Highlighting the Maryland Heritage Areas Program’s New Grants Review Panel

By Andrew Arvizu and Ennis Barbery Smith, MHAA Assistant Administrators

Top row (left to right): Heather Ersts, Emily Falone, Kevin McDonald, Marina Herrera, Mary Callis, Eric Beckett, Tony Spencer; Middle row (left to right): Meagan Baco, Jacqueline Woodruff, Peter Morrill, John Seidel, Larry Brown, Ashley Samonisky; Bottom row (left to right): Francisco Ayala, Michial Gill, Tina Busko, Anne Raines, Rico Newman, Cathy Hardy Thompson, Nathan Cabrera

The Maryland Heritage Areas Program went about grants review differently this year. Due to COVID-19, the program held all of its grants review meetings and training sessions virtually, which presented some challenges, from difficult-to-hear audio to confusion about how to call-in. However, there were also bright spots. Reviewers stayed in their own homes across the state, where they could spread out their grants review materials, and – most importantly – they convened safely.

The more substantial change to the grants review process was who reviewed the 169 applications, requesting $7.7 million dollars in grant funds. This winter the Maryland Heritage Areas Program successfully formed a new Grants Review Panel, made up of 20 Marylanders who represent a wide range of areas of expertise related to heritage tourism and education.

In fall of 2019, the program held an open call for panelists, inviting members of the public to be a part of the FY 21 Maryland Heritage Areas Authority (MHAA) grants review process for the first time ever. Nearly 70 nominations were received, including nominations from six state agencies that are represented on MHAA, as well as nominations from Maryland’s ethnic and cultural commissions.

Today, we are highlighting the 20 panelists who attentively pored over budgets and project timelines, who learned the ins and outs of MHAA grants review over a series of group video calls, and who tirelessly weighed the merits of the many applications over two all-day virtual grants review meetings in June 2020.

The panelists include:

Francisco Ayala (Frederick, MD)
Francisco Ayala is representing the Governor’s Commission on Hispanic Affairs. He currently works as an Engagement Specialist for Kaiser Permanente. Previously, he studied Economics at Tecnológico De Monterrey with an emphasis on statistical analysis and business growth.

Meagan Baco (Baltimore City, MD)
Meagan Baco is the Director of Communications at Preservation Maryland, the state’s largest and oldest non-profit dedicated to Maryland’s history and heritage. Meagan is an inaugural fellow of the ARCUS Preservation Leadership program, and the Baltimore Planning Academy. They earned an M.S. in Historic Preservation from Clemson University and the College of Charleston, and a B.A. in Environmental Design from SUNY Buffalo. Previously, Meagan was Acting President of Preservation Action and a Historic Preservation Specialist at Clinton Brown Company Architecture. At Preservation Maryland, Meagan leads the organization’s state and national communications including major programs, like the Campaign for Historic Trades, Smart Growth Maryland, and PreserveCast. They also manage several public history projects including initiatives related to Maryland suffragists, labor history at Baltimore’s mills, and the first-of-its-kind Maryland LGBTQ Historic Context Statement.

Eric Beckett, Maryland Department of Transportation
Eric Beckett is the Deputy Director of the Office of Planning and Preliminary Engineering at the Maryland Department of Transportation. He entered this position after completing his M.A. in Urban Planning from the University of Michigan. With over eleven years of experience in the state agency, Eric brings a wealth of administrative and logistical knowledge. In the recent past, he has participated on grant reviews for the Transportation Alternatives, Safe Routes to Schools, and the Recreational Trails programs. Eric is representing the Maryland Department of Transportation and previously served on MHAA’s Technical Advisory Committee.   

Larry Brown, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development
Larry D. Brown, Jr. is the Assistant Director of the Baltimore Region for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. He has a long tenure of service working for the state, the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods, and Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Baltimore. He is committed to fostering community engagement and supporting equitable growth. He has over 13 years of experience in grant-making, project management, and administration. He received his B.S. in Management Science from Coppin State University and a Masters of Divinity from Family Bible College and Seminary. Larry is representing the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Division of Neighborhood Revitalization.

