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You can stay on top of breaking news involving UMBC’s information systems and technologies by following us on Twitter @umbchelpdesk.  From security alerts to system outages and restorations, @umbchelpdesk will keep you informed about what’s going on, as it happens!

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JamieUMBC Joins The MyUMBC Development Team!

The MyUMBC team is Collier Jones, Bradley Tinney, Billy Schneider, Kevin Somers, and now – me!

As many of you know, I’m fortunate enough to be a staffer at UMBC’s Department of Information Technology. And many of the folks at DoIT know that I like to write stuff, as evidenced by this blog. Now, in a wonderful synergy of two things that I love (technology and writing), I have been asked to assist the awesome team that works behind the scenes to make the magic that is MyUMBC.

Now, if you remember an earlier post of mine, you know that I’m not nearly smart enough to do what the MyUMBC team does on a daily basis. Fortunately, I’m not being asked to do any of the heavy lifting (read: coding). What I’ll be doing is writing about all of the nifty and useful things that are happening with MyUMBC, and helping the UMBC community to get the most out of the great tools they’ll find there. It sounds like I’ll be having a lot of fun, and I’m really looking forward to it.

Last week I had my first meeting with team leader and coder extraordinaire Collier Jones, and as he gave my a quick tour around the beta version of MyUMBC, I just couldn’t believe how great it looked. The Events area, for example, is designed with many clever tools and yet is is so easy to use, I find it hard to imagine how much work must have gone into making it happen. If you’d like to have a look yourself, here it is. Or, you can just admire this screenshot:

So now I get to both enjoy our new tech tools and write about them, too.

Sweet.

MyUMBC Goes Ravens Purple

With the Ravens in the playoffs again, it’s neat to see everything in town going purple, like City Hall:

UMBC is getting in on the fun, too. For example, when the Ravens are in the playoffs, the top of the AOK Library goes purple:

I know in this photo it looks blue, but trust me, it's purple.

And now, the MyUMBC web portal has joined the mania:

I hope there’s a reason to keep that color up for a few more weeks, a least!

MHEC Ruling On UMUC Program Must Be Reversed

Last October, the Maryland Higher Education Commission ruled that University of Maryland University College‘s online doctoral program in community college administration was a duplication of Morgan State‘s face-to-face program and thus a violation of civil rights protections in place for historically black colleges. As a result, UMUC is now prohibited from offering the course in Maryland, although curiously, it can offer the course in the other 49 states.

The MHEC‘s misguided ruling reflects not a bias toward Morgan State as much as it reflects the age of the members of the Commission, with the only member of the Commission younger than 45 being the student representative. The delivery system for higher education in America is being rapidly altered by existing and emerging technologies, and these changes require a modern, more nuanced way of thinking about universities, what they offer and how they serve the needs of the community. I have firsthand knowledge of this, being enrolled in UMBC’s online Instructional Systems Development program.

To anyone paying attention, it is clear that various forms of distance learning will play an increasing role in the delivery system of the nation’s colleges. As this occurs, there will necessarily be overlap with some traditional programs. However, it is a mistake to treat online courses as if they were classroom courses for the purpose of excluding them. We should be encouraging the development of parallel online courses, not shutting them down. And giving Morgan State, a university with limited online experience, two years to create something from nothing, is at best a weak nod in the direction of distance learning.

What the commissioners may not understand is that UMUC’s program isn’t competing with Morgan State’s – it’s competing with other online programs across the country. The MHEC’s decision presupposes that the market served by Morgan State, traditional students available for attendance in a classroom, is the same group of people targeted by UMUC’s online program. Clearly, this is not the case. Online learners are almost always working adults seeking to fulfill their educational requirements while maintaining job, family and other commitments (like me).

The good news is that the university system’s Board of Regents is unwilling to surrender so easily, and will ask the Commission to reconsider. From the Sun article:

“The decision completely ignores a stated priority in the 2009 Maryland State Plan for Higher Education,” wrote Board of Regents Chairman Clifford Kendall in a letter to the commission. “The State Plan supports access to degrees through online programs in order to meet ‘the needs of a largely working, adult population who require a flexible schedule.’ This decision sets a potentially debilitating precedent that will discourage universities from doing the very thing that MHEC’s state plan charges them to do.”

Demonstrating his antiquated view of the situation, MHEC Chairman Kevin O’Keefe said, “I remain convinced that this was an isolated issue.” Even more depressing is O’Keefe’s belief that there will not be a “…strong sentiment among the majority of our members that we should reconsider the issue.”

