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UMD Civil Engineers Weigh in on Maryland Bridge Safety Discussions

April 10, 2015

Alyssa Wolice 301-405-2057

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Civil Engineers at the University of Maryland are weighing in on Maryland bridge safety discussions following a recent U.S. Department of Transportation National Bridge Inventory database report, which found that just under 6 percent of Maryland’s 5,305 bridges are considered structurally deficient.

A bridge is considered structurally deficient based on its condition and appraisal ratings, according to University of Maryland Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Research Professor Chung C. Fu, P.E. Fu is also director of the Bridge Engineering Software and Technology (BEST) Center, housed within UMD’s A. James Clark School of Engineering.

“Structural deficiencies are determined by poor condition ratings or from low load ratings,” Fu said. “Bridges are considered structurally deficient if significant load-carrying elements are found to be in poor or worse condition due to deterioration or damage.”

While structurally deficient bridges require significant maintenance and repair to remain in service, the “structurally deficient” rating does not immediately imply that the bridge is unsafe or likely to collapse, Fu noted.

“As common practice to keep structurally deficient bridges in service, the State Highway Administration often posts weight limits to restrict the gross weight of vehicles using the bridges to less than the maximum weight typically allowed by statute,” Fu said. “Still, all structurally deficient bridges eventually require rehabilitation or replacement. With hands-on inspection and field testing, unsafe conditions may be identified and, if a bridge is determined to be unsafe, the structure must be closed."

In the meantime, according to American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) analysis of the DOT report, “cars, trucks and school buses cross Maryland’s 317 structurally compromised bridges 4.1 million times every day.” In a press release issued last week, ARTBA noted that the most heavily traveled structurally deficient bridges in Maryland are on the Interstate Highway System.

As such, the ARTBA and DOT reports underscore the fact that federal highway and transit funding are set to expire May 31, absent congressional action. As has been the case, many states are challenged to confront bridge safety issues under tight budget constraints.

Adding another layer to the challenge is the current rate of the federal gas tax – a major funding mechanism for the Highway Trust Fund, which holds the purse strings for highway and bridge maintenance. For more than two decades, the federal gas tax rate has held steady, even as environmentally driven consumers are opting for eco-friendly cars or other modes of transportation, and are thereby purchasing less and less gas.

“One of the challenges to the funding issue is the fact that modern cars are more fuel-efficient than older cars,” said Mark Franz, Assistant Director of Outreach and Technology Transfer for the National Transportation Center at the University of Maryland. “From an environmental perspective, fuel-efficient cars are obviously a great thing. But, if people are not buying as much gas nowadays, they might not be contributing their share of the cost toward the system they’re using. If more and more drivers are going home and plugging in their cars overnight, those drivers are essentially using roads without contributing direct funding for those roads.”

But, while everyday consumers may purchase less fuel than in years past, consumer behavior remains a factor behind the deterioration of some of the nation’s most heavily traveled roadways and bridges.

As Americans continue to take on lengthy commutes to work, the burden on highways, bridges and even local roads increases. Additionally, while the popularity of online shopping has reduced the need for consumers to drive to and from local stores, it has, in turn, increased demand for the transport of goods by freight vehicles. And, according to a recent DOT report titled, “Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices,” in 2012, trucks moved 13.2 billion tons of freight throughout the U.S. – compared to second-place rail transport, which accounted for just 2 billion tons of freight the same year.

“When you think about what is contributing most to wear and tear on the roads, freight vehicles prove costly,” Franz said. “The irony is, in many ways, the Highway Trust Fund counts on everyday travelers to use those same roadways so that more dollars will funnel in via the state and federal gas taxes to help fund both road and bridge maintenance.”

While incidents – like the February case of fallen concrete from the I-495-Suitland Bridge in Prince George’s County, Md. – have directed a spotlight onto highway maintenance issues, for many directly impacted by bridges or roadways in question, the hope is such instances will drive government to direct more funding to support road and bridge maintenance and repair projects.

“Highway and bridge construction funds are a mix of state and federal dollars,” Fu noted. “At the federal level, the Highway Trust Fund is the main source of support; however, there has not been an increase in the tax on gasoline since 1994. In fact, the federal Highway Trust Fund ran dry in 2008 and again in 2015, and had to be subsidized by Congress.”

