What to Expect from the Maryland General Assembly’s 2021 Session: A Conversation with Sean Looney ’96 (LM)
Maryland lawmakers recently returned to Annapolis for the beginning of an unusual 90-day session. Unfortunately, but understandably, one of the unusual aspects of this year’s session is that we aren’t able to hold our annual Leadership Maryland Day in Annapolis. But we did visit with Sean Looney ’96 (LM), Vice President – Government Affairs at Comcast and Leadership Maryland board member, who has served as our facilitator for the Annapolis program since our first event in 2006. We spoke with him about why he feels an inside-look at our state’s legislative process is valuable to our members, and what we should know about the 2021 session.
Why did you help create Leadership Maryland Day in Annapolis back in 2006?
I thought it was critical for those who are interested in learning about what really goes on in Annapolis. Unless you work in Annapolis, it’s very hard to understand the byzantine world that exists there, especially during the 90-day session.
What is your goal for the Day in Annapolis program each year?
I always begin the day with the message that if you want to be engaged in public policy, you have to understand how it works – the nuts and bolts of it – and I emphasize the “if” because it is not for the faint of heart. I think a lot of people do a little bit of exploration into the world of public policy and say “wow, this is a full-contact sport, thank you very much, but I’m not going to do this.”
But for the leaders who are the core of Leadership Maryland, the message is if you are a leader and you really want to get engaged in public policy, you have to understand what happens for 90 days in Annapolis. And I stress that the most critically important time is really the nine months leading up to the session, when the legislators are back home. I tell Leadership Maryland members to find out who their elected officials are and make time to get in front of them and talk to them about the public policy issues they are passionate about. Make a justification to your legislator as to why they should favor, or perhaps compel to change their view, on a public policy issue, and then follow it, track it, and push it through the 90-day session.
I also hope Leadership Maryland attendees gain an appreciation for the dedication and hard work of legislators and staff for the 90-day session and beyond. The vast majority are there for all the right reasons and work tirelessly on behalf of their constituents.
What do you enjoy most about Leadership Maryland Day in Annapolis?
I love meeting the great leaders who have gone, or will go, through this program over the years. I am always struck by the diversity and the strength of our members. I also enjoy seeing people who are extremely accomplished in their respective field, but yet are very naïve about the way it really works in Annapolis. I love seeing that “ahah” moment when I explain something, or give a little bit of history on an issue, and I see the person’s eyes pop open and they say “wow, so that’s really the way it works?!” And I say “Yep! For better or worse, that’s the way it really works in Annapolis!” I enjoy educating people about the complexity of our legislative process.
How is the pandemic impacting the legislative process during this year’s session?
We had a shortened session last year, so that critical time period outside of the 90-day session that I spoke of was actually 10 months this year. I’m learning that the people who are most effective right now in Annapolis are those who took advantage of that time to reach out to their legislators and meet with them back home in their districts as much as they could. This year, if the legislation is not baked, it is going to have a really hard time getting through. So, all that legwork I encourage people to do in the months before session is more important now than ever. This year, if you don’t have your sponsor/champion lined up, don’t have the bill worked out exactly the way you want it to look, don’t have people on board, and don’t have leadership understanding the importance of it, you are going to have a really hard time getting legislation passed this year.
There were a record number of pre-filed bills this year because legislators knew it was going to be that much more challenging to get a bill through, so they got them in the system much earlier than normal.
How else are events of the past year impacting the 2021 session?
Since last March, two of the most significant things that have happened around the world, and especially in our country and state, are this terrible pandemic, and the realization that we have a lot of work to do on social justice. So, I think two major priorities of this year’s session that will result in comprehensive legislation will be recovering from and moving forward from the pandemic, and figuring out how to make progress on fixing some of the social justice issues that are vexing our society.
Another issue I deal with directly is broadband. The pandemic alone has shown us that broadband is more critical than ever before for education, continuity of business, and personal communications. Everyone now realizes what those of us in the industry have been saying for years – we need a better broadband plan. There are two issues with broadband – one is access, and the other is adoption. We have done a pretty good job on both in Maryland, especially because a lot of other states are lagging behind, but we need to do better. So, I have been working with several legislative leaders on how to develop a plan moving forward for broadband.
Is there anything else significant to note about this year’s session?
If we ever needed another reminder that leaders matter, the last few months have done that. What is significant for me is that for a long time the two major leaders in Annapolis were “Mike & Mike” – Mike Busch, who passed away a couple of years ago, and was an incredible leader with a very distinct style, and Mike Miller, who just passed away recently. It broke my heart a little, with Mike’s [Miller’s] love of history, that he wasn’t able to see the historic inauguration and all it represented. But now we have two new leaders in Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones and they are putting their distinct impression on Annapolis, how it works under their leadership, emphasizing their priorities and demonstrating how legislation gets put through the system.
