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Renowned UMD Professor Rita Colwell Named a Fellow in the National Academy of Inventors

January 20, 2017
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301-405-4679, Tom Ventsias 301-405-5933

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Rita Colwell, a Distinguished University Professor in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), has been named a Fellow in the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

This is the latest of Professor Colwell’s many recognitions and awards, which also include the 2006 U.S. National Medal of Science; the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize; “The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star,” awarded by the Emperor of Japan; and membership in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Swedish Royal Academy of Science, Irish Royal Academy of Science, and the Bangladesh and Indian academies of Science.

The National Academy of Inventors recognizes  “academic inventors who have demonstrated a prolific spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society.” This is a well suited recognition, colleagues say, for a scientist who has uncovered new insights, bucked prevailing wisdom, applied existing technologies in innovative ways and created new technologies and initiatives to advance human knowledge and human health.

Colwell’s many achievements and firsts include:

  • a dozen U.S. patents, most involving computational biology;
  • founding the company CosmosID, which uses next-generation DNA sequencing to advance new discoveries in microbiome research; and
  • leading numerous science organizations, including the National Science Foundation (NSF) from 1998-2004 as NSF’s first woman director.

However, Colwell, a microbiologist, is world renowned in large part for her fundamental and highly innovative work to understand the Vibrio bacteria that cause cholera and reduce the incidence and impact of this disease around the world. Cholera, an acute diarrheal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated by Vibrio cholerae, is responsible for an estimated 3–5 million illnesses and more than 100,000 deaths every year, according to the World Health Organization.

As part of her cholera work, she was the first to:

  • use DNA sequencing to finally prove to a doubting healthcare establishment that the Vibrio bacterium that causes cholera was, in fact, the same water-borne Vibrio bacterium found naturally in the environment;
  • write a computer program that could identify this bacterium;
  • show that this bacterium can lie dormant awaiting favorable conditions, and that its natural habitat, or host, is one of the tiny organisms that constitute marine plankton;
  • track and predict cholera outbreaks with satellite data;
  • demonstrate that warmer surface ocean temperatures stimulate the growth of cholera bacteria, and directly lead to an increase in the number of cholera cases;
  • create filters made of old sari cloth that can strain plankton and its hitchhiking bacteria out of drinking water.

“Rita Colwell’s tireless dedication toward improving human health by using computational resources is an inspiration to the entire UMIACS research community. We are very proud to call her a colleague,” said Mihai Pop, professor of computer science and interim director of UMIACS.
 
Colwell’s discoveries led her to conclude that climate (on a macroscale) has significant impacts on certain human diseases, notably those transmitted by vectors like mosquitoes or zooplankton. In 2016 Colwell led an international study showing that over the past half century there has been a clear correlation between warming of North Atlantic waters, increasing numbers of Vibrio bacteria in those waters, and rising numbers of people along U.S. and European North Atlantic coasts who have become infected by pathogenic Vibrio bacteria.

Read a Big Ten Network Q&A with Professor Colwell about her selection to the NAI here.

Professor Colwell is the fourth University of Maryland faculty member to earn recognition from the National Academy of Inventors. Distinguished University Professor Ben Shneiderman, in the department of computer science, John S. Baras, professor and Lockheed Martin Chair in Systems Engineering, and  Robert E. Fischell, a UMD alum and a professor of practice in the Fischell Department of Bioengineering, were all named NAI fellows in 2015.

Colwell will be officially honored at a ceremony and banquet on April 6, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. With the election of the 2016 class, there are now 757 NAI Fellows, representing 229 research universities and governmental and nonprofit research institutes.

Tracking the World's Final Wilderness Frontiers

January 17, 2017
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin 301-405-1733

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Researchers from the University of Maryland utilize satellite imagery to demonstrate that forest wildlands—forests least affected by human activity—are steadily shrinking and pinpoint ways to help preserve these landscapes that are critically important to the health of the planet.

