UMD Right Now Twitter Facebook Youtube Instagram

UMD Receives Largest-Ever Archival Gift from AFL-CIO

October 1, 2013

Eric Bartheld 301-314-0964

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland announced today it has received a gift from the AFL-CIO of its historical archive, an extensive collection of documents, photographs, books and audio and visual recordings pertaining to this federation of labor unions based in Washington, D.C.

The University of Maryland announced today it has received a gift from the AFL-CIO of its historical archive, an extensive collection of documents, photographs, books and audio and visual recordings pertaining to this federation of labor unions based in Washington, D.C. With materials that fill six miles of shelving, the collection is the largest such donation to the university and a boon to scholars of labor studies. Complementing other labor-related collections at the University Libraries, the AFL-CIO archive will establish the university as a top archival repository for labor history in North America.

The collection, appraised at $25 million, dates back to the mid-19th century and fills approximately 20,000 boxes.  The 40 million documents and other materials will help researchers better understand pivotal social movements in this country, including those to gain rights for women, children and minorities.

“This tremendous historic treasure covers some of the most vital periods of our history, and it needs careful exploration,” says University of Maryland President Wallace Loh. “U.S. labor history is an area of faculty strength for us, so I know it will get heavy use from the UMD community, as well as from scholars around the world. We are honored by the gift and the trust placed in our hands.”

“This tremendous historic treasure covers some of the most vital periods of our history, and it needs careful exploration,” says University of Maryland President Wallace Loh. “U.S. labor history is an area of faculty strength for us, so I know it will get heavy use from the UMD community, as well as from scholars around the world. We are honored by the gift and the trust placed in our hands.”“The archive is a game-changer for us,” says Patricia Steele, dean of UMD Libraries. “Because it is comprehensive and so rich in intellectual value, it vastly expands our ability to support researchers on this campus and beyond. The AFL-CIO collection offers unique opportunities for us to collaborate in innovative ways with academic departments, government agencies and partners from labor and industry. We are pleased leaders of the AFL-CIO placed such a high degree of confidence in us to provide a new home for their collection.” 

Additionally, Steele says, the AFL-CIO will also fund a position to support the collection by serving as a liaison with researchers, identifying components for digitization and partnering with interested groups. 

Transfer of the collection to UMD is complete. Materials will be accessible from Hornbake Library, the university’s library for special collections, which features comprehensive environmental controls, a large reading room and exhibition space. Special collections, identified as such because of their rarity or format, frequently distinguish a library’s unique offerings at a time when information is broadly available online.

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO, is the umbrella federation for U.S. unions, with 56 unions representing more than 12 million working men and women.
For more than 30 years the University Libraries have acquired archival resources that document the history of the labor movement in North America. Included in the collections are the archives of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union; the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America; the International Union of Marine Shipbuilding Workers of America; the International Labor Communications Association; and the Cigar Makers International Union.
UMD is situated within a key national research hub, and the UMD Libraries make up the largest university library system in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore area. The eight-library system supports the teaching, learning and research needs of students and faculty. 

Early Agriculture had Dramatic Effects on Humans

October 1, 2013

Sean Downey 240-392-0220

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The introduction of agriculture in Europe was followed by regional population crashes despite trends of demographical growth, reports research published in Nature Communications this week. Sean Downey, assistant professor in the University of Maryland's Department of Anthropology, was co-author of the paper. The work suggests that these sharp population decreases weren't due to changing climatic conditions, and therefore the authors propose internal causes. The research represents a major revision to our understanding of how the introduction of agricultural technology impacted humans.

Stephen Shennan, professor of theoretical archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, received grant funding from the European Research Council to study early agriculture and its impact on populations across Europe. His multidisciplinary team of researchers includes co-author Downey, and Mark Thomas, Research Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment, University College London, who designed the statistical analysis necessary to produce the findings.

Agriculture was introduced in the Aegean (modern day Turkey) around 8,500 years ago and steadily spread across Europe, reaching France around 7,800 years ago, and Britain, Ireland and northern Europe approximately 6,000 years ago. In all instances, the introduction of agriculture meant a drastic change in food production and consumption patterns, which led to a population boom. Utilizing radiocarbon dating, and an innovative new method for improving the accuracy of this data, the study's authors examined how population levels changed over time across Europe during the late Mesolithic, ("Middle Stone age") and Early Neolithic ("New Stone age").