Tina Busko (Berlin, MD)
Tina Busko is the Executive Director of the Rackliffe House Trust. She received her B.S. in Horticulture and History from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After moving to Maryland with her family, she worked as a Naturalist at Assateague State Park. In her current position, at the Rackliffe House Trust, she has become an expert in heritage tourism, grant writing, and administration.

Nathan Cabrera (Dundalk, MD)
Nathan is responsible for outreach and partnership development at Volunteer Maryland, an AmeriCorps program within the Maryland Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives. Nathan has received his B.S in Business Marketing and over his career has worked with merchants incorporating the National Main Street program to help grantees with commercial improvements, homeowners with curb appeal projects, host community events, grow social media presence and website design. In addition he’s overseen hundreds of volunteers and partnered with community leaders to help with clean-up and greening initiatives. Nathan’s friendly manner, can-do attitude, and tireless energy is used to build relationships and reaching people all across the State of Maryland.

Mary Callis (Oakland, MD)
Mary Callis is the Executive Director of the Garrett Lakes Arts Festival. Over her ten-year tenure as director she has engaged her community, built lasting partnerships, managed grants, and significantly grown the organization. She has a strong understanding of the impact of heritage tourism and the role that heritage can play in supporting community development.

Heather Ersts, Maryland Department of Commerce
Heather Ersts is the Partnership and Outreach Manager of the Department of Commerce Maryland Office of Tourism Development. She has over 25 years of experience in the museum field, including tenures at the Annapolis Maritime Museum and Historic Annapolis Foundation. She received her B.A. in History from the University of Maryland College Park, MA in History from George Mason University and her MA in the History of American Decorative Arts from Parsons School of Design/The Smithsonian Associates. Her professional experience has made her an expert in public history, grant writing/administration, and marketing. Heather is representing the Maryland Office of Tourism and served on MHAA’s Technical Advisory Committee.  

Emily Falone (Elkton, MD)
Emily Falone has thirty years of experience as the Delaware State Administrator for Emergency Programs. There, she oversaw numerous state and federal grants and chaired grant review boards. After retiring from her position with the State of Delaware, Emily has applied her expertise at the United States Department of Health and Human Services, where she currently works. She holds a B.S. in Biology and Geology from CUNY Brooklyn College and an M.S. in Geology from the University of Delaware.

Michial Gill, Ph.D., Maryland State Department of Education
Dr. Gill is the Director of Grants Administration at the Maryland State Department of Education. He received his B.S. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Carolina-Columbia, his M.A. in Business Management from Webster University, and his Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from Morgan State University. With over 20 years of experience working with the state, Dr. Gill possesses a mastery of grants management and administration. Dr. Gill is representing the Maryland State Department of Education.

Marina Herrera (Accokeek, MD)
Marina Herrera is the Development Manager at the Accokeek Foundation at Piscataway Park, where she is responsible for managing and driving communication campaigns and annual fundraising to engage donors and supporters. Prior to joining the Accokeek Foundation, Marina worked in nonprofit development in the higher education space and, before that, as a nurse in geriatrics and Alzheimer’s/dementia care. She received her B.A. in English Studies from the University of New Mexico.

Kevin McDonald (North Bethesda, MD)
Kevin McDonald is the Digital Strategy Assistant at Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland. He received his B.A. in Archaeology and Drama from Tufts University before completing his M.A. in Applied Anthropology and his Graduate Certificate in Museum Scholarship and Material Culture at the University of Maryland, College Park. His academic works, including “An Ethnobotany of the Vaults: A Student Reflection on Anthropology, Biocultural Collections, and Museum Research” and “How death disappeared from Halloween” have been published in esteemed journals like Practicing Anthropology. As a museum professional, he has extensive experience and expertise with exhibit planning, grant writing, and public outreach across the arts and culture sector.

Peter Morrill, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Peter Morrill is the Curatorship and Cultural Resources Manager at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. He completed his B.A. in Historic Preservation and Community Planning at the College of Charleston. With experience working for the National Park Service, Delaware State Parks, and the Maryland Historical Trust, Peter is an expert preservationist with experience in research, project management, grant writing, and property acquisition. He currently serves as a board member for Baltimore Heritage and the Maryland Military Monuments Commission. Peter is representing the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and served on MHAA’s Technical Advisory Committee.