Perhaps it is asking too much of this particular group of individuals to free themselves of a lifetime of assumptions about higher education and the way this product is delivered to its market. Too often, membership on the MHEC is a reward for a career of service to the community and while this may seem noble, it deprives the commission of the benefit of fresh thinking and new ideas. It may be that the only way for Maryland to become a leader in e-Learning, m-Learning and other non-traditional delivery systems is to replace (or supplement) the existing members of the MHEC with individuals who are not so tied to the past. I just hope that by the time this happens, national leadership in higher education hasn’t fallen too far from our grasp.

Winter Session 2010 – Baby, It’s Quiet Outside


The Winter Session is a great opportunity to grab some extra credits in just a few short weeks of what would otherwise be considered down time. Let’s face it: the winter break is too short to do anything productive, like land a job, so why not get closer to graduating instead of lying on the couch gaining weight?

Still, for those of you who go home every December, and maybe wonder what it’s like around UMBC during the Winter Session, let me give you one word: quiet. Yes, there are classes going on, just not many. Yes, there are students on campus, just not many. Yes, there are activities and fun things to do, just not many. So for those not here, I present this pictorial:

The first thing you’ll see when you arrive on campus are largely unbroken fields of asphalt where automobiles normally are. These are parking spaces, which come out of hibernation in the Winter Session.

Lot 9 at the Engineering Building

Lot 8 next to the UMBC Police station

The next thing you’ll notice is that it’s cold in early January – I mean really cold.

The glass is always half full at the Commons

Aerodynamics could be tested here. Wind chill -10°F.

During the Winter Session, you’re struck by how large the campus feels.

Between AOK and PUP

With no competition, everything seems open, free and orderly.

Clean as a whistle in January

Plenty of available computers at the AOK Library

Need to eat fast? No problem.

Plenty of open tables

Of course, it's quiet at the Help Desk, too.

No lines in the Bookstore

All clear at the Yum Shoppe

Yep, neat and orderly

Of course, shops have limited hours and some, like Starbucks and Pura Vida Cafe are closed altogether.

No coffee to be had here

So, to all of you at home, stay warm and enjoy your Winter Break. UMBC will be here waiting for you when you get back.

On the wall at the Help Desk, ECS 020

I Dreamed A Dream of Football at UMBC

Walking in the Commons between the Bookstore and the Flag Court, I looked up at a large poster and my eyes became fixated on this sight:

My heart raced and my imagination exploded with visions of Saturdays spent at UMBC Stadium, cheering on the Fighting Retrievers football team. Without stopping for even a moment to consider family commitments or mortgages, I envisioned spending countless hours and untold treasure on what would surely become the focal points of my future autumns. In my mind’s eye, I could easily see the enraptured alumni, gathering in the parking lots to tailgate and celebrate the arrival of football at UMBC. It had happened at Stevenson, and now it was happening here!

And then, as quickly as the dream could be dreamed, it was just as certainly shattered as I read the rest of the banner:

It was all a promotion for open positions at the Office of Residential Life. There would be no football team, no Saturdays spent on campus in mad delirium, no suddenly galvanized alumni flooding the campus each Fall at Homecoming.

Yes, one day I dreamed a dream of football, but it was only that – a dream. But even if I only lived it for a moment, the dream was sweet indeed. And as I walk our campus now, I still can hear the roar of the crowd echoing in my ears, as if calling to me from beyond the hills across the Loop, tantalizing me with what might have been. And what might still someday be.

What It’s Like To Graduate – Winter Commencement 2009


I Came, I Saw, I Walked.

Yesterday was Winter Commencement at UMBC; in a bit, I’ll give you a window into my experiences there. But first, I want to back up a little bit, because I need to make mention of one of the neat perks of graduating: people are very happy for you, and glad to show it. For the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing congratulations from many family and friends, and getting nice surprises, such as what was waiting for me Tuesday inside my office:

Here’s a close up of the greeting card and treats that Anna and Barb lavished me with:

I also want to thank my good friends and co-workers at the Department of Information Technology who so readily took up my cause when I was in search of an extra ticket for my mother-in-law. Sandy Campbell at Institutional Advancement told me that I must have a lot of friends at IT, because she received many calls on my behalf. In the end, everyone was able to see me graduate in person, and I feel fortunate and grateful to be able to work with such good friends.

With the extra seat having been secured, all that was left to do was graduate.

On Wednesday, the first thing I noticed when I got to UMBC were the many very visible traffic control stations.

The second thing I noticed was lots of signage – everywhere.

If you couldn't land tickets to get inside the RAC, you could watch Commencement on television in a Lecture Hall. I've been assured that this is a great experience, but I can't help but feel that it must be a bit surreal.