I think leaders matter. An okay leader may tell people what they want to hear, but a great leader will tell people what they need to hear. If anything, we’ve learned recently that you need the courage as a leader to tell people what they need to hear, whether they want to hear it or not. You are not always going to get a favorable reception when you tell people what they need to hear, but I think that’s one of the top requirements of a great leader. Whether it is regarding social justice, political conduct, or how to deal with a worldwide pandemic, we need leaders who are willing and able to have the courage to tell people what they need to hear.
52 business and community leaders chosen to complete eight-month professional development program
Annapolis, Md. (February 4, 2021) – Leadership Maryland officially announces the Class of 2021, consisting of 52 business and community leaders from across the state chosen to participate in the professional development program dedicated to building a better Maryland.
The Class of 2021, Leadership Maryland’s 28th class, reflects a cross-section of the state, including diversity of geographic location, profession, ethnicity and gender. The class was originally selected as the Class of 2020 but was postponed one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure the safety of all participants, this year’s program will include a hybrid of virtual programming and in-person sessions, if and when possible.
The program will run from April to December, and include five, two-day sessions focused on Maryland’s five main geographic regions and the most vital issues impacting economic development, education, health and human services, criminal justice, the environment, and multi-culturalism/diversity across the state. More than 100 experts representing business, government, education, and the non-profit community will serve as panelists and guest speakers.
“Like everyone else, our organization has been forced to adapt over the past year, and after postponing our program for the first time in our history, we are excited to welcome the Class of 2021,” said Renée M. Winsky ‘05, president and Chief Executive Officer, Leadership Maryland. “Last year’s selection process was our most competitive ever, and we are honored that the majority of our chosen candidates agreed to wait and join us this year. We are still finalizing the details for this year’s sessions and events, but we are prepared to incorporate virtual programming and are committed to making any other necessary adjustments to protect everyone’s health while ensuring the Class of 2021 experiences the full impact of the Leadership Maryland program.”
Leadership Maryland is open to senior-level executives with significant achievements in either their careers and/or their communities. Ideal Leadership Maryland members have a desire to learn more about Maryland’s most critical issues and a personal commitment to be a force for positive change in their organizations, their communities, and their state. For more information about Leadership Maryland, please visit www.LeadershipMD.org, call 410-841-2101 or email Info@LeadershipMD.org.
Leadership Maryland Class of 2021 participants:
Amanda N. Allen
Government & Community Affairs Manager
Adrianne M. Arthur
University of Maryland Strategic Partnership
Nichole Doye Battle, MBA
Chief Executive Officer
R. Andrew “Andy” Bauer
Vice President & Regional Executive, Research
Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Baltimore Branch
Denise L. Beaver, CEcD
Deputy Director, Economic Development
Carroll County Government
Dr. Mary W. Bolt
Matthew Bolyard, MBA
Southway Builders, Inc.
Christopher P. Breedlove
Chief, Zoning Enforcement
Calvert County Government
Lauren T. Buckler-Duncan, PE, CEM
Assistant Secretary of Design, Construction & Energy
Maryland Department of General Services
Lucas I. Cade
Senior Economic Development Advisor
Potomac Edison – A First Energy Company
Division Vice President
The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company
Chief Information Officer
Accenture Federal Services
Danielle Lee Conrow
Deputy Director of Engineering & Highways
Calvert County Government
David J. Corkum
Executive Vice President
CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield
Suzanne Luers Crawford
Director of Administration
University of Maryland-Baltimore County
Melissa S. Drew
Project Executive, Director - Eastern Shore
Gilbane Building Company
Nancy L. Easterling
Historic Sotterley, Inc.
Michele S. Eberle, MBA
Maryland Health Benefit Exchange
Dr. Chrys Egan
Associate Dean, Fulton School of Liberal Arts
Enas Y. Elhanafi, M.Phil, MPPA, M.S.Ed
Associate Director of Community Engagement, Director Global Nexus Program
The Verve Partnership LLC
Managing Director, Office of Tourism and Film
Maryland Department of Commerce
Paul Frey, IOM
President & CEO
Washington County Chamber of Commerce
Kendrick T. Gibbs
Acting Deputy Director, Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
National Institutes of Health
Jeremy D. Goldman
William Robert Hair
Maryland School for the Blind
Heidi Hammel, PMP, GISP
KCI Technologies, Inc.