“The difference between the funds available and the system’s needs represents the funding gap,” Fu said. “The only other source available is the state funding. Lack of state resources to fill any gap in federal funding is a cause for concern because it would cripple road and bridge construction in Maryland."

“Bridges are aging year by year,” he continued. “The average age of Maryland state bridges is about 50 years old. As bridges age, their abilities to handle the loads they are designed for are gradually reduced. As a result, some bridges have to be posted with weight restrictions and then more bridges are put into the deficient bridge category. With an aging infrastructural system, shortage of funding would only increase needs in the future.”

UMD Team Wins 2015 ULI Hines Student Urban Design Competition

April 10, 2015

UMD students’ “fearless design” takes first place for second consecutive year at the Super Bowl of interdisciplinary design competitions

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – An interdisciplinary team from the University of Maryland’s School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation has won the 2015 ULI/Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design Competition (ULI Hines). The UMD team of five graduate students – representing architecture, urban planning and real estate development – won over an international jury of experts with their development plan for the Tulane/Gavier and Iberville neighborhoods of New Orleans. 

“It is an honor to win this competition,” said Sofia Weller, a graduate student studying architecture at UMD. “It feels like we are part of something much bigger. ULI Hines is considered the Super Bowl of interdisciplinary design competitions. I think we all feel truly humbled by the experience.”

This is the second consecutive year that a team from UMD has clinched the ULI/Hines Competition, which is considered the most prominent student development and design competition in the world, with more than 120 teams competing from some of the most prestigious universities in the country. ULI announced UMD’s win this week in New Orleans at the competition conclusion. The team will go home with a $50,000 prize. 

“Our team rose to the challenge in a most impressive manner", said Professor Matthew Bell, FAIA, one of the team’s advisors. “Their level of talent, passion and dedication to the design is rare and the New Orleans context provided for them a terrific vehicle for inter-disciplinary work.  We are most proud to win for a second straight year!”  

Now in its 13th year, the ULI/Hines competition challenges interdisciplinary teams of graduate students to create a dynamic design and development solution for a real large-scale site in just two weeks. While this is an ideas competition, it is part of the Urban Land Institute’s (ULI) continued mission to engage young professionals in collaborative solutions, responsible land use and creation of better communities. The competition demands a variety of expertise to navigate complex zoning codes, understand investment opportunities, examine community, site challenges and develop exciting yet realistic urban design solutions. This year’s competition revolved around the urban site of the Tulane/Gavier and Iberville neighborhoods of New Orleans. ULI challenged teams to create a proposal that furthers the city’s goals of creating vibrant, sustainable neighborhoods by capitalizing on the culture and location of the Tulane/Gravier neighborhood, while fostering economic growth, tourism and place through thoughtful design.   

Maryland’s entry, entitled “The Crossing,” took an unconventional approach to the site that set itself apart from the competition. The site offers several challenges, including the elevated I-10 highway that runs parallel to a potential retail street and an eight-lane off-ramp that separates an existing park from the city’s proposed greenway. To offer greater visibility for retail, the team located the main retail street one block over from the highway, a bold but important move that offers two-sided frontage and pulls the site out of the shadow of the I-10. Re-locating the monstrous off-ramp—referred to by team members as a “scar” across the site—and replacing the linear space under the highway with a green, recreational space connects Louis Armstrong Park with the city’s future greenway and beyond. The new configuration connects neighborhood retail/residential with the park and offers seamless access to the French Quarter and the neighboring medical sector. 

“There have been a lot of studies conducted on this area of New Orleans,” said Patrick Reed, a UMD graduate student in the Urban Studies and Planning Program. “The majority of the scenarios we studied had retail fronts facing Clayborne Avenue, which is the street under the highway. In a lot of ways, the other teams took some safe moves by saying ‘they’ve studied this, they want to put it there, we’ll do what they think is best,’ where we didn’t really necessarily feel constrained by what was already done.” 

“Our approach was, if this is really an ideas competition, what is the best strategy and the best solution moving forward? What would make this space the best that it can be?” added architecture graduate student Ashley Grzywa. “That thinking helped us stretch the design boundaries while still remaining realistic.” 

