Putting Down New Roots

 Rosa Rada ’17, Interdisciplinary Studies, interned with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Baltimore as the New Roots Gardening Intern.

Rosa Professional PhotoThis past summer I had a full-time AmeriCorps position at the International Rescue Committee: a non-profit that resettles refugees and provides humanitarian relief. I worked at the Baltimore office for their New Roots program where I focused primarily on helping refugees learn about and gain access to healthy nutrition and gardening.

This was the summer where I reached clarity: I found something worth living for. I worked 45+ hours a week, endured a hellish commute to East Baltimore, and involved myself in several other projects that left me considering sleep as highly optional. But the exhaustion was more than worth it because my experience working at the International Rescue Committee was by far the most enriching experience of my life. The health and nutrition tragedies I witnessed in the homes and communities of refugees and the positive effect that gardening and advocacy had on them did new rootsnothing but fuel my passions.

I also have gotten this crazy idea that if I work hard enough and care deeply enough, I can make almost anything happen. I have come to realize that these moments of clarity and empowerment were primarily the results of two things.

First, I pushed myself into an experience where I was naïve, uncomfortable, and unprepared. This forced me to learn and grow quickly. I admit that, when I began, I knew next to nothing about the refugee situation or the cultures of those I was working for.

Second, I was fortunate enough to be in an environment that encouraged me to take ownership over my own projects. For example, I had recognized that there was a large population of refugees in the Arbutus area who were underserved, especially in terms of garden space. I wanted these refugees to experience the benefits of gardening: the improved nutrition, food security, and mental health. I realized that UMBC would be an especially rich place to have such a garden and spent 6 months working with Professor Jill Wrigley to gain approval of this project. This past fall, we piloted the idea by having a Burmese refugee family garden in some of the UMBC community garden plots and engage both formally and informally with Jill’s food systems course. I’m grateful to be leading the project in Jill’s course this semester as well. In this course, students not only study food system issues, but work on real projects with the community to ensure food justice.

gardenHere is my reflection on why I am passionate about my particular project. I can say with absolute excitement that legal counsel has recently approved this project and that, with the hard work and passion of talented students, I have faith that we can make this UMBC New Roots garden a reality.

My excitement about this summer pushed me to seek an exhilarating experience this past winter: I worked on an organic farm in Arizona through the World Wide Workers on Organic Farms program. Going on a solo trip to the other side of the country to live with people who were much different than me was certainly uncomfortable but, as with the IRC experience, I learned an enormous amount about my passions and about life in general.

I plan to continue to immerse myself in similar enriching experiences as well as continue to take exciting classes through the Interdisciplinary Studies major I’m designing. I hope that the knowledge and skills I gain will enable me to address the issues that plague the food system. In many senses, I am privileged to have had such empowering experiences and to be taking courses that I am truly excited about. But at the same time, I am convinced that everyone deserves and has the innate ability to find something that they love—that makes them passionately livid, inspired, and energized—and to take action on it.

Contact the author, Rosa Rada, at rada1@umbc.edu.

Research for Social Change at URCAD

Janet McGlynn is director of communication and outreach in UMBC’s Office of Undergraduate Education.

mcglynn_cropEach year I have the pleasure of organizing a unique forum for sharing students’ extraordinary research, creative projects and scholarly contributions to the common good. Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day (URCAD) 2014 (Wednesday, April 23rd) will feature more than 200 presentations by UMBC students on projects spanning (and sometimes blending) the disciplines.

Some of the projects aimed at contributing in creative ways to positive social change include:

