Not Just About the Food (BreakingGround TV)

David Hoffman is UMBC’s Assistant Director of Student Life for Civic Agency.

David HoffmanWhat does BreakingGround look like in practice? It’s another question I’m asked all the time, and because BreakingGround takes many forms (engaged scholarship, courses, projects, events, cultural practices, everyday interactions), there is no simple answer. But these three videos involving people at UMBC working on issues relating to food, community, health and justice, created by students in Bill Shewbridge’s TV production course for UMBC’s “In the Loop” program, convey a sense of the range and spirit of BreakingGround activities.

1. Joby Taylor, Director UMBC’s Shriver Center Peaceworker Program, interviews graduate student Charlotte Keniston about her work  with Pigtown Food for Thought.


2. Joby Taylor interviews Jill Wrigley, a community activist who teaches a course about food systems in UMBC’s Interdisciplinary Studies program, about her projects on campus and beyond.


3. Joby Taylor interviews Jack Neumeier, ’16, Interdisciplinary Studies, about The Garden, a new campus resource designed to teach, build community, and foster civic agency.


Contact the author, David Hoffman, at

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

Civic Science: Food Justice and an End to Heartbreak

Jessica McNeely and Mollie Sprung are doctoral students in UMBC’s Human Services Psychology program.

UMBC’s Graduate Student Association recently launched a partnership with Pigtown Food for Thought, a community organization in Southwest Baltimore, to work toward food justice Seedsand the eradication of “food deserts.” This semester’s activities, supported by a BreakingGround Community Program Grant, have included a kickoff panel discussion, cooking classes for young people in the Pigtown/Washington Village neighborhood, gardening, and workshops. The workshops—active, collaborative sessions involving students and residents—have included a shopping excursion to the grocery store to gather fresh ingredients, preparing a healthy meal, enjoying the fruits of our labors and a fun activity designed to get us thinking about our relationship with food. Graduate students from a variety of disciplines, including Imaging and Digital Arts; Geography and Environmental Systems; Mechanical Engineering; Biology; Psychology; Language, Literacy and Culture; and Modern Languages, Linguistics and Intercultural Communication, have participated in the program.  

Jessica reflects

Jessica McNeelyDuring my training as a psychologist, I have had the honor to work as a research fellow at the National Institutes on Aging on an innovative, community-based epidemiological study called the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS) study. I work mainly on issues pertaining to cardiovascular health disparities. I am driven by the question, “Why are so many people dying from heartbreak?” My research focuses on how poor diet and chronic stress act synergistically to cause hypertension and diabetes.Sadly, people who are living in poverty suffer a greater health burden from hypertension and diabetes.

The concept of food security is commonly defined as including both physical and economic access to food. The issue of food insecurity represents the intersection of both poor diet quality and chronic stress. I strongly believe that if we work together to eliminate food insecurity it would dramatically reduce the morbidity and mortality due to cardiovascular disease.

The BreakingGround collaborative project between GSA and Pigtown Food for Thought, provided me with the unique opportunity to transform my academic interests into social action. Because I am passionate about the cause, absolutely love working with children [Read more…]

Graduate Students and Faculty Share Civic Innovations (Video)

K. Jill Barr is senior assistant dean for graduate school enrollment management at UMBC.

K. Jill BarrHow does one go about creating and being the change we want to see in the world, as Gandhi suggested over 65 years ago? Graduate students and faculty at UMBC are answering the question through research designed to make a difference, classes organized to address civic challenges, and significant community projects in locales ranging from Baltimore to Kenya. The Graduate School is a key player in the BreakingGround initiative. At the recent Graduate Research Conference, a panel of graduate students and graduate faculty shared their civic experiences.

I love working with our graduate students as they become creative change agents on campus and beyond, and appreciate that they are connecting research, learning and action in immediately relevant and potentially life-altering ways. We’re all excited by their success.

Contact the author, K. Jill Barr, at

Event: Food Sustainability Panel (2/28)

FoodUMBC’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) will host a discussion of community engagement and food justice next Thursday, February 28th at 6:00 p.m. in Lower Flat Tuesday’s (The Commons, UMBC). The event marks the kickoff of a collaboration between the GSA and Pigtown Food for Thought.

Panelists will include Toma Solano and Eric Jackson, Baltimore natives and community activists who founded Pigtown Food for Thought; Jessica McNeely, a UMBC graduate student in psychology studying food justice issues; and Jill Wrigley, who teaches a course about food in UMBC’s Interdisciplinary Studies program and previously served as an Open Society Institute Fellow.

Community Program Grants Awarded, Next Deadline 2/15

Sara Leidner is coordinator for student organizations and involvement in UMBC’s Office of Student Life.