The greenspace also hosts programmed recreational space and a “resilience center,” to celebrate the spirit and fortitude of New Orleans. Architectural accents throughout the neighborhood, including retail typographies that marry with the existing historic shotgun houses, capture the city’s vibe and culture. While the design makes up an important part of the competition, the financials are what drive the victory. The team’s two real estate graduate students—Daniel Moreno-Holt and Sebastian Dern—offered creative yet realistic financial feasibility that were key to the team’s success.

“Sebastian and Dan were extremely creative in finding ways to fund our crazy ideas,” added Weller.

The ULI Hines competition is open to graduate students who are pursuing real estate-related studies at universities in the United States and Canada, including programs in real estate development, urban planning, urban design, architecture and landscape architecture. In the past six years, the University of Maryland has reached the ULI Hines finals four times, won once (2014) and received one honorable mention.

Read ULI’s statement here.

UMD's winning team includes Sebastian Dern (MRED), Ashley Grzywa (MARCH), Daniel Moreno-Holt (MARCH/MRED), Patrick Reed (MCP) and Sofia Weller (MARCH). The team’s advisors are Professor Matthew Bell, FAIA and Dr. Margaret McFarland, JD, Director of the Masters of Real Estate Development Program. 

UMD Announces Plans to Construct Frederick Douglass Square on Campus, Honoring Maryland's Native Son

April 9, 2015

Katie Lawson 301-405-4622

Led by the "North Stars,” Campus Leaders Celebrate Douglass Beliefs with Prominent Memorial

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Arguably considered one of the most important individuals to ever trod Maryland soil, Frederick Douglass will soon be commemorated on the University of Maryland’s campus, according to a group of advocates who have sought for years to establish Frederick Douglass Square. 

For more than five years, a group of campus leaders called the North Stars spearheaded by Professor Ira Berlin has been working to secure funding and approve architectural and landscape designs for a memorial in honor of Douglass. The Square will feature powerful Douglass quotations displayed on a corten steel wall, paving stone, planting beds, accent lighting and benches centered on UMD’s Hornbake Plaza, a prominent campus location and hub of student activity. 

“After many years of hard work, we are proud to bring Frederick Douglass Square to the University of Maryland campus,” said UMD Provost Mary Ann Rankin. “Above all, Douglass advocated for equality, justice and fairness throughout the state of Maryland and the world, and it is fitting to honor him at our flagship institution.” 

In many ways, the work of Frederick Douglass is intertwined into the research and curriculum of UMD, from archeological digs on the plantation where he lived as a child, to scholars who specialize in his writings.  

The announcement of the Square was made at “Slavery, Freedom, and the Remaking of American History: A Conference in Honor of Ira Berlin,” where academics gathered from across the country to celebrate the work Professor Berlin has pioneered at Maryland. 

“Nothing could be more appropriate than representing Frederick Douglass and his words at the University of Maryland,” said Ira Berlin, distinguished university professor and internationally recognized expert on slavery. “No man or woman has better stood for the ideals upon which the University was founded and the principles in which the people of Maryland believe. Douglass stood for fairness, justice, racial, gender, sexual, and religious equity.  That is why I have – along with the esteemed group of North Stars –pursued Frederick Douglass Square for many, many years.”

The groundbreaking for the Square is expected to occur late summer. The renderings were created by Floura Teeter Landscape Architects working with Wallace Montgomery & Associates.

Anyone interested in learning more or giving to this effort may visit http://ter.ps/fds

UMD Scientists Offer a New View of the Moon's Formation

April 9, 2015

Matthew Wright 301-405-9267

UMD researchers find a crucial difference in the “fingerprints” of Earth and the moon which confirm an explosive, interconnected past

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Scientists at the University of Maryland are the first to confirm the accepted model of the moon’s formation using the “fingerprints” of the moon and Earth. The results suggest that the violent impact of a large body into Earth made a huge, uniform debris cloud that mixed thoroughly before settling down and forming the moon. 

