10 stories that made us #TUproud in 2021

By Kyle Hobstetter & Rebecca Kirkman on January 6, 2022

Towson University's communications team share 10 of their favorite stories from the past year

Administering life-saving vaccines, explaining the swarms of noisy insects that took over campus, and conducting research that helps us better understand the world around us are just a few of the many ways Tigers made us #TUproud in 2021.

As members of the Towson University's Division of Marketing & Communications, we get to learn from and share stories about the university community every day. Here, we share 10 of our favorites from 2021.

TU alumnus finds emotion in an empty NFL Stadium 

TU Alumnus, and Baltimore Ravens radio announcer, Gerry Sandusky
Former Towson Tiger football player, Gerry Sandusky '83, has been the voice of the Baltimore Ravens since 2006. (Submitted Photo) 

After winning the Super Bowl in 2012, the Ravens didn’t have a playoff victory until Sunday, Jan. 10, when quarterback Lamar Jackson and a stifling defense led the Ravens to a 20-13 win over the host Tennessee Titans in a wild card playoff game. In a nearly empty stadium.

Safety protocols for the novel coronavirus pandemic allowed just 14,000 people into a Nashville stadium that usually holds 70,000 screaming fans.

One person not in attendance was the Ravens’ radio play-by-play announcer, and Towson University alumnus, Gerry Sandusky ’83. He was where he had been all season: approximately 700 miles away inside the radio booth at Baltimore’s virtually empty M&T Bank Stadium, calling the game from a television monitor with only cardboard cutouts of fans as company.

“A normal year, broadcasting an NFL game is similar to crowd surfing,” Sandusky explains. “You're surfing on the energy of 70,000 people, and that energy ebbs and flows. But this [calling a game in an empty stadium] is like riding a surfboard in the desert."

Nursing students partnering in COVID-19 vaccine clinics

Student nurse in PPE with vaccine
Nursing student Katie Lastova '21 draws a dose of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine as professor Mary Lashley supervises. (Photo by Lauren Castellana.)

It’s a chilly morning in March as Katie Lastova ’21 is preparing doses of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. She’s one of about 70 nursing students from Towson University’s main campus who have administered vaccines at Helping Up Mission, a nonprofit in Baltimore City that provides outreach to people experiencing homelessness.

“It makes me happy to see that people have signed up to come here and get vaccinated,” Lastova says. “I want the pandemic to end. If I’m available to help, I will.”

Meet TU’s DNA detectives

Professor Kelly Elkins with students in the Towson University Human Remains Lab
Professor Kelly Elkins, center, helped to open the Towson University Human Remains Identification Lab in 2018. In that time she has mentored students like Alexis Garloff '22, left, and Jordan Brooks '23, right, in forensic chemistry and DNA recovery. (Alex Wright/Towson University) 

In early October, it was announced that an independent group of cold-case investigators claimed to have found the identity of the Zodiac Killer, one of America’s most notorious serial killers and a case that has gone unsolved for more than 50 years. One of those investigators was Towson University associate professor Kelly Elkins. 

For the past 10 years, Elkins has been sharing her DNA recovery experience as part of TU’s forensic chemistry program. One of her biggest goals was to give students hands-on, on-campus experience in DNA testing. In 2018, through two Fisher College Endowment grants and new building funds, Dr. Elkins, along with Dr. Cynthia Zeller, established the Towson University Human Remains Identification Lab.

“We saw a need for hands-on learning, and we wanted to meet that need for our students as they get ready to go into the workplace,” Elkins says. “Our students are getting interviews for jobs based on taking classes here.”

TU alumnus performs with Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall

Trombonist on stage
(Photo: Leonardo Mascaro)

Raw talent and a decade of hard work landed trombonist Darius Christian ’11 an historic opportunity: performing with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. 

For Christian, who earned a bachelor’s degree in music with a concentration in jazz/commercial performance, sharing a stage with Bennett and Lady Gaga “feels like taking part in a big cultural moment.”

“Sometimes that impostor syndrome will creep in,” says Christian, who landed the gig through Jill Dell’Abate, a music contractor who puts together backing bands for some of the biggest names in the industry. “But I have to remind myself there's a reason why I'm there.”

Understanding Brood X

A person doesn’t have to go on a safari or see the Amazon Rainforest to witness nature’s wonders.