Led by Associate Professor Peter Potapov from the UMD Department of Geographical Sciences, the research team used Landsat satellite images from 2000 and 2013 to map intact forest landscapes (IFL) around the globe. Researchers defined IFLs as areas of forest and associated naturally treeless ecosystems spanning a minimum of 200 square miles with no remotely detected signs of human activity. They found that these forest wildlands decreased globally by 7.2 percent during this time period—amounting to nearly 355,000 square miles lost—primarily due to industrial logging, agricultural expansion, fire and mining/resource extraction. Their work is featured in a January 13th publication of Science Advances.
 
“Forest wildlands have an extremely high conservation value and are irreplaceable due to the range of ecosystem services they provide such as harboring biological diversity, stabilizing carbon storage and regulating water flow,” Potapov said. “Furthermore, the size of the wildland matters: the larger the size, the higher the conservation value. That’s why we need to be concerned about losing any portion of these precious forest landscapes.”

Not only did researchers discover an overall reduction in IFLs worldwide, they found that the rate of reduction is increasing: The loss of tropical forest wildland tripled between 2011 and 2013 when compared to the period between 2001 and 2003.

During their analysis, researchers discovered that areas of forest wildland designated as legally protected areas were less likely to suffer a reduction in size and advocate for the adoption of more national and international policies to preserve IFLs and their abundant contributions to the environment.

Co-author Matt Hansen, professor of geographical sciences at UMD, emphasized the importance of intact forests, stating “The high carbon stocks found within forest wildlands alone illustrate their potential benefit to climate change mitigation strategies.  However, their stability can be compromised very rapidly. For example, increased human access through road building reduces forest intactness even without the loss of many trees. Importantly, IFLs only shrink in extent as they are defined as landscapes absent of observable human impacts.”

Along with Potapov and Hansen, the research team included Research Associate Svetlana Turubanova from the UMD Department of Geographical Sciences and partners from organizations around the world, including: Laestadius Consulting in Silver Spring, MD; Greenpeace; Global Forest Watch Canada; World Resources Institute; and NGO Transparent World in Moscow, Russia.

Related UMD research stories:

UMD Researchers Define & Measure Planet's Total Forest Area

Dynamic Alert System Will Protect Global Forests

UMD Leads 1st Local-to-Global Mapping of Forest

UMD Research Reveals Reason for Growing Pest Damage in Genetically Protected Corn Crops

January 10, 2017
Contacts: 

Graham Binder 301-405-9235 Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A UMD-led study provides new evidence of a decline in the effectiveness of genetically engineered traits widely used to protect corn crops from insects.  This loss of effectiveness could damage U.S. corn production and spur increased use of potentially harmful insecticides.

Based on two decades of field experiments by University of Maryland researchers, the study concludes that damage to corn crops from a major insect pest called corn earworm is increasing. Authored by two scientists from the University of Maryland’s department of entomology and one from Benzon Research, an independent contract research facility, the study documents the growing resistance of the earworm to protective “Bt” genetic modifications widely used in corn and cotton crops.

Lead author Galen Dively, UMD professor emeritus of entomology, predicts that corn earworm resistance to the Bt technology is likely to increase, and spread. His team’s results have broad implications for profitable corn production, biotechnology regulatory policies and sustainability of the use of Bt crop protection biotechnology.

Corn crops engineered with genes from the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) express specific proteins called Cry proteins (endotoxins) that, when ingested, kill crop pests like the earworm.  The Bt proteins are very selective, generally not harming non-target insects such as bees, wasps and beetles. Thus, its use is less environmentally detrimental than that of broad spectrum insecticides.  Bt modified crops are widely used and long have been effective in combating damage from agricultural insect pests.  In 2015, 81 percent of all corn planted was genetically engineered with Bt. Recently however, certain states, most notably North Carolina and Georgia, have experienced increased corn ear damage, setting the stage for risk of damage to corn production across a large portion of the country.