This artist's rendering shows the collision of two planetary bodies. A collision like this is believed to have created the moon within the first 150 million years after our solar system formed. Credit: NASA/JPL-CaltechFor 30 years, planetary scientists have believed that within the first 150 million years after our solar system was formed, the moon formed when a giant body roughly the size of Mars struck and merged with Earth, blasting a huge cloud of rock and debris into space. Although the scenario made sense when looking at the size of the moon and the physics of its orbit around Earth, things started to break down when the isotopic compositions of the moon and Earth – the geological equivalent of a DNA “fingerprint,” – were compared. Specifically, Earth and the moon were too much alike. 

The expectation has long been that the moon should carry the isotopic “fingerprint” of the foreign body which merged with Earth, which scientists named Theia. Because Theia came from elsewhere in the solar system, it probably had a much different isotopic fingerprint than early Earth.

“The problem is that Earth and the moon are very similar with respect to their isotopic fingerprints, suggesting that they are both ultimately formed from the same material that gathered early in the solar system’s history,” said Richard Walker, a professor of geology at UMD and co-author of the study. “This is surprising, because the Mars-sized body that created the moon is expected to have been very different. So the conundrum is that Earth and the moon shouldn’t be as similar as they are.”

Now, UMD scientists have generated a new isotopic fingerprint of the moon that provides the missing piece of the puzzle by zeroing in on an isotope of Tungsten present in both the moon and Earth. The results suggest that the impact of Theia into early Earth was so violent, the resulting debris cloud mixed thoroughly before settling down and forming the moon. The findings appear in the April 8, 2015 advance online edition of the journal Nature

The UMD team examined the tungsten isotopic composition of two moon rocks collected by the Apollo 16 mission, including sample 68815, seen here. When corrected for meteoritic additions to Earth and the moon after formation of the moon, the two bodies were found to have identical Tungsten isotopic compositions. Credit: NASA/JSC

To tease out an explanation, Walker and his team looked to another well-documented phenomenon in the early history of the solar system. Evidence suggests that both Earth and the moon gathered additional material after the main impact, and that Earth collected more of this debris and dust. This new material contained a lot of Tungsten, but relatively little of this was of a lighter isotope known as Tungsten-182. Taking these two observations together, one would expect that Earth would have less Tungsten-182 than the moon.

Sure enough, when comparing rocks from the moon and Earth, Walker and his team found that the moon has a slightly higher proportion of Tungsten-182. The key, however, is how much. 

“The small, but significant, difference in the Tungsten isotopic composition between Earth and the moon perfectly corresponds to the different amounts of material gathered by Earth and the moon post-impact,” Walker said. “This means that, right after the moon formed, it had exactly the same isotopic composition as Earth’s mantle.”

This finding supports the idea that the mass of material created by the impact, which later formed the moon, must have mixed together thoroughly before the moon coalesced and cooled. This would explain both the overall similarities in isotopic fingerprints and the slight differences in Tungsten-182. 

It also largely rules out the idea that the Mars-sized body was of similar composition, or that the moon formed from material contained in the pre-impact Earth. In both cases, it would be highly unlikely to see such a perfect correlation between Tungsten-182 and the amounts of material gathered by the moon and Earth post-impact. 

“This result brings us one step closer to understanding the close familial relationship between Earth and the moon,” Walker said. “We still need to work out the details, but it’s clear that our early solar system was a very violent place.”

In addition to Walker, study authors include UMD geology senior research scientist Igor Puchtel and former UMD geology postdoctoral researcher Mathieu Touboul, now at Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France. 

The DeVos Institute at UMD & Bloomberg Philanthropies Partner to Support Arts Programs Nationwide

April 8, 2015

Kristen Seabolt 301-405-4621

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland, in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies, today announced the nationwide expansion of the Arts Innovation and Management (AIM) program, formerly known as the Arts Advancement Initiative. The invitation-only program seeks to strengthen arts groups in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Through the two-year initiative, the DeVos Institute of Arts Management will develop curriculum and conduct trainings for nearly 300 small- and mid-sized organizations within the six cities, while Bloomberg Philanthropies will offer $30 million of unrestricted general operating support.

