Grit & Greatness: Celebrating UMBC’s Unique Spirit

Campus-wide Engagement

After 50 years of nose-to-the-grindstone achievement, the UMBC family celebrated like the champs they are…puppies helped!

Here’s one thing we love about UMBC: With their 50th anniversary just a distant glimmer on the horizon, the advancement team got to work. They had 18 months to plan a major anniversary celebration, quickly followed by a celebration of the Grit & Greatness Campaign. So, they formed cross-departmental workgroups to brainstorm possibilities and strengthen relationships across the University. Those relationships and that buy-in would be the key to bringing out-of-the-box ideas to reality.

Some universities might say, we’ll wait a year or even less to start planning. “But UMBC had a strong vision of events fueled by grassroots crowd-sourcing and volunteerism,” recounts JoAnn Peroutka, Educe Managing Principal and project lead. “They wanted the solutions to grow up from within this very smart and creative community.”

Our work started after that process was well underway with a “diagnostic reset”—we listened to all of the brainstorming and experimenting that had grown out of these workgroups and used that as the foundation for developing a schedule and narrative arc for the 50th anniversary weekend. We even commandeered admissions messaging for the 50th Anniversary Festival—The House of Grit.

All of that community engagement paid off right away. One of the first things we did was throw them a curve ball, in the form of our suggested location for the outdoor festival—a parking lot adjacent to the new performing arts center. But that location would require 400 faculty and staff to park someplace else for a week.


“UMBC had a strong vision for these events and wanted the solutions to grow up from within this very smart and creative community.”

JoAnn Peroutka, Managing Principal

JoAnn explains: “We were blown away by this brand new vantage point. It was a view and a new part of campus that alumni wouldn’t have seen before. We were nervous making the ask. But UMBC is so game, and because they had done all of the lead-up work internally, the campus agreed!”

The next potential challenge: We knew UMBC could do whatever work would be necessary to make amazing things happen, but would they let loose and have fun?

RSVPs looked promising for September 2016 50th anniversary weekend and when we saw entire families driving up to the festival area, bringing lawn chairs and sunscreen, we had our answer. Thousands of alumni, friends, and community members came to campus for the festivities, whose highlights included a Puppy Parade (UMBC’s mascot is The Retriever after all) and an evening under the stars that featured a performance by UMBC’s Symphony Orchestra of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite choreographed with pyrotechnics and interactive LED wristbands that blurred the boundaries between audience and performers.

By the time of the June 2017 campaign launch, we knew the UMBC family could party—but how to top the 50th?

During the campaign celebration event, VIP donors happily embraced the opportunity to be put to work as musicians—playing tone bars while following the lead of master conductor, Boris Brott and accompanied once again by the University’s orchestra.

Again and again, we saw that the months the University community worked on planning and relationship building paid off. Every department was a part of the celebrations, and every obstacle we hit was resolved with a true we’re-in-it-together spirit.

JoAnn sums up the spirit of these events: “At one point, we told the UMBC team, you’ve hit 50 and you’ve proven yourself. You couldn’t not be smart if you tried. Now you can allow yourself to relax and celebrate all that you’ve achieved.” And so they did.