  • Evaluating the Efficacy of Low-Tech Processes in Removing Bacterial Contaminants from Drinking Water Supplies in Isongo, Kenya, by Dalton Hughes, Chris Mullen, Madison Bondoc and Hollie Adejumo (Mentor: Lee Blaney, Chemical, Biochemical and Environmental Engineering). This presentation explores water quality issues affecting a small village in Kenya visited by the students and their faculty mentor on a recent Engineers Without Borders trip, and proposes a method for removing contaminants that were tested on UMBC’s Library Pond. 10:45 a.m., Oral Presentation, UC 310.
  • Resource-sharing and Psychological Sense of Community among First-Generation Latin American Immigrants, by Kaitlyn Golden (Mentor: Anne Brodsky, Professor, Department of Psychology). This  research focuses on two support networks used by first-generation Latin Americans: their families and their fellow members of the Latino/a community.  2:45p.m., Oral Presentation, UC 312.
  • Baltimore Voices: Creating a Comprehensive Sense of Place and Identity, by Samantha D. Hawkins (Mentor: Sarah Chard, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Anthropology). This photo-ethnographic research investigates what it means to be a Baltimorean and explores the complex interaction between place and identity,  indicating a common view of Baltimore as a “blue collar,” hard-working, small town, whose residents share a mutual respect for one another. Additionally, the changing industrial scene in Baltimore has resulted in a collective mourning of a loss of Baltimore history and identity. Nayaba URCAD1:45p.m., Oral Presentation, UC 312.
  • Arts Advocacy: Promoting Policy Change, by Mary B. Hester (Mentor: Carolyn Forestiere, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science).  While research suggests that there is a correlation between participation in the arts by children and academic performance, the arts, specifically dance, are often the first programs to be eliminated when cuts need to be made. This research focuses on the benefits of dance lessons for children enrolled in the Easton YMCA and Elementary School Summer Learning Program, and attempts to communicate the results in a policy-oriented manner.   12:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m., Poster Presentation, UC Ballroom.
  • Tactile Tools for Educational Research, by Samantha A. McDonald, Joshua Dutterer (Mentors:Shaun Kane and Amy Hurst, Assistant Professors, Department of Information Systems). This presentation focuses on using a laser cutter and 3D printer to create inexpensive custom tactile tools in order to help a visually impaired student grasp online visual assignments, including color formats, font types, web layouts, and web design. 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m, Poster Presentation, UC Ballroom.


I’m looking forward to being informed, provoked and challenged by these and many other student projects. What are you looking forward to seeing and learning about at URCAD this year?

Contact the author, Janet McGlynn, at mcglynn@umbc.edu.

NASA Needs Engineers! Transforming Education through STEM

Susan Hoban is a Senior Research Scientist and Associate Director for Academics at the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, Associate Affiliate Professor of Physics, and Honors College Fellow (2011-14) at UMBC.


My background is in the study of comets in our Solar System.  Years ago, when I was teaching undergraduate astronomy, I began to wonder why the students had so much difficulty solving problems.  As I unraveled the thread of that thought, I found myself working with high school educators, trying to help them better understand the processes of science so they could pass their understanding along to their students.  Now I am funded to conduct STEM professional development (focused on the relationship between Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for K-12 teachers and informal educators.

NASA’s BEST Team (from left to right), Jack O’Malley, Allie O’Malley, Dr. Susan Hoban, Kabish Shah, and Catherine Kruchten.  Not pictured: Dr. Laurie Cook

NASA’s BEST Team (from left to right), Jack O’Malley, Allie O’Malley, Dr. Susan Hoban, Kabish Shah, and Catherine Kruchten. Not pictured: Dr. Laurie Cook
(Photo credit Kabish Shah)

Sometimes, my team and I find ourselves in unusual situations as we train the educators to use our home-grown STEM curriculum.  In one such adventure  we ended up working with over 100 middle school students…and I thought teaching college courses was challenging…

NASA needs engineers.  (In fact, so does America.)  So NASA is taking an interest in developing an educational pipeline that will encourage more young people to consider engineering as a career. On four Sunday afternoons in January, UMBC’s “NASA’s BEST” team, where BEST stands for “Beginning Engineering, Science, and Technology,” brought robotics education to budding engineers in the Howard County Library’s HiTech Program.   The UMBC team is comprised of me as the team lead, senior Kabish Shah (Mechanical Engineering), junior Psychology major Allie O’Malley, instructional designers Dr. Laurie Cook and Catherine Kruchten.  Allie brought her brother, Jack, a senior at Mount Hebron High School in Howard County, because we needed all the helping hands we could find!