Map of Central and North Western Europe. Points indicate archaeological site locations and colours delineate the sub-regions used to estimate demographic patterns.The research team discovered that, in all of the 12 different European regions studied, from the South of France to Scotland and Denmark, drastic population fluctuations can be observed. In fact, they note that in some cases population declines were as significant as 30-60 percent from the highest levels achieved after the introduction of agriculture. These dramatic changes in population are of similar scale to the decrease estimated for the much later "Black Death".
The authors found that those fluctuations cannot be associated with climatic factors; however, the exact reasons for this population decline remains unknown.

"It's striking that the development of agriculture – one of humanity's major evolutionary steps – failed to buffer against widespread social collapse during this early period of rapid population growth in Europe," explains Downey. "At this point in the research we can only speculate at the direct causes, but the study demonstrates that agriculture-based societies in the past were vulnerable to population collapse on a broad scale." Downey continues by explaining the study's finding: "There were no correlations between the collapse of regional populations and known climate shifts. It wasn't the climate, so we think it must have been the long-term impact new agricultural technologies had on local environments in reducing resources. The stress this caused among farmers was likely exacerbated by other well-known consequences of living in higher-density populations: increased incidence of social conflict and of disease."

The paper is available free via open-access at

Innovative Testing Program Detects Emerging Drugs

September 30, 2013

Dr. Eric Wish 301-405-9770

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Emerging drugs of abuse in communities can be rapidly identified by an innovative urine testing system, according to the results of a recently released pilot study conducted by the Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) at the University of Maryland and funded by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

The Community Drug Early Warning System (CDEWS) is designed to detect emerging drugs by re-testing urine specimens collected by traditional criminal justice system (CJS) drug testing programs, and examining them for additional drugs of abuse. These include synthetic cannabinoids, man-made chemicals that are applied (often sprayed) onto plant material and marketed as a “legal” high.  Users claim that synthetic cannabinoids mimic Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive active ingredient in marijuana. These products, commonly known as “synthetic marijuana,” “K2” or “Spice”, are often sold in legal retail outlets as “herbal incense” or “potpourri”.

There is an increasingly expanding array of synthetic drugs available.  More than 50 synthetic cannabinoids were identified in 2012, compared to just two in 2009.

SyntheticsThe CDEWS model is based on the premise that emerging drugs of abuse, such as synthetic cannabinoids, often show up in high-risk CJS populations before others in the community. In the pilot study, 1,064 anonymous specimens from five different CJS groups in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia region were sent to an independent laboratory for an expanded CDEWS panel that tests for more than 30 prescription and illicit drugs. Approximately one-half of the sample was also tested for 12 synthetic cannabinoid metabolites.

Synthetic cannabinoids were detected in the specimens from all participating sites. All of the specimens that tested positively included one or two recently identified and federally-prohibited synthetic cannabinoid metabolites.

The pilot study also found that synthetic cannabinoids were as likely to be present in specimens from individuals who had failed the limited CJS screening panel as in individuals who passed. In other words, current drug testing screens that do not include synthetic cannabinoids are likely missing significant drug use (and users) in the populations being monitored. The study’s results suggest that individuals expecting drug tests may be using synthetic cannabinoids because they know it will not be included in the screening panel.

syntheticsThe results demonstrate that CDEWS could be successfully implemented in diverse criminal justice populations, including arrestees, probationers and parolees, and drug court participants and proved its unique ability to uncover emerging drug trends. The findings from this pilot study suggest that CJS drug testing programs should weigh the value of adding synthetic cannabinoid metabolites to their testing protocols and adopting an annual CDEWS type of process for reviewing and updating the drugs included in their testing protocols. Hospital, physician, military, and workplace testing programs should also consider expanded testing of urine specimens to accurately identify drugs recently used.

Finally, the high level of synthetic cannabinoid use detected suggests that local public health systems should implement targeted prevention campaigns to educate the public, especially youth and young adults, about the rapidly changing ingredients in products sold as synthetic cannabinoids and the potential harm that can result from their use. “People who take these drugs are really playing a form of Russian roulette,” said Dr. Eric Wish, the Principal Investigator of the study. Plans are currently being developed to expand CDEWS to additional sites.

The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR), at the University of Maryland at College Park, is a multi-disciplinary research center dedicated to addressing the problems substance abuse creates for individuals, families, and communities. Housed in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, CESAR conducts policy-relevant research and evaluation studies, disseminates statistical and other information, assists in training students in substance abuse research methods and policy analysis, and provides technical assistance to agencies and organizations working in substance abuse related fields.

