Creators, Authors, and Change Agents: Undergraduate Research at UMBC

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

Janet McGlynnFrom Engineers without Borders working to generate clean drinking water in Kenya to the Making Words Count lab where a UMBC student is exploring Latin American immigration to the United States from a community psychology perspective, UMBC students conduct original mentored work that makes a difference in our community and our world.

My responsibility for campus-wide undergraduate research programs at UMBC allows me to work with these and other engaged students as they develop and carry out independent research, scholarship, and creative work. Through promoting undergraduate research programs I am able to help students as they become creators of new knowledge, authors of their own educations, and actors in the world around us.

These last days of the fall semester are a key time for students thinking about applying for university funding to support their research/creative work. The Undergraduate Research Awards (URA) program provides up to $1,500 to a student or group to support independent research, scholarship, or creative work.

Students who may be interested in the URA program should let me know right away. My role includes helping students to identify a faculty mentor, define a research question, plan the methods of investigation, describe how they will evaluate the project, and draft a strong two-page funding proposal. In the current academic year, students are funded for independent work in 20 different majors from Anthropology to Visual Arts.

I encourage students to follow their passions and take the initiative to begin independent projects. In the course of creating and carrying out a research or creative project, students:

  • apply classroom learning to the real world,
  • find out whether the real work of the major/field is what they really want to do,
  • work on an important problem,
  • collaborate closely with a faculty mentor, establishing a strong relationship,
  • prepare for the research expectations of graduate school,
  • develop a personal accomplishment to share with a potential employer, and
  • reinforce content learned in a course.

Who seeks out such a project? Transfer students, freshmen, and upper-class students. Artists, scientists, and students still figuring out what they want to study. Students with strong academic records and students who want to add meaning to their studies, giving them a reason to improve learning and grades. Students who want to handle a small part of a much larger project or experiment and those with their own plan for exactly what they will explore.

When do students do independent research, scholarship, or creative work? During the academic year or in the summer. In a concentrated project during Winter Session. As part of a formal academic course, for independent study credit, for a zero-credit transcript notation, for pay, or some combination.

If you are a UMBC undergraduate, let undergraduate research be a part of breaking ground in your education. Join the Undergraduate Research group on myUMBC.

Contact the author, Janet McGlynn, at

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…]

URCAD Research Profile: Does Service-Learning Result in Civic-Mindedness?

Kathleen Algire-Fedarcyk ’13, social work, is president of UMBC’s Social Work Students Association and BSW Representative for the National Association of Social Workers’ Maryland Chapter.

Kathleen Algire-FedarcykAs a social work major, I like the idea of service-learning.  I think it is important to involve students in the community they are living and learning in, and to acknowledge their work, skills-building and new insights with academic credit. But does engaging in service-learning make a student more community-oriented or civic-minded? With support from Social Work professor Jessica Guzman-Rea, I developed and carried out a research project to explore that question.

Dr. Guzman-Rea had received a BreakingGround grant to redesign her Social Work 200 course to include much more extensive service-learning and reflection components, with support from the Shriver Center. I served as the teaching assistant for the course. I examined and coded students’ writings from different points in the semester, and looked for patterns to gauge shifts in their perspectives. The theoretical models that guided my inquiry included the Social Change Model (a leadership development framework developed by Alexander Astin and Lena Astin), and Social Learning Theory (pioneered by Albert Bandura). These models suggest that learning is a process, and that the long-term impact of a learning experience may not be immediately evident, which is a challenge for a project designed to measure learning within an academic semester.

I had not participated in research before, and I found qualitative research principles and methods challenging to grasp. Thankfully, Dr. Guzman-Rea was able to guide me through the process. I spent many hours reading and re-reading students’ writings, but I was excited to participate. By the end of the semester, six of the 27 students enrolled in the course had gotten involved in community work beyond what they had done in connection with the class, and many more were able to identify issues and needs important to the community, insights they can bring to future community involvement.

I am excited to present a poster at UMBC’s Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day (URCAD) because it gives me another opportunity to talk about the research! I feel that the research results are applicable to any situation that requires motivating people to change their behavior towards civic engagement. URCAD will also be a new experience for me; I have presented at conferences but I have never had to design a poster and present the material in this way. I am also looking forward to seeing the other posters. I am particularly interested in the presentation on using motivational interviewing. I think including motivational interviewing would be a great way to take my research to the next level. Maybe I can find a collaborator at URCAD as well!

