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A Peek Inside … CIVICUS Director Korey Rothman’s Office

Pez Dispensers, Plushies, Artwork Sweeten Visits With Students

By Karen Shih ’09

Korey Rothman poses in office

"I just like things that are a little bit quirky, and things that make me smile," said CIVICUS Director Korey Rothman, whose basement office in Somerset Hall is a bright and cheery spot for students to stop by and chat.

Photos by Stephanie S. Cordle

Freshmen feeling overwhelmed, meet the Bumbles.

The collection of grinning, goofy figures of the Abominable Snowman from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” in CIVICUS Director Korey Rothman’s office have their own kind of cooling power. So do the beloved children’s book creatures that form a rainbow on the wall, and the furry, friendly Grovers that hang out on her desk.

“You might look at this stuff and say it’s just a lot of plastic junk. But for students, it feels very welcoming,” said Rothman.

Warm and self-deprecating, she’s led the two-year community service and civic engagement living-learning program since 2016. Prior to that, Rothman was a lecturer in the School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, where she also earned her M.A. in 2000 and Ph.D. in 2005, and taught courses on the history of theater, queer theater and musical theater.

Now, as she welcomes a new cohort of about 50 students to their home base in Somerset Hall, she shares how the Pez dispensers topped by Kermit, KISS and “The Office” co-stars are just a smidge of her stockpile; her most precious memento, from Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim; and why her favorite Muppet deserves better than being called “Blue Elmo.”

Pez dispensers

Piles of Pez
Rothman’s collection of more than 1,500 Pez dispensers grew a little larger this summer when she attended her first convention of enthusiasts in Ohio. There, she finally purchased another Uncle Sam from the U.S. bicentennial—which she’s been seeking since she lost her first one two decades ago—and also met the famous “Pez Outlaw” Steve Glew, who smuggled rare European dispensers into the U.S. and became the subject of a documentary on Netflix.

“I like being surrounded by the nostalgia,” said Rothman, who started collecting them in the 1990s. Her favorites include oversized Bert and Ernie dispensers, which she said represent her wife, Meredith Carpenter, who works in UMD’s Department of Resident Life, and Rothman, respectively. “I’m a chaos Muppet, and she’s an order Muppet.”

Ironically, Rothman isn’t a fan of the candy, and keeps a large Ziploc full of them to give away. “They’re very chalky.”

Stephen Sondheim autograph

A Lesson From Sondheim
A musical theater aficionado, Rothman has always related to Sondheim’s works, from the lesser-known “Sunday in the Park with George” to the popular “Into the Woods.” “He explores a lot about community and connection and what it means to struggle be part of a community,” she said.

She got to teach her dream class about his oeuvre in 2002. “I sent him the syllabus, and I think I fully expected him to say, ‘You’re brilliant! Please come to my house for lunch.’ But instead he sent back a bit of a critique,” she said with a laugh. “I’m so grateful for that piece of paper. He always said teaching was a sacred profession, and he was teaching me in that letter.”

decoration with quote that reads, "So many people come into our lives then leave the way they came. But there are those precious few who touch our Hearts so deeply we will never be the same."

Leading a Living-Learning Community
The quote was a gift from CIVICUS alum Melissa DiGiorgio ’22, who caught up with Rothman over coffee in mid-August. “It’s a big university, so finding a connection with a professor can sometimes be tough,” Rothman said. She and Associate Director Julie Randolph make it a priority to stay in touch with students even when their formal involvement in the program ends after their sophomore year.

The chance to develop those longer-term relationships and see student growth was why Rothman made the switch from teaching to serving as director of CIVICUS seven years ago. The roughly 100 students in the program examine social issues such as poverty, child welfare and educational disparities, and seek to address them through more than 2,000 hours of service work annually. Many continue to volunteer as juniors and seniors.

painting of woman singing

“Mama Can Sing”
The joyful piece by African American artist Faith Ringgold is part of the collection at the David C. Driskell Center, where Rothman worked as a graduate assistant during the 2004-05 school year. Former Deputy Director Dorit Yaron knew it had caught Rothman’s eye, so when she moved into Somerset, Yaron loaned her a few works from the center to display throughout the CIVICUS offices.

Grover figurines in office

Grover, Gnomes and Dinos
“I’ve long had an affinity with Grover,” said Rothman. “He’s always trying to help out, and he can get a little frustrated and be a little clumsy, but he’s always well-intentioned. And he’s pretty tenacious. I think that also describes me.”

She cringes a bit when students call him “Blue Elmo,” but he and her many mini-collections of cartoon characters, including colorful dinosaurs and red-capped garden gnomes, make her office inviting for not only new students, but any Terp stopping by for a chat. “They’ll notice something that sparks their interest, or say, ‘I loved that when I was a kid!’”

This is part of an occasional series offering a look inside some of the most interesting faculty and staff offices around campus. Think you have a cool workspace—or know someone’s that you’d like to recommend? Email

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