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Thursday, November 20, 2014

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University Launches Dynamic, Interactive Information Website UMD Right Now

December 4, 2012
Contacts: 

Crystal Brown 301-405-4618 crystalb@umd.edu

College Park, Md. – Today, the University of Maryland launched a brand-new multimedia news and information portal, UMD Right Now, which provides members of the media and the public with real-time information on the university and its extended community.

UMD Right Now replaces Newsdesk, which previously served as the university’s news hub and central resource for members of the media. The new site is aimed at reaching broader audiences and allows visitors to keep up with the latest Maryland news and events, view photos and videos and connect with the university across all of its social media platforms.

“We designed UMD Right Now to be a comprehensive, vibrant site where visitors can find new and exciting things happening at Maryland,” said Linda Martin, executive director, Web and New Media Strategies. “Through social media, video, photos and news information, we hope to engage visitors and compel the community to explore all that Maryland has to offer.”

The new website, umdrightnow.umd.edu, contains up-to-date news releases and announcements, facts and figures about the university, a searchable database of faculty and staff experts, information highlighting innovation and entrepreneurship at UMD, additional resources for news media and other campus and athletics news.

“UMD RightNow is the place to go to find out all the things happening on and around campus on any given day,” said Crystal Brown, chief communications officer. “This website brings real-time news, events and information right to your fingertips.”

For more information and contact information for the Office of University Communications, please visit umdrightnow.umd.edu.

Michael R. Poterala Tapped to Lead UMD's Legal Affairs

November 19, 2014
Contacts: 

Crystal Brown, crystalb@umd.edu

Michael R. PoteralaCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland has named Michael R. Poterala as the new Vice President and General Counsel for the university. Poterala joins UMD from North Carolina State University and will officially start at Maryland in January 2015.

“Michael is a rare find,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. “He helps clients solve problems without being over-protective, has strong innovative and entrepreneurial instincts, while remaining mindful of the law and risk management. He is a welcome addition to campus.”

"Major public research institutions today operate in a dynamic environment characterized by funding challenges, disruptive technologies, changing metrics and intense competition for federal and industrial support," says Poterala. "I am pleased to be joining the University of Maryland to provide President Loh and everyone at the university with the counsel and support they need to maintain UMD's status as a leader among its peers."

Poterala has served as NC State's Deputy General Counsel since 2011. During his tenure at NC State, Poterala was the lead attorney for the largest sponsored research agreement in the university's history, created a campus-wide organizational compliance program, and facilitated the formation of the Leaders in Nonwovens Commercialization, LLC, an affiliated entity that generated $3.8 million in revenue in its first year of operation. Poterala was also the chair of a panel that advised student-athletes and their families to facilitate a successful transition to a professional sports career.

Previously, he worked for 13 years at Michigan State University in various roles, including associate general counsel, visiting professor of law, assistant vice president for research and graduate studies, and executive director of MSU Technologies. At MSU, Poterala was tasked with revamping the university's tech commercialization operations. He oversaw growing the office, licensing technologies that produced over $16 million in total revenue, and reducing legal expenses. Poterala also represented MSU in the creation of the Big Ten Network.

Prior to academe, Poterala worked in two prominent Detroit law firms for 10 years, representing clients in state and federal courts in a wide variety of civil litigation. Poterala served most notably as the Michigan general counsel for the Motion Picture Association of America, which honored him in 1998 for outstanding achievement in investigating and prosecuting film, video and television piracy.

Poterala also served for several years as an elected board member and president of the Northville Public Schools Board of Education in Michigan.

He received his undergraduate degree in finance and law degree from Georgetown University.

