Congratulations to UMBC’s 2011 Outstanding Alumni of the Year awardees. The 2011 awards were presented on Thursday, October 13, 2011, at an awards ceremony in the Albin O. Kuhn Library on the UMBC campus. Learn more about our past award winners

Engineering and Information Technology
Ralph Semmel ’92 Ph.D., Computer Science
Director, The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

As Director of The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, Dr. Ralph D. Semmel leads the nation’s largest University Affiliated Research Center, which performs research and development on behalf of the Department of Defense, the Intelligence Community, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and other Federal agencies. The Laboratory has more than 5,000 staff members, of whom more than two-thirds are engineers and scientists. Prior to becoming Director, Dr. Semmel served as the founding Head of APL’s Applied Information Sciences Department and Infocentric Operations Business Area. Dr. Semmel also served in a variety of other executive and senior leadership positions at the Laboratory including Business Area Executive for Infocentric Operations, Assistant Head of the Power Projection Systems Department, Business Area Executive for Science and Technology, Deputy Director of the Research and Technology Development Center, and Supervisor of the System and Information Sciences Group. In addition to his APL responsibilities, Dr. Semmel served from 1997 through 2010 as Chair of the graduate programs in Computer Science, Information Assurance, and Information Systems Engineering for Johns Hopkins University’s Engineering for Professionals program. In 2011, he was appointed Professor of Computer Science at the University. Dr. Semmel also has been program co-chair and on the program committees for several major international conferences, and served on the editorial board of the International Journal of Software Engineering and Knowledge Engineering. He has published more than 40 papers in the areas of artificial intelligence, database systems, and software engineering. Dr. Semmel also has led and continues to serve on a variety of Government science and technology boards, panels, and committees. Before joining the Laboratory in 1986, Dr. Semmel held leadership and technical positions with Wang Laboratories, MITRE Corporation, and the U.S. Army. Dr. Semmel received a B.S. in Engineering from the United States Military Academy, an M.S. in Systems Management from the University of Southern California, an M.S. in Computer Science from The Johns Hopkins University, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from UMBC.

Jamie Smith Hopkins ’98, English
Staff Writer, The Baltimore Sun

As a business news reporter at The Baltimore Sun, Jamie Smith Hopkins covers the housing market and regional economy. In recent years those beats have included stories about falling home prices and rising unemployment. She also runs the Sun‘s “Real Estate Wonk” blog, cultivating conversations about buying, selling and renting in the Baltimore area. Hopkins has won a number of national awards in reporting, including two for her real estate coverage this year:  a “Best in Business” award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and a second-place recognition from the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Hopkins credits UMBC journalism professor Christopher Corbett with helping her to land her first internship at the Sun and for playing an instrumental role in launching her career. She regularly gives back to UMBC by talking to Retriever Weekly staffers about options in professional journalism and how to make the challenges of student journalism less daunting. Over the years she has attended Retriever meetings, chatted with staff members by telephone and participated in a Career Week session. Hopkins and her husband, Ed Hopkins ’96, interdisciplinary studies, have a 2-year-old daughter named Katie.

Natural and Mathematical Sciences
Ronita L. Marple ’05, Ph.D., Chemistry
Senior Scientist, The Procter & Gamble Company

Dr. Ronita Lee Marple received her Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry from UMBC in 2005 and is a Senior Scientist in the Global Analytical Capability Organization for Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati, OH. Dr. Marple currently leads global technical teams to deliver new consumer products and has traveled to multiple European and Asian countries to establish technical connections and build new analytical capabilities. Dr. Marple is affiliated with the American Chemical Society and serves on steering committees for two P&G Affinity Groups for female scientists. She continues to contribute to UMBC through the Professional Network Mentoring Program and the Annual Fund. In her free time, Ronita and her husband Jeff enjoy running marathons and going to movies and are avid ‘foodies’ in the Cincinnati area.

Social and Behavioral Sciences
Jeffrey P. Wilkinson, MD ’89, Interdisciplinary Studies
Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology,
University of North Carolina

Dr. Jeffrey P. Wilkinson counts among his greatest achievements the work he has done in Africa, helping young women overcome the challenges of difficult childbirth or recover from unimaginable injuries such as obstetric fistula.  Currently, Dr. Wilkinson serves as associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina, and last year he received the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology District IV mentor of the year award. Dr. Wilkinson spoke several years ago at an Interdisciplinary Studies event at UMBC, and considers Dr. Patricia LaNoue to be a fantastic mentor and role model for the INDS program. “I am proud to know her and have been a part of the program’s success,” he says. He also credits a supportive family, including his wife, Sumera Hayat, MD, who participates in the family’s medical work overseas and is a tireless advocate for better health amongst the world’s poor; his son, Ilyas Wilkinson-Hayat and his daughter, Alya Wilkinson-Hayat, both of whom “are kind, thoughtful kids who tolerate a lot from their roving parents.”

Visual and Performing Arts
Garrett Wright ’01, Theatre
Staff Attorney, Urban Justice Center

Garrett Wright is a staff attorney at the Community Development Project (CDP) at the Urban Justice Center, a city wide legal services organization that provides legal, technical, and research and policy assistance to grassroots community-based organizations throughout New York City. CDP’s attorneys work with grassroots organizations to develop litigation that arises out of the issues facing the organizations’ low-income constituents and members, and supports their organizing efforts around these issues. Prior to his current position, Garrett worked as a Bridge Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights. He graduated magna cum laude from UMBC in 2001 with a B.A. in Theatre and certificate in Women’s Studies and obtained his J.D. from Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley in 2007. Prior to law school, he worked as an organizer with the Student Peace Action Network in Silver Spring, Maryland, organizing against the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is co-chair of the National Lawyers Guild’s (NLG) Anti-Racism Committee and a member of the Executive Committee of the NLG New York City Chapter. He is also the bassist for the garage-rock/soul-punk band Sister Anne. He would like to thank his mother Barbara Wright, sister Suzanna Wright, aunt Francie Wright, and uncle Steven Ryan for their endless love and support.

Rising Star Award
Delali Dzirasa ’04, Computer Engineering
Founder/President, Fearless Solutions, LLC

While an undergraduate student, Delali Dzirasa was a member of the inaugural entrepreneurship classes at UMBC, developing two companies before graduating. Today, he is founder and president of Fearless Solutions, a cybersecurity start-up housed at UMBC’s @bwtech cybersecurity research and technology park. In addition to making waves in the Maryland cybersecurity community (Dzirasa recently met Maryland governor Martin O’Malley at UMBC’s Advantage Incubator launch), the two-year-old company employs a number of UMBC graduates and current students. In addition to serving as SGA speaker of the senate and helping to plan UMBC’s first Homecoming, Dzirasa also received the following honors as a student: Golden Key Honor Society (2001), Student Ambassador, Presidents Board of Visitors (2003), Most inspiring lead award (2003), USAA All American Scholar Award (2001), and NSBE Torchbearer Award for students possessing a GPA of 3.25 and above (2001). Following graduation, he worked at RABA technologies for fellow alumnus Rob Baruch. Dzirasa is married to UMBC alumna Letitia Dzirasa ’03, biological sciences, and he has one son, Dominic Williams-Dzirasa. He follows in the footsteps of brothers Mawuli Dzirasa ’00, mechanical engineering, and Dr. Kafui Dzirasa ’01, chemical engineering, in graduating from UMBC. He enjoys giving back to the community within his church.

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