Meet the Staff: Chella Passante, Program Center Manager

Here in the Office of Institutional Advancement, we are always working hard to support the university and connect our donors with causes they care most about. We would like to introduce our donors — to whom we are so grateful — to the people who help make those things happen. Today, we’re talking with Chella Passante, who manages our Phonathon call center.

Chella Passante

Job Title: Program Center Manager, Phonathon

Focus Area: Fundraising for different departments here on campus

Years at UMBC: I’ve been here since October, so almost a year.

Where are you from? Originally I was born in New York, but I grew up in [a small town called] Talent, Oregon.

What do you love the most about UMBC? I really love the diversity [and] how everyone embraces it here. There’s always events going on, and we’re really diverse here in the call center as well. I’ve learned a lot about many different cultures, different foods, different religions, and I really love it.

What’s your favorite thing about your job? Getting to work with students…just being able to have them ask me certain questions, and trying to guide them or give them good advice. I’ve been there. I’ve been a senior in college, stressing, and [I try] to give them tips and support to help them be successful and move on to better things.

Who do you admire the most and why? I admire my mom the most, because she was always able to get everything accomplished, regardless of what was put in front of her. I definitely strive to be like her.

What is the best book you’ve read recently? I re-read The Kite Runner about three weeks ago…I haven’t read it since high school, and I forgot how well-written that book was and how many emotions it can bring out of you.

Check out more Q&A’s with our advancement staff here!

Meet the Phonathon Caller: Johnna, Class of 2018

Every so often, we’ll profile one of the amazing Phonathon students working in UMBC’s call center. Today, we’re talking with Johnna, an anthropology and global studies double major from Charles County, Maryland.

johnnaWhy did you choose UMBC, and what do you like best now that you’re here? I am a transfer student, so I chose UMBC because it was closer to home. I really like the academics here, the global studies program is really well put together, and anthropology is a subset of something I wanted to do, so I was really interested in that as well.

What activities do you enjoy outside of class? I’m part of the Red Cross Club, and I do a lot of volunteer work on my own. And, of course, Phonathon.

What do you like best about being a student caller? I like that we get to talk to people who have been here before all the big new changes and stuff, so it’s cool to see how UMBC has expanded over the years. And not even just, like, 50 years ago! Like two years ago, or three years ago. It’s such a huge change to people. 

What are your plans after graduation? I plan on hopefully getting a job with a government entity, and working towards my end goal [of becoming] an ambassador towards the Middle East.

Head to GiveCorps for more info on some of the great causes we’re raising funds for!


Meet The Staff: Leanna Powell ’08, Assistant Director of Annual Giving

Here in the Office of Institutional Advancement, we are always working hard to support the university and connect our donors with causes they care most about. We would like to introduce our donors — to whom we are so grateful — to the people who help make those things happen. Today, we’ll be hearing from Leanna Powell ’08, English, who has just returned to UMBC as our Assistant Director of Annual Giving. 


Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11.

Name: Leanna Powell

Job Title: Assistant Director of Annual Giving

Focus Area: Student philanthropy, crowdfunding, direct mail

Years at UMBC: .5 as staff, 4 as a student

Grad Year: 2008

Where are you from originally? I grew up in southern Maryland near D.C., but I consider myself a Baltimore gal now after 10+ years in the city.

What do you love most about UMBC? In a city so packed with higher ed institutions, UMBC feels like a well-kept secret. The campus is serene, the people are sweet and low-key, and yet you see student and alumni achievements popping up all over the state in the arts, research sciences, and public policy. Light City is a great example — I’m excited to get to rep for my college at the Inner Harbor.

What’s your favorite thing about your job? I majored in writing, but immediately got swept up by nonprofit work, so I’m glad to have the chance to put all of my professors’ hard work to good use (shoutouts to Chris Corbett, Jody Shipka and Orianne Smith!). I have also spent a lot of time working with student philanthropy on the nonprofit beneficiary side, so I’m glad to get the chance to apply that experience in helping Retrievers fundraise for their own amazing projects through our campus crowdfunding site.

