Women Making History in Chesapeake Country

March is Women’s History Month and here in Chesapeake Country, we find that women are accomplishing more than ever before.  Maryland is home to important names in history, from Harriet Tubman and Clara Barton to Verda Freeman Welcome and Rachel Carson.

And in 2022, we’re meeting women in our region who are actively making history.

This week, we bring you three stories of women with a connection to the Bay doing interesting and amazing things. First is a story about three Calvert County women who are traveling the world as Fulbright Scholars. They are each teachers in their own fields but also students of the world, seeking out new cultural experiences and learning lessons to bring back to the States. Then, meet a young Black entrepreneur who has just launched a business in Annapolis Town Center using her memories of ‘90s music in an inspired—and fragrant—way. Finally, we introduce you to a newcomer to the region who is climbing the ladder of tennis prowess. And she’s just 12-years-old.

Traveler, teachers, entrepreneurs, athletes—no matter their field, these women are just a small sample of those making an impact, leading others and inspiring the world around them.

–Kathy Knotts

Calvert Scholars Explore Abroad

By Molly Weeks Crumbley

Since 1946, the prestigious Fulbright Program has offered awards and fellowships to scholars all over the world in the spirit of international collaboration and fellowship. “Fulbright is the world’s largest and most diverse international educational exchange program,” says Fulbright chair Paul Winfree. “Fulbright alumni have become heads of state, judges, ambassadors, cabinet ministers, CEOs, and university presidents, as well as leading journalists, artists, scientists, and teachers. They include 60 Nobel Laureates, 86 Pulitzer Prize winners, 74 MacArthur Fellows, and thousands of leaders across the private, public and non-profit sectors.”

This year, Calvert County is home to three current scholars: Kathryn Yahyaoui, Dr. Lora Harris, and Dr. Melaney Sanchez. Though they each have a different focus and field of study, the three Fulbright recipients are united in their pursuit of being part of a global community.

Kathryn Yahyaoui

Yahyaoui, a graduate of Salisbury University, is a Fulbright English teaching assistant at the University of Novi Pazar in Serbia. Yahyaoui, a native of Calvert County, explains what fueled her interest in teaching English as a second language. “I’ve always loved words. They convey so many layers of meaning, turning languages into living puzzles that shift over time and across cultures. To me, investigating those meanings by learning and teaching languages is a process of putting those puzzle pieces together.” She puts her love of language to good use in her classes, teaching English through the lens of American culture in interactive language labs that employ tangible hands-on components like baking pies for Thanksgiving.

Drawn to apply for the Serbian program because of ancestral ties, Yahyaoui is making the most of her time abroad. Outside of the classroom, she leads a book club, partners with fellow teachers to host informal coffee chats for students to practice their English, and provides research support to a tech startup in the area.

Yahyaoui has been busy exploring the country. “Serbia is full of adventures,” she says, “from exploring Belgrade Fortress and strolling through Kalemegdan Park to rowing across Uvac Lake and skiing the internationally-renowned slopes of the Kopaonik mountain range.”

Though her current city is one of the smallest in the country, it has one of the youngest populations in Europe. “This gives off a palpable energy and has lent itself to the establishment of some fun local hangouts,” she says.

Yahyouai has been a lifelong lover of travel, warts and all. “As with any international endeavor, there are distinctions between cultures that both complicate and enrich your experience as a visitor. I’ve been blessed that the cultural differences I’ve faced have enriched more than complicated my adaptation to this new environment, language, and lifestyle. My M.O. is to ask myself, ‘What about a challenge can I turn into an opportunity?’”

After her Fulbright year comes to a close, she plans to work towards completing an MBA with a focus on entrepreneurship, a path she hopes will lead to even more international travel.

Dr. Lora Harris

Farther north in Europe, another Calvert Fulbright scholar is hard at work in Finland. Dr. Lora Harris, a faculty member at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, was the recipient of the Finland Fulbright Foundation’s Seeking Global Solutions Scholar Award. She is currently on the first of two trips hosted at the University of Helsinki Tvärminne Zoological Station.

Harris is no stranger to travel, having been born to Foreign Service officer parents. Throughout her childhood, she has called many countries—Egypt, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Rwanda—home. Following her Ph.D. in oceanography at the University of Rhode Island and a postdoctoral position in Massachusetts, she and her family have been in southern Maryland for 14 years.

Her work in the Chesapeake Bay is what led Harris to Finland. “A focus of my project is to work on understanding restoration trajectories for both the Baltic and the Chesapeake Bay. Both systems have problems with nutrient pollution, and both are trying to implement management plans even as climate is changing.” This shifting baseline of climate change has led to warmer water temperatures and less ability for the waterways to hold as much dissolved oxygen levels as they once did. Harris says both systems have been successful in meeting 50 percent of their nutrient reduction goals through wastewater treatment, and her own project will hinge on comparisons between the two in order to better understand what might be expected from restoration efforts. This project, she says, “is what I need at this stage in my career—a time for a change of scenery and to recharge and think in different ways and experience a different culture and ecosystem.”