Rico Newman (University Park, MD)
Rico Newman is a member of the Elders Council of the Choptico Band of Piscataway Indians. He retired from a career as a Cultural Information Specialist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian and spent six years serving on the Maryland Commission on Indian Affairs. He currently devotes time to the Accokeek Foundation as a board member and resides in University Park, Maryland.

Anne Raines, Maryland Historical Trust
Anne B. Raines is Deputy Director and Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer at the Maryland Historical Trust (MHT), part of the Maryland Department of Planning.  After earning her Bachelor of Architecture at North Carolina State University, she worked for several years as an architect in the US and UK. She earned her M.Sc. in Architectural Conservation with distinction from Edinburgh College of Art (University of Edinburgh) in 2009; returning to the US, she worked as Capital Grants and Loans Administrator at MHT until assuming her current position in 2017. She is representing the Maryland Historical Trust on the panel.

Ashley Samonisky (Cambridge, MD)
Ashley Samonisky is the project manager of Vision Planning and Consulting, LLC. She has an extensive history of working with federal, state and local government in the fields of hazard mitigation, stakeholder engagement, and public outreach. She completed her B.S. in Emergency management at the University of Maryland and her B.S. in Geography at Salisbury University. Her capstone project centered on researching and mapping historic cemeteries in Dorchester County. In her current role at Vision Planning and Consulting, she uses her project management experience to offer guidance to state and local governments on a variety of projects.

John Seidel, Ph.D. (Chestertown, MD)
Dr. Seidel is an Associate Professor of Anthropology and the Director of the Center for Environment & Society at Washington College. He received a B.A. in Anthropology and Political Science from Drew University and M.A.s in American Civilization and Anthropology before completing his Ph.D. in Historical Archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania. Professionally, Dr. Seidel has over 40 years of experience in preservation and archaeology. Further, he has served on the board of numerous historical organizations including the Stories of the Chesapeake Heritage Area, the Maryland Humanities Council’s History Matters! Program, and the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.

Anthony “Tony” Spencer (Annapolis, MD)
Born, raised, and educated in Anne Arundel County, Anthony J. “Tony” Spencer has an extensive background as an artist, as well as experience in public administration and a track record of serving his community. His CV includes time spent in the United States Marine Corps and a 23-year career with the Annapolis Fire Department. He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and has served on the Anne Arundel County Public School Board, on the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, and as a grants evaluator for the Maryland State Board of Education. Mr. Spencer serves on and is representing the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.

Read more about Spencer, who chaired the new Grants Review Panel in its inaugural year, in a previous blog post.

Cathy Hardy Thompson (Charles County, MD)
Cathy Hardy Thompson is currently the Preservation and Long Range Planning Program Manager for the government of Charles County. Over the past 15 years, she has worked in a variety of capacities for the Charles County Government, including historic sites surveyor, preservation planner, and program manager. She has extensive experience writing and administering grants that support critical heritage tourism products.

Jacqueline Woodruff (Bowie, MD)
Jacqueline Woodruff serves as Grants Manager for the Maryland State Department of Education. She has an M.A. in Business Administration from the University of Maryland University College. This education led her to an impressive work history that includes serving as the acting program director at Lockheed Martin, as the regional coordinator of the Y in Central Maryland, and the executive director of The Vision Foundation. In her current role as grants manager, Jacqueline secures critical federal support for Maryland’s Department of Education. She is an expert in grant-making, project management and administration.


MHAA staff have been amazed by all the ways in which the panelists adapted to each new situation gracefully, and we look forward to working with them again next year. The panel’s recommendations for award will be reviewed at the Maryland Heritage Area Authority virtual meeting on July 9, 2020, which is open to the public.

One thought on “Highlighting the Maryland Heritage Areas Program’s New Grants Review Panel

  1. Pingback: Become a MHAA Grant Review Panelist – Four Rivers Heritage Area

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