To view the CESAR FAX Synthetic Cannabinoid Series, visit:

Young Children Recognize Cigarette Brands

September 30, 2013

Kelly Blake 301-405-9418

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Nearly two-thirds of young children in low- and middle-income countries can identify cigarette brand logos, according to a study from researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health (UMD SPH) and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHSPH).

A five year old Indian boy matches logos with products during data collection. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, examined the reach of tobacco and cigarette marketing among some of the world’s most vulnerable populations, sampling five and six year-old children from Brazil, China, India, Nigeria, Pakistan and Russia.  These countries were selected because they have the highest number of adult smokers among low- and middle-income countries.

“Previous studies show that children and adolescents who are highly exposed to pro-smoking messages are more likely to smoke,” said Dr. Dina Borzekowski, lead author of the Pediatrics study and research professor in the UMD SPH Department of Behavioral and Community Health. “It should be of great concern that the majority of very young children in our study were familiar with at least one cigarette brand.  Even in households without smokers, children could identify tobacco logos.”

The United States created stronger regulations for tobacco advertising in the 1990s after similar research found that six year olds were as familiar with Camel tobacco’s “Joe Camel” mascot as with the Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse.

“Regulations created by the World Health Organization to restrict tobacco advertising exist outside of the United States, but beyond our country’s borders these regulations may not be as effective,” Borzekowski explains, referring to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. “Multi-national tobacco companies appear to have moved their promotional efforts from high-income, industrialized countries to low- and middle-income countries where there are often weak tobacco control policies and poor enforcement.” While smoking is stabilizing or decreasing in wealthy countries, people in low and middle-income countries are taking up the habit at alarming rates. In China, for example, nearly one third of adults are cigarette smokers ( about 53 percent of men) , according to WHO data.

With five and six year-old children aware of domestic and international tobacco brands, there is a need to enforce stronger regulations in countries where tobacco companies have increased efforts to attract new users. When children are aware of logos, they are more likely to like and want those products. This is concerning when the products – such as tobacco – should not be used by children. Borzekowski and colleagues suggest changes including requiring larger graphic warning labels on cigarette packages. Additionally, they urge changes to limit children’s exposure to the point of sale of tobacco products, including establishing minimum distances between these retailers and places frequented by young children.

“This study reiterates that more needs to be done to reduce the ability of tobacco companies to market their products to children,” said co-author Dr. Joanna Cohen, director of the Johns Hopkins Institute for Global Tobacco Control. “Countries can implement and enforce bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, including putting large picture warnings on the front and back of cigarette packs. Plain and standardized packaging, now required in Australia, also helps to reduce the attractiveness of cigarette packs among young children.”

For this study, researchers worked one-on-one with the participating children, asking them to match pictures of different products with their corresponding logos. In China, where roughly 71 percent of households with participating children had a tobacco user, 86 percent of children could identify at least one cigarette brand logo. Pakistan had the second highest percentage, with 84 percent of children capable of identifying at least one cigarette brand logo. Russia ranked last on the list with half of the participants able to identify any of the cigarette brand logos. 

In addition to examining a child’s familiarity with tobacco logos, the study also looked at the child’s intentions to smoke and his or her level of media exposure.

View the paper International Reach of Tobacco Marketing Among Young Children

UMD Convenes International Forum on Barriers and Opportunities in Foreign Language Education

September 30, 2013

Pamela Morse 301-226-8899

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Language leaders from government, industry, and education will gather today to examine the feasibility of eradicating barriers to foreign language education in the United States.

Language leaders from government, industry, and education will gather today to examine the feasibility of eradicating barriers to foreign language education in the United States. The forum on language education and policy, entitled “Languages for All? The Anglophone Challenge,” is convened by the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Language (CASL) and will result in a white paper with recommendations to be released in late fall.

“CASL has spent the last 10 years applying research to some of the most difficult problems in adult language learning and on-the-job use,” said Dr. Amy Weinberg, executive director of CASL. “Now, we are eager to use our research findings to improve instruction in K-16 settings. With our co-sponsors and distinguished panelists, we hope to break through the barriers in the entire language learning pipeline, from early childhood, through college graduation and eventual entry into the workforce.”

The event is co-sponsored by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL), American Councils for International Education, British Academy, Defense Language Institute Foundation, Globalization and Localization Association (GALA) and Joint National Committee on Languages – National Council for Language and International Studies (JNCL-NCLIS).

National Security Agency Director of Research Michael Wertheimer, University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, Vice President and Chief Research Officer Patrick O’Shea, and University of Maryland Director of Language Initiatives Richard D. Brecht will give opening remarks.