When she’s not conducting research, Harris has enjoyed getting to experience life on the Hanko Peninsula. “Finland is a beautiful country and the people have been wonderful,” she says. “It is also a quiet country; the people are more reserved than Americans until you get to know them. The entire country has a population slightly smaller than Maryland even though Maryland is about 12,400 square miles and Finland is about 131,000 square miles!”

Recently, her husband and children were able to visit her. The family traveled together to Lapland, where they skied across a frozen lake in the Arctic Circle and got to see the Northern Lights. “

“I can’t describe Finland without mentioning sauna,” she adds. “The field station has a beautiful public sauna that is just adjacent to the sea and I am very hopeful that I will be brave enough for some cold water swimming in between sauna sessions in March—I couldn’t quite handle it in January or February.”

Though surrounded by stunning natural beauty and delicious treats like blueberry juice and Laskiaispulla buns, living in Finland is not without its challenges. With cold weather comes an abundance of ice. This year has brought a lot of snow to the area, as well as days where the temperatures are below freezing. Harris found that cleats that could attach to her shoes were a key purchase to keep her from wiping out on the giant sheets of ice coating the ground.

Current events in Ukraine have also presented a sobering but valuable education, particularly for her teenage son who was visiting her when Russia began its invasion. She explains, “Finland has balanced international relations with Russia for centuries, and is a part of the European Union but not NATO. It does feel different to be here in Europe at this moment in history.”

Next up professionally for Harris: a discussion series for the Chesapeake-Baltic comparison efforts, work on proposals that will inform restoration work in Maryland and Finnish waters, and a return to her position at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory “refreshed and with new international collaborations.”

Dr. Melaney Sanchez

Currently finishing up the school year as the librarian at Mt. Harmony Elementary School, Dr. Melaney Sanchez is gearing up for summer travel to France. Sanchez, a National Board Certified teacher with a Ph.D. in Leadership for Changing Populations from Notre Dame of Maryland University, is part of the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms cohort. To prepare, she had to complete an intensive graduate level course, during which she created a capstone project based on the Chesapeake Bay community.

For two weeks in June, she will be one of 20 educators who will travel to France to learn about international education systems, observe classrooms and administration, and teach lessons.

“I applied for this opportunity with the intention of taking on more responsibility and work knowing the outcome would positively impact my students, my district, my college students, librarians within the state, and our community,” Sanchez says. “I see myself as an advocate for expanding educational boundaries.”

Sanchez maintains a wide network of educators who help her to improve, expand, and diversify her curriculum. She is always on the hunt for educational opportunities for herself and her students, participating in programs and teacher institutes through such places as the Maryland Center for History and Culture, Ford’s Theatre, Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, and the Gilder Lehrman Institute. This ongoing pursuit for education makes the Fulbright cohort a natural fit for Sanchez.

The global connections of the program particularly drew her interest. “My very first teaching job was in Acapulco, Mexico,” she says. “I thoroughly enjoyed being immersed in the culture, learning the language, and teaching students who were bilingual. I use virtual field trips to connect my students to their interests and they enjoy it immensely. I intend to bring a global perspective to my school and help my students dream beyond the classroom walls and make international connections.”

Learn more about the Fulbright Scholars Program: us.fulbrightonline.org. Learn more about Fulbright Teacher Exchanges: www.fulbrightteacherexchanges.org.

The Smell of Success

By Barry Scher

The fragrances may draw you in before you ever see the door. Reminiscent Luxe Candle is a pop-up shop next door to Target at Annapolis Town Center. The business lets customers create their own candles from scratch in a unique do-it-yourself environment. You choose the container and the scent, which are all inspired by the “rich essence of 90s R&B and Hip Hop.”

R. Luxe is the result of a dream by local entrepreneur Ashley Scales, a graduate of Pennsylvania’s Slippery Rock University who lives in Prince George’s County with her husband of 11 years and two children. 

“I have always loved candles and music. So, when given the opportunity, I thought of combining the two and sharing these loves of my life with others through unique scents to reminisce and to celebrate the essence of the music of the ‘90s, rhythm and blues, and even hip-hop with the lighting of every Reminiscent Luxe candle.”   

Scales opened her 1,600-square foot business in December and will be in the space until the end of the year. This Black- and woman-owned store began as an online shop. Scales was selling candles online and at craft fairs and farmer’s markets, trying to get her products in front of as many people as possible. While you can purchase premade candles inspired by artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Brandy, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington, the creative element shines in the DIY experience. Scales works with customers in groups or individuals to create their own “illuminated relaxation.” She guides every guest as much or as little as desired, so they can have a memorable hands-on experience working with the liquid wax, wicks, and selecting scents that, in her words, “you vibe with.”