HiTech engineer's rover

A HiTech engineer’s rover.
(Photo Credit Kabish Shah)

Seventeen middle school students at HiTech designed and constructed small robots to serve as “seeing-eye robots” for NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars.  The robots are based on the Arduino microcontroller and include an ultra-sonic sensor to provide the capability for the rover to “see” obstacles and avoid them.

The curriculum, called “NASA’s Engineering Exploration Training,” or NExT, uses the Engineering Design Process as its framework.  The young engineers get to design the robot themselves, so each robot is unique.

The Howard County Library received so much positive feedback that they have asked us to come back and run the program again as soon as possible.  We will do that, after we finish our February project – running this program at the Old Mill STEM Middle school in Anne Arundel County.

Engineers at Old Mill STEM Middle School connect the sensors on their robots.

Engineers at Old Mill STEM Middle School connect the sensors on their robots.
(Photo credit Kabish Shah)

As part of the STEM program, we intorduced 100 young engineers to robotics each Friday morning in February, along with two all-day Saturday sessions.

Sometimes, the young engineers get frustrated because the process is complicated.  But as John F. Kennedy said during his famous speech at Rice University in 1962, when he was trying to excite the country about space exploration, “we choose to go to the Moon…not because it is easy, but because it is hard!”

It’s truly a team effort. Kabish is the main instructor for the course. This is Kabish’s first time in this role, and he is a natural!  His passion for engineering shines through, and he has a wonderful way with the kids. Allie developed the wiring guide and helped Catherine prepare the instructional materials.  After joining the NASA’s BEST team, Allie has decided to become a teacher, and she is getting real-world experience working with these youngsters.  Laurie, Allie and Kabish spent hours and hours soldering.  Jack was invaluable during the sessions, running from table to table helping with wiring, connecting sensors and assembling chassis.  As team leader, I try to keep track of everybody.

NASA’s BEST is funded by a grant from NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

Contact the author, Susan Hoban, at hoban@umbc.edu.

Dig Below the Surface of Diversity (video)

Brent McBride ’14, Physics, is a Resident Assistant (RA) in UMBC’s Chesapeake Hall, and a peer facilitator for the INTERACT Program.  

Brent McBrideINTERACT is a peer-led program in UMBC Residential Life. My role in INTERACT has involved working with other RAs to help first-year students learn about themselves and each other, and build the skills we all need to connect authentically with people in our diverse UMBC community. In the video below, I explain why INTERACT is so appealing to me.

Contact the author, Brent McBride, at mcbride1@umbc.edu.

Why I’m Joining the Peace Corps

Nathan Rehr ’13, Political Science, will begin serving as a volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps in March, 2014, in Senegal.  

nathanI have known for about four months that in March, I will be leaving to serve as a community health volunteer in the U.S. Peace Corps but it probably won’t feel real until I board the plane to Senegal (although I imagine I will feel something when I am getting all my vaccinations).

I pretty much settled on joining the Peace Corps in my senior year of high school.  That was when I undertook a project for National History Day, kind of like a science fair competition but for historical research.  Having recently worked with a returned volunteer, I was curious to know who had started the Peace Corps.  Almost immediately after beginning my National History Day research, Sargent Shriver became one of my heroes.

Shriver was a textbook idealist.  He was given the task of getting Congress to approve the Peace Corps when everyone thought it was impossible.  But more than 50 years later, Shriver’s idealism lives on in the Peace Corps, the Special Olympics, and War on Poverty programs like VISTA and Head Start. To learn more about Shriver and his legacy check out his biography and this reflection written by his son.

When I learned that UMBC had a Shriver Center to connect students to service-learning opportunities, a Shriver Living Learning Community where students participating in service lived together, and the Sondheim scholarship program for students interested in public service, I was sold.  I participated in service throughout my time at UMBC.  I studied International Affairs and studied abroad, giving me even more of an international focus.

On one level, Peace Corps just makes sense.  It combines my passion for volunteering and my international education.  I’d also like to think that I’m joining for the same reasons that Sargent Shriver was dedicated to launching the program: helping others secure the basic necessities for human life and promoting cultural exchange.  I hope that my time as a volunteer will give me the first-hand knowledge necessary to improve the way we approach international development.