“This is an important shift in the dialogue on language,” explains Brecht, who has been at the forefront of the language policy field for more than 40 years. “Before, the question was, ‘why is foreign language learning important?’ Now, it’s ‘why aren’t more Americans learning foreign languages?’ These are two very different questions.”

The day consists of six interactive panels with representatives from the British and Australian academies, Fortune 500 companies, the Department of Education, Department of Defense, and school boards, along with researchers, school administrators, foreign language practitioners, policymakers and a former governor.  

Event participants were given a working draft of the white paper before and during the event to be released in its final form in late fall. The following questions frame both the white paper and the event:

  • Should the education system in the U.S. provide all children access to the interpersonal, developmental, and economic benefits of a second language?
  • Are our schools, colleges, and universities capable and willing to make language education universally available? If so, how? If not, why not?

In addition to the approximately 160 onsite participants addressing these questions, the event is expected to draw live streaming and live tweeting participants from around the world. To learn more, follow live at http://te.rps/lfa 

Md., N.J., Va. Support Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Effort

September 27, 2013

Ted Knight 301-405-3596

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The three mid-Atlantic states of Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia and their leading research universities, including the University of Maryland, have signed an agreement stating they will work collaboratively towards supporting the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) research and testing efforts aimed at integrating unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) into the national airspace system.

Photo Source: USAF Photographic ArchivesThe states’ proposals were submitted to the FAA by the University System of Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership, representing the combined resources of New Jersey and Virginia, with Rutgers University and Virginia Tech participating in the effort.

The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 enacted by Congress calls for establishing six unmanned aircraft system research and testing sites in the U.S.  While a vast percentage of the work conducted to date has been accomplished under defense programs, future work on the integration of UAS into the national airspace will be implemented through a combination of federal, state and local government resources, academic institutions, and industry and aviation assets. As a result, an $89 billion commercial industry is expected to flourish over the next ten years.

The final proposals were submitted to the FAA in May, with decisions on siting the flight centers expected to be made before December 31, 2013.

“The combined resources of the mid-Atlantic state applicants represent a majority share of the UAS research and testing assets in the United States,” said Patrick O’Shea, vice president for research at the University of Maryland College Park, the state’s flagship campus. “As a collaborative unit, our significant resources offer tremendous opportunity to satisfy the efforts envisioned by the FAA and the larger UAS community related to this important project.”

“The real strength of our combined efforts is in our technical approach as a team.  Between our university facilities, our NASA and DoD installations, and our industry and airport partners, we have a high caliber team that has been involved in this work for decades,” said Robert Walters, vice president of research at Virginia Tech.  “Being able to bring that capability to the table without having to form those relationships will save time and money, and produce a better outcome for all of us.”

The submitted proposals address all of the research and testing environments required by the FAA.  The mid-Atlantic region contains both uncongested and restricted airspace, as well as proximity to shared air routes and corridors to allow a crawl-walk-run approach to UAS integration.  The region also presents all the challenges of land and water domains, as well as the continuum of sea-level to high altitude operations.  There is significant interest in the application of UAS technology in the region, as well, since all three states have a large presence in the agriculture industry, one of the largest projected markets for UAS.

According to Thomas N. Farris, dean of the School of Engineering at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, “The mid-Atlantic region has played a predominant role geographically and commercially throughout the first hundred years of manned aircraft flight research.  Coupled with the strength of our three universities’ ongoing collaboration and demonstrated capabilities over the past three decades within the realm of unmanned systems, we as a regional partner group are well-positioned to ensure the safe and efficient integration of UAS into our nation’s skies.”

The three states' governors — Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, and Gov. Robert F. McDonnell of Virginia — expressed their commitment to jointly support the FAA UAS test site infrastructure in a letter to the Department of Transportation and the FAA.

UMD to Lead National Strategic Transportation Center

September 27, 2013

Ted Knight 301-405-3596

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland was selected in a national competition to lead a two-year, $11.3 million new National Center for Strategic Transportation Policies, Investments and Decisions.  The UMD consortium includes Arizona State University (ASU), Louisiana State University (LSU), Morgan State University (MSU), North Carolina State University (NCSU), Old Dominion University (ODU), and the University of New Orleans (UNO).

TrafficThe University of Maryland National Center for Strategic Transportation Policies, Investments and Decisions (NCSTPID) is one of only five National Centers that were selected in this nationwide competition and the only one with a focus on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) strategic goal of “Economic Competitiveness.”

