UMBC Women Who Rock: Pritma “Mickey” Irizarry

UMBC Women Who Rock is a blog series I’ve been writing since last year and it has become one of my favorite things to think and write about for the Women’s Center blog. In my role as Women’s Center director, I have some of the best opportunities to become acquainted with some of UMBC’s best and brightest women on campus. I admire the ways they live authentic lives unapologetically that challenge the stereotypes and assumptions that are often assigned to women. By debunking these stereotypes and forcing us to check our assumptions, they allow us to expand our notion of what a woman is and can be.   – Jess 

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UMBC Women Who Rock!
Pritma “Mickey” Irizarry, Assistant Director of Health Education

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Mickey, UHS’s Health Education Assistant Director, shares her I’m Not as part of the Telling Our Stories Project

Mickey Irizarry is a #girlboss. She is also a UMBC Woman Who Rocks.

What is a #girlboss? She is many things. “A #girlboss is in charge of her own life. She gets what she wants because she works for it.” #Girlboss is also more than just a type of person but a platform that is meant to inspire women to lead deliberate lives. It’s not just about being about the boss of other people, but being the boss of your own life.

It’s Mickey, who first shared the concept of #girlboss with me last fall. There is a book by the same title written by Sophia Amoruso, founder and CEO of fashion retailer Nasty Gal. Inspired by the book (and there’s also a podcast), I began hearing and seeing Mickey use the hashtag often in support or to congratulate other women on campus. I too was on the receiving end of a #girlboss shout-out from Mickey and it felt really great.

That’s what also makes Mickey a UMBC Woman Who Rocks. She didn’t just take #girlboss as an inspiration for herself and hold it tight and privately. Rather, she shares it with others. Mickey isn’t just the boss of her own life, but it is important for her to encourage and support others to do the same. When I asked her more about this she said, “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one will either” and then went on to say but “it took me a long time to master that – and its still hard to fight the impostor syndrome.” This is why its so important for her to support other women, to show them that she sees potential in them, and give them credit where credit is due. This of course, reminds me of shine theory which I’ve written about in other UMBC Women Who Rock posts. Shine theory as explained by Ann Friedman in her article states that “Surrounding yourself with the best people doesn’t make you look worse by comparison. It makes you better.” Otherwise known as, “I don’t shine, if you don’t shine.”

So, I wanted spotlight Mickey as our in-residence #girlboss for this UMBC Women Who Rocks post. Between my initial reaching out to feature her and the time that it took me to write this, though, Mickey was offered and accepted a new position at American University as the Director of the Wellness Center! Her last day with us at UMBC is March 11th. So while this didn’t start off with the intention of being a tribute post, it seems that this is where this post is going to have to go. So you’ve been warned, it might get a little warm and fuzzy up in here. 

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Taken way back during Mickey’s first semester working at UMBC.

Mickey started her time at UMBC seven and half years ago in September of 2008 as the Health Educator in the Health Education office at University Health Services. Under her leadership, the Peer Health Education program has grown immensely promoting the importance and value of student wellness to thousands of students over the years at UMBC. As you’ll learn later, Mickey absolutely sees the Peer Health Education program as the legacy she’ll leave behind. It’s not just the program she’s proud of but the way being its leader helped her grow as a professional, encouraged to look at health from various perspectives, and the way it allowed her to build connections and community for University Health Services (and more!). Beyond UHS, Mickey has been out and about on campus serving on many committees (like the Women’s Center Advisory Board for many years) and teaching IHU courses. Mickey is also an integral member of the new Staff of Color Network (SCN) and with the support of a few others, she’s helped SCN get off the ground and operate as a safe space for staff of color at UMBC (you can read more about the women behind SCN here). All of this and more earned her the recent promotion of assistant director of health education.