UMD Scientist Awarded NIH Grant to Further Lyme Disease Research

November 17, 2014
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin 301-405-9235

Department of Veterinary Medicine's Dr. Utpal Pal works to eliminate Lyme disease

Dr. Utpal Pal, Associate Professor, Department of Veterinary Medicine Image Credit:  Edwin RemsbergCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – With more than 300,000 new cases per year, according to newly revised estimates from the CDC, Lyme disease continues to be a persistent threat to public health in the United States. Yet a vaccine to prevent the often devastating complications of human infection is still unavailable. Dr. Utpal Pal, an associate professor from the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Maryland, has been on the front lines in the war against Lyme disease for the last five years and is considered a worldwide leader on the subject. This year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded Pal $1.5 million to continue his quest to eradicate Lyme disease.

Pal and his research team first began studying Borrelia burgdorferi -- the bacteria that causes Lyme disease – at the University of Maryland in 2006, and received an initial $1.5 million research grant from the NIH in 2009. Since then, Pal and colleagues have learned a lot about this curious bacteria that can adapt to and survive in a variety of different hosts including deer ticks, mice, dogs and humans, who contract the bacteria from deer ticks.  "Borrelia is so interesting because it doesn't actually produce any toxins that we know of but induces an immune response in the body that causes inflammation," says Pal. "It also looks different inside each host it infects."

Inside his state-of-the-art lab, Pal's team grows Borrelia in test tubes, genetically modifies the pathogen, and uses it to infect ticks at different stages of development to figure out which components of the bacteria help it to survive. Pal is credited with identifying a number of proteins that contribute to Borrelia's robust nature and pinpointing genetic markers that could serve as new targets for diagnosis and prevention of Lyme disease. In this next phase of research, Pal and his team will work to further understand the biology of Borrelia and host responses during infection with the ultimate goal of creating a human vaccine.

Additionally, Pal is interested in developing a rapid, low-cost and reliable point-of-care test for infection. Currently, Lyme disease is diagnosed through a blood test but the results can take several days and often don't detect the bacteria in low levels at the initial stage of infection. "It's very important to invest time in diagnosis of Lyme disease because the sooner you know you have it, the easier it is to treat," explains Pal. If left untreated, advanced Lyme disease can cause serious complications such as arthritis, facial paralysis and heart palpitations.

A visiting assistant professor from Ondokuz Mayıs University in Turkey, Dr. Ozlem Buyuktanir, recently spent a year in Pal's lab and was able to create a prototype for a diagnostic test which can be executed at a doctor's office within a few minutes using a patient's blood sample. Pal and his collaborators plan to seek industry partners as well as federal funding to further this part of their research.

The most recent grant awarded by NIH will support five more years of Lyme disease research in Pal's lab. Pal and his team are optimistic that their efforts will one day contribute to the development of a vaccine and control the spread of Lyme disease in the United States.

Combined Depression, Substance Abuse Linked to Lower Income

November 13, 2014
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Young adults with co-occurring depression and substance abuse have a higher likelihood of being unemployed and having lower income in midlife than those with neither disorder, according to a study by Dr. Rada K. Dagher and Dr. Kerry M. Green in the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

Dr. Rada K. Dagher "In the United States, co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders impact around nine million people each year, yet these disorders are still generally treated separately," said Dr. Dagher, the study's lead author. "How we treat these dual disorders can have a significant impact on people's ability to earn a livelihood."

This study, published in Psychiatry Research, is the first to investigate the impact of co-occurring depression and substance abuse in young adulthood on socioeconomic status later in life. The researchers utilized data from the Woodlawn Study, which explores risk and protective factors on the path to successful or troubled adulthood in a group of African Americans from the same disadvantaged inner city community in Chicago. The study cohort was recruited when in first grade (in 1966-67) and followed up in adolescence, young adulthood, and midlife. Study authors focused on the sample of young adults (age 32-33) and their socioeconomic outcomes in midlife (age 42-43).

Results showed that 7.1 percent of the population experienced both substance abuse and depression, 8.6 percent had depression without substance abuse, and 11.9 percent had substance abuse without depression. While the study also found that young adults with substance use disorder without depression had a higher likelihood of experiencing periods of unemployment than those with neither disorder, there was no difference in household income between the two.