Scales personally designed the shop’s interior to offers lots of space for candle making including a private, festive lounge area for small group classes. “My goal was to create a workspace that is comfortable and relaxing with a touch of aromatherapy, musical highlights and a fun in-store experience so that customers leave with a smile on their face and a song in their heart.”

Reserve a seat for an Open Pour, Ladies Night, Mommy+Me Candle Making or a Wax+Wine workshop: reminiscentluxe.com.

Frances Tiafoe (left) who is ranked No. 30 internationally, with Reiley Rhodes. Tiafoe went through the same JTCC program Rhodes is working in. Photo: Keith Rhodes.

Making a Racket

By Judy Colbert

“If your foot work is good in soccer, then your foot work should be good in tennis,” says 12-year-old Reiley Rhodes.

Soccer was the game of choice for the sixth grader, a student at St. Mary’s in Annapolis. She was playing on a travel team at an advanced level until the fall of 2018. During a game, she was pushed hard from behind by an opponent as she made a breakaway to score a goal. It had happened before, but this time, the injury was severe enough to make her and her parents rethink her involvement in the sport.

Looking to get away from soccer and the intense pressure of the sport, they turned to tennis.

“They’re similar. You need good footwork in both. But there are differences,” Reiley says. “In soccer, you’re relying on your team. If you lose, it’s the team’s fault. In a team sport everyone has to do his or her part. In tennis, it’s no one else’s fault but your own.”

Her father called around to see “if she could join a tennis team, thinking that it was primarily a team sport at the age of 9. They told me that she had to be able to rally at least 10 times across the net and keep score,” says her father Keith. “‘No problem, let’s sign her up for lessons.’ I quickly learned that this was not going to be easy. We couldn’t sustain a rally for even three hits.”

Then at the end of that first season there was a small tournament. She made it to the finals—and won. Reiley’s life was changed.

Now, four years later, she’s ranked No. 24 in the U.S. and knows all of the top players on the 12 and under tour. “I’d like to break into the top 10 (or maybe the top five) by the time I age out (of the 12 and under group) in October.”

The Rhodes family, Reiley, parents Keith and Stephanie, and her siblings Beckham, 8, and Carolina, 4, moved from Fairfield, Conn., to the Annapolis area when her parents bought Tri-State Marine in Deale at the end of 2020.

They’ve been here long enough for Reiley to discover Smith Island cake (a definite favorite) and they like being in this area because her dad is a native Annapolitan and a lot of their family is here.

The young tennis star trains at the Junior Tennis Champions Center in College Park where Frances Tiafoe (ranked 30th in the world), Denis Kudla, and Robin Montgomery trained. Other JTCC graduates have gone on to college scholarships or to play professionally.

Reiley says she “practices three hours, four days a week, with two hours of warm-up, play, and drills, followed by an hour of fitness training that consists of core work, sit-ups, and an exercise bike. It’s a Zen environment,” she says, “a nice facility.”

The right-handed player says her backhand is her strongest stroke, but, since she’s been at JTCC, she’s had some special training. “My serve wasn’t as good. I’ve had lots of private lesson time and I’m better on my first and second serve.” She likes playing on hard courts and outdoors.

Daniella Collins (who recently reached a career-high ranking of world No. 10 in singles) is her idol. “Daniella’s game is similar to mine,” Reiley says.

Her immediate goal is to play Sarah Ye again. Ye, a sixth-grader from New Jersey narrowly defeated Reiley in their last match in Virginia Beach last month (7-5 6-4). “I want to get back to her,” says Reiley.

She also plays doubles and made it to the semi-finals at a national event in Tucson with Ana Castro of Chester, but Ana recently aged out of the 12U group. Hannah Ayrault, a fifth-grader from Atlanta, is another favorite doubles player of Reiley’s.

Reiley’s next tournament is in Indian Wells, Cali., one of about 12 or 15 tournaments she’ll play this year. She likes the travel. So far, it’s just her and her father, and the Atlanta area has been her favorite destination so far.

When not spending time on the courts, Reiley likes to cook and helps her mom make dinner some times. Her favorite food is turkey Bolognese and her favorite subjects are English, math, and gym class. In true tween style, math is also her least favorite subject, “depending on which math it is.”

Prior to a tournament, Reiley and Keith will sometimes watch a few hours of professional tennis, and she asks herself, “How can I be like them, because they’re pretty successful?”

While some professional players have been known to have a tantrum and smash a tennis racket in anger, Reiley keeps a cooler head. “Tennis rackets are really expensive. If things get stressful, I’ll say something in my head. I’ll think about the people who made them, my dad who paid for them, and the reputation I have.”