“Nonprofit cultural organizations of all sizes have a dynamic impact, serving as a nimble small business sector that employs thousands of people, enhances neighborhoods and improves quality of life,” said Michael R. Bloomberg. “In New York City we saw that through rigorous management training and capacity building, small- and mid-sized arts groups can be even greater local anchors, and we look forward to seeing this program transform organizations in six new cities across the United States.”

The comprehensive workshops led by the DeVos Institute of Arts Management will engage organizations around activities that strengthen their long-term health and goals, and will include consultations and implementation support for arts managers and their boards. 

“We are honored to partner with Bloomberg Philanthropies to launch the Arts Innovation and Management program,” said Michael M. Kaiser, Chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management. “Across the country, arts organizations are coping with rapid changes in technology, demographics, and the economy—and organizations that master these trends are flourishing. We look forward to working with the dynamic arts organizations participating in this program to foster a sustainable cultural sector in each of AIM’s six cities.”

“With this program, we will work with our colleagues around the country toward a double bottom line: to create the conditions required to support stunning art, and in so doing to empower our students, neighbors, and cities,” said Brett Egan, President of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management. 

All organizations invited to participate are locally or internationally recognized nonprofits that have been in existence for at least two years. Grantees will be required to secure matching funds; reach 100% board participation; and maintain up-to-date information in the Cultural Data Project, an online management tool which allows users to track their financial and programmatic performance over time and to benchmark themselves against comparable organizations. The grants will be unrestricted so that the recipients can use them to address their greatest needs.  

UMD Students to Host Second Annual Bitcamp Hackathon

April 8, 2015

Jenny Hottle 443-617-2904

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Bitcamp, the University of Maryland’s student-run hackathon, returns April 10-12, 2015 to Cole Field House. The hackathon, which will draw more than 1,200 students, is held as part of 30 Days of EnTERPreneurship, a month-long celebration of UMD’s fearless ideas and innovations.

Teams of programmers, designers and engineers will collaborate on original hardware or software projects for 36 hours. The event begins the night of Friday, April 10, and participants will present their projects to the public during an expo on Sunday, April 12. Throughout the weekend, open discussions will enable students and industry professionals to share their thoughts on how technology will impact the future. 

“Last year’s Bitcamp was all about combining technology with participants’ passions,” said Jose Zamora, Bitcamp’s director. “This year, we’re encouraging hackers to ‘Imagine Tomorrow’ and build what they envision the future to hold.”

Bitcamp organizers will introduce Bitcamp Trails, optional themed paths for the hackers to travel. These fully immersive experiences include hands-on workshops, objectives and access to mentors. In addition, Bitcamp will hold Colorwar, a design competition, for the second time. Students will submit designs for consideration, and the top five submissions are selected to participate in the final round. 

“We wanted to create an environment that promotes exploration and pushes hackers beyond just their project,” said Alex Jerome, Bitcamp marketing director. “The entrepreneurship trail, for example, challenges you to approach your project from a business perspective. Participants will create a business plan and pitch their project to industry experts.”

Bitcamp launched in 2014, following the first-place finish of UMD’s Terrapin Hackers team during the fall 2013 Major League Hacking Season. Bitcamp’s organizers aimed to shift the focus of collegiate hackathons away from competition and place a greater emphasis on discovery and exploration.

The 2014 Bitcamp event attracted 750 students from 100 universities. Students submitted 106 projects to showcase in the weekend’s expo, demonstrating their ability to launch what could be the basis for a new product or company in a compressed timeframe. Sponsors awarded 17 prizes to winning projects, which included a real-time language-translating text message service, a music app that selects songs to match a runner’s pace and a robot that collects data about its surroundings to create a digital map, among others.

Bitcamp sponsors include Oculus VR; UMD A. James Clark School of Engineering; UMD College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences; Bloomberg; Booz Allen Hamilton; Capital One; Credible Behavioral Health; Deloitte; Drakontas Consulting; IBM Design; Leidos; Laboratory for Telecommunications Sciences; National Security Agency; Tata; and The Washington Post. A full list of the sponsors can be found at bitca.mp.

Members of the media can register to attend Bitcamp here.