Clinical interventions that integrate the treatment of both substance abuse and depression have been proven to result in better outcomes among patients with these co-morbidities than traditional interventions that treat each disorder separately.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the primary federal law guaranteeing health coverage for most Americans, is providing new access to mental health and substance abuse benefits for approximately 32 million Americans.

Given that both mental health and substance abuse treatment services are considered essential health benefits under the ACA, there is no financial disincentive for insurance companies to cover integrated treatment of these disorders when they co-occur among patients. Integrated treatment usually combines elements of both substance abuse and mental health treatment into a unified and comprehensive treatment program for patients with comorbid disorders.

The study concludes that "policymakers interested in decreasing socioeconomic disparities could target resources towards interventions aimed to reduce depression and substance abuse comorbidity among minority populations" and that future research on socioeconomic status and mental health "could benefit from studying comorbid mental disorders, rather than focusing on each disorder separately."

UMD Researchers Receive $2.5m Grant to Study Link Between Aid and Conflict

November 12, 2014
Contacts: 

Andrew Roberts, 301-405-2171

College Park, MD - Over the past 30 years, conflict between countries has become relatively rare; however intrastate conflict – civil wars, territorial disputes, and insurgencies - remains a persistent global phenomenon. The United States has distributed more than $200 billion in development assistance between 2001-2010, with the vast majority disbursed to conflict-affected states. New research at the University of Maryland seeks to leverage major advances in information, technology and methodology to better understand the relationship between aid and conflict.  The project 'Aiding Resilience? The Impact of Foreign Assistance on the Dynamics of Intrastate Armed Conflict’ has just received a $2.5 million grant from the Minerva Initiative of the U.S. Department of Defense to study the association between development aid and the likelihood, escalation, severity, spread, duration, and recurrence of violence, spanning the phases before, during, and after armed conflict.

The Minerva Initiative is a program to support university-based social science research that was launched by the Secretary of Defense in 2008. The goal of the Initiative is to bring together universities, research organizations, and individual scholars to improve the DoD's basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape various regions of the world. Because two of the initiative’s key objectives are to develop foundational knowledge about sources of present and future conflict, and to understand the economic contributors to stability, the ‘Aiding Resilience?’ study is of particular interest.

Global Development Aid

“The overarching goal of our project is to establish when and why aid contributes to reduced violence, and when and why it doesn’t,” says Professor Paul Huth, Director of the UMD Center for International Development and Conflict Management (CIDCM), Professor of Government & Politics and principal investigator for the study. “Besides the relevance that the findings will have to aid and conflict-related policy decisions, the data resources created through our study will provide information essential to the successful planning and deployment of assistance around the globe.”

Typically, researchers have approached the topic at the country level, studying aid in general terms and narrowly examining specific aspects of conflict. By contrast, Dr. Huth and the other members of the project team are focused on disaggregating existing data and collecting new information to develop a far more comprehensive and holistic view of aid’s impact on conflict. “We are combining expansive aid data with diverse sets of other information, including geospatial data, demographics, history, and so on.”

To support this undertaking, Dr. Huth is supported by a number of researchers at UMD and beyond. “We have intentionally built an interdisciplinary, international team,” says Dr. David Backer, Assistant

 Director of CIDCM and co-principal investigator on the Minerva grant. “Collaborators in multiple countries will be collecting and analyzing data and building tools to help visualize our findings.”

Partners on the project include the College of William & Mary, the Institute of Development Studies (UK), the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (Switzerland), and Development Gateway – each contributing vital, distinctive expertise to the project. The work based at UMD will be concentrated in CIDCM and the Center for International Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM). Dr. Kevin Jones, a Research Associate at CISSM and also a co-principal investigator on the Minerva grant, highlights the appeal of linking units to work together. “This project capitalizes on two significant research clusters within the university that have world-class expertise on analyzing the underlying dynamics of localized conflict. The combination of the UMD resources with the external partners provides a unique opportunity to move the data-collection and analysis process forward much farther than our respective individual efforts might.”