If you get your picture taken with True Grit early, there are no crowds to fight.

Graduates were directed to the basement of Sondheim Hall, a foreboding place to which I had never before been.

Once I got down there, I noticed that each major was posted on the wall of the hallway, and we were directed to gather in front of ours.

Slowly, the hallway began to fill up, and we were directed to arrange ourselves alphabetically within our major, as this is the way we would enter the RAC.

Helpful UMBC staffers walked up and down the hallways, shouting instructions.

Those students with names that might cause a reader to stumble had their names written phonetically on their yellow cards. We were told to hold onto our yellow cards as if our lives depended on it, and then give it to someone on stage just before we walked.

Front

At about 9:45, we began moving, and I expected that we would have to go outside. Not so! I had no idea that there was a tunnel connecting the basement of Sondheim Hall with the RAC, but there it was. I felt like I had been granted some secret knowledge because of my status as a graduate.

We processed in to the “Prince of Denmark March,” by Jeremiah Clarke. I was expecting “Pomp and Circumstance,” of course. When we got to our seats, we found this program waiting for us:

That's me on page 21!

The first thing all of us did upon entering the RAC was to scan the crowd wildly trying to figure out where our family and friends were seated. For the longest time, I couldn’t find mine, and then I saw why – they had somehow secured seats in the first row on the floor, in a place where I would literally walk right next to them as I went to the stage. From my angle, they had been screened by the graduates in front of me, but I was happy to see that they had gotten such good seats.

A large black curtain had been raised at the end of the basketball court as a backdrop to the stage; it was wide enough to fill in the area between the basketball championship banners and as tall. In front of it was the UMBC lettered logo. On the stage itself were banners representing each of the university’s colleges, and there were chairs from one side to the other to accommodate the many dignitaries. In the center of the stage was the main podium, with two smaller flanking podiums on either side. On the second floor, at the railing next to the track, an announcer acted as Master of Ceremonies during the processional.

After we were at our places, the faculty and administration processed in. The regalia worn by many of them seemed straight out of Tudor England, or at least Harry Potter.  UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski was his usual chatty, upbeat self as he entered the arena. Almost as soon as we had been seated we had to rise and remove our very carefully placed caps for the National Anthem, performed by Casey Hively, the sole graduate on hand from the Music Department. After this, there were various greetings from dignitaries, and then a fairly short address by President Hrabowski, which mainly focused on the diverse stories of those graduating. I continued to clutch my yellow card tightly, remembering the admonishments of the staff back in the basement of Sondheim Hall.

Soon the graduates were being called to the stage, by individual colleges (i.e. College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences) and then by majors within those colleges. Staffers acting as ushers told each row when to rise and go forward, and wouldn’t you know it? Some unlucky Jonah two rows in front of me lost his precious yellow card! Staffers frantically tore through programs looking for the card, but to no avail. Regardless, he went to the stage, had his name called and got his handshakes like everyone else. Yes, that’s right, there’s no diploma given on stage, or even rolled up piece of paper – just a handshake from Dr. Hrabowski (which is still pretty cool).

That's me, almost to the stage.

This is me almost to the stage. Note the magical yellow card in my right hand.

Collecting my well-earned handshakes.


After handing in the yellow card and getting your hand shaken repeatedly, you’re done and it’s back to your seat. As we returned, we were given these lovely parting gifts form the Alumni Association:

How to live in the Grown-Up World manual. Over 180 pages of helpful tips for young graduates. Most of these principles I have already violated countless times.

Inside the envelope on the left was the brochure on the right.

The inside of the brochure.

After getting back to our seats, all that was left to do was to listen to the other graduates’ names being called, taking note of the occasionally wild outbursts from some particularly exuberant families. One group in the bleachers was waving an Angolan flag.

After everyone had been called, Dr. Hrabowski spoke for just a few more minutes, admonishing us to savor these moments, as it “doesn’t get any better than this.” After this, we stood and sang the Alma Mater and then the administration, faculty and finally we, processed out, in our case back through the tunnel to Sondheim.

Moving back through the tunnel.

Breaking out of Sondheim Hall into the cold air and bright sunshine.

Once outside, the challenge became finding one's family amidst the crush of people.

True Grit was a convenient place to tell your people to meet you.

After my family finally fought their way through to me, I posed for my UMBC portrait:

True Grit & Me

After getting my picture taken, we gathered for a celebratory lunch. By the time I got home, I already had an email from the professional photographer, offering to sell me a package of photos for $80 or perhaps $150; I could also purchase a DVD for $45. I expect to soon receive my first fundraising letter; that’s when I’ll know for sure that I’ve graduated.