Who do you admire and why? Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are two of my biggest idols. To me, they represent a generation of women who are comfortable being smart, funny, and supportive of one another — and aren’t afraid to speak up or to take criticism.

Have you ever done anything crazy or out of the ordinary? Now that we’re in short-sleeves weather, some of the first things people notice about me are my tattoos. Most of them have a lot of personal significance, but I did get one on impulse one afternoon with a friend — matching dinosaurs, to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Tell us what you loved most about UMBC on Retriever Stories!

Meet the Donor: Kirsten Brinlee

Kirsten PicAs we send this year’s group of Alternative Spring Breakers off on their service learning trips, we thought we’d take the time to spotlight one of the wonderful people who donated to ASB.  Kirsten Brinlee, program manager for the Baltimore Collegetown Network and friend of UMBC, tells us about how she decided to give, and why the cause is so close to her heart. 

What is your relationship to UMBC, and how did you become involved with us?

When I first moved to Maryland in 2012, I was working for Johns Hopkins University in service-learning, and one of my job responsibilities was to serve on the Service-Learning and Civic Engagement conference. In 2013, UMBC served as the host institution. I would attend planning meetings and many of my first colleagues and friends were from the staff at UMBC. In 2014, I made the transition to my current role as Program Manager at Baltimore Collegetown Network, where I collaborate with 14 institutions, including UMBC.

Can you share a favorite memory from your time here?

Being a member of the 2013 Service-Learning and Civic Engagement conference is one of my top memories at UMBC. I remember being so impressed by the passion and values-focused keynote address given by Dr. Freeman Hrabowski.

What made you decide to give to Alternative Spring Break, specifically?

My first exposure to Alternative Spring Break was when I worked at the University of North Texas’ Center for Leadership and Service. I had never experienced ASBs at my undergraduate institution, but in my work at UNT, our office managed all of the ASBs for the university. I went on my first ASB to St. Louis and we worked with youth. It was one of my most memorable experiences from UNT. When I moved to Baltimore, I was attracted to my position at JHU because it included ASB management. What I loved about JHU’s program was that they were all locally focused. It helped me learn about my community and realize that meaningful service doesn’t have to take place far away from your own community, and in fact it’s more sustainable and impactful to work with your own community.

For this specific ask, one of my Collegetown LeaderShape students reached out to let me know she was participating in an ASB program at UMBC. Collegetown LeaderShape asks students to identify their passions, create a vision, and impact their communities. An ASB is a direct way for students to get involved in service and their community and I want to support those initiatives.

How do you hope your support will impact students?

I hope that my support demonstrates how I continue to live my own values around service and meaningfully engaging with the community.

Why do you think it’s important to give back?

It’s important to give back because it was other people’s generosity and kindness that created opportunities for me. I want to be able to pay forward the experiences I’ve been able to have for another generation.

GiveCorps Spotlight: Help Interdisciplinary Studies get to the Kinetic Grand Championship!

Kinetic Trailer from Zachary Garmoe on Vimeo.

Last year, a group of UMBC students and alumni combined their expertise in engineering, art, and design to build the Kraken Upcycle, a plastic behemoth on wheels that took home the grand prize in Baltimore’s Kinetic Sculpture Race. (We wrote about them last summer at UMBC Magazine, and you can take a peek here.)

The next step in their incredible journey is the Kinetic Grand Championship in Arcata, California, this May…and they need your help to get there.

When you give to UMBC’s Kinetic Sculpture Race team, you’re not just supporting this one project — you’re helping UMBC build its reputation as a hub for innovative undergraduate teaching, where project-based collaborative learning leads to great achievements and great discoveries.

You’ll also help fund graduate teaching assistantships for the INDS 430 course, called “The Upcycle,” where students will pool their talents to design and build sustainable installations for events like the KSR, Artscape, and Light City.

Make your gift today at our GiveCorps site!