Development of pest resistance to Bt has previously has been reported in five insect species, but all have been in response to crops that express a single Cry protein.  This new paper is the first report of corn earworm resistance to multiple, or pyramided Cry proteins in genetically modified corn.  The report also illuminates a need for more widespread resistance monitoring for all registered Cry proteins, including the Midwestern corn belt.  Previously, resistance testing on corn earworm and other caterpillars has only taken place in southern production regions where Bt corn and cotton are prevalent.  

“My team is pleased to bring this information to the forefront of the farming and biotechnology industries, but recognize there is still much work to do in understanding the evolution of how corn earworm developed resistance to Cry proteins,” says Dively. “Unfortunately, with the realization of this resistance, many sweet corn farmers in Maryland have stopped growing Bt corn and by extension are applying more insecticide to combat pest infestation. Increased insecticide use is a time-consuming and hazardous long term approach, which provides strong motivation to find a comparable solution to Bt biotechnology."  

Dively’s report, “Field-evolved Resistance in Corn Earworm to Cry Proteins Expressed by Transgenic Sweet Corn”, was recently accepted and published by PLOS ONE, a comprehensive academic journal featuring reports of original research from all scientific disciplines. It can be accessed here.

 

Five UMD Alums Are Among those Selected for Forbes’ 2017 30 Under 30 List

January 9, 2017
Contacts: 

Lee Tune 301405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – University of Maryland alums Adam Behrens, Evan Lutz, Akshay Goyal, Mackenzie Burnett and Dan Gillespie are among the “leading young change-makers and innovators in the U.S.” who were selected for the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

 
According to Forbes, the list, now in its sixth year, highlights “30 game changers in 20 industries all under 30 years old -- 600 in total -- who are challenging the conventional wisdom and rewriting the rules for the next generation of entrepreneurs, entertainers, educators and more. . . . Their goal is nothing short of breaking the status quo and transforming the world.”  The 2017 selectees join a power-packed group that includes such previous 30 Under 30 honorees as billionaires Mark Zuckerberg and Evan Spiegel, Oculus VR’s Palmer Lucky, Global Citizen cofounder Hugh Evans, and theSkimm’s Danielle Weisberg and Carly Zakin.
 
The publication notes that competition for the 2017 list was more intense than ever with 15,000+ nominations for the 600 spots: an acceptance rate under 4 percent.
 
A. James Clark School of Engineering alumnus Adam Behrens (Ph.D. Bioengineering; B.S. Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering) was named to the 2017 Healthcare list in recognition of his recent efforts to advance the development of vaccines and diagnostic testing.  Currently a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the lab of serial biotech entrepreneur Robert Langer, Behrens is taking on germs in the developing world with two projects: an effort to make vaccines that don't require refrigeration, and a push to develop diagnostic tests that can detect infectious diseases at patient's bedsides. During his UMD undergraduate and graduate years of study Behrens worked under the guidance of Fischell Department of Bioengineering Professor and Associate Dean Peter Kofinas on the development of blood-clotting gel designed to quickly stop bleeding, and a low-cost alternative to sutures for use in a surgery.

Mackenzie Burnett (B.A. Government and Politics, B.A. International Relations) and Dan Gillespie (B.S. Geographical Information Systems), were selected in the Enterprise Technology category, cofounded Redspread, a collaborative software deployment tool startup, at UMD in 2015. A graduate of seed funding accelerator Y Combinator, Redspread was acquired in October 2016 by San Francisco, Calif.-based CoreOS, a platform for simplifying container management. At CoreOS, Burnett is head of product and Gillespie leads upstream Kubernetes development. Burnett is also executive director of Interact ATX, a nonprofit that helps connect young technologists and thinkers. While at UMD, Burnett and Gillespie helped cofound the UMD student hackathon Bitcamp. Burnett also served as executive director of Startup Shell, a student created and run incubator for UMD student startups.

