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Six Questions with Elaine Amir

After nearly 17 years, Elaine Amir, executive director of Johns Hopkins University Montgomery County Campus, retired, effective Sept. 30. Elaine has been the face of Johns Hopkins in Montgomery County and a leader on several community boards and initiatives. Through her work, she touched many lives, both personally and professionally.

Before she left, Hopkins Happenings asked her to look back on her years leading JHU MCC:

Describe the Montgomery County Campus 17 years ago. 

When I came to JHUMC, it was a center for five JHU schools that offered excellent part-time Men in suits with Elaine Amirgraduate programs.  All the programs were located in Gilchrist Hall, the only building on campus, which stood at the end of a dramatic roadway lined by trees and parking spaces.  I thought the building looked like a kind of closed vault or a pirate’s chest filled with unimaginable riches.  So one of the first things I did was throw a block party for the Shady Grove science community, invited 200 of our closest neighbors, and put their business cards into a large pirate’s chest, giving them packets of chocolate “gold coins” in exchange for their contact information.  All the schools created demonstration booths with problems for techies to solve and prizes for the attendees (in addition to foot-long subs for lunch) who learned about JHU and found a welcoming place inside the imposing and isolated building.  That was the first of many gatherings of people from our community and the start of bringing corporate researchers to the campus.

Women in party hatsReflecting on your nearly 17 years here, of what are you most proud?

I’m most proud of leading the transformation of the campus from a continuing education center to a multi-faceted ecosystem where several thousand students and faculty, 35 private research companies and 42 departments of the National Cancer Institute greet numerous corporate, government, academic and community visitors and organizations every day.

Share with us an anecdote about a funny or unexpected day or moment on the campus.

What I’ve always loved about the campus is that every day has both funny and surprising moments, often created by the misconception that Johns Hopkins is situated exclusively in Baltimore.  It used to be that adjunct faculty pretty regularly rushed up to the front desk of Gilchrist Hall minutes before their first class, asking for their classroom location—only to find out that they were supposed to be teaching at the nearby Universities at Shady Grove. While JHU is a university in Shady Grove, the University System of Maryland’s nearby campus is called the Universities at Shady Grove.   Or a harried caller would breathlessly ask where the entrance to our emergency room was, thinking that we were Johns Hopkins Hospital. 

Tell us something most people don’t know about the Johns Hopkins Montgomery County Campus

I think most people don’t know that JHUMCC has been open since 1988 and that it is a really vibrant community of academics, global research companies, and a federal laboratory. And it is growing!  MCC is open to science and education-related companies and organizations to locate or hold gatherings here.


Elaine Amir outside of building with groupWhat will you miss most about JHU MCC?

There’s no question that I will miss the people here.  I’ve never been amidst a collection of awesome people such as those on this campus and those I get to meet because of my work.  I will surely miss them more than anything else.

Everyone wants to know what you are going to do next. What are your retirement plans?

I used to teach French, so I naturally turn to the root of the word, “Retire”.    “Re” means back and “tirer” means to pull.  I plan to pull back from the intensity of the great life I have lived for so many years, take a good look at where I am and think about what I want to do next (as I sip mint juleps or whisk away the sand from between my toes).