John J. Horner Jr., MBA
Senior Vice President & COO
Arthur A. Jones-Dove, PE, PMP, CCM, MBA, PgMP
Atkins, member of SNC-Lavalin Group
Lisa Kemp, CPA
Deena Deese Kilmon
Director of Engagement
Arc Central Chesapeake Region
Irene Katherine Magruder, CEcD
Maryland Clean Energy Center
Kim I. McCalla
Associate Vice President Facilities, Design and Construction
Morgan State University
President & CEO
McDonell Consulting Group/Sandler Training
Austin L. Miller
Chief Technology Officer – MTA
Maryland Department of Transportation
Dr. Robert C. Mock, Jr.
Chief of Staff
University of Maryland-Eastern Shore
Luisella Perri, Esq.
Miles & Stockbridge, PC
Wendi Wagner Peters
Special Secretary of Smart Growth
State of Maryland
Dr. Bradley D. Phillips
Deputy Executive Director
Maryland Association of Community Colleges
Mark J. Potter
President & CEO
Maryland Science Center
Antonio P. Salazar, Esq.
Commissioner of Financial Regulation
Maryland Department of Labor
Arti Santhanam, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Maryland Innovation Initiative
Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO)
James C. Schmutz
President & CEO
Special Olympics Maryland, Inc.
Susan L. Schnaars
Vice President - Senior Investment Advisor
Sharon Markley Schreiber
Chief Operating Officer
Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore
Sarah J. Shin, Ph.D.
Associate Provost for Academic Affairs
University of Maryland-Baltimore County
Dr. James Scott Smith
St. Mary's County Public Schools
Corey E. Stottlemyer
Director, Strategic Customer Service
Maryland Department of Transportation
Richard A. Tabuteau, Esq.
Attorney & Lobbyist
Equity Through Action
Turner Wealth Management
By: Tammi Thomas '18; Vice President, Marketing & Communications, TEDCO
Aretha Franklin famously sang, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T; find out what it means to me!” The song earned her two Grammy awards, was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry, and ranked number five on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
What makes the song so popular and, well, respected? In addition to being catchy and memorable, its lyrics speak to a universally recognized value: We all want respect—and we all know that to get respect, we must also give it.
Yet getting and giving respect can be difficult to put into practice consistently. Many organizations include respect in their values, but without considering its true meaning and what it takes to “walk the walk.” True respect can’t be in name only—it has to be authentic to be effective.
At TEDCO, our commitment to respect is reflected in our core values: “We uphold a culture of respect at work, within our communities, and nationally. We embrace diversity and value our employees for their individuality and the unique perspectives that they bring to the organization.”
But respect at TEDCO is much more than words on paper. The TEDCO team represents a group of passionate people from different nationalities and backgrounds who are leaders in technology, life sciences, and commercialization. It’s because of this diversity—not in spite of it—and our mutual respect for each other’s unique perspectives and expertise that we can achieve our collective mission.
Not only is diversity important to TEDCO’s culture, we know that it also fuels Maryland’s thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. There’s a large body of evidence to support the connection between diversity and innovation. According to research summarized in Forbes, companies with above-average diversity produced a greater proportion of revenue from innovation (45% of total) than from companies with below average diversity (26%). This 19% innovation-related advantage translated into overall better financial performance. Clearly, organizations that value and respect differences outperform their peers.
TEDCO isn’t the only organization demonstrating a commitment to diversity, inclusion, and respect. Stanford University instituted a Respectful Workplace training that all new faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate students must take. Closer to home, Leadership Maryland trains business leaders from across the state to have crucial conversations in an environment of trust, respect, and civility.
One of the best ways that you can start demonstrating respect is to encourage dialogue among those with unique backgrounds and perspectives and then really listen. The gold nuggets of innovation can be found at the intersection of diverse viewpoints.
Respect is an important value to me personally and professionally. I believe in treating all people with respect and celebrating diverse points of view—and it’s incredibly rewarding to work with a group of people who feel the same.
This is a contributed post from our silver sponsor, TEDCO.
Season 2, Episode 1: Using true leadership connections to create significance for others.
“Just about anybody can become a better leader than they start off being if they understand what leadership really is. Leadership is not just power—it’s a reciprocal process that takes you and someone else to accomplish. You can’t do it all on your own.” – Eliot Pfanstiehl (LM)
In our Season 2 premiere, Eric Brotman '09 is joined by Eliot Pfanstiehl (LM), who represents all things leadership—having served as program facilitator for Leadership Maryland, Leadership Montgomery, Leadership Southern Maryland, Leadership Washington County, and Leadership Allegany since their inception. Throughout the episode, Eric and Eliot walk listeners through the Leadership Maryland experience—highlighting the intimacy and state-wide networking opportunities created during the program, as well as the vast perspectives, ideas, and issues that participants encounter. Eliot breaks down what it really means to be a leader and how to use leadership tools to create positive change for others. He also explains why any message about his departure from Leadership Maryland was premature. That's right; Eliot has decided to rejoin us for the Class of 2021!