Meet the Phonathon Caller: Emily, Class of 2016

Every so often, we’ll profile one of the amazing Phonathon students working in UMBC’s call center. This month, we talked with student caller Emily, an economics major from Baltimore, Maryland.

nyplWhy did you choose UMBC, and what do you like best now that you’re here? I chose UMBC for a number of reasons: it was affordable, it was local, and it came highly recommended by both of my alumni parents. In my time at UMBC, I have enjoyed many classes and student orgs. But I would have to say that what I like best is the ease with which I found like-minded friends. UMBC has a great diversity in its population, and I was really able to “find my people,” so to speak.

What activities do you enjoy outside of class? I’m a commuter so I don’t spend a ton of time on campus, but when I am here I hang out at the Women’s Center quite a bit. They provide a really comfortable space, and I’m always learning something there. Additionally, I started my own org called People United, and have done a lot of cool things with that, including hosting really interesting discussions and running a voter registration drive. In my personal time, I really enjoy playing video games and hanging out with my super cute dog.

What do you like best about being a student caller? I really like the feeling that I have helped someone get through school a little easier. Last semester, I raised enough money to cover tuition, books and a meal plan for one student. That’s such a great feeling. Really, I think education is an essential human right, and knowing I contributed to someone’s access to the awesome education we provide here at UMBC is just great. Besides that, I really like to hear where alumni end up after UMBC. It has given me a lot of perspective about the wide range of possibilities after graduation. Also, I think my social skills and self-confidence have really improved. Before this job, I really struggled with timidity. Now, I think I could strike up a conversation with basically anyone.

What are your plans after graduation? I am actually in training to run a university call center myself. The company UMBC works with to manage our call center has graciously given me an opportunity to train with my call center manager in an apprenticeship. It’s giving me a lot of exposure to the “behind-the-scenes” of a call center. When I finish the apprenticeship, I will have an opportunity to apply with this company for a full time position somewhere in the U.S.A. I have really enjoyed my time in Phonathon, and am so excited to continue in this line of work. Beyond that, I plan to continue my education in either economic anthropology or social work  — but I’m still figuring that part out.

Check out some of the awesome projects our Phonathon students are fundraising for!


You Help Our Students Change the World: Celebrating The Hilltop Society


Guests enjoyed dances choreographed and performed by UMBC students.

There is no question that one of the secrets to UMBC’s incredible success is our dedicated donors. This past fall, we took an evening to say a special thank you to a very important group of our supporters, the Hilltop Society. These generous leadership donors support the university annually with gifts of $1,000 or more, providing powerful support for research, teaching, student activities, financial aid, and more. Their leadership gifts make an incredible difference to the University—and to every student at UMBC.

In November, we invited Hilltop Society members to join us in the new Performing Arts and Humanities Building. That night, they had the opportunity to meet the students and faculty they are supporting. They also enjoyed dances that were choreographed by some of our talented UMBC students.


Dr. Freeman Hrabowski visits with donors Joy and Kingsley Achikeh and scholarship recipient Marta Stachorowski.

Two UMBC students, Markus Proctor, interdisciplinary studies, and Emily Grace, English, shared their stories with donors. Grace, a humanities scholar, shared her experiences as a member of UMBC’s Engineers Without Borders, a program that gives students a chance to create a more stable and prosperous world by addressing people’s basic human needs, such as clean water, power, sanitation, and education.

Proctor, recipient of the Joseph and Freida Faiman Eisenberg/VPC, Inc. Scholarship, told donors that after a stellar high school career that included captaining robotics teams and internships at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, he set his sights on college. Although many schools offered Proctor admission, UMBC was the only school that also offered him much-needed financial aid.


Markus Proctor, scholarship recipient, shares his story.

That support and UMBC’s culture turned out to be just what Proctor wanted. “UMBC is not too big or too small, but it is the right size to build truly amazing relationships with professors and administrators,” says Proctor. He went on to share that his current and future successes—and those of so many UMBC students—hinged on the support of our donors.