Akshay Goyal, a 2010 graduate of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, made the cut in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Finance category. Goyal, who is a vice president in the private investment firm Starwood Capital Group, made his mark at UMD in many ways. He participated in the QUEST (Quality Enhancement Systems and Teams) and Gemstone honors programs, and served as an equity analyst in a Smith School class that manages the Lemma Senbet Fund. Goyal, who focuses on hotel acquisitions for Starwood, was the youngest vice president in the firms’s history when he was promoted to VP at age 26.

Evan Lutz, a 2014 alumnus of the Smith School, was recognized on Forbes’ Social Entrepreneur list as CEO and Co-Founder of Hungry Harvest, which buys "ugly" and surplus produce from farms in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. and delivers boxes of fruits and vegetables via a subscription based model to customers in and around Baltimore, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Hungry Harvest was created to simultaneously  address two problems:  (1) 20 percent of U.S. produce goes to waste, while (2) 50 million people in the country are food insecure.  To date, they've recovered 1.1 million pounds of fresh produce and donated over 300,000 pounds of it.  For every box of produce they deliver they donate 1 pound and sell 3 pounds at a lower cost to help families in need. In January of 2016, Evan Lutz was the 2015 Social Entrepreneur of the Year" for UMD’s Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship; and in January of 2016 he appeared on Shark Tank and received a $100,000 investment from Robert Herjavec for a 10 percent stake in Hungry Harvest.
 

Worldwide Urban Expansion to Claim Some 186,000 Square Miles of Fertile Cropland

January 4, 2017
Contacts: 

Sara Gavin 301-405-1733

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – A team of researchers from institutions around the world, including the University of Maryland, reveal that by 2030 expanding urban areas world-wide will swallow up fertile cropland equal to nearly twice the size of Florida, adding pressure to an already strained global food system.

Researchers estimate the area of land that stands to be lost through urbanization— more than 186,000 square miles or nearly 300,000 square kilometers—could produce enough food to provide 300 million people with 2,500 calories a day for an entire year.

Associate Professor Giovanni Baiocchi from the University of Maryland’s Department of Geographical Sciences contributed to the study led by the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) located in Berlin.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented transition from predominantly rural to urban lifestyles,” Baiocchi said. “Rapid and unplanned urban growth is further threatening sustainable development. As rapidly urbanizing regions of the Global South are increasing their dependence on food imports, millions of people in poverty are becoming more vulnerable to world food market volatility potentially exacerbating the problem of global income inequality.”

Results from the study entitled “Future urban land expansion and implications for global croplands” were recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [USA]. According to the study, global urbanization will take place on agricultural land that is almost twice as fertile as the world average and the effects will be particularly severe in parts of Asia and Africa.

The scientists used spatially explicit urban area expansion projections developed by Yale University to conduct their research. They then combined these with land-use data from the University of Minnesota and the University of British Columbia on global croplands and crop yields. The MCC study examined the total loss of croplands worldwide. To determine the productivity of that land, the researchers used the aggregated production of the 16 most important food crops, including maize, rice, soybeans, and wheat.

Researchers estimate China alone will have to bear one-fourth of total global cropland loss, amounting to nearly 80,000 km2. Meanwhile, the challenge to African countries already greatly impacted by hunger and food shortages—such as Nigeria, Burundi and Rwanda—is compounded by two factors: the distinct vulnerability of many African countries to the effects of climate change, and the comparatively greater difficulties encountered by the unemployed rural population to gain a foothold in the urban labor markets. The study finds that urbanization in Egypt is also particularly pronounced and that by 2030, the country could lose about one third of its cropland.

“Policy-makers at the municipal level are now called on to take action. Their time has come, since urban planning is now part and parcel of world policy,” said Felix Creutzig, one of the study’s lead authors and head of the MCC Working Group on Land Use, Infrastructure and Transport. “Urban planners can contribute to preventing small farmers from losing their livelihoods. Spatially efficient urbanization could help to retain the existing agricultural system while continuing to provide small farmers with access to the urban food market.”

