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Courtesy of Special Collections

Making “nerdy” cool by Nikoletta Gjoni

Nikoletta Gjoni is an Operations Manager at AppleTree and the Director of Marketing at Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore.

I accepted my spot at UMBC knowing I’d be going against the campus’s grain. It was always known as a research school; a campus big on mathematics and engineering—none of the things I was ever any good at.

I started in the fall of 2005 as an English Lit student and never looked back. UMBC’s little known secret is that it truly has an outstanding humanities and English department. It was thanks to this little department—and Professor Osherow—that I learned about the Undergraduate Research Award, applied for it and was accepted.

A unique opportunity that afforded all students the possibility to spearhead the research on a topic of their choosing, I was fortunate enough to travel to Albania and interview Ismail Kadare, a Nobel Prize nominated Albanian author. Conducting research in my native country about the communist effects on literature and print journalism and then continuing to present my findings in an oral setting among my peers and professors was perhaps the highlight of my undergraduate career.

UMBC prides itself on making the “nerdy” cool and I can attest to that perfect blend of business and pleasure that seems to be the cornerstone of everything happening on campus. As a member of the school’s Model United Nations team, I remember we worked hard throughout each semester to show up and represent the black and gold in Chicago and New York City; we never disappointed. Amidst the learning, the teamwork, and finally, the winning, we played hard. As a team, we explored the local scenes and gave ourselves the time to appreciate the work that went into representing our university at both the national and international conferences.

While both the URA and MUN were the best of what I experienced, perhaps more important to me is what occurred beyond the classrooms; the friendships I developed based on a mutual respect for diversity and learning — friendships that have only grown stronger since the end of our UMBC days in 2009. In addition, the mentorship and friendships I gained with many of my English professors, but primarily with Dr. Falco, are truly irreplaceable. The Fine Arts building became a respite for me; an oasis of Donne, Burrnett and Wroth amidst Socratic discussions and text analyses.

Just before a mock Model UN trial with local high school students that we were hosting, President Hrabowski asked if we as students and teammates believed we were smart. Everyone yelled out “yes.” I responded with a resounding “hell yes,” at which he smiled. I am proud to say that I still feel the need to follow up with that response when people ask where I went to school.

Hilltop Circle is growing, changing and starting to feel the warmth of the spotlight. But I’ll always remember my corners in the Fine Arts building — or the smell of books piled up in Dr. Falco’s office and remember how I knew from the beginning that UMBC would be home.