The theme of the TPID Center will be “Strategic Transportation Policies, Investments and Decisions for Economic Competitiveness.” The Center will conduct research and provide education and technology transfer related to this theme, and will directly support the U.S. DOT’s strategic goal of economic competitiveness with consideration for other relevant strategic goals, such as safety and environmental sustainability.

“With the growing volume of traffic, an aging infrastructure and a need for smarter, more seamless movement of freight, this new UMD-led center will offer informed guidance on how best to invest precious transportation dollars,” says UMD President Wallace Loh. “I am very proud that our engineering expertise and leadership has been recognized in this tangible way.”

The expected total funding level for the first two years for this center will be around $11.3 million, of which about $5.65 million are federal and the rest is matching funds. The University of Maryland Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Transportation Program has a distinguished history in transportation research and education, and the NCSTPID award is a recognition of the contributions of the program’s faculty to the state-of-the-art in transportation research and education.  

“With these initial resources and support from our college and university, we can further develop our transportation program into a dominant force in this topic area,” says the Director of the NCSTPID, Professor Lei Zhang.

“I congratulate the University of Maryland on being selected to lead a new National Center for Strategic Transportation Policies, Investments and Decisions,” stated Congressman Steny Hoyer. “Research and investment in infrastructure is critical to our nation’s economic competitiveness, and given their excellent civil and environmental engineering transportation program, I’m confident the University is strongly positioned to lead the consortium and help solve some of our most pressing transportation challenges.”

The NCSTPID is concerned with the integrated operations and planning of all modes serving the nation’s passenger and freight transportation system, including the institutional issues associated with their management and investments. In particular, the TPID will focus on research, education, and technology transfer activities that can lead to 1) freight efficiency for domestic shipping and for our international land, air, and sea ports; 2) highway congestion mitigation with multi-modal strategies; and 3) smart investments in intercity passenger travel facilities, such as high speed rail.

UMD to Solve Global Language Problems at New Language Science Research Center

September 27, 2013

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland is launching a campus-wide, interdisciplinary research center designed to advance a deep understanding of language to promote human and technological solutions to real world problems.

Language ImageThe Maryland Language Science Center will combine the brain trust of the world's broadest and most integrated community of language scientists to connect answers to deep scientific problems—such as understanding how our brains make the richness of human language(s) possible—with solutions to real-world problems involving language in education, technology, health and security.

The center is a collaborative effort involving more than 200 language scientists, drawn from 16 departments and centers in six colleges across the university.

"Language is the foundation of what makes humans distinctive as a species. Without it, society, culture, and technology would simply not be possible," says Colin Phillips, a UMD professor of linguistics and director of the Maryland Language Science Center. "The formation of this new center will help us solve a variety of complex research problems that require the diverse expertise of faculty and students across the entire university."

Building on the established work of language scientists at the university, the new center will solve a variety of pressing global problems.  Some of this work includes early identification of language disorders in infants; narrowing education achievement gaps caused by ‘language poverty’; and building technology for information extraction and for real-time translation systems that emulate the feats of simultaneous interpreters.

"With the creation of the new Maryland Language Science Center, we are focusing on an innovative, interdisciplinary approach to language science and making it one of the university's strategic priorities," says Mary Ann Rankin, UMD's senior vice president and provost. "Through this unique collaborative model between the humanities and sciences, we will be able to create connections across campus between traditionally disparate areas and secure our spot at a global leader in language science research."

The Language Science Center will also serve as an incubator for development of new research areas that intersect with language, such as culture, genetics, automatic speech recognition, and K-12 language education.

To learn more about the Maryland Language Science Center, visit

Watch Colin Phillips discuss language science and provide insight on how humans seem to understand language so effortlessly even though it is not effortless at all:

UMD Empowers Americans to Make Smart Choice about Health Insurance

September 25, 2013

Sara Gavin 301-405-9235

A team of experts from University of Maryland Extension is leading a national charge to empower consumers with Smart Choice – a comprehensive, research-based, unbiased curriculum designed to equip people with the tools they need to make the best decisions possible when choosing health insurance. COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Sweeping health care reform legislation means starting October 1, hundreds of millions of Americans – both those currently insured and uninsured – will have more options than ever before when it comes to health insurance. Yet research shows the vast majority of people in this country are uncomfortable, overwhelmed and intimidated when it comes to making decisions about health insurance coverage.

That’s why a team of experts from University of Maryland Extension is leading a national charge to empower consumers with Smart Choice – a comprehensive, research-based, unbiased curriculum designed to equip people with the tools they need to make the best decisions possible when choosing health insurance.