UMD Researchers Find Ultra-thin Solution to Primary Obstacle in Solid-State Battery Development

December 19, 2016
Contacts: 

Melissa Andreychek 301-405-0292, Lee Tune 301-439-1438

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — A team of researchers at the University of Maryland Energy Research Center and A. James Clark School of Engineering have announced a transformative development in the race to produce batteries that are at once safe, powerful, and affordable.

The researchers are developing game-changing solid-state battery technology, and have made a key advance by inserting a layer of ultra-thin aluminum oxide between lithium electrodes and a solid non-flammable ceramic electrolyte known as garnet. Prior to this advance, there had been little success in developing high-performance, garnet-based solid-state batteries, because the high impedance, more commonly called resistance, between the garnet electrolyte and electrode materials limited the flow of energy or current, dramatically decreasing the battery's ability to charge and discharge.

The University of Maryland team has solved the problem of high impedance between the garnet electrolyte and electrode materials with the layer of ultrathin aluminum oxide, which decreases the impedance 300 fold. This virtually eliminates the barrier to electricity flow within the battery, allowing for efficient charging and discharging of the stored energy.

A new paper describing the research was published online December 19 in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Materials.

“This is a revolutionary advancement in the field of solid-state batteries—particularly in light of recent battery fires, from Boeing 787s to hoverboards to Samsung smartphones,” said Liangbing Hu, associate professor of materials science and engineering and one of the corresponding authors of the paper. “Our garnet-based solid-state battery is a triple threat, solving the typical problems that trouble existing lithium-ion batteries: safety, performance, and cost.”

Lithium-ion batteries typically contain a liquid organic electrolyte that can catch fire, as shown by numerous consumer electronic battery fires and even the temporary grounding of the Boeing 787 fleet for a series of battery fires. This fire risk is eliminated by the UMD team’s use of the non-flammable garnet-based solid-state electrolyte.

"The work by [the University of Maryland research team] effectively solves the lithium metal–solid electrolyte interface resistance problem, which has been a major barrier to the development of a robust solid-state battery technology," said Bruce Dunn, UCLA materials science and engineering professor. Dunn, a leading expert in energy storage materials, was not involved in this research.

In addition, the high stability of these garnet electrolytes enable the team to use metallic lithium anodes, which contain the greatest possible theoretical energy density and are considered the ‘holy grail’ of batteries. Combined with high-capacity sulfur cathodes, this all solid-state battery technology offers a potentially unmatched energy density that far outperforms any lithium-ion battery currently on the market.

“This technology is on the verge of changing the landscape of energy storage. The broad deployment of batteries is critical to increase the flexibility of how and when energy is used, and these solid-state batteries will both increase the safety and decrease size, weight, and cost of batteries,” said Eric Wachsman, professor and director of the University of Maryland Energy Research Center and the other corresponding author of the paper.

“This [finding] is of considerable interest to those working to replace the flammable liquid electrolyte of the lithium-ion rechargeable battery with a solid electrolyte from which a lithium anode can be plated dendrite-free when a cell is being charged,” said acclaimed lithium-ion battery pioneer John B. Goodenough, Virginia H. Cockrell Centennial Chair in Engineering at the University of Texas, who was unaffiliated with the study. Read Goodenough’s full commentary on the Maryland team’s battery advance here.

The paper, “Negating Interfacial Impedance in Garnet-Based Solid-State Li-Metal Batteries,” Xiaogang Han, Yunhui Gong, Kun Fu, Xingfeng He, et al., was published online December 19 in the journal Nature Materials.

This work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy ARPA-E RANGE (entitled “Safe, Low-Cost, High-Energy-Density, Solid-State Li-Ion Batteries”) and EERE (entitled “Overcoming Interfacial Impedance in Solid-State Batteries”).