“These studies are of broad value to conflict and aid researchers, who are limited by the information that is currently available. Beyond its contribution to policy, science and public resources, the grant will support student learning at all levels,” says Dr. Backer. “More than 100 undergraduates and graduate students will contribute to this study, from data collection to analysis, to the creation of new tools.”

UMD Scientists Analyze Comet as Robotic Probe Lands on It

November 12, 2014
Contacts: 

Abby Robinson 301-405-5845

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - After sailing through space for more than 10 years, including nearly three years in deep-space hibernation, the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft will land a robotic probe on a comet today.

 A camera aboard the comet-orbiting spacecraft Rosetta took this photo of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, known as C-G, from a distance of about 79 kilometers, or 49 miles. on August 19, 2014. University of Maryland comet experts Lori Feaga and Michael A’Hearn are part of an international team of astronomers who are using instruments on the spacecraft to study the comet’s surface and its atmosphere or coma.

Having come within 22.5 kilometers (14 miles) of its target, comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta will attempt to drop a robotic lander on the comet, known to scientists as C-G, at about 10:30 a.m. (EST) today. If successful, this will begin the first-ever observation of a comet from its own surface. The orbiter (main spacecraft) and its lander carry a total of 20 specialized instruments. These will be used to study the comet as the nearby Rosetta orbiter and its surface probe travel with C-G for a year or more.

University of Maryland astronomers Feaga and A’Hearn are co-investigators working with an instrument aboard Rosetta called Alice, an ultraviolet spectrograph that detects noble (inert) gases, such as helium and neon; other elements including carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur; and compounds like water, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Alice (not an acronym) is sending back the first observations ever made of a comet’s surface in far-ultraviolet radiation.

Developed by Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colo., Alice provides sensitive, high-resolution data from the comet’s surface and its atmosphere or coma. Since July, Alice and other Rosetta instruments have been observing the comet daily as the spacecraft neared C-G. With a probe on the comet surface and the Rosetta spacecraft closely accompanying the comet as it enters our inner solar system and heats up, ALICE investigators hope to gain new information about this comet’s gases and ices and the evolution of comets in general.

Sometimes referred to as “dirty snowballs,” comets are primordial fragments of the materials that formed our sun and its planets. First discovered in 1969, C-G has orbited the sun many times and has already burned off much of its original gas and icy material, says Feaga, an associate research scientist. Earlier observations revealed C-G’s size, about 3.5 by 4 kilometers (2.2 by 2.5 miles). But since July, when Alice and other instruments began mapping the comet’s surface daily, it has become apparent that C-G has “two distinct lobes, shaped like the head and the body of a duck,” says Feaga.

Astronomers used to think that bi-lobed comets, the product of two comets colliding or of geologic processes similar to erosion, were rare. But as researchers observe more comets with better instruments, “we’re seeing more of these bi-lobed shapes,” Feaga says, “and we’re realizing how many close encounters comets have had with each other over time.”

As Rosetta gets closer to C-G, Alice and other instruments will show whether there are any variations in color between the two lobes. A color comparison “will show us whether C-G is made of two pieces that formed at the same time in the same place, and were fused together in some cosmic collision back in the early stages of the solar system,” Feaga said, “or whether they formed much further apart and collided gradually, later on, without any great catastrophe.”

Alice’s mapping has shown that the comet’s surface is unusually dark, deeper than charcoal-black, when seen in the ultraviolet spectrum. Because C-G is too far away for the sun’s warmth to turn its water into vapor, researchers would expect to see water in the form of patchy ice on the comet’s surface. But so far, Alice has not detected large patches of ice made from water on the surface.

“We’re a bit surprised at how little evidence of observed water-ice it shows,” says Alan Stern, an associate vice president of SwRI’s Space Science and Engineering Division and Alice’s principal investigator. Alice is one of three NASA-funded instruments aboard Rosetta, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is managing the U.S. contribution to the international mission.