Smart Choice TrainingSmart Choice is the result of two years of research and pilot-testing that took place in seven states and is rolling out this fall through a series of educator and consumer workshops being held throughout the country. Through these workshops, participants learn how to analyze what they need and want from health care providers, compare plans, calculate how health insurance will affect their financial budgets, and ultimately, apply the information and knowledge gained to make a smart choice.

The Smart Choice Health Insurance Consumer workbook is now available to everyone online at

“Smart Choice is not about pushing consumers to select any one specific plan,” says Bonnie Braun, Ph.D., co-leader of the team of University of Maryland experts that developed Smart Choice. “It’s designed to help people gain a set of skills so that they can choose a plan that best fits their family’s needs and then use that plan efficiently once enrolled.”

Bonnie BraunBraun (pictured right) and her team started developing this program in 2011 when they realized there was nothing else like it available for consumers. With health insurance currently in the public spotlight, Smart Choice seeks to capitalize on this teachable moment by helping Americans take control of their personal and family financial health needs.

“Keeping your head above water can be extremely difficult when navigating the waters of health insurance – whether you’ve been insured throughout your life or are faced with selecting coverage for the very first time,” says Braun. “Smart Choice acts like a life vest: it empowers people by eliminating the intimidation factor, explaining the steps in the process and ultimately showing them how to find the best fit for their needs.”

Consumers around the country can take advantage of this groundbreaking program now and throughout the fall. For more information on Smart Choice, visit

UMD Joins Big Ten Conference Playwriting Initiative

September 25, 2013

Missy McTamney 301-405-8102

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies (TDPS) is partnering with theatre departments at Big Ten Conference schools to create a new playwriting and performance initiative. The group, known as the Big Ten Theatre Chairs, plans to commission, produce and publicize as many as five new plays in an effort to influence the national dialogue about women playwrights and the sorts of scripts needed by university theatre programs for performing arts education.

Photo credit: Zachary HandlerThe group plans to impact the dramatic underrepresentation of women playwrights in American theatre.  In a recent study cited in the The New York Times, it was determined that of the 20,000 playwrights in the Dramatists Guild and on, an online database of playwrights, there were twice as many male playwrights as female ones, and that the men tended to be more prolific, turning out more plays. To draw attention to this imbalance and support greater gender diversity in the field, the Big Ten Theatre Chairs plan to commission women playwrights to write the initiative’s first three plays.

The Big Ten Theatre Chairs also believe a need exists for a larger body of high-caliber plays with specific characteristics that make them effective tools for teaching theatre students.  In response to this, they intend to commission the writing of plays that each feature up to eight roles, primarily for women actors, and predominantly for characters of an age that can be credibly played by college students.

Leigh Wilson Smiley, director of TDPS. Photo credit: Mike CiesielskiThe program’s first commissioned dramatist, Naomi Iizuka, is one of the nation’s most acclaimed young authors and head of playwriting at University of California, San Diego’s Department of Theatre and Dance. Iizuka’s plays include 36 Views, Strike-Slip and Anon(ymous). Her work has been produced by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Joseph Papp Public Theatre and the New York Shakespeare Festival Actors’ Theatre. She is the recipient of a PEN/Laura Pels Award, a Rockefeller Foundation MAP grant, an NEA/TCG Artist-in-Residence grant and Princeton University’s Hodder Fellowship. Her first draft of the commissioned work will be reviewed and discussed in October by the Big Ten Theatre Chairs in a meeting at Northwestern University.

“Iizuka is a generous and extremely collaborative artist,” said Leigh Wilson Smiley, director of TDPS.  “We are most excited to have this opportunity to support her creativity and enhance our students' experience with innovation through the development of a new play.”

A full draft of the new play will be completed by spring, 2014 and will be performed during the 2014-2015 season at one or more Big Ten schools.  The group plans to commission one play by a woman playwright each year for three years, and as the project progresses, will commit to additional years. If Iizuka's play is chosen for UMD’s TDPS 2014-2015 season, she will be invited to campus to workshop the play with TDPS students.


March 30
University of Maryland places seven graduate programs in the top five and 25 in the top 20. Read
April 7
JPMorgan Chase funds initiative to combat the effects of commercial gentrification and COVID-19 in neighborhoods across... Read
March 30
Three latest University of Maryland Goldwater scholars make 37 such scholars from UMD in the past 10 years  Read
March 30
University of Maryland places seven graduate programs in the top five and 25 in the top 20. Read