UMD Releases Study on the Hidden Quota for Women in Top Management

April 8, 2015

Greg Muraski 301-405-5283
Cristian L. Dezső 301-405-7832

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Companies work fairly hard to place one woman -- but only one -- in a top management position, according to research by Cristian Desző, an associate professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, and two co-authors. The article found evidence of a “quota” effect: Once a company had appointed one woman to a top-tier job, the chances of a second woman landing an elite position at the same firm drop substantially -- by about 50 percent, in fact.

The study’s design did not allow a conclusion about whether the quota was the result of conscious discrimination or subconscious thinking. Desző and his co-authors, David Gaddis Ross and Jose Uribe, of Columbia Business School, looked at the top officers at 1,500 firms from 1991 to 2011. Drawing on data from a Standard and Poor’s database, supplemented with other sources, they looked at the top five most highly compensated managers at those companies. 

Diversifying top management has become a significant priority for businesses -- or, at least, it gets talked about a lot. While women make up nearly half of the workforce, 8.7 percent of top managers were women in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, up a bit from 5.8 percent who held such positions in 2000.

One possibility that the authors explored was that the hiring of one woman would lead to a snowball effect at a given company. “In fact, what we find is exactly the opposite,” Desző said. “Once they had appointed one woman, the men seem to have said, ‘We have done our job.’”  This may be because the men feel that such an appointment already puts them ahead of most companies (which is true).

Or they may feel that there are diminishing returns to hiring more women: One is enough to attract media attention, represent the company at “diversity” events, and satisfy activists pressuring the company. Or the men may perceive the first, pathbreaking women as off-the-charts exceptional, and subsequent female employees do not measure up, somehow.

In any case, one implication of the study is that such activists interested in promoting the presence of women in executive suites -- whether those activists are board members, investors, or non-profit watchdogs -- can’t move on from a given company after one woman is hired, Dezső said: “They need to keep up the pressure or even apply more pressure.”

The quota effect was especially strong when a woman was hired into a high-paid professional position—say, head of human resources. Those positions hold less power than “line positions,” like division heads. In other words, companies that promote a woman into a top professional job were especially unlikely to appoint another female executive.

Desző and his colleagues used mathematical simulations to study the distribution of top female executives across the companies in their sample. If hiring one women eased the path for others, women should cluster together; if hiring a woman had no effect on future hires, you’d see a random distribution of female executives. But the authors found that the data best reflected a third possibility: Top female executives were isolated, repelling one another.

The authors considered and rejected the possibility of a “queen bee” effect -- the idea that the first executive-level women hired would perceive other women as rivals, and work against hiring more. But if that were true, the authors said, the strongest evidence would be seen at those few companies with a female CEO (since a female CEO would have more say over executive appointments than other female executives would). But in fact, companies with female CEO’s did slightly better at hiring a second woman than companies with a woman in a different senior position.

The data suggest that hiring dynamics are different at the very elite ranks of firms than they are lower down. Other studies, for instance, have found that the presence of female middle managers leads to more hiring of women. But at the most rarified, highly paid levels of corporations, male managers may perceive more of a zero-sum environment. And so they protect their turf.

“Is There an Implicit Quota on Women in Top Management? A Large-Sample Statistical Analysis,” by Cristian L. Dezső, David Gaddis Ross, and Jose Uribe, is forthcoming in Strategic Management Journal.

UMD’s Emergency Services Training Program Commemorates 85 Years of Education & Training

April 6, 2015

Karen Dixon Haje 301-226-9960

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – In 2015, the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI) of the University of Maryland celebrates 85 years of providing fire, rescue, and emergency medical training and education regionally, nationally, and internationally.

Founded in 1930 and known as the Fire College, the state’s fire service training program was a part of the University of Maryland’s College of Engineering and offered “short courses” until 1937, when MFRI’s predecessor, the Fire Service Extension Department, began offering courses statewide. In 1975, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation that created the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute. This mandate expanded the role of the state’s emergency services training program to address specialized training, including industrial firefighting and disaster training; research and development; and implementation and operation of regional training centers.

In fiscal year 2014, the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute provided training to 35,663 students in 1,732 fire, rescue, EMS, Advanced Life Support, Hazardous Materials, Management and other specialized training programs. MFRI works closely and in cooperation with the local fire training academies at the county level, as well as numerous other state-wide emergency services organizations.