Comet Science Leadership at UMD

Since the first spacecraft mission to a comet in 1985, University of Maryland scientists have been part of and/or led groundbreaking comet missions and observations, including leading Deep Impact and its follow up mission EPOXI.  UMD manages and maintains the Small Bodies Node (SBN) -- a database that is part of NASA's Planetary Data System, and which specializes in archiving, cataloging, and distributing scientific data on asteroids, comets and interplanetary dust. The SBN’s Comet Subnode database, housed at UMD, collects, formats, verifies and consults on datasets concerned with comet observations as well as providing support for active comet missions and observing campaigns.

New Report Highlights Legal Challenges Facing Maryland's Agricultural Community

November 12, 2014
Contacts: 

Crystal Brown, UMD, 301-405-4618
Alex Likowski, UMB, 410-706-3801

MPowering the State's Agriculture Law Education Initiative reaches out to industry leaders

Agriculture Law Education InitiativeCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Maryland agricultural community is facing a diverse and complex set of legal challenges, but experts with the Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI) now have a better understanding of priority problems and can begin to address them head-on. The ALEI recently published the results of a legal needs assessment for the state's agricultural sector – the first of its kind in Maryland.

The needs assessment is based on 21 structured interviews conducted with leaders from the agricultural industry and state government. University of Maryland Extension faculty members working with agricultural producers were also surveyed for their input on a variety of legal needs. To date, Illinois is the only other state to complete a comparable survey on the subject.

The ALEI is a collaboration under University of Maryland: MPowering the State and combines the expertise and efforts of three distinguished Maryland institutions: the Francis King Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMD), and the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore (UMES).

"This publication gave us the first set of priorities for ALEI to begin to address in helping the agricultural community of Maryland prosper," said Dan Kugler, assistant dean for special programs at UMD's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "It also showed us that the best way to deliver information is through face-to-face workshops and fact sheets."

Barbara Gontrum, associate dean for academic affairs at Maryland Carey Law, noted that, "This research will help us expand ALEI's already successful portfolio of fact sheets, presentations and other outreach efforts that provide information on estate planning, right-to-farm laws and other legal issues. With it, we can be an even more effective resource for individual farmers, the state's agricultural community, and the members of the Maryland bar that serve them."

The ALEI was created after the Maryland General Assembly gave the University System of Maryland a direct assignment in 2011: preserve Maryland's family farms by helping their owners address the complicated legal issues associated with agricultural estates and trusts, regulatory compliance, and other agricultural law issues.

"The biggest finding to me is that we learned Maryland agriculture as a whole has very diverse legal needs," said Paul Goeringer, Extension legal specialist with UMD's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and co-author of the report. "There are some blanket statewide concerns but when we started breaking it down by region, we saw issues related to production contracts ranking near the top on the Eastern Shore and, as you go west, questions about land use and leasing rank near the top."

The report is now available online.

"A central goal of the Initiative is to assist in the preservation of family farms," says Dr. Stephan Tubene, associate professor at UMES and co-author of the report. "This needs assessment will better help the members of ALEI and the general public understand the legal issues impacting Maryland's agricultural community and direct efforts to assist farmers." 

Later this year and early next year, the ALEI will conduct another survey to determine if additional issues are impacting Maryland agricultural operations.

For more information, contact:
Paul Goeringer
University of Maryland, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
lgoering@umd.edu; 301-405-3541

Barbara Gontrum
University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
bgontrum@law.umaryland.edu; 410-706-7271

Stephan Tubene
University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Department of Agriculture, Food, and Resource Sciences
sltubene@umes.edu  410-651-7577

UMD Researchers Help Develop Open-Source 'Plant Library'

November 11, 2014
Contacts: 

Melissa Andreychek 410-919-4990

Database to Help Unlock Management Strategies for Endangered Species

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The effort to protect threatened and endangered species calls for deep pockets. In 2013 alone, U.S. federal and state governments spent more than $1.7 billion toward the conservation of species at risk, according to a report from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Godfrey's butterwort, one of the threatened species included in the newly-created COMPADRE plant database. Image Credit:  Courtesy Virginia Dell Craig via Flickr/Creative CommonsWith such massive investments at stake, scientists are looking for better ways to get federal agencies and states the information they need to make informed conservation decisions.