I guess I’ll know more in another four months when I step off the plane and into… well I don’t really know what but I know it’ll be an adventure.

Contact the author, Nathan Rehr at nathanr2@umbc.edu.

Hrabowski Fund Supports Innovating Teaching by Faculty and Staff

20130827_170142Delana Gregg is an academic advisor at UMBC’s Honors College

UMBC has announced the Hrabowski Fund for Innovation Award 2013-14 competition, with proposal deadlines of October 11, 2013 and February 14, 2014.

I am excited that this round of the competition for innovative approaches to increase the success of undergraduate and graduate students is open to both faculty and full-time staff.  Project budgets from $3.500 to $25,000 can be proposed, and the Faculty Development Center is available to work with faculty or staff as they develop their ideas for projects. Previous Hrabowski Fund for Innovation grants have funded innovative projects in teaching and learning that impact society and improve our community, such as:

The Wisdom Institute
A team led by Craig Saper, professor and director of UMBC’s language, literacy and culture (LLC) program, will create an institute to expand the role for emeritus professors at UMBC.   The program’s success relies on the rich resource of civic engagement by our emeritus professors and the life lessons they can share with workshop participants, particularly current UMBC students.

Service Learning in Statics
Studies show that part of a student’s motivation to study engineering derives from the belief that engineering positively contributes to the welfare of society.  A team led by Anne Spence, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will develop new service-learning requirements for undergraduates studying mechanical engineering, with a particular focus on identifying components that increase retention and student success.

Hrabowski Fund for InnovationThe Hrabowski Fund for Innovation honors President Hrabowski’s 20 years of service to UMBC by investing in the future of our university. In 2011, Dr. Hrabowski received the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Academic Leadership Award, one of the highest honors given to an educator. The award included a $500,000 grant, which he has directed to promote a culture of innovation, entrepreneurship and student success at UMBC.

I hope that faculty and staff wanting to work with students to make a meaningful difference for Baltimore, Maryland and the nation will take advantage of this opportunity.

Check out more information about applying for a grant here.  Contact Delana Gregg at delana1@umbc.edu.

Students Mentoring Students

Stephen Bradley is an Associate Professor in Visual Arts at UMBC.


Masonville Cove is 70 acres of water and 54 acres of cleaned-up wetlands, nature trails, and a protected bird sanctuary, on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River in Brooklyn-Curtis Bay, Baltimore City owned by the Maryland Port Authority.  At this former industrial and then abandoned area in south Baltimore, local residents and schoolchildren (from Brooklyn, Curtis Bay, and Cherry Hill) can now connect with their natural environment and participate in environmental stewardship projects through the Masonville Cove Education Environmental Center, a joint project with the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay Coalition (Baybrook), the Living Classrooms Foundation, and the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

My UMBC students and I have been working with students at nearby Benjamin Franklin High School, creating art projects rooted in the community, including animated films documenting debris  found in the neighborhood near Masonville Cove.  In late February 2013, I met with the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center (MCEEC) staff  to discuss a mural project for the base of a storm drain near the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center main building.  We enlisted a group of UMBC, Towson and Benjamin Franklin High School (BFHS) art students to design the project and execute the mural during the MCEEC annual Environmental Festival held in mid-May.

The most important aspect and at times the most challenging was maintaining the high school students’ focus on the design process of the mural that required critical discussions about the content and the style of the mural.  At the same time it was important not to squash the creative process or to be discouraged by the various obstacles we faced during each visit to the high school.


The other challenge for the university art students was how best to mentor the high school students. These students often have an unusual level of stress in their lives, which is partly normal for most high school students, but in this community the levels of stress are abnormally higher due to the numerous challenges the community faces.