University of Maryland to Host Winter 2016 Commencement

December 16, 2016
Contacts: 

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland’s winter 2016 graduates will celebrate the culmination of their UMD experience at the university’s main commencement ceremony on Dec. 20, 2016. The commencement address will be delivered by David M. Baggett, a UMD alumnus and founder and president of Arcode Corporation. He will be joined by this year’s student speaker, Jacob Lowenstein, who is graduating with degrees in accounting and finance.

WHO:

  • University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh
  • Commencement Speaker David M. Baggett, UMD alumnus and founder and president of Arcode Corporation
  • Student Commencement Speaker Jacob Lowenstein
  • December Class of 2016 University of Maryland Graduates

WHEN:
Tuesday, December 20, 2016

  • Processional – 5:40 p.m.
  • Ceremony – 6:00 p.m.

*Media should arrive prior to the processional*

WHERE:
Xfinity Center, University of Maryland, College Park
Xfinity Center is located on Paint Branch Dr. near the intersection of Paint Branch Dr. and Route 193 (University Blvd.) Click here for directions.

PARKING/CHECK-IN:
Media must park in lot 9B and enter the Xfinity Center through Gate C, located on the ground level, to the right of the main entrance steps. Media must show their credentials to be admitted into the building without a ticket.

LIVE VIDEO STREAM:
The ceremony will be streamed live on the University of Maryland’s YouTube channel here.

HASHTAG:
Follow the conversation on social media and join in using #UMDGrad.

For more information, visit www.commencement.umd.edu

UMD is a Founding Member of New Alliance to Expand Access and Opportunity for 50,000 Talented Students from Lower-Income Families

December 13, 2016
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

American Talent Initiative brings together 30 of nation’s most respected colleges and universities, launches national effort to attract, enroll and graduate more high-achieving, lower-income students

COLLEGE PARK, Md. --  The University of Maryland is one of 30 of the nation’s most respected colleges and universities that have joined forces today on a new initiative to substantially expand the number of talented low- and moderate-income students at America’s top-performing undergraduate institutions with the highest graduation rates.

ATI MapThe American Talent Initiative (ATI), supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, brings together a diverse set of public and private institutions united in this common goal. They are enhancing their own efforts to recruit and support lower-income students, learn from each other, and contribute to research that will help other colleges and universities expand opportunity.

"As a land-grant flagship at a time when many people feel left behind, our mission of social mobility and educational opportunity is more critical than ever,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. “Our vigorous efforts to recruit the most talented, highest achievers, regardless of socioeconomic background, will contribute to this collaboration. Participating is an honor, a challenge, and a duty.”

Aiming to welcome more of the 270 institutions with graduation rates of 70 percent or higher over the next few years, the members of the American Talent Initiative have set a goal to attract, enroll, and graduate 50,000 additional high-achieving, lower-income students at those 270 colleges and universities by 2025. Based on the most recent federal data available, there are around 430,000 lower-income students enrolled at these 270 institutions. In other words, ATI’s goal is to increase and sustain the total number of lower-income students attending these top-performing colleges to 480,000 by 2025.

“If we're serious about promoting social mobility in America, we need to ensure that every qualified high school student in the U.S. has an opportunity to attend college. I'm so glad that so many great colleges and universities have stepped up today and committed themselves towards that goal. This is a vital first step towards creating a more meritocratic society," said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term Mayor of New York City.

Colleges and universities participating in the American Talent Initiative aim to further the national goal of developing more talent from every American neighborhood by:
•    Recruiting students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds through robust outreach;
•    Ensuring that admitted lower-income students enroll and are retained through practices that have been shown to be effective;
•    Prioritizing need-based financial aid; and
•    Minimizing or eliminating gaps in progression and graduation rates between and among students from low-, moderate- and high-income families.

Members will share lessons learned as well as institutional data, annually publishing their progress toward meeting the national goal of 50,000 additional lower- income students by 2025. The Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S+R, the two not-for-profit organizations coordinating the initiative, will study the practices that lead to measureable progress and disseminate knowledge to the field through regular publications.

