Staff

Headshot of Ricky Blissett.

Ricky Blissett (they/them & he/him)

Associate Director

Ricky Blissett ’11 is associate director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Life. They develop and coordinate Center programs and initiatives, including holistic evaluation and strategic communication. They have served as a faculty member in educational leadership and policy at the University of Georgia, Seton Hall University, and Vanderbilt University; the coordinator for the Just Education Policy Institute; section chair for the Policy and Politics division of the American Educational Research Association; and principal investigator for the Democracy and Equity in Education Politics research group. Ricky has conducted and published research exploring citizen, activist, and policymaker ideologies in educational justice, democratic and equitable approaches to evaluation and methodology, and student advocacy and power. They received their Ph.D. in Leadership and Policy Studies at Vanderbilt University, and they are an alumnus of UMBC with a B.S. in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. During their time as a UMBC student, Ricky was a participant in the first STRiVE leadership for social impact retreat in 2009, coordinator for an education service organization through the Shriver Center, and active member of UMBC’s Student Government Association both as director of academic affairs and executive vice president. Outside of their work at UMBC, Ricky volunteers, manages a dog with a lot of opinions about her management, conducts independent research, and collects as many different varieties of mint plants as they can fit in their garden. Ricky can be reached by email at rblissett@umbc.edu or by phone at 410-455-3457.

 

Headshot of Katie Brungard.

Katie Brungard (she/her)

Evaluation and Special Projects Intern

Katie Brungard ’24 is a mathematics major with minors in economics and statistics and a certificate in Spanish studies. As an evaluation and special projects intern, Katie hopes to be able to share her own insights and collaborate with her fellow staff members in ways that further the Center for Democracy and Civic Life’s mission and contribute to meaningful change at UMBC. She is also looking forward to applying concepts that she has learned in her statistics classes to the Center’s projects. Katie participated in Alternative Spring Break (ASB) 2021 and STRiVE 2023, and was a part of the 2022-2023 ConnectionCorps team. She is also a STRiVE 2024 coach, the president of UMBC’s Best Buddies chapter, and a teaching assistant with the UMBC Math Department. Outside of school, Katie loves reading, crocheting, listening to music, and playing with her dogs, Oskar and Stella. Katie can be reached at kbrunga1@umbc.edu.

 

Headshot of Olivia Giuliano.

Olivia Giuliano (she/her)

Evaluation and Special Projects Intern

Olivia Giuliano ’24 is a psychology major. In her roles as an evaluation and special projects intern and a STRiVE coach with the Center for Democracy and Civic Life, she hopes to make contributions that will increase UMBC community members’ awareness and understanding of the power that they hold to affect desired change, both within and beyond our campus community. Olivia participated in Alternative Spring Break (ASB) 2022, with a focus on educational equity, and STRiVE 2023. Additionally, Olivia has been involved with Campus Life as a Campus Information Center desk attendant, in Dr. Mirela Cengher’s “CoLLAB” psychology research lab as a research assistant, and with the Student Government Association as an Election Board member. She also previously worked as a teaching assistant for the Honors College, and now tutors in the Writing Center. Outside of work and school, Olivia enjoys hiking, traveling, and spending time with her loved ones (especially her cat, Sage). Olivia can be reached at oliviag1@umbc.edu.

 

Headshot of David Hoffman.

David Hoffman (he/him)

Director

David Hoffman, Ph.D. ’13 is director of the Center for Democracy and Civic Life. He develops and teaches courses about civic communication and culture as a faculty fellow in UMBC’s Honors College, and has created and facilitated dozens of programs in which students develop the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and relationships needed to help their communities thrive. He serves as a member (and past chair) of the Steering Committee for AASCU’s American Democracy Project, and previously served as a member of the National Advisory Board for Imagining America. As a member of the inaugural cohort of American Democracy Project Civic Fellows, he led the development of the Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Theory of Change, and works with Center for Democracy and Civic Life colleagues and national partners to amplify and implement it. David’s research and publications explore civic agency, civic pedagogy, democratic communication styles and techniques, and culture change within institutions. He is an alum of UCLA, where he served as student body president and University of California student regent. He earned J.D. and M.P.P. degrees at Harvard University, and his Ph.D. in Language, Literacy and Culture at UMBC. When he’s not working, David often can be found setting his fantasy baseball lineups or taking photos; his practice of taking pictures on the UMBC campus once got him labeled as “the #UMBCsky guy.” David can be reached by email at dhoffman@umbc.edu or by phone at 410-455-1565.

 

Headshot of Nia Hopkins.