Working with an international team of researchers, scientists from the University of Maryland and the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) have co-developed an in-depth database of nearly 600 plant species worldwide, including the threatened and endangered Pitcher's thistle, scrub mint, Lakeside daisy, Godfrey's butterwort, and Spalding's catchfly. Named the COMPADRE Plant Matrix Database, it is currently the world's largest open-access source of demographic information for endangered, native, and introduced plant species.

A scientific paper based on the database was published online in the Journal of Ecology. The database co-developers and paper co-authors include Maile Neel, UMD associate professor within the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources and College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences; Judy Che-Castaldo, SESYNC postdoctoral fellow; and Tara Ruoff, UMD student. 

COMPADRE compiles data from 468 studies conducted around the world. It includes survival and reproduction rates on every stage of a plant's lifecycle, geographic location, and other fundamental demographic information. The comprehensive and open-access repository will enable database users to make comparisons across populations, species, and regions to answer questions at global scales.

"To be able to pull this information out of a single database, and in a form ready to be analyzed in seconds, is a huge benefit," said Neel. "It's taken dozens of researchers a quarter century to find, compile, digitize, and error-check these data. Having this volume of information at our fingertips will help us address questions we simply haven't been able to answer yet."

Having access to these plentiful and rich data will also make it easier for decision makers to cost-effectively address important questions about plant management and conservation.

"Managers may not have the data they need to determine a plant's extinction risk or what type of conservation action is needed," said Che-Castaldo. "And to go out into the field and collect those data themselves would require time, money, or access they may not have. But if the plant is similar to a species in the COMPADRE database, then we can use that information as a starting point to infer what kinds of strategies might be most successful."

The first iteration of COMPADRE was created by Jonathan Silvertown and Miguel Franco 25 years ago. The database launched today—a collaborative effort amongst researchers representing 26 institutions worldwide—is a significant expansion of both content and accessibility on COMPADRE 1.0. Neel, Che-Castaldo, Ruoff, and former UMD student Liliana Orellana themselves contributed data on 217 species from 148 studies and an estimated 1,000 hours to the project.

The database is available online at: http://www.compadre-db.org/.

The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to solving complex problems at the intersection of human and ecological systems.

UMD-led Program Helps Facilitate Veteran Success on Maryland College Campuses

November 10, 2014
Contacts: 

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Aaron Bricco was only 15 on September 11, 2001, but he knew soon after that he wanted to do something to serve and protect his country after the United States suffered the largest terrorist attack in history. A few years later, at age 19, he enlisted in the Army and went on to serve seven years in artillery combat arms, including two deployments to Iraq.

Now at age 29, Bricco is an undergraduate engineering student, self-described “math nerd” and the recently elected president of TerpVets, the University of Maryland’s student veterans organization.  He also spent last year working as a peer facilitator in an innovative University of Maryland-led program designed to ease veterans’ transition to college life.

As record numbers of veterans are returning to college under the post-9/11 GI Bill, college campuses need to build support systems to address the unique needs and challenges that student veterans face and to facilitate their personal and academic success.

To help fulfill this need, the Maryland Veterans Resilience Initiative (MaVRI), directed by Family Science Professors Sally Koblinsky and Leigh Leslie in the UMD School of Public Health and funded by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, has been working to enhance programs for student veterans at Maryland colleges and universities since 2012.

MaVRI aims to build peer support systems for student veterans and service members, helping them to make the transition to student life and accomplish their educational and personal goals. Student veteran leaders from the College Park campus, trained by MaVRI, have been collaborating with other state colleges and universities to establish and energize new student veteran organizations, create student veteran orientation programs, advocate for student veteran centers, and assist with other activities identified by the partner campuses. In addition to the six partner campuses, which include Bowie State University and Prince George’s Community College, many across the state have taken notice.

Bricco and Chenworth

On Friday, November 7th, MaVRI sponsored a training program, “Facilitating Veteran Student Success,” which brought together 120 participants from 33 Maryland community colleges and universities at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union.

