses artificial intelligence and machine learning methods.

Marc Simard, MD, PhD
Dr. Bizhan Aarabi Professor in Neurotrauma and Interim Chair, Department of Physiology, School of Medicine

Simard is a nationally recognized basic science researcher who specializes in vascular neurosurgery, which includes the surgery and management of patients with stroke, subarachnoid hemorrhage, and other vascular lesions of the brain. He also serves as chief of neurological surgery at the Baltimore Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center. For almost 40 years, Simard has researched the role of ion channels in diseases of the central nervous system, including stroke, brain bleeds, and traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries. He has written more than 260 peer-reviewed publications and has had continuous National Institutes of Health and VA funding for more than three decades. His translational work has led to the awarding of 14 U.S. and 22 international patents.