Every Friday morning for two months, a handful of UMBC students worked on the design and painting techniques for the mural.  This also involved a site visit to MCEEC to photograph the location and to learn about the mission of the environmental center. Students worked on various designs for the mural that would remind the visitors to MCEEC of the fragile ecology of the place and to improve the visual landscape.   We began with general guidelines and ideas from the MCEEC staff, then presented the ideas to the BFHS, UMBC and Towson students._DSC9100-mural

They enthusiastically began to work and soon had a series of drawings and small paintings that we presented to MCEEC. They gave us feedback for modifications.  Through this process the university students discovered that it was helpful to create smaller creative brainstorming sessions that mentored the students through their stress who were able to return to the design process with a fresh start. On May 20, we began painting the mural in stages. Our team worked for two solid days but had to postpone the final stage due to stormy weather. The university students found themselves talking and making art with the BFHS students working through their anxiety and contending with other obstacles they face in their lives.  Once the students worked through these issues, they were able to move to the task of designing the mural.


By June 15, with the assistance of two dedicated UMBC students and myself, we completed the mural.   The project gave the BFHS students confidence to show that they can improve their neighborhoods.  The UMBC and Towson students learned that the creative process can be a catalyst for civic agency.


Contact the author, Stephen Bradely at sbradley@umbc.edu.

Bulletproof Vest and Aviators: Social Change, Firsthand

Katrina Smith ’14, Philosophy and Political Science, participated in the Governor’s Summer Internship Program through UMBC’s Shriver Center.  

Katrina Smith

Sitting on my couch eating Nutella and Wheat Thins–this was high school for me.  Don’t get me wrong, I did well in school, participated in clubs, and played softball, but I just didn’t see a point in all of it.

Then I started listening to the world around me and a light went off with every story uncovered. I witnessed injustices firsthand, involving people close to me.  I watched a good friend be taken in for a psychiatric evaluation by police. This friend ended up feeling more victimized due to the experience and ended up not seeking treatment for a longer period of time because of it. I began to gather passions.  I am passionate about ending intimate partner violence and I am passionate about ensuring fair, adequate, and respectful treatment to those in mental health crises. I was determined to create change.

That’s where summer 2013 comes into play. I was lucky enough to participate in the Governor’s Summer Internship Program (GSIP) where I interned at the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention. At my placement, I was tasked with researching and presenting on the use of GPS monitoring for respondents to protective orders. While I had worked with victims and with juvenile crime prevention in the past, this was the first time I felt like my work on intimate partner violence would impact a large number of people and would potentially save lives.

katrina smith gov 2Myself and two other interns worked on a policy proposal as well, studying the need for statewide police standards for calls involving mental health crises. We presented our proposal to Governor Martin O’Malley in person. While my mentor said you couldn’t see my legs shaking from the audience, I’m not sure I believe her. Nerves aside, my group had the opportunity to put this issue on the Governor’s radar for his last term in office. Adequate training of officers and better relations between law enforcement and mental health services allow for safer interactions and a greater continuity of care. These measures can spare people like my friend the devastating experience of being mistreated by law enforcement officers, and could even save lives, like  that of Ethan Saylor, a man with Down’s Syndrome who died while being taken into police custody at a Maryland movie theater in January.

katrina smith glasses

I was also able to tour two correctional facilities and ride-along with the Baltimore City Police Department, a dream come true for me. I’m fascinated with the criminal justice system as a whole and those who frequent it, so seeing two sides of it firsthand was incredible. I was able to eat prison food, see the availability of programs for incarcerated individuals, and of course, I rocked the aviators and bulletproof vest.

I got to do some awesome things this summer, totally falling in line with my passions. Along the way I was able to identify new passions, such as safe housing for gender non-conforming inmates and community-building activities within prisons and in city neighborhoods to reduce violence. In the future, I hope to continue working within my passions to create change I truly believe in.

Contact the author, Katrina Smith at k78@umbc.edu.

What Remains? Baltimore Neighborhoods in Transition (9/19)

Michelle Stefano, folklorist in residence for UMBC’s department of American studies, coordinates the Maryland Traditions program for the Maryland State Arts Council.

Michelle StefanoWhat are the impacts of post-industrial change at the community level? Whether industrial landscapes – the temples to the long-standing and once thriving US manufacturing enterprise – are re-purposed or destroyed, what lives on in the hearts and minds of those who knew them best?