Catharine Bond Hill, Ithaka S+R managing director and former Vassar president, noted that “this Initiative speaks to fairness and equal opportunity for thousands of students who currently can’t claim either, and to the enormous societal benefit that comes from nurturing all of our most talented young people. Recent research suggests that at least 12,500 high school seniors per year have SAT scores in the top 10 percent with 3.7 grade point averages or higher – and still do not attend the top 270 colleges.  If each of these institutions commits to do its share, an additional 50,000 talented students–12,500 in each grade level–will benefit from the incredible opportunity these colleges and universities offer and that these students have earned.”

Member institutions of the American Talent Initiative are committing substantial resources to attract, enroll, and graduate students at their individual campuses. This initiative is co-managed by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program (www.aspeninstitute.org/college-excellence) and Ithaka S+R (www.sr.ithaka.org) and funded with an initial $1.7 million, multi-year grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. Grant funding will be used for best-practice research and dissemination, convenings of college presidents and staff, and data analysis and reporting.

To learn more about the American Talent Initiative, including a list of the participating institutions, visit http://www.americantalentinitiative.org.

UMD Researchers Show How Online Communities Bridge the Rural-Urban Healthcare Divide

December 13, 2016
Contacts: 

Greg Muraski 301-892-0973

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Online communities are helping patients find and share information and connect with each other at unprecedented levels. But can they also create social value by helping to bridge the disparities between rural and urban health care?
 
As part of a recent study published by MIS Quarterly, University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business professors Ritu Agarwal and Guodong "Gordon" Gao, and former doctoral student Jie Mein Goh, now at Canada's Simon Fraser University, asked whether online health communities can create social value, by helping to alleviate regional health disparities between rural and urban patients. "It was a novel question that has not been asked before," Agarwal says of the research, "The Creation of Social Value: Can an Online Health Community Reduce Rural-Urban Health Disparities?"
 
The professors say that while the question demands further study, their research did find that conversations within the online community played an instrumental role in bridging the divide, "amplifying" the health capabilities of rural users.
 
It works in two ways, they say. First, online communities provide a platform for rural patients to ask questions and to learn from urban patients about the nature of the disease and treatment options that might be more readily available in better-serviced settings. Secondly, they offer emotional support, similar to what's available at in-person support groups, and that can make a big difference, the researchers say, in managing disease conditions and maintaining a positive outlook, which can be crucial for longer-term health outcomes.

The researchers note their findings may apply generally to health and/or wellness social network sites, including ones like Inspire or DaoCloud, the later founded by UMD/Smith School alum Eric Green. 
 
The disparities between urban and rural patients have been well-documented through the years, with rural residents facing a distinct lack of access to healthcare resources and knowledge. In their research, Agarwal and Gao took a closer look at that gap, and studied whether online health communities might "plausibly provide an alternative forum that transcends geographic constraints" and create a supportive social network that spans the divide.

"Obviously it's no substitute for a doctor who might need to perform a procedure," Agarwal says, "but you can understand better how to cope with your condition and also understand better what your treatment options are, because urban patients have access to very sophisticated medical resources."

In their research, Agarwal and Gao used data from an unidentified online community that was centered on a rare disease. Because of the disease's uncommon nature, the online community attracted a broad cross-section of urban and rural patients, making it an "ideal setting" to examine the value potential of social support among patients.

Through the data, they observed the interactions in the community over a 44-month period. The results showed that far more social support was sent to rural users from urban ones, which the authors say demonstrates social value creation and underscores the potential for online networks to positively influence public health.

"We truly believe that these communities can empower patients and build their own capabilities to manage their disease," says Agarwal. "It's not simply a matter of giving people treatment or access to healthcare, you want to enhance their own capability to manage their disease." This is an overriding theme in the national healthcare discussion today about how we can move toward more patient-centered healthcare.