Contact the author, Kathleen Algire-Fedarcyk, at Read about more URCAD projects aimed at contributing to positive social change here.

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…]

UMBC Engineering Students Foster Development of Clean Water in Kenya

Lee Blaney is an assistant professor in UMBC’s Department of Chemical, Biochemical & Environmental Engineering

Lee BlaneyThis past January, a UMBC Engineers Without Borders team left the blustery winds of Baltimore and travelled for two days by plane, van and motorbike to Isongo, Kenya, a community of 500 people in need of a clean water source.

Our team consisted of two undergraduates, Dalton Hughes (chemical engineering) and Chris Mullen (mechanical engineering); our professional engineering mentor, Duane Wilding, from Maryland Environmental Services; and me. Our host and guide was Fr. Chris Shiko, director of our non-profit partner Simiyu House Kenya, which serves orphaned street children in nearby Kakamega.

Chris Mullen, Duane Wilding, and Dalton Hughes conduct water quality testing in Isongo.

Chris Mullen, Duane Wilding, and Dalton Hughes conduct water quality testing in Isongo.

Through this assessment trip we sought to (1) establish relationships with community leaders; (2) conduct water quality testing of the current water source; (3) map the community using a handheld GPS and meet residents; (4) establish a relationship with Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology; and (5) collect pricing information for building materials.

[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

Innovation Generation: Learning through Practice (videos)

Kerry Kidwell-Slak is assistant director of professional practice at UMBC’s Shriver Center.

Joshua Kurikeshu '12, IS and Visual Arts (Project Lead Intern, General Electric)While many UMBC students make their mark on campus, others choose to take their commitment to change into environments from Baltimore City to the wilds of Alaskan forests. Many of our students find these experiences by taking advantage of UMBC’s award-winning internship, co-op and research programs, offered through the Shriver Center.

These experiences encourage students to develop leadership skills, explore potential career paths and make connections with diverse professionals already working in the field. Further, these students have a tangible impact on their organizations and causes that matter to them. They lead children in community service projects, develop marketing campaigns, research how to cure diseases, and reinforce critical cybersecurity protocols.

Check out these videos from Summer 2012 interns Paulette Mensah ’12, Health Administration and Policy, and Molissa Udevitz ’15, Environmental Studies and Dance, who share their experiences and the impact they’ve made on the world.

Paulette and Molissa are just two of the 700 UMBC students who enrolled in the Shriver Center’s internship, co-op and research practica this summer. See UMBC’s web feature profiling 2012 summer interns to learn more.

Contact the author, Kerry Kidwell-Slak, at

Social Entrepreneurship @ UMBC

Vivian Armor is Director of the Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship at UMBC. Amy Froide is associate professor of History at UMBC and a faculty fellow of the Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship.

Social entrepreneurship has been a key component of our entrepreneurial initiatives since the founding of the Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship in 2000. Social entrepreneurs are pioneers of innovation that benefit humanity.  A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to create and implement social change.

We are very excited that last year the university established a new minor in Entrepreneurship & Innovation. The minor is for students in all fields and disciplines, including the arts, social justice work, policy, and activism. Students enrolling in the minor must take two core courses, one of which can be  POLI/AMST/SOCI 205, “Civic Agency and Social Entrepreneurship.” This course has been co-taught by Delana Gregg and David Hoffman for the last four years and is always filled to capacity.

Students can go on to study social entrepreneurship in other courses as well. For example, Professor Amy Froide regularly teaches a seminar on “Entrepreneurs in 18th-century London, England.” In this course, History students research and write papers using original historical documents. One of the students in the course, [Read more…]

Research Methods Beyond the Classroom

Carolyn Forestiere is an associate professor of political science at UMBC.

I have always wanted to introduce some form of civic engagement in my courses, but I never thought that the subject matter that I teach – Research Methods in Political Science – could be adapted to the overall goals of the BreakingGround initiative. After attending the BreakingGround Workshop in the Spring of 2012, I realized that with some innovative thinking, virtually any course can be adapted.

I have been teaching Research Methods since 2006. Part of the students’ regular coursework included developing survey and interview questionnaires that students deliver to each other as a means for them to create their own data set to analyze. In the workshop I decided I could add great depth to my course by a identifying a group of people outside of the university that my students could interview. To serve as a foil for my young college-aged students, I decided to bring them to a retirement community in the Catonsville area. The objective of the exercise will be to gather original data for analysis from the residents at local retirement communities and to garner a sense of empathy for different groups of people. [Read more…]