The decline, dismantling, and disappearance of the many industries across the US deeply affects the towns, cities, and regions in which they were situated and the local communities with which they were intimately related. I believe understanding the effects of these post-industrial transitions, especially with respect to the relationships between community and place in both historical and contemporary contexts, is key to ensuring economically, environmentally, and culturally sustainable futures for American communities.

Sparrows Point 3

(Photo: UMBC New Media Studio)

Nonetheless, when we hear about these stories of plants, mills and factories closing, it is often through the language of economics; statistics reflecting jobs lost, the rise in unemployment and the crumbling of local businesses tend to mask the more personal, or human, elements of such change. In this light, the panel, What Remains? Baltimore Neighborhoods in Transition (Thursday 9/19, 4:30 p.m., Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery) seeks to spotlight the stories and memories – the intangible remnants of post-industrialization – of the communities of two historically interrelated and, yet, geographically separate areas: Baybrook, a group of six ethnically and racially diverse industrial neighborhoods in the southern peninsula of Baltimore City and the Sparrows Point Steel Mill area of Dundalk, situated just across the southwestern city border in Baltimore County. The lives of hundreds of thousands of Baltimore area residents (and beyond) have been shaped by these industrial centers, and the significance of them – from the personal and shared perspectives of those who knew them best – does not disappear as quickly.

(Photo: UMBC New Media Studio)

(Photo: UMBC New Media Studio)

Panel participants are both UMBC researchers and members of the Baybrook and Sparrows Point Steel Mill communities. Deborah Rudacille (English), who grew up in Dundalk, will reflect on the changes she has seen in the Sparrows Point area, drawing also from her oral history research for the book, Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town. Steve Bradley (Visual Arts) and Nicole King (American Studies) will discuss their work in Baybrook, funded in part through the BreakingGround initiative, focusing on the mapping of places of both historical and contemporary importance, as well as the stories and memories associated with them. Bill Shewbridge (Media and Communication Studies/the New Media Studio) and I will highlight our work in the Sparrows Point area, Mill Storiesa collection of digital stories that aim to amplify the voices, experiences, and importance of the Mill to a wider public. Community members include Jason Reed, who is involved with environmental justice projects in Baybrook, and Troy Pritt and Eddie Bartee, who worked at Sparrows Point for numerous years. Eddie is a third generation Sparrows Point steelworker who grew up in the company town, which was situated in the middle of the Mill complex and was razed in the 1970s. Denise Meringolo (History), whose research has focused on community-based public history practice, particularly in Baltimore, will moderate the discussion.

Contact the author, Michele Stefano, at ms@umbc.edu.

Service to Career: Welcoming Refugees

Delana Gregg is the  Associate Director for the Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars Program at UMBC.

20130827_170142I was thrilled to see UMBC junior and Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar Christie Smith profiled in the Owings Mills Patch earlier this month. The article and accompanying video describe Christie’s work this summer with the International Rescue Committee in Baltimore, assisting caseworkers in providing all basic needs and support to newly arrived refugees and ensuring their transition into life in the United States is as smooth as possible. Christie was placed in the internship through the Walter Sondheim Jr. Maryland Nonprofit Leadership Program.

What I appreciate is that Christie has so clearly moved beyond thinking of service as an occasional commitment, or as something she would do while in school butChristie Smith then leave behind. For Christie, work with refugees is a way of building her passion for helping international populations through education into a plan for a career full of contributions to her communities.  A Global Studies and Modern Languages, Linguistics, & Intercultural Communication (Spanish) major, Christie has volunteered since her freshman year through the Shriver Center with the Refugee Youth Project, an after-school program which seeks to improve the lives of refugee youth living in Baltimore. She tutored refugee youth from around the world in English and other subjects while helping them acculturate to their new country. Her service was so impactful that Christie took on a leadership role mentoring the other UMBC volunteers as a sophomore, including raising $5,000 for the organization with an Autumn Gala last fall.

I hope the coming year affords many more students opportunities to build their passion for service into a plan for work and life.

Contact the author, Delana Gregg, at delana1@umbc.edu.