Another little fun fact about Mickey’s time here –  it was a very poignant #girlboss moment that gave UMBC the return of Take Back the Night. Mickey and I were sitting on a UMBC bus heading back from Towson University where we took some students to participate in their Take Back the Night. Perhaps it was the fact that traffic on 695 is the absolute worse or maybe it was feeling inspired by such a powerful event, but we ended up on that bus talking with each other about the idea of hosting our own Take Back the Night at UMBC. We got this. We can do this. We have the skills to make this happen. Without the concept of #girlboss, we #girlbossed the hell out of each other that night. Five years later this April, we’ll be hosting the fourth annual Take Back the Night on campus. It’s a huge event that is not only well attended but has given space for survivors to share their story and reclaim their healing. It is by far one of the most meaningful and important things I work on each year. Without Mickey, who knows if it would ever have been what it is today.

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Mickey with many of the peers at last year’s 3rd Annual Take Back the Night

As the years pass by, when I think back to the time Mickey was a part of the UMBC community, I’ll certainly appreciate the work she dedicated to create an awesome peer health education program and the help she gave me to bring back Take Back the Night to campus, but I’ll feel most grateful for the #girlboss moments she created within myself and those we created for each other. I’ll think about the safe space we created and held up for each other to sort through professional moments when we felt disappointed, discouragement, or anger. Those moments where we could close the door, take off our masks, and just be ourselves. As young professional women trying to find our place at UMBC and simply just begin the foundations of our careers being vulnerable to others was (is) often a hard and scary thing to do. And, sexism doesn’t make that any easier. Mickey made me feel supported and that I belonged and that I could conquer whatever challenge was before me in that moment. I hope that I helped her feel the same. Without us even realizing, it was in those moments over the past five years that we were allowing ourselves to be #girlbosses for each other.

I’ll also think about the ways she created space for so many of the student peers in the health education program to also become the #girlboss of their own lives. I had the chance to work with many of these students as well, and the confidence and passion Mickey infused throughout their being was palpable. I know they’ll be reading this post so I’ll name just a few – Bria, Yoo-Jin, Kayla, Kristine… you know what I’m talking about, right?! Yes, Mickey built up a strong and vibrant health education program here at UMBC, but more importantly, she built up the people who are the program, specifically so many women, to be confident leaders, expand their dreams, and be exponentially greater for years and years to come.

Over hot chocolates a few weeks ago, I asked Mickey what she felt was the legacy she was going to leave behind when she left UMBC. Her first response was the Peer Health Education program – its strength, that it’s well-respected, has a competitive application process, and that though it is serious business, it’s also fun and engaging. She then thought a bit more and said, “I have LITERALLY grown up in my time here.” She was 21 when she first started working at UMBC. Along the way, she earned her master’s degree in Sociology and became a UMBC alum, she collaborated with so many different kinds of people and groups at UMBC, met some of her dearest friends here, and fell in love with fellow UMBC staff member, AJ Irizarry, creating yet another UMBC love story.

I’m so excited for this next part of Mickey’s journey. American University will be lucky to have her just as UMBC was so lucky to have her these past 7 and a half years. When she gets to American University, she’s gonna be THE BOSS!! And, yet to the many at UMBC who have been touched by Mickey, we already knew she is a boss, a #girlboss, who helped us grow up along the way, be deliberate with our lives, and shine confidence for the world to see and us to believe in. And, that is why Mickey Irizarry will always be a UMBC Woman Who Rocks!

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Mickey with the 2015-16 peers during fall training.

Who are the UMBC women in your life that inspire you to think outside your expectations and assumptions? What are the counter narrative stories they’re sharing with us allowing UMBC and our greater community to be more of exactly who we want to be? Comment below and maybe you’ll just find them featured in a future UMBC Women Who Rock post.

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Check out other UMBC Women Who Rock:

Amanda Knapp (August 2014)
Susan Dumont (October 2014)
Jahia Knobloch (January 2015)
A Reflection on Encouragement and Accountability (February 2015)
Amelia Meman (March 2015)
Ashley Sweet (May 2015)
Rehana Shafi (August 2015)
The Women Behind the Staff of Color Network (September 2015)

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