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN
Topics covered in this conversation include:
About our guest:
Eliot Pfanstiehl (LM) is Founding CEO Emeritus of the Strathmore Hall Arts Center in Bethesda, MD. Born in Washington, D.C. and a life-long resident of Montgomery County, he is a graduate of George Washington University, where he majored in psychology. After college, he worked for the Maryland State Department of Education and went on to be the arts coordinator for Montgomery County Government in Montgomery County, Maryland. During his time there, he opened the original Round House Theatre. In 1983, he was hired as the first Executive Director of the Strathmore Hall Foundation. Inc. and went on to build the world class Music Center at Strathmore and Pike and Rose AMP Strathmore. He conceived and launched the Strathmore East County Initiative and the innovative Partnership with MCPS and Strathmore called Think Big Café.
He’s served as the chairman of the Maryland State Arts Council, the Maryland Citizens for the Arts, and the Montgomery County Conference and Visitors Bureau. Mr. Pfanstiehl founded and served as president of the Montgomery County Arts Council, the League of Washington Theatres, the MetroArt I and II Consortiums, and Maryland Leadership Workshops, Inc. He has facilitated over 400 non-profit retreats, leadership training workshops, and educational conferences.
He has served as program facilitator for Maryland’s leadership programs and was a member of the inaugural class of Leadership Greater Washington, a member of the National State Leadership Directors, and currently serves as a founding board member of the National Give a Note Foundation.
Within the cultural industry, Mr. Pfanstiehl has served on the boards of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington; Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre Foundation of Maryland; Community and Friends Board of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Round House Theatre; Maryland College of Art and Design; Black Rock Center for the Arts; Conference and Visitors Bureau of Montgomery County, and the Maryland Association of Non-Profit Organizations.
Mr. Pfanstiehl was named 2001 Washingtonian of the Year for his leadership in a new 2,000 seat Concert Hall and Arts Education Center at Strathmore scheduled to open in 2005. He and his anthropologist spouse, Cynthia, are proud parents of their four grown children in Silver Spring, Maryland where they are adapting to retirement by being busier than ever.
This letter from Jeanne Forrester Singer, Esq. ‘07 (LM), Board Chair and Renée M. Winsky ‘05, President & CEO, appears in the Leadership Maryland 2020 Directory, which is being mailed to our members this week. We chose to also share it here, as it provides a great recap of the past year and what we have to look forward to in 2021.
We hope this finds you in good health and high spirits. We are coming to the close of a chaotic year, having endured many months of grief, ambiguity, and trepidation. When the Board made the difficult decision to postpone Leadership Maryland programming, it sparked concern that our impact for the year would be significantly reduced. We are happy to report that our staff, volunteers, and alumni adapted to the new and uncertain landscape with great poise and admirable grace, working collaboratively to ensure our progress would go unhindered.
In response to the pandemic, the entirety of Maryland Leadership Workshops summer programming was transitioned to a virtual format with incredible success. Anita, her staff, and our immensely resourceful volunteers created a tremendous virtual program. Their work on MLW@Home also allowed us to expand the reach of our impact, providing free, at-home access to our leadership programming to students across the state.
The Board also spent more time this year interfacing with the Maryland Leadership Workshops Program Committee and staff. While the merger is now several years old, we have not given primacy to fully integrating the two programs until recently. Instead, we had essentially been functioning as two distinct entities, duplicating certain efforts and splitting overhead expenses. While this model had some advantages for both organizations, the Board wanted to identify and maximize synergies between the programs. As a result, we have adjusted our budgeting processes and are beginning to develop initiatives that will boost our alumni engagement, reconnecting a robust body of knowledge and experience within Leadership Maryland and Maryland Leadership Workshops. Stay posted for more information on these opportunities!
Lastly, we want to report that any message about Eliot’s departure was premature. He has decided to rejoin us for Leadership Maryland Class of 2021! The search committee will continue to work with Eliot to recruit his eventual replacement. That individual will undoubtedly have big shoes to fill, but we are confident we will find the right person for the job.
As we move into a new year, we hope you all take a moment to reflect on your experiences with our programs and the ways in which those experiences may have helped to prepare you for the tumult of the past several months. This is a moment that necessitates empathy, resolve, and clarity of purpose. Our communities are desperate for connectedness, shared vision, and resilient leadership. Our mission of empowering a diverse network of local leaders has never been more important; we look forward to meeting and working with many more of you as we continue in that endeavor.