Sara LeidnerThe deadline to apply for BreakingGround Community Program Grants has been extended to February 15, 2013. All UMBC offices, departments and recognized student organizations are eligible for this award, funded by the Provost’s Office. Three innovative community projects have already received funding:

Accessibility Hack Day: UMBC’s Prototyping and Design Research Lab (Department of Information Systems) will engage students in a competition to develop and test ideas for making video games that are accessible to people with various disabilities. Participants in this daylong event on campus will form project groups, propose ideas, build prototypes and submit their designs to a panel of expert judges, including representatives from nonprofit organizations serving people with disabilities. The goal of the project is to spark students’ interest in developing innovative technical solutions for people with disabilities, not just in the context of voluntary service but in their careers in technology-related fields.

Community Arts Projects at UMBC Professional Development Schools: UMBC’s Teacher Education Unit (Department of Education) will support UMBC students aspiring to be teachers as they develop community arts projects with teachers, students and parents at selected local elementary schools (most of which serve families living at or below poverty level). The projects will be designed to deepen cultures of collaboration at each school site; increase UMBC students’ awareness of, and experience in, working with racially, ethnically, economically, and linguistically diverse populations; and enhance all parties’ awareness of the role of the arts in teaching, learning, and community building.

Food for Thought: The UMBC Graduate Student Association will work with local partner Food for Thought to address “food deserts”: urban neighborhoods in which residents face significant challenges in procuring healthy food. UMBC graduate students will teach young people in Pigtown/Washington Village about healthy choices, introduce them to the local community garden, help them plant container gardens of their own, provide cooking classes, and help them become advocates for themselves and their communities in connection with food issues. Participating graduate students will gain connections with each other and with community partners, reflect together on food justice issues, and consider how to integrate lessons from their experiences into their lives.

Contact the author, Sara Leidner, at

UMBC Civic Innovations @ Graduate Research Conference

Romy Jones, a doctoral student in UMBC’s Language, Literacy & Culture program, is Community Liaison for the Office of Graduate Student Life.

 Romy Jones (Square Photo)The Graduate Student Association (GSA) is hosting its 35th Annual Graduate Research Conference on Wednesday, February 20, 2013. This year’s main event is a civic engagement panel consisting of UMBC graduate students, faculty, and administrators. Panelists will discuss various efforts currently underway to foster civic engagement among UMBC graduate students, including graduate level courses featuring a community engagement component, GSA’s Food for Thought project, and Dr. Shaun Kane’s Accessibility Hack Day. These efforts aim to connect theory to practice and move from a paradigm of instruction to one of collaborative, experiential learning. This approach affords graduate students the ability to construct their own learning environments in and outside of the classroom and to reverse the shift from “disciplinary professionalism” to “civic professionalism.”

Meet your panelists:

Philip Rous, Provost
Jill Barr, Assistant Dean of Graduate Enrollment
Steve Bradley, Graduate Program Coordinator, Imaging and Digital Arts
Denise Merringolo, Associate Professor, History
Romy Jones, Graduate Student, Language, Literacy and Culture
Dorothy Alexander, Graduate Student, History
Charlotte Keniston, Graduate Student, Imaging and Digital Arts
Shaun Kane, Assistant Professor, Human Centered Computing

For conference registration, please complete this form: The civic engagement panel will be featured from 1:30 to 2:15 p.m. in the University Center Ballroom. You are welcome to join us for lunch at 1:00 p.m..

Contact the author, Romy Jones, at

An Artistic Response to Food Waste

Charlotte Keniston is a graduate student in Imaging and Digital Arts (IMDA).

Having recently returned from two years in the Peace Corps in rural Guatemala, I arrived in Baltimore to begin graduate school with a keen awareness of the gross amount of food wasted by Americans daily. I moved into a neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore that is labeled a “food desert,” an area in the industrialized world where healthy food options are hard to come by. My neighbors, many of whom do not have cars, ride multiple crowded city buses with children in tow simply to procure food. Prohibited by the difficulty and distance, many simply eat what is available at corner stores in the neighborhood, little more than processed foods and soda.

As an artist I chose to respond to this problem in a way that I felt was both tangible and meaningful—by hosting community meals. The food served at these community meals is prepared simply, with ingredients that other people have discarded. The meals are advertised around the neighborhood a few days ahead of time and when the hour comes, all are welcome to sit at the table and partake. The placement of the table is strategic, in front of a community garden, or abandoned (city-owned) space that could feasibly support a locally owned grocery store or co-operative. The goal is not to feed the world or to change public policy, but to invite people affected by food injustice to eat together and envision change.

Contact the author, Charlotte Keniston, at