Reflections on Imagining America: Change the Paradigm, Change the World

Andy Clark, ’19, Biological Sciences, participated in Imagining America‘s 2015 national conference as an Imagining UMBC Fellow.

Andy ClarkThe bus to downtown Baltimore was due to leave the UMBC campus at 8:00 a.m., but I was not at the stop when it arrived. To make a long story short: I missed the bus twice and had to take the one at 10:00 AM, getting me to the door of the Walter Art Museum just in time for the my first discussion to start.

Not only was this my first experience with the tribulations involved in using Maryland transit, but this was also my first experience as a college undergrad at an academic off-campus event, though not my first-ever conference. Anyone who has ever been to more than one conference has probably felt that sense of dread that comes when seeing the word “lecture” on their itinerary, regardless of how interesting the topic may be. After about 45 minutes of being talked at, inevitably my feet start to tap my mind starts to wander.

Plot twist: Imagining America was not like this. I was pleasantly surprised by the format of the talks I attended, as most of them were discussion-based, and I was involved in the talks. I was not an observer but a participant, and this conference, I can say, was not just interesting, not just enlightening, it was fun. The novelty that comes with one’s first time being surrounded by people who are willing to discuss things that they enjoy, find interesting, and are passionate about…it is indescribable but nonetheless a feeling I am positive others have felt and can understand. Not only was I able to hear others share their innovative ideas, but I was able to share my interests and receive feedback on how to go forward with them. Just amazing!

My favorite experience of the conference was music-based: a seminar/performance called In Search of One Big Union: The Role of Folksongs in the U.S. Labor Movement. I am a music person. All types of music have the possibility to inspire and entrance me, whether with melodic symphonies or bellowing voices. I am simply enamoured of the power of music, with its ability to elicit strong feelings (good or bad), prompt the need to dance (again, good or bad), and give voice to feelings many have trouble expressing. Profound was the sense of serenity I felt during this session and it is absolutely wonderful that Imagining America provided a platform for such a performance to take place. (Shout out to Corey Dolgon for a fantastic set!)

Overall, I was pleased with my experience at Imagining America, especially because I was able to connect with people all over the nation whose interests align so well with mine. Sometimes, I feel like just one voice in seven billion, with ideas that do not correlate with those around me, but IA reaffirmed my beliefs, and provided overwhelming evidence that there are others who think as I do.

To change the world, we must shift the paradigm for ourselves and those around us. We cannot continue down our same path and hope for change: That is literally insane. I look forward to working with the other undergraduate Imagining UMBC Fellows to help implement our new ideas in ways that will be organic and sustainable. Even though the first day of the conference started off poorly for me, I appreciate that it turned out to be better than I could have imagined (and worth missing two buses and walking a mile in the rain uphill), and I am thankful to have been able to participate at all!

Change the paradigm. Change the world.

Contact the author, Andy Clark, at

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