Wishing you all a happy holiday season and a wonderful 2021!
Jeanne Forrester Singer, Esq. ‘07 (LM)
Renée M. Winsky ‘05
President & CEO
Episode 6: The steps to improving Baltimore City’s businesses, industries, and communities
“If there’s anything that I’ve learned in 2020 it’s to listen; you can learn an immense amount and become a better leader if you just listen.” – Kim Clark, 09
In this episode, Eric Brotman ‘09 is joined by the Executive Vice President of the City of Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), Kim Clark ’09. Throughout the episode, Kim discusses her unique background, and how it led her to serving 21 years at the BDC, the different challenges of Baltimore City and how to approach them, the pandemic’s impact on commercial and residential real estate, the status of transportation, and more.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN
Topics covered in this conversation include:
About our Guest:
Kim Clark is the Executive Vice President of the City of Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC). In her capacity as EVP, Kim oversees neighborhood development, business development, real estate development, capital budgeting, small and minority owned business initiative, innovation development, marketing, research and analytics.
Among her achievements at BDC, Kim helped structure public private partnership financing for several major redevelopment projects, including several Tax Increment Financing (TIF) projects; Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTS) for several major developments, and the financing of several grocery store projects. She was instrumental in retaining several businesses of all sizes and assisted smaller businesses with expansions. Kim represented the City in the development of the Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, the redevelopment of Inner Harbor East and Belvedere Square, as well as several other projects.
Kim is the Immediate Past President of the Maryland Economic Development Association, President of the MEDA Foundation, Governance Chair of the Urban Land Institute Baltimore Council, Board member of the Emerging Technology Centers, Small Business Resource Center, Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake, Inc., and is a member of the International Economic Development Council. In 2016 Kim was named by the Daily Record as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women, received the Mayor’s Medal for Meritorious Service, and was honored by Mercy High School with the Sister M. Joannes Clifford Distinguished Alumni award. Kim graduated Leadership Maryland in 2009 and is a Greater Baltimore Committee Leadership Class of 2007 graduate.
In a normal year, December is usually when our selection committee is sitting down for in-person interviews with new applicants, seeking to find the 52 ideal candidates to participate in the next Leadership Maryland class. With the Class of 2020 postponed until 2021, we decided to chat with Kenneth L. “Ken” Brannan ’05 (LM), board vice chair and chair of our selection committee, about the interview process and what goes into building a new class.
How long have you been on the selection committee?
I’ve been on the selection committee for the past six or seven years and have served as chair of the committee for three years. Pete France ‘12 was the previous chair, and he and I became friends and he encouraged me to join. They had an opening, and I live close to the Leadership Maryland office, so it was convenient for me, plus I’ve enjoyed staying engaged with Leadership Maryland, so I agreed. I didn’t know then how rewarding it would be and how it would continue to enrich my life over the years.
What do you enjoy most about interviewing class applicants?
We only ask 10 questions in each interview, so I’ve listened to them over and over, but I never get tired of it. It is an enlightening learning process each time. One of the characteristics of leadership is helping to train new leaders, and that’s one the best aspects of what the selection committee does. We get to help put together a class consisting of established leaders who can create impact across Maryland and beyond.
What are you hoping to learn about each applicant during their interview?
Our selection process is very competitive, and people really want to be included in the class, so they tend to be nervous when they come for the interviews. We also use a sand timer to limit the interview to 30 minutes, which can add more pressure. But we are looking for candor and self-confidence, and for people who exhibit a sense of accomplishment in their professional careers and a personal commitment to their community and their relationships. We want to know what each candidate is passionate about, and interested in, and how they’ve explored those interests – whether it’s in their profession, or in their hobbies or volunteer efforts. We’re looking for candidates who don’t have an agenda, are curious of mind, and are open to new and different ideas. And we are focused on selecting a diverse class – we’re looking for a broad mix of gender, ages, professional backgrounds and a geographic blend from across the state. Ethnicities, too but more importantly, intellectual diversity.
How do these qualities contribute to the dynamic of each Leadership Maryland class?
One of the key aspects of Leadership Maryland is the program creates a sacred, trusted environment that allows people to feel comfortable answering uncomfortable questions. Every person has a veneer they carry around – an image they want to project, a protective shield around their reputation – and Leadership Maryland is designed to help you drop that veneer and experience a new level of openness and transparency. So, in the interviews, we’re looking for insight into how each candidate might respond to that environment and contribute to the class.