“There is drama occurring in your backyard,” says John Lapolla, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, as he hunts for cicadas in the Glen Arboretum. “There’s nowhere else in the world where you get this phenomenon.”

For Lapolla, the drama of the cicadas’ emergence, and the unavoidable noise they produce, are a reminder of insects’ importance to life.  

“The world would be fine if humans disappeared tomorrow,” Lapolla says. “If insects disappeared tomorrow, the terrestrial realm would collapse. It just couldn’t function without insects.”

TU alumnus and current women's basketball assistant coach Myles Jackson
Myles Jackson '18, initially joined the Towson University women's basketball team as a scout player and student manager. He's now on staff as an acting assistant coach. (Alex Wright/Towson University) 

As he was getting ready to graduate from Towson University in 2018, Myles Jackson didn’t know what his future would hold. He never expected that two years later he would be an assistant coach for the Towson Tigers’ women’s basketball team.

While earning a degree in criminal justice at TU, Jackson served as a manager and scout player for the Tigers. Jackson’s work as a manager caught the eye of head coach Diane Richardson. After he graduated, Richardson promoted him to assistant director of basketball operations, then to director of basketball operations and finally assistant coach.

“If I could do it all over again, I would pick Towson University 10 out of 10 times,” Jackson says. “I wouldn’t be on my career path if it wasn’t for TU. I don’t see myself anywhere else, and I’m excited to help build the women’s basketball program and put up multiple banners in SECU Arena.”

Ashley Kutcher graduates with nursing degree, record deal

Black and white photo of woman in front of wall with vine
(Photo: Clyde Munroe)

As the pandemic took hold across the U.S., many of Ashley Kutcher’s Towson University nursing classmates graduated early to help on the frontlines. Kutcher, however, found another way to mend hearts and minds: writing and performing the aptly titled, “Love You From a Distance,” one of the biggest music streaming hits of the last year.

By the time she graduated in winter 2020, Kutcher had attracted the attention of major record labels, walking away from TU with a Bachelor of Science in nursing and a contract with Darkroom/Interscope Records.

“When I was able to feel like I was helping more people with music than I was with nursing,” Kutcher says, “I was like, ‘This just seems like the career path I’m supposed to go toward.’”

TU professor’s field research sheds light on prehistoric Native American life

Woman in farm field holding shovel
Towson University assistant professor Katherine Sterner and her students conduct field work in southern York County, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Lauren Castellana)

Over five weeks during the summer, Towson University assistant professor Katherine Sterner and her students filled gaps in knowledge about Indigenous people in the Susquehanna River region.

Sterner’s research exemplifies the true power of anthropology: offering a depth of perspective on the human experience. It’s why she believes every student should take at least one course in the discipline.

“Regardless of what you’re going to do for a career, an anthropology class is valuable because it’s going to give you that diversity of perspective and the opportunity to think about daily experiences and experiences of the past several million years,” Sterner says. “There’s no other discipline that does that.”

Letters from Nuremberg trials, VE Day find home at Cook Library

Close up of dog tags, photo and letters
(Photo: Alex Wright)

First-generation American Leon Bloomberg wrote nearly 300 letters home to Baltimore to his wife, Esther, and their newborn daughter during his time in basic training and serving overseas during WWII. 

Together the letters make up the Leon Bloomberg Papers, a digital collection within the Towson University Special Collections & University Archives containing the letters, postcards and other correspondence detailing Bloomberg’s time in basic training and serving overseas in England, France, Germany and Czechoslovakia.

“There are lessons to be learned in those letters about what it feels like to be a soldier, to be away from your family, to feel isolated, to feel frustrated, to feel proud, to feel American,” Bloomberg’s daughter, Jaclyn Cohen ’65. “It makes me feel proud to share that.”

Nikki Sliwak’s Face-off with Depression

Nikki Sliwak '21 was only 3 years old when her father, Robert, died during the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He was working as a bond broker for Cantor Fitzgerald, in the north tower of the World Trade Center, when he died at age 42.

She didn’t begin to process his death until she was about 11. That’s when she started to suffer from depression and anxiety. But through sports she was able to connect with her father. She was also able to get help in understanding her depression and anxiety. 

And before graduating, she was able to help lead the Towson Tigers women's lacrosse team to the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

“I’ve never been more grateful in my life for being at Towson University,” she says. “I got a chance here to rewrite the ending to my story the way I wanted it to be. For that I am so grateful. “