The researchers note their findings also generally can apply to wellness social network sites like Inspire or DaoCloud, the later founded by UMD/Smith School alum Eric Green. 

These online communities have grown in prominence and relevance in recent years, alongside the expansion of other social media platforms, the professors say, as people become increasingly more comfortable talking candidly about aspects of their lives online.

For patients grappling with a rare disease, there is often a strong drive to find other people they can relate to. "It's a matter of desperation almost," says Agarwal. "For people who have these unique situations, sometimes the Internet is the only way to reach out widely to determine who else might be suffering." 

"The power of being able to connect with others like yourself," she adds, "is enormous."  

For health care providers, the online forums offer a chance to understand more fully how patients experience a disease, Gao says.

"I think doctors can learn a lot by what patients are discussing, and that can provide an important channel for them to understand how care might be delivered better," he says.

The forum also provides an outlet for the topics that patients might not feel comfortable discussing with their physicians, he says. "Especially where it relates to questioning whether doctors are doing the right thing," Gao says. "Patients do not normally confront a doctor directly. But they will talk about their concerns in the communities."

The role of the online health communities, meanwhile, is something that policymakers should pay attention to, Agarwal says.

"From a policy perspective, this is a lower-cost way of making health care more accessible for everyone, at least from the perspective of knowledge and understanding," she says. However, given the lingering urban-rural, digital, education and economic divides across the country, more must be done to train people in "less-advantaged areas of the country to use these online tools as effectively as they can."

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UMD Alumnus and Arcode Corporation Founder, President to Deliver 2016 Winter Commencement Address

December 12, 2016
Contacts: 

Katie Lawson, 301-405-4622

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland announced that David M. Baggett, a UMD alumnus and founder and president of Arcode Corporation, will deliver the university's winter commencement address on Dec. 20, 2016. He will be joined by this year’s student speaker, Jacob Lowenstein, who is graduating with degrees in accounting and finance.

"I am excited and honored to be addressing this graduating class of seniors," says Baggett. "The University of Maryland has transformed a great deal since I graduated nearly 25 years ago and has become one of the nation's top public research universities. I am proud to stand among top-notch students of the winter 2016 graduating class at an institution that I am proud to call my alma mater."

An innovative thinker who has been writing software since childhood, Baggett is always searching for new ways that technology can solve everyday, practical problems. The son of an electrical engineer and cookbook writer, Baggett earned degrees in computer science and linguistics from the University of Maryland in 1992. By the time he graduated, he had already founded companies that designed video game development systems and published interactive fiction.

While pursuing his master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he became part of the team behind the groundbreaking and wildly popular Sony PlayStation video game “Crash Bandicoot.” Besides giving Sony a mascot, the game series from Naughty Dog Inc., where Baggett was a programmer and vice president, was pioneering in its graphic speed and detail.

In 1997, Baggett co-founded ITA Software, which revolutionized how people could travel with the help of cheaper and more powerful computer programs. By assisting airlines like America West and websites like Orbitz, the company’s software greatly expanded the choices and convenience of booking flights. As COO, Baggett oversaw software development, operations and customer relations, expanding the company from 20 employees to more than 500, with revenue topping $70 million a year. In 2011, Google acquired ITA for $700 million.

More recently, Baggett, founder and president of Arcode Corp., has focused his creative and entrepreneurial spirit on email and messaging: his new startup's product Inky makes it easy for anyone to encrypt their email with any mail account, ensuring confidentiality and preventing identity theft and phishing attacks.

Named a distinguished alumnus by both the College of Arts and Humanities and the Department of Computer Science, Baggett has supported undergraduate scholarships and post-baccalaureate fellowships at UMD in linguistics research.

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April 24
Explore UMD’s world of Fearless Ideas with more than 400 free, educational, family-friendly and interactive events. Read
April 21
Six student-run teams to pitch efforts to Do Good on campus, locally and nationwide. Read
April 20
15 projects will help improve sustainability on UMD campus and in the local community.  Read