Collector of Stories

Jennie Williams ’14, American Studies, is a UMBC resident assistant, Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar and Undergraduate Research Award Scholar.

Jennie WilliamsI enrolled in American Studies 422: Preserving Places Making Spaces in Baltimore last fall because I was interested in taking part in a class where I could get involved in meaningful and original research. Dr. Nicole King, who was both the instructor and my academic advisor, encouraged me to take the class in order to broaden my technical skills. But I was also attracted by the course’s orientation to social action. With the Mapping Baybrook project, we were not just going to be collecting data, we would be making a civic contribution in partnership with Baybrook residents.

Baybrook is the conjunction of Curtis Bay and Brooklyn of south Baltimore. It was once rich with immigrant culture and thriving family businesses, but is now mostly overcome by invasive industry among the surviving residential areas. The goal of our class has been to collect the memories of community members, helping to preserve the community through their stories. For our individual projects, my classmates and I decided to choose businesses along the main streets of the community to investigate their history and impact through oral history interviews. [Read more…]

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) 2013 (Wednesday, April 24th) 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:

  • 3D Modeling for Older Adults, by Uvonne Andoh, Farnaz Feizian and Joshua Dutterer (Mentor: Amy Hurst, Information Systems). This project explores the use of three-dimensional printing technology to help older adults gain autonomy and enhance their quality of life. 12:30 p.m. – 3:00 p.m., Poster Presentation, UC Ballroom.
  • Promoting Social Change through Service Learning, by Kathleen Algire-Fedarcyk (Mentor: Jessica Guzman-Rea, Social Work). This research examines the impact of a BreakingGround grant-funded semester-long Social Work course, in [Read more…]

Democracy in Practice

Beverly Bickel is a clinical associate professor of language, literacy and culture at UMBC.

Beverly BickelLast week I had the privilege of joining David Hoffman for two days of meetings at the Kettering Foundation to talk about publicly engaged scholarship and teaching and hear about civic engagement projects at universities around the country.  We talked about the great work UMBC folks are doing in and around BreakingGround, and now we have people in other places who want to collaborate with us on how all of this civic activity is contributing to democratic practices on campuses and beyond.

Mapping Baybrook 1The afternoon after we returned, I headed down to Curtis Bay to see what the students and faculty of Visual Arts and American Studies along with Brooklyn-Curtis Bay community members and organizers had been up to this semester.  They were gathered in the Polish Home Hall, a community center that is being renovated as a welcoming community gathering space which on this Saturday was overflowing with people enjoying an afternoon of pulled pork and cole slaw, art exhibits by Benjamin Franklin HS and UMBC students, the Mapping Baybrook exhibit of oral history and geotagging of people and places in the community, and music by several local musicians including the Curtis Bay Seniors band and their most recent addition of Professor Steve Bradley playing the tenor sax he just picked up 6 months ago.  I spent five dollars to get an arm’s length of raffle tickets that benefited the building renovation fund, enjoyed young (and older) painted faces with dragons, princesses and ants (Prof. Bradley again), and talked with several UMBC Mapping Baybrook 2students about being in the courses led by their visionary instructors and the afternoon’s lively MCs, Nicole King and Steve Bradley.

Having talked with a member of Living Classrooms, one of the afternoon’s co-sponsors, my friend and I decided to drive over to see the newly inaugurated green building on the 11 acre waterfront park that now houses the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center.  The lovely center, built on land just recently cleaned up from its previous role as an industrial “midnight dumping ground,” faces across the water overlooking the city and is reportedly quite inaccessible to community members who cannot easily walk there across the multiple train tracks, highways and industrial centers that separate it from the community. A next project for urban planners and civic engineers?

So my thoughts go to questions of ethics and the centrality of place and space in what we intend to be the democratic practices of our daily lives, our classrooms, and our research.  How do people from UMBC assure that we are joining community members in what David Harvey calls a “speculative spirit” that might open up “new spaces for human thought and action in all manner of ways”? How do we from the university respect the particular experiences and hopes of people in communities?  In what ways can we learn about the embodied experience of those who work and live in places we visit or return to? What fears, assumptions or stereotypes worry us?  Who decides what to study or what to create?

I’d love to have your thoughts about these questions and other ethical considerations for the BreakingGround work.

Contact the author, Beverly Bickel, at

Dec. 1 Mapping Baybrook Event in Baltimore Magazine

Dinah Winnick is a communications manager in UMBC’s Office of Institutional Advancement.

Mapping Baybrook logoThe community event our students have been working toward all semester is coming this weekend and everyone’s invited.

You might recall Mapping Baybrook from earlier posts on this blog. It’s a BreakingGround course in American studies and visual arts where students have partnered with Brooklyn and Curtis Bay community members to produce materials recording the area’s history and culture. It culminates with a community celebration Saturday, Dec. 1, 1:00-5:00 p.m. at the Polish Home Hall, 4416 Fairhaven Avenue in Curtis Bay. The event will also launch the new Mapping Baybrook website, designed in collaboration with UMBC’s Imaging Research Center. It previously appeared in the Gazette and has now also been featured on the Baltimore Magazine blog “The Chatter.” Check it out.

You can reach the author, Dinah Winnick, at To learn more about Mapping Baybrook, contact Nicole King at

BreakingGround Course in the Baltimore News

As a member of the BreakingGround team, I was so proud to spot this fabulous article on UMBC’s BreakingGround-funded course Mapping Baybrook in the Maryland Gazette. It describes the class as “a collaborative and interdisciplinary exploration of place that blends digital mapping technologies with research into the history and culture of an industrial community.”

Under the guidance of faculty Nicole King, American studies, and Steve Bradley, visual arts, “the students went into the community to talk to its residents, and to document and preserve a sense of place and memory,” the article notes. To learn more, read this recent blog post by Mapping Baybrook participant Collin Wojciechowski ’13, political science and media and communication studies.

Everyone is welcome to attend a community celebration with the students and local residents at the Polish Home Hall, 4416 Fairhaven Ave., in Baltimore, December 1st, 1:00-5:00 pm. The event will include live music, recordings of residents’ stories, artworks they’ve inspired and a local walking tour brochure, and it will mark the launch of the Mapping Baybrook website, designed in collaboration with UMBC’s Imaging Research Center. Tickets are $10, with proceeds benefiting the nonprofit Baybrook Coalition.