“I have to admit, it is difficult to put into words how thankful I am for your support, however, just know, the magnitude of your impact on our campus is appreciated by every student,” Proctor said, echoing the sentiments of all our UMBC scholarship recipients.

—Meredith Purvis

Paying It Forward: Lambda Phi Alumnae Fund a Scholarship for the Next Generation


For the past four years, alumnae of UMBC’s Lambda Phi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority, Inc. have been gathering over Homecoming weekend to reconnect and reminisce. For the past three, the event has come with a giving component to benefit the Second Generation Scholarship, which goes to two minority students a year. And in 2015, the alumnae chapter raised $1,585 through their Homecoming programming.

The amount has been steadily increasing each year, something Dr. Tamara Lewis ’92, psychology, is very pleased with. A chartering member of UMBC’s Chapter of Black and Latino Alumni, as well as an AKA alumna, she says the Second Generation Scholarship is “a minority scholarship we can all relate to.” She and two other alumnae – Crystal Watkins-Johansson ’95, biological sciences, and Anita Jackson ’80, health science and policy – decided to incorporate the giving component into the event about four years ago.

This year’s award went to three recipients:  Micahyas Akama ’18, economics, Natacha Olugemo ’17, computer engineering, and Ayana Henderson ’16, biological sciences.

Henderson, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha who plans to complete an M.D./Ph.D. program after graduation, is grateful to have received the award. She says the Second Generation Scholarship demonstrates “the high value UMBC [places] on uplifting minority students.”

Olugemo, who transferred here from Howard Community College and hopes to build a career in network or hardware engineering, says that the financial award has allowed her to focus more on her studies than how she will pay for tuition. She thanks those who gave to the scholarship fund.

“You are not just helping us stay in school, you are also helping us build a better future for ourselves and our [families],” she says.

Julia Celtnieks ’13

GiveCorps Spotlight: Help Model UN get to New York City!

There are so many ways to show UMBC your support, and helping out a student organization is just one of them. Today, we’re focusing on our Model United Nations team, which needs your help to get to a conference in New York next month.


Our Model UN students last fall.

At the end of March, UMBC’s Model United Nations team is headed to New York City to represent India at the national conference…and they need your help to make it happen.

Model UN provides a wonderful opportunity for students to debate global issues and develop leadership and public speaking skills. Your gift will help defray the cost of transportation, lodging, and delegate fees, making the competition more affordable and accessible for all participating students.

Our fundraising goal for the Model UN conference is $3,000. Will you help this bright bunch of students get there this year?


For even more opportunities to support UMBC, head to our GiveCorps page!



Meet the Phonathon Caller: Fiyin, Class of 2016

FiyinEvery so often, we’ll profile one of the amazing Phonathon students working in UMBC’s call center. This month, we sat down with student supervisor Fiyin, class of 2016, an information systems major from Burtonsville, Maryland.

Q: Why did you choose UMBC, and what do you like best now that you’re here?

A: Honestly, I chose UMBC because [it was kind of] the perfect university…It was small enough, but also had the perfect majors[.] Also, it’s pretty close to home [,and] it doesn’t cost too much…[Now that I’m here, I enjoy] the camaraderie, [and] also the classes, despite the fact that they are a little bit more difficult than most colleges’…[If] you do put in the work, you do get the payoff, which is not only a good grade, but the fact that you’re graduating from an honors college.

Q: What activities do you enjoy outside of class?

A: Playing basketball with friends, just hanging out. Does [Phonathon] count as “outside of class”?

Q: What do you like best about being a student caller?

A: I’m not even that much of a student caller anymore, because I’m a supervisor now, but [I like] the instant interaction with alumni, most of all. The fact that that you can learn so much from people who’ve been in your position, some a while ago, some not too long ago. It kind of gives you basic knowledge [of] what you’re going to encounter once you graduate…I’ve gotten people that will tell me [where to] apply for internships and things like that, so that’s pretty cool.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I plan on going into the workforce…Hopefully, I’m able to get an internship in [the IT] field soon enough.

Check out the other fantastic projects our student callers are raising funds for!