Nia Hopkins (she/her)

Evaluation and Special Projects Intern

Nia Hopkins ’24 is a psychology major with a minor in biology on the pre-medicine track. As an evaluation and special projects intern, she is excited to support the Center for Democracy and Civic Life in planning and facilitating programs and initiatives. She will also contribute to the Center’s assessment projects and formal research projects. In this role, she hopes to empower the UMBC community and help others better understand the civic agency they hold. Previously, Nia served as an Alternative Spring Break (ASB) 2023 leader, helping to create an experience for her peers that granted them a deeper understanding into health and wellness, the disparities that exist in our healthcare system, and how these concepts present themselves within the city of Baltimore. Nia also serves as a peer health educator with the Office of Health Promotion, and previously served as a research assistant for the Addiction Research Lab at the Maryland Psychiatric Research Center. Outside of school, Nia enjoys reading, discovering new shows, and trying out new cafes with friends. She can be reached at nhopkin1@umbc.edu.

 

Headshot of Brianna Malbon.

Brianna Malbon (she/her & they/them)

Civic Conversation Intern

Brianna Malbon ’24 is majoring in psychology with a certificate in media and communication studies. As a civic conversation intern and STRiVE coach with the Center for Democracy and Civic Life, she aims to create open spaces for impactful conversations and encourage people to be authentic and form genuine connections with each other. She makes it her mission to support her peers by connecting them to the resources and stakeholders necessary to reach their goals. Brianna served as a STRiVE 2023 coach and a ConnectionCorps 2022-2023 facilitator, and she participated in STRiVE 2021. She has been involved with the Student Government Association (SGA)’s Student Organization Support Team as a first year ambassador, with the Patapsco Community Council as a member, and with the Discovery Living-Learning Community as a peer mentor. She currently serves as an associate director of first year development with SGA and as a resident assistant (RA) for the Discovery Living-Learning Community. Outside of her work, Brianna enjoys playing games, reading, embroidery, and going on long walks. Brianna can be reached at bmalbon1@umbc.edu.

 

Headshot of Tess McRae. Tess McRae (she/her)

Coordinator for Civic Design

Tess McRae ’22 is coordinator for civic design with the Center for Democracy and Civic Life, a faculty fellow in UMBC’s Honors College, and a UMBC Exempt Staff Senator. She co-develops the Center’s programs, initiatives, courses, communications, and overall strategy with an emphasis on using creative expression as a vehicle for building and sustaining community. Tess is the lead organizer for the STRiVE leadership for public purpose program and supports the Center’s workshops, particularly those for first- and second-year undergraduate students, as a designer and facilitator. She is also UMBC’s campus liaison to the American Democracy Project (ADP) and has served on the Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (CLDE) Meeting planning committee since 2022. Tess is a founding staff member with the Center and worked as an undergraduate student intern for four years prior to entering her current role. During her time as an intern, Tess served as co-chair of the University System of Maryland (USM)’s Student Civic Leaders Committee, participated in STRiVE and Alternative Spring Break (ASB), produced and illustrated the virtual Co-Create UMBC Tour, and worked as the director of communications for UMBC’s Student Government Association (SGA). Tess earned a self-designed B.A. in Civic Renewal and Creative Expression through UMBC’s Individualized Study (INDS) program. She is a poet, visual artist, and musician who loves to sing and play piano. Tess can be reached by email at tessmcrae@umbc.edu or by phone at 410-455-1808.

 

Headshot of Ann Tropea. Ann Tropea (she/her)

Assistant Director/Media Advisor

Ann Tropea is assistant director/media advisor with the Center for Democracy and Civic Life. She brings many years of professional editorial, communications, and legal expertise to her position. She is a published author, experienced public speaker and interviewer, and podcast co-host. Most recently, Ann served as the editor-in-chief of Seapower magazine, the flagship publication of the Navy League of the United States. She is also the former communications director at Career Valet, a woman-owned professional services firm. A licensed attorney in Louisiana and the District of Columbia, Ann has represented a variety of individual and multinational clients in both federal and state court litigation. Her additional writing and publishing experiences include: managing editor and food & lifestyle writer for online news website TheLatest; editor and publisher of a community cookbook for the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem; managing editor of the Law Journal for the Loyola University Chicago School of Law; editor-in-chief of New York University’s Department of Culture and Communication magazine Medium Cool, and associate publisher and nightlife editor for New York City’s GO Magazine. Ann holds a law degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law, and graduated magna cum laude in mass media communication studies from New York University. She is proficient in French and approaching proficiency in Italian. Ann currently lives in the Hamilton neighborhood of Baltimore City with her husband, two children, and rescue dog. She can be reached by email at atropea@umbc.edu.

 

Adam Watkins (he/him)

Administrative Assistant

Adam Watkins is an administrative assistant with the Center for Democracy and Civic Life. He is an alum of Towson University, where he majored in History and Secondary Education. Previously he worked in non-profit licensed before and after-school care for students in grades K-6. Adam also works as an administrative assistant with UMBC’s i3b (Initiatives for Identity, Inclusion & Belonging). In his free time, Adam enjoys cooking, tabletop roleplaying games, and Lego. He can be reached by email at adamw4@umbc.edu.