Jenny Owens, ScD, MS, assistant dean of academic programs and associate professor, University of Maryland Graduate School, as well as executive director, The Grid (Graduate Research Innovation District), was looking forward to the 2022 Grid Pitch when she took time out of her busy schedule to talk to CATALYST magazine this spring.
The Grid Pitch, held in person April 21 for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic started, featured 16 teams of 25 students who pitched their innovative business ideas to a panel of experts and investors in the entrepreneurial community. The event also was livestreamed.
Owens was anticipating being in person with students in the Grid’s new home in the Health Sciences and Human Services Library for the Grid Pitch. “This extrovert has missed the people of UMB,” she said.
Owens has several items on her desk that have personal meaning. But the pandemic also has affected what she keeps in her office, which is in the Lexington Building.
“Notably, my desk is less packed with papers, books, and knick-knacks than it used to be,” she said. “I live and travel lighter since the pandemic. I need less.”
One of the items she has kept reminds her of how precarious life can be. Her son was born with a rare condition called congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH). She keeps a blood pressure cuff on her desk from when he was in the newborn intensive care unit. Now, he is a healthy and thriving 6-year-old kindergartner.
“It’s almost comically small and has a blue puppy on it,” she said. “At birth, the physicians shared that babies born with CDH had a 50 percent chance of survival, and it was a rough road for the first three years with seven surgeries and multiple ICU stays. Looking at him today, he’s so vibrant and amazing that I can almost forget how precarious it was in the beginning. I keep that on my desk to remind myself each day is a gift.”
She also keeps a small piece of paper with a quote from writer and philosopher Alfred D’Souza: “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin — real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.”
“I can’t even remember how this small piece of paper came to me, but it’s been with me for a long time,” Owens said. “In all the stages of life, it can be easy to hold your breath, waiting for the next stage, when things will be ‘easier.’ This reminds me that I can’t wait for the world to be perfect to allow myself to experience joy.”
Behind her, close to the window, she has a variety of plants.
“I’ve always loved plants, but this love went into overdrive during the pandemic as I found myself, like many others, at home trying to work with two small children. I started a garden in my alley parking pad and filled my home with plants of all sizes,” she said. “Now that I’m back in the office, I’ve gotten a boost by bringing some with me. I find taking care of them very rewarding. They clean the air. They bring me peace. They start conversations. Clippings are swapped with friends and colleagues.”
Owens also sometimes has a bright red bike she got off Craigslist adorning her office wall.
“I’ve started biking to work on nice days when I can swing it,” she said. “It’s so much fun to ride. I sneak in a workout, and it’s better for the environment. It also reminds me of being a kid and life before emails.”