Global Leadership Starts Here

Romy Hübler (Language, Literacy & Culture), Doaa Rashed (Language, Literacy & Culture) and Maria Nandadevi Cortes Rodriguez (Biological Sciences) are UMBC doctoral students. All hold, or have held, leadership positions in UMBC’s Graduate Student Association.

Earlier this year UMBC joined the Public Sector University Consortium of the Women in Public Service Project, founded by the U.S. Department of State and the Seven Sisters Colleges and now housed at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.  The Women in Public Service Project empowers, connects and mobilizes the next generation of women around the world to address critical public issues.

Romy HublerRomy describes UMBC’s involvement with the Women in Public Service Project:

UMBC has taken an active role in the WPSP by showcasing and providing developmental opportunities for graduate students. At the WPSP conference on “Conflict Transformation Through Economic Development and Innovation” at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell this summer, Maria Nandadevi Cortes Rodriguez and Erika Nesvold (Physics) gave short TED-style research presentations as part of theSharing STEM session. Doaa Rashed and I served as facilitators for the session on The Material Basis of Violence Against Women and Engaging Men in Promoting Change.The conference included women leaders from the U.S., Afghanistan, Northern Ireland, Liberia, and Turkey.

WPSP UN PanelLast month, WPSP presented “A Global Conversation: Why the UN Must Focus on Women’s Leadership” at Barnard College in New York City. Three of us (Doaa, Nandadevi and I) made the trip, sponsored by the UMBC Graduate School’s Graduate Student Development Unit. The panel featured Dr. Debora Spar, President of Barnard College; Jane Harman, Director of the Woodrow Wilson Center; Wafa Taher Bugaighis, Deputy Foreign Minister, Libya; Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UN Women; Daniela Bas, Director of the Division for Social Policy and Development, UN; Melanee Verveer, Executive Director, Georgetown Institute for Women; and Kimberly Marten, Professor of Political Science, Barnard College.

Doaa RashedDoaa reflects:

The panelists discussed diverse contexts in which global women leaders have assessed societal needs and provided long-term sustainable solutions to local problems. Their examples illustrated that women are not only capable of making important contributions, but that they have  already been practicing leadership across the globe. The question that arose is: “what is next?” The panel addressed this question by calling all women leaders to promote and support emerging leaders as they find their paths into public service, which will create the space for empowerment. As President of UMBC’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) , I have a great opportunity to interact with graduate students and help address their concerns about leadership skills, a topic often overlooked in the curriculum. As a response to such need, the GSA started a new Graduate Student Leadership Committee (GSLC) where graduate student leaders work together to identify their leadership needs and develop training workshops and seminars to address those needs. Another goal of this committee is to put committee members in leadership positions as they support fellow graduate students. For me, working with the GSA Executive Board and the Office of Graduate Student Life (OGSL) has helped me see team leadership in action where leaders work together to build a strong graduate student community. Leadership is ours if we choose it and it is through self-efficacy and strong belief in our strength that we can reach this goal.

Maria Nandadevi Cortes RodriguezNandadevi reflects:

Listening to the panelists, I realized that women leaders have many good intentions to end some of our contemporary social challenges, such as poverty, illiteracy, hunger, discrimination, violence and a lack of access to resources including health, shelter, sanitation or water. Unfortunately, they often encounter difficulties when they attempt to change the mentalities of more traditional leaders. In order to achieve prosperity, it is essential that men and women work together and treat every human being with the same rights. Reaching powerful leadership roles has not been easy. I admire all those brave women before me who stood up for their ideals and who fought to vote, study, or even access health care. As a biologist, my research focuses on the genetics of birds and how these genetic changes are related to past and present climatic events; eventually, these results can be used in areas such as conservation and healthy wildlife populations. As a member of PROMISE AGEP, I have been involved in different workshops and panels that promote student success and leadership not only at UMBC, but recently in Puerto Rico, with the Writing for Publication workshop. Finally, as a teacher I have interacted with girls of different cultures and environments and I always like to emphasize that as women we are the foundation of society and that a society will evolve only if we have integrity and values to overcome difficulties.