MFRI’s success is the result of the contributions and support of many individuals and organizations over the past 85 years. In order to remain proactive, MFRI will develop a 2025 Strategic Plan. According to MFRI Director Steven T. Edwards, this planning process “includes internal and external evaluations of the Institute and identifies the strategic issues that will become its focus in the coming decade. The feedback and participation from our students, instructors, and partner organizations have been invaluable in the strategic planning process.”

The Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute is the state’s comprehensive training and education system for emergency services. The Institute plans, researches, develops and delivers quality programs to enhance the ability of emergency service providers to protect life, the environment and property. An entity of the University of Maryland, MFRI’s headquarters and training academy facilities are located at the College Park campus, in addition to six regional training centers in Edgewood, Cresaptown, Mt. Airy, Centreville, Princess Anne and LaPlata. Sixty five full-time faculty and staff, supported by more than 700 state-certified instructors, deliver emergency services training programs through site-specific mobile training or at any of its regional training academies.

UMD-Led Team Creates U.S. Database of Food Safety Inspections

April 3, 2015

Lee Tune 30-405-4679
Abby Robinson 301-405-5845

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – University of Maryland faculty and graduate students in computer science and economics, together with a colleague from UCLA, have created the largest national database of food safety inspection information. 

In the U.S., such inspections are done by local public health departments, which can take different approaches to conducting, coding and reporting inspection data. Using this unique new automated database, food service businesses and consumers can monitor and compare food safety practices from outlets across the nation. 

The national database was developed by UMD Professor of Computer Science Ben Bederson, UMD Professor of Economics Ginger Jin, UCLA Associate Professor of Business Management Philip Leslie, new Ph.D. graduate Alexander Quinn (computer science) and UMD Ph.D. graduate student Ben Zou (economics). 

According to Bederson, who also is UMD’s Associate Provost of Learning Initiatives and Executive Director of its Teaching and Learning Transformation Center, the team’s database uses data robots to automatically collect data from local government websites, and represents a huge leap from local and state databases that are built using manually-collected and sometimes poorly correlated data, and which can easily miss the big picture and have little impact on compliance actions.

“Building our system to reliably collect information from so many different jurisdictions was a formidable engineering challenge,” said Bederson. 

Another difficulty was developing normalization algorithms to compare data across jurisdictions where the data is very different. For some web pages, the team had to write custom ‘scrapers’ to get the data, and for others they had to interpret already available databases.

“Our data robots cover a large number of local jurisdictions across the U.S., continuously detecting new data posted by each jurisdiction, and integrating them into a single, standardized, and cumulative database,” Bederson said, noting that the result is a database that is cost-effective, robust and scalable compared to manual alternatives.

The researchers also developed analytical tools that can be used to compare inspection outcomes across localities and states, and across chain and individual food outlets, such as restaurants, cafes, convenience stores, and grocery markets. This can improve inspection efficiency and promote retailer compliance, resulting in a decrease in food-borne illnesses, according to Bederson.

The team has created a regulatory data analytics company, Hazel Analytics, which according to Bederson is a direct outgrowth of their academic collaboration around food safety inspection data funded by the Sloan Foundation.

For non-commercial use, the database is publicly available at InspectionRepo.com at no cost.

“As we shared our work with industry players, government agencies such as the FDA and CDC, and other academics, our intuition was confirmed that there was commercial value in our database and analytical approach,” said Bederson.

Hazel Analytics now produces a commercial grade restaurant inspection database and analytical services for the food service industry.

“We are currently in close talks with several major national chains. We expect to have our first paying customers this year,” Bederson said.

The University of Maryland’s Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) helped Bederson and his group to develop, license and commercialize the technology. 

“With OTC's help, we have worked closely with the Maryland Technology Development Cooperation (TEDCO) and received Phase I $100K funding from the Maryland Innovation Initiative (MII) program,” Bederson said.

Bederson plans to apply the web ‘scraping’ technology to other inspection programs implemented by the local governments.

Four UMD Students Named 2015 Goldwater Scholars

April 3, 2015

Abby Robinson 301-405-5845

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Four University of Maryland students have been awarded scholarships by the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, which encourages students to pursue advanced study and careers in the sciences, engineering and mathematics. 