Participants included student veteran leaders, student veterans’ office coordinators, VA certifying staff from the financial aid office, and faculty advisors and counselors who provide assistance and resources for student veterans. The training aimed to share best practices for serving student veterans, as well as to strengthen the statewide network of individuals who support them.

“We were delighted to bring together people from all across Maryland to share strategies and resources for serving student veterans,” noted Koblinsky. “It was a great opportunity to leverage the ideas and successful practices of our higher education community in addressing the transition challenges of veterans returning to school.”

Bricco, who served as a Peer Support Facilitator with Bowie State, describes the perspective that many of his peers share: “We’re not only non-traditional students, but we’re veterans who have dedicated our lives to serving our country. Now that we’re back as civilians, others often don’t understand how we view the world.”  Although veterans bring numerous strengths to the college classroom, including leadership, global experience, and focus, some may need to refresh their academic skills or may be recovering from war-related conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Another MaVRI Peer Facilitator, Bellamie Nelson, who is an Anthropology undergraduate at UMD and an Air Force veteran, notes that “women veterans are often reluctant to share their veteran status when returning to college, sometimes because they haven’t been in direct combat and sometimes because they’re just too busy with part-time jobs, parenting, and other responsibilities.”  In her work building veteran clubs for MaVRI, she made special efforts to reach out to women veterans and suggest ways they could support one another. Nelson notes, for example, that some campuses have developed financial and parenting seminars for women veterans, screened documentaries featuring women veterans, and developed women veterans support groups.

At UMD, programs that link student veterans with peer support, tutoring assistance, and opportunities to volunteer and give back to the military and veteran community make a big difference to the more than 800 student veterans on campus. The University’s Veteran Center also provides a needed respite from academic pressures.  “Having a place where veterans can come together and relax, not worry about school and those who may not understand what we’re going through is very important. We can let it go and talk about anything that is on our minds,” says Bricco.

Koblinsky and MaVRI co-director Dr. Leslie report that increasing numbers of Maryland campuses have created full-time positions for student veteran coordinators and 13 have established Veterans Centers where students can study, socialize, organize community service, and support one another.  Leslie notes that “these efforts, together with student veteran organizations, are helping veterans to connect with peers who understand their experiences and are increasing their retention and graduation rates.”

In addition to providing needed resources that contribute to veteran student success, the MaVRI project is building recognition for the unique perspective and leadership skills that veterans bring to the campus and larger community.

When Bricco and fellow veterans placed 1500 flags on McKeldin Mall in September as a tribute to those lost in the 9/11 tragedy, he recalls his disbelief in hearing a student say “What does ‘we will never forget mean?’”

“Students on campus who are 18 or 19 years old may not remember 9/11 or know why many of us joined the military to serve our country. We want people to realize that there are veterans on campus and that we have a commitment to give back to the community and to serve,” he says proudly.

In addition to efforts to facilitate student veteran success, the MaVRI project also surveyed more than 3,000 licensed mental health and primary care professionals in Maryland to gauge their knowledge and confidence in treating veterans’ conditions. The survey was the first statewide effort in the U.S. to assess the knowledge and training needs of health care professionals who are treating veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Findings of the pioneering study were published in Military Behavioral Health. The MaVRI team used feedback from survey participants to design trainings for state providers that addressed military culture and treatment of war-related behavioral health conditions. Total attendance at MaVRI trainings by state social workers, psychologists, counselors, marriage and family therapists, and primary care physicians over the two-year period of the project now exceeds 1,000.

 

Pages

November 20
Paul T. Jaeger wins the most prestigious award available for educators in the LIS field. Read
November 19
The University of Maryland has named Michael R. Poterala as the new Vice President and General Counsel for the... Read
November 17
Dr. Utpal Pal, an associate professor from the Department of Veterinary Medicine at UMD, was awarded $1.5 million to... Read
November 13
Young adults with co-occurring depression and substance abuse have a higher likelihood of being unemployed and having... Read