In my experience, everyone in Leadership Maryland will drop their veneer at some point in their class year – for me it happened during our first exercise at opening retreat in April 2005! But what you can’t anticipate is how each class forms a unique bond because of this shared experience. It’s a lot like childhood friendships – those friends who really know you and let you be yourself, and a lot of Leadership Maryland graduates will tell you they didn’t realize they could still make friends like that at 40 years old, or 50 years old, or however old they were when they went through the program.
Can you explain your concept of the “brimming measure?”
I think of Leadership Maryland as graduate school – it’s intense, it’s a lot of work, it’s a financial and time commitment, but the more you participate in the experience, the more you will get out of it. I tell candidates that the way the Leadership Maryland program is designed, every class gets a full cup, but if you do the preparation and the work, what you will add to the class is “the brimming measure.” If you dedicate the time and effort, it will enrich your life in ways you can’t imagine. One of the ways we gauge success is how much class members engage with Leadership Maryland after they graduate. I’ve never seen a class that didn’t succeed in that, but some give it 150 percent. For example, the Class of 2018 had six members sign up as lifetime members before they had even graduated! And another six have joined since.
What advice would you offer to anyone who is considering applying for a future class?
Leadership is a leap of faith. If you can take that leap inside the environment of trust that Leadership Maryland provides, it will enrich your life in ways you can’t even fathom.
Three Leadership Maryland classmates collaborate to bring new UMB Community Engagement Center to life
“You just never know when your Leadership Maryland network is going to pop up.”
That’s what Jon Kucskar ’17 says of the fortunate circumstance that occurred last year when he and a few of his colleagues at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) gathered to walk through a vacant and run-down building in the Poppleton neighborhood of West Baltimore. The building had been chosen to soon become a keystone piece of UMB’s footprint in the neighborhood – a new Community Engagement Center to house a wide array of programs, classes and other services for the surrounding community. The Maryland Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO) had been selected as the developer to complete the transformation, and when Kucskar arrived at the site, he was pleasantly surprised to see a familiar face – MEDCO Director for Development and Kucskar’s Leadership Maryland Class of 2017 classmate, John Genakos ‘17.
“I remember walking up the front steps of this then-dilapidated building and all of a sudden, there’s John Genakos standing there,” he says. “It was a great moment for a big bear hug, and we were both so happy that we’d be working on this together.”
Kucskar and Genakos had become close during their time in Leadership Maryland. The Class of 2017 was affectionately nicknamed “The Year of the Johns/Jons” as there were seven class members named John or Jon who formed a tight-knit group.
“We had a strong core of participants that year, and it felt like we had a very close class. Everyone got to know everyone else and built great relationships, and we’ve stayed in touch since graduation,” said Genakos. “Jon and I got along especially well. We both have young children, and both work in Baltimore, so we would meet up for lunch sometimes and coordinate other social get-togethers.”
What made that morning’s unexpected reunion even more serendipitous was that Kucskar might not have even been working for UMB if it hadn’t been for his Leadership Maryland experience.
“I had a different job when I was in the program, so John and I never talked about work. He was in construction, and I was in utility regulation at the time, so I never thought back then that my professional path was going to cross with his,” says Kucskar. But a well-timed conversation with another Class of 2017 classmate, Jennifer Litchman ’17, the senior vice president for external relations and special assistant to the president at UMB, resulted in a career change.
“We were at Layton’s Chance Vineyard & Winery during a Leadership Maryland session, when Jon approached me about wanting to work at the University, and it happened to be at the same exact time that I was creating a new position of advisor to the president,” says Litchman.
“I asked the right question at the right time,” says Kucskar. The Class of 2017 graduated Leadership Maryland in December of that year, and by early March 2018, Jon Kucskar was hired to his new role as advisor to the president at UMB. A little over a year later, Kucskar, Litchman, and Genakos stood together outside the building that would become the new UMB Community Engagement Center.
As for the building itself, it wasn’t much to see on that first walkthrough. Built in the 1930s, the building had previously been used as a Catholic school and then a behavioral health site, but it had been vacant for at least five years and fallen into disrepair.
“It was once a very grand building,” said Genakos. “It had columns reminiscent of Greek or Roman times, but inside, the walls were crumbling down, and none of the 100-plus windows were intact. The toilets were torn out, the ceiling was leaking, there were a couple of inches of water in the basement, the stairs were falling out and unsafe to walk on, and there was rubble everywhere. But the University wanted to make a new landmark investment in the community. They had funds from a historical trust to help with the project, and they wanted as quick a turnaround as possible. When I looked into it, I learned it was a historic building, and there was nothing wrong with its structure or construction. So, I worked up a schedule, a rough budget and collaborated with members of the UMB team to figure out how we could layout the space. Once we had a pathway to follow that proved the project could be done within the desired timeline, we went to work.”