Romy reflects:

Listening to the global women leaders at the WPSP UN panel was truly inspirational. Their stories illustrated the successful entry of women into powerful leadership positions on a global scale. At the same time, we can hardly speak of equal representation. In the United States, women occupy 98 of 535 seats in Congress, 20 of 100 in the Senate, and 78 of 435 in the House of Representatives. Considering Melanee Verveer’s remarks that “no country can get ahead with half of its people behind,” I wonder how the United States can continue to make valuable democratic contributions when not even twenty percent of its government consists of women? As an organizer, I know that change is a slow and at times painful process. To stay committed, we need to celebrate successes, reflect on challenges, and continuously remind ourselves that equal participation is necessary to understand, discuss, and work toward posing and solving societal and global issues from a variety of perspectives.

UMBC WPSP Participants

 Contact the authors: Romy Hübler at, Doaa Rashed at, and Maria Nadadevi Cortes Rodriguez 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

A More Open Fee-Setting Process

Collin Wojciechowski ’13, political science and media and communication studies, served as the sole student member of the University System of Maryland’s governing Board of Regents, 2011-2012. Saqib Ashraf ’13, chemical engineering, is a member of UMBC’s new Student Fee Advisory Board (SFAB).

Collin WojciechowskiWhen I began my term as the student member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents in July of 2011, students from nearly every campus in the USM understood that they paid mandatory fees but had no idea what this money was actually paying for. A student would stop me when I was visiting their campus and say something to the effect of, “I just saw my bill! I just saw my athletics fee! What is this money paying for?” It was with this issue in mind that I worked for the majority of my term to amend the Board’s policy on student fees and create what you know today as the UMBC Student Fee Advisory Board (a similar committee exists now on each campus in the USM).

My intention in creating these committees was not to freeze or reduce student fees, which are a necessary part of our education. Without them we would not have buses that run properly, computers that turn on, and the SGA would have no money to distribute to student orgs. Instead, my goal was to make students an active part of the conversation by making sure they understood their bill each semester and had a say in what was on it. Effective shared governance is shared governance that has open lines of communication, and that is precisely what my policy changes aimed to foster.

I am proud to say that at my last meeting as a Regent, in June 2012, the fee amendments passed, but that is simply the beginning of the work that needs to be done. It is now up to the student body to take advantage of this opportunity and speak up about the fees.–Collin Wojciechowski

Saqib HeadshotThis academic year, full-time undergraduates pay $2,679 in mandatory fees, and part-time undergraduates pay a prorated share based on the number of credits they take.  These fees support athletics, technology, the Commons, transportation, auxiliary facilities and student activities.  Fees for full-time undergraduates are projected to increase to a total of $2,772 for the next academic year, but the increase and its components are not set in stone.

The Student Fee Advisory Board (SFAB)–the committee created by the UMBC administration, Student Government Association and Graduate Student Association through Collin’s initiative–already has met with administrators overseeing each of the six mandatory fees. Now undergraduates have a chance to weigh in through an online survey that includes detailed information about the fees and the programs, services and facilities they support. If you’re a UMBC undergraduate, please take a few moments to share your perspective! The survey closes March 25th. Survey responses, which are completely anonymous, will inform the SFAB’s recommendations about fee levels and uses for next year.Saqib Ashraf

Contact the authors: Collin Wojciechowski at, Saqib Ashraf 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

Collaboration Produces GSA Art Gallery (photos)

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

A process that began with a reorganization of office furniture, and a conversation among UMBC graduate students about what to do with the bare walls in our office, has culminated in the creation of a new art gallery.  The beautiful gallery, a collaboration between UMBC’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) and Imaging and Digital Arts (IMDA) program, is a modest symbol and example of meeting a challenge by leveraging our community’s assets.

In this case, we knew our IMDA graduate students were producing remarkable works.  What we discovered when we reached out to people affiliated with the program was that they were eager for an opportunity to help create our collective experience of the campus. The art they produced serves in part as a monument to the idea that UMBC graduate students are producers, not just consumers, of our education and of the university itself.

GSA is especially grateful to Shana Palmer and the students from ART 610, as well as IMDA Graduate Program Director Steve Bradley, who turned this vision into reality.  UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski, Provost Philip Rous, Vice Povost and Dean of the Graduate School Janet Rutledge, Dean of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences John Jeffries, Associate Dean of the Graduate School Robert Deluty and graduate students from many departments took time out of their busy schedules to pay tribute to this community building project that celebrates innovation and collaboration among graduate students, faculty, and administrators. [Read more…]