Shane Falcinelli (left) and Iowis Zhu, both members of the Integrated Life Sciences honors programUMD juniors Shane Falcinelli, Benjamin Gastfriend, Nathan Ng and Iowis Zhu were among the 260 Barry Goldwater Scholars selected from 1,206 students nominated nationally this year. The four students, who are all members of the UMD Honors College, plan to pursue doctoral degrees in their areas of study and to become university professors.

Shane Falcinelli, who is majoring in biological sciences and is a member of the Integrated Life Sciences honors program, is interested in pathogen research. For two years, he has worked in the laboratory of Volker Briken, associate professor in the UMD Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, evaluating the biosafety of acyclic cucurbit[n]uriltype molecular containers and their ability to deliver pharmaceuticals to treat disease.

“Shane has the potential for an outstanding career in biomedical research. He is already the first author on one peer-reviewed publication and a co-author on another publication, following an internship at the National Institutes of Health. The experimental work Shane has performed in my lab will be part of three different manuscripts on which he will be a co-author,” said Briken.

Benjamin GastfriendBenjamin Gastfriend, a chemical and biomolecular engineering major in the A. James Clark School of Engineering, is a researcher in the laboratory of Ganesh Sriram, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, which focuses on engineering the metabolism of microorganisms to produce biofuels and other chemicals. Gastfriend is working to amplify the production of a bioplastic in a bacterium through metabolic engineering. 

“It will be hard to come across a student and researcher as outstanding as Ben. His performance in classes is unprecedentedly brilliant. In research, he is creative and industrious, conducting very comprehensive literature reviews on his project, performing experiments and computation impeccably well, drawing impressive insights from his results and writing up his work in detail—all with little to no supervision,” said Sriram.

Nathan NgNathan Ng—a triple major in physics, mathematics and economics—is interested in theoretical condensed matter physics and has plans to conduct research in high-temperature superconductivity. 

With Frank Graziani at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Ng studied the dynamics of the nuclear fuel used for a fusion experiment. In the laboratory of Paulo Bedaque, UMD physics professor, Ng examined the arrangements of nickel atoms in very high magnetic fields, a scenario that may be found in the crusts of some neutron stars. And with UMD Physics Professors William Dorland and Victor Galitski, Ng aims to describe the dynamics of low-temperature electron gases, which will help us better understand the relationship between the breakdown of superconductivity and the thermal motion of the conducting material.

“The most successful young physicists I have nurtured share certain qualities: mathematical talent, attention to detail, fearless ambition and persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable technical problems. Nathan has all of these qualities; he has everything it takes to be a very successful physicist,” said Dorland, who is also director of the Honors College at UMD.

Iowis Zhu—a double major in biochemistry and biological sciences and a member of the Integrated Life Sciences honors program—is interested in developing new drug delivery methods that improve accuracy and precision. During the summer of 2013, Zhu investigated the binding characteristics of CD64, an immunity-related membrane receptor, at the National Institutes of Health under the direction of Peter Sun. Zhu co-authored a paper on this work that was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Zhu has also been a researcher for more than two years in the laboratory of Jason Kahn, associate professor in the UMD Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, studying protein-DNA complexes, DNA looping and DNA topology.

“Iowis is an intellectual powerhouse. He gets more done than any student I’ve ever met,” said Kahn. “He is a team player and leader who improves the performance of all those around him.”

The Goldwater Scholarship program was created in 1986 to identify students of outstanding ability and promise in science, engineering and mathematics, and to encourage their pursuit of advanced study and research careers. The Goldwater Foundation has honored 51 University of Maryland winners since the program’s first award was given in 1989. Prior Goldwater scholars and nominees from UMD have continued their impressive academic and research pursuits at leading institutions around the world and have garnered additional recognition as:

  • A Rhodes Scholar
  • A Truman Scholar
  • National Science Foundation graduate research fellows
  • Gates Cambridge and Churchill Scholars 
  • A Clarendon Fund Scholar

Colleges and universities may submit up to four nominations annually for these awards. Goldwater scholars receive one- or two-year scholarships that cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to $7,500 per year. These scholarships are a stepping-stone to future support for their research careers.


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