“This building will be the cornerstone, the anchor, to what we’re calling our UMB Community Campus,” says Kucskar. “The divide of MLK Boulevard has historically been tough for our university, but we saw this building as our statement to say, ‘We are here and committed to being part of this West Baltimore community.’ The building was in bad shape, but we quickly found out the bones were still there. When done well, it would be a beautiful and functional historic building, and that’s why we needed MEDCO and John’s expertise to turn the building from a shell into a masterpiece. His role was to be the central facilitator between the builders and our UMB team.”
As senior vice president of external relations, Jennifer Litchman is responsible for overseeing the university’s community engagement initiatives and had a leadership role in fundraising to secure a new facility.
“About five or six years ago, we decided it was really important to have an overarching University umbrella around community engagement,” she said. “So we set up a small community engagement center in a store front in a building in our BioPark and hired an executive director of Community Engagement to run the center and bring all our initiatives – including medical and dental screenings, legal advice and more – all together under one roof. We added Zumba classes, job seeking and resume services, and children’s programs. But we were hindered by the size of the facility and the hours – we just didn’t have enough manpower to go beyond the nine-to-five week day, while understanding our neighbors needed access to services on the weekends and in the evenings. So, we started fundraising and figuring out how we could provide more services in a bigger facility.”
The UMB Office of Community Engagement was fortunate to receive a $4 million grant authorized by the Maryland General Assembly to help get the building renovation project underway and UMB invested about $9 million total in the project. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in October 2019 featuring local dignitaries and guest speaker, NFL Hall of Famer and UMB board member Ray Lewis. Over the next 9-10 months, construction on the project went smoothly – with just a few minor delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Throughout the process, Jennifer Litchman co-chaired a steering committee of UMB leaders that met biweekly, while Jon Kucskar coordinated communications between senior leaders from various UMB departments involved in the project, and John Genakos provided regular updates on the renovation from MEDCO. Work was completed this past summer, and everyone agrees the building’s transformation is remarkable. Encompassing 20,000 square feet and four floors, the new UMB Community Engagement Center retains many of the building’s historical elements, including original marble in the entryways, and a historic performance stage. But it also now features a large community room for special events and gatherings, an exercise room, a computer lab, a health suite, a social work area, and multiple classrooms.
“The process was incredibly smooth. And it came in virtually on schedule and on budget, which is rare in construction, especially during a pandemic, which is a credit to both John and the MEDCO team and our team,” says Kucskar. “The president has seen the building and he loves it.”
While UMB hasn’t yet been able to fully open the Community Engagement Center’s doors due to the pandemic, the Office of Community Engagement is already providing as many services as it can safely. Staff are leading virtual youth programs for its grant-funded Police Athletic League and the UMB CURE Scholars Program, which mentors middle and high school students in a STEM and healthcare curriculum, as well as providing services like Thanksgiving meal boxes for the families of these students. In December, they are planning an outdoor holiday store where neighbors can purchase donated gifts for nominal fees.
“Right now, we’re trying to do as much as we can virtually or outside. And once the pandemic is over, we will hold a grand opening. We have a lot of people who are ready to give their all to our neighbors, and we’re just waiting for the opportunity,” says Litchman.
“The end project is just wonderful,” says Genakos. “It’s an old building, so we did have a few challenges come up, but it was great working with UMB, and we got through those challenges in a very collaborative way. The most fulfilling part is knowing this space has been transformed from piles of rubble to a place where community members and children can come get education, health care, and other vital resources right in their neighborhood. It’s an extremely feel-good project, and I feel lucky and blessed that the opportunity came to me, and I got to help transform a small but significant piece of West Baltimore.”
When asked how this project benefitted from the established connection between the three Leadership Maryland classmates, Jon Kucskar says it created an immediate sense of trust and credibility between MEDCO and UMB.
“John and I had developed a pretty strong relationship in the program – it’s that trust you build when you’ve gone through the Leadership Maryland process with someone,” he says. “You get to know each other’s character and you get to know they are someone you can trust. John was an upfront person about how he felt, particularly in some of those more meaningful discussions on tough topics you get in Leadership Maryland. So, I trusted his integrity, and that he was going to do right by us and deliver what he had promised. You can’t replace integrity and trust, it has to be earned, and in my mind, John had already pre-earned that.”
