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‘What I missed the most’: New and returning UMBC students welcomed back to campus this week

After more than a year, new and returning students were welcomed to the campus of University of Maryland Baltimore County to participate in the New Student Convocation for the 2021-22 semester.

It was the first in-person convocation ceremony held on campus since 2019 — as hundreds of students, faculty, and staff entered into the Chesapeake Employers Insurance Arena under COVID-19 guidelines.

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“Very excited to see students back on campus — that was something that we didn’t get a lot of last year … and that’s what I missed the most,” said Mehrshad Devin, a senior student speaker and president of student government.

In his speech Monday, Devin advised incoming students to be leaders and connect with others on campus in student organizations.

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“UMBC is a family and family,” he said with a smile, “looks out for each other.”

Mehrshad Devin, a UMBC senior and president of student government, speaks during the New Student Convocation for the 2021-22 semester on Monday, Aug. 30.
Mehrshad Devin, a UMBC senior and president of student government, speaks during the New Student Convocation for the 2021-22 semester on Monday, Aug. 30. (Cameron Goodnight)

Last year, the event was held virtually so many sophomore students like student speaker Maria Kutishcheva did not get the opportunity to be officially welcomed into the UMBC community on campus.

Kutishcheva gave a personal testimony as a first-year student at the university, which consisted of remote learning and lack of student life. In an effort to fill the social void, she maximized her first semester schedule by taking 19 credits.

“I was staring at a screen all day and it was really deteriorating my mental health,” she said.

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Kutishcheva later joined the UMBC Mock Trial team to make friends even though she initially had reservations about facilitating personal relationships with her teammates virtually.

“I began asking captains, coaches and students for their help — their aid allowed me to get more comfortable with my skills and the people on the team,” she said,

Kutishcheva called the group, strong, resilient, and unified, which allowed the team to reach the national championship.

On April 18, UMBC’s mock trial team defeated Yale University to win the American Mock Trial Association National Championship for the first time in program history.

“When you reach out and when you put in that hard work, you can achieve the success and achieve we did,” she said.

The convocation represented a different set of emotions for Freeman Hrabowski III, who will serve in his last year as UMBC’s president. He will retire from the university in June 2022, capping off a 30-year tenure for producing top-notch minority scientists and engineers.

Last week, his announcement, a video on UMBC’s website, garnered much reaction from political leaders, such as Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.

“I thank him for his decades of dedicated service devoted to expanding access to educational excellence, sparking innovation, and promoting equity — efforts that have transformed UMBC into the national leader it is today,” Olszewski said in a statement.

Hrabowski called it a “special” privilege to address incoming students one final time under COVID-19 guidelines.

“It feels so good to be leaving when things are going so well in spite of the challenging environment,” he said.

Hrabowski is confident that UMBC will do the best they can to operate his final year as safety as possible with indoor mask requirements and proper social distancing.

Nancy Young, who serves as vice president of student affairs, echoed similar sentiments.

“I’ve seen some students be a little hesitant in terms of coming back and figuring it out, but over the past few days we just see it all just dissipate and that’s been really nice — I think it’s going to be a great semester, I’m so excited,” she said.

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