The UMB Office of Community Engagement is currently raising funds for an endowment so the work being done at the new Community Engagement Center can continue in perpetuity. To learn more about the UMB Community Engagement Center, or to support its initiatives, please visit https://www.umaryland.edu/oce/center/ or contact Ashley Valis, Executive Director of the UMB Office of Community Engagement, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Episode 5: The Impact of Innovation: Understanding What it Means to Serve the Community
“Any leader needs to have a lot of patience. Jumping to conclusions is not where we need to be as leaders. You have to sit back and soak in the information in order to determine the best paths moving forward.” – Kelly Schulz ’16
In this episode, Eric Brotman '09 and cohost Renée Winsky '05 are joined by Kelly Schulz ’16, Maryland Secretary of Commerce, to discuss how to be a leader that creates change for the community instead of for themselves. Schulz dives into Maryland’s workforce development and how to inspire, encourage, and provide citizens—especially Maryland’s youth and local business owners—with the resources they need in order to succeed and benefit the community.
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Listen to this conversation to learn:
About our Guest:
Secretary Kelly M. Schulz brings a wealth of knowledge to the Maryland Department of Commerce from her years of experience working in the government, in the private sector, and as a small business owner. Previously, she has served as the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (DLLR), and is also a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates.
A former member of the Maryland House of Delegates representing Frederick County, she served on the Economic Matters Committee from 2011- 2015. In addition to local issues, then Delegate Schulz took special interest in legislation relating to banks and other financial institutions, business, occupations and professions, economic development, labor and employment, unemployment insurance, and workers' compensation.
Prior to embarking on a career of public service, Secretary Schulz sold real estate, worked as a program manager for a defense contractor, and was a part-owner of a cyber security firm. She is proud to participate as a member in many local community organizations including the Libertytown-Unionville Lions Club, the Walkersville Volunteer Fire Company, Leadership Maryland Class of ’16, and as a past Board member of the Frederick County Habitat for Humanity.
Secretary Schulz obtained her Associates degree from Monroe Community College in Rochester, New York and later obtained her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Hood College in Frederick, Maryland.
Strength in [Socially-Distanced] Numbers: How Leadership Maryland Classmates Stay Connected, Even During a Pandemic
This year has been all about learning to do everything differently. Whether at home or at work, all our daily routines look different than they did last winter, and some of our lives have changed forever. But one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has not altered is the strong bond that exists within the Leadership Maryland alumni family.
Ask anyone who has completed the Leadership Maryland program, and they’ll tell you that, beyond the information and insight gained during the sessions, what really made the experience meaningful was the connections made with their classmates. And for most of our classes, these friendships continue long after graduation.
“Leadership Maryland is like a fraternity, or that friend from childhood who when you get together, it’s like no time has passed,” says Renée Winsky, ’05. “My life is richer because of my classmates – some for purely professional reasons, some for more personal, and the best ones cover both!”
Up until this year, Marty Schwartz ’14 met his classmates for happy hours every four-to-six months or so.
“One of the primary benefits of Leadership Maryland is the amazing leaders in our cohort,” he says. “Those relationships are very important to me, and I believe they are to most of us and that’s why we continue to get together. We often share what is happening, not only in our personal lives, but in business as well, and there are always nuggets of knowledge to take home.”
Since COVID-19 has made it more difficult to gather in person, many classes have chosen to host virtual get-togethers. For many, these conversations have been a valuable way to stay connected, find support, and lighten spirits while coping with so many challenges. The Class of 2014 has held two Zoom meetings and has found that eliminating travel makes it easier for more classmates to attend.
“We’d typically have six to 10 people at our in-person happy hours, but many more of us have been able to attend the virtual gatherings, which has made it much nicer,” says Marty. “At the last event, we had three continents represented!”
The Class of 2018 has held Zoom happy hours every three months during the pandemic, in addition to checking in with each other by email.
“Our classmates have had plenty of news and information to share – from starting new businesses to sharing remote learning tips,” says Anne Grealy ’18 (LM). “We’ve also been able to lend an ear to classmates who are dealing with issues related to the pandemic on the frontline. It’s been made very clear how much we care for each other.”
“The value of friends can never be understated, and they’ve become even more important in the environment in which we now find ourselves,” says Marty. “Our class is filled with wonderful and diverse individuals, as are other classes. The opportunity Leadership Maryland provided to connect with these folks was and continues to be incredibly valuable.”
This year has reminded us why our social connections are so vital to our wellbeing, and why so many of us consider the relationships we found in Leadership Maryland to be among our most cherished.
“It’s not just your classmates you stay close to; if you engage with our alumni family – those who have graduated before and after you, your life will be richer,” says Renée. “You’ll find new ways to volunteer (or be ‘voluntold’) to further your passions, you may find new customers or business partners, you may even find the best vacation place you’ve ever experienced - who knows! The resources are abundant, but only to the extent to which you reach out and engage. We need each other now more than ever.”
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