Katie Dix ’10, American studies, on the Bay, Baltimore, and jumping in

Every so often, we’ll chat with an alum to see what they’re up to and how they got there. Today, we’re catching up with Katie Dix ’10, American studies. She’s now the volunteer program manager for Blue Water Baltimore, and also happens to be one of the Daily Record’s “20 In Their Twenties” honorees for 2016.

katiedix1Name: Katie Dix

Job Title: Volunteer Program Manager, Blue Water Baltimore

Major: American Studies and Political Science

Grad Year: 2010

Tell us a bit about Blue Water Baltimore and your role in the organization.
Blue Water Baltimore is a regional, environmental non-profit dedicated to protecting and restoring our local waterways. As the Volunteer Program Manager, I work with all staff to mobilize volunteers to assist us with advocacy and community restoration projects. Annually, over 4000 individuals serve the organization during tree plantings, restoration projects, trash cleanups and routine water quality monitoring.

I am a believer in service; organizing people around a common mission and goal has always been a rewarding experience for me and I am thankful to do it full time with Blue Water Baltimore. There are so many people who want to better their community but need guidance and resources to do it. I always look forward to expanding the capacity of a group by utilizing the skills and talents of volunteers and celebrating the work that we can only accomplish together. I want individuals and organizations that volunteer with Blue Water Baltimore to feel ownership of the programs and projects they work on, a connection to our collective mission to achieve clean water and appreciation for their hard work and dedication.

We live in a city that depends on the landscape. Baltimore’s economy, politics, and culture are defined by our relationship with water that surrounds us: the Chesapeake Bay.

What is your favorite thing about the work you do?
Working with communities and volunteers is the best part of my job. I believe there is power in working alongside someone. When you plant 100 trees, clean a stream or build a greenhouse, you feel a sense of ownership over the project. More importantly, you feel a connection to people that also put in the work. You don’t just walk away from it; it becomes a part of you.  I have a large network of communities because of this work. My profession is covered in sweat and soil and  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You were recently recognized by The Daily Record as one of Maryland’s “20 in Their Twenties.” How did that make you feel, and what’s next?
It feels really satisfying to make the list. There are so many talented and hardworking people that are recognized. It is a great honor and I am glad that there will be some attention on the work that I have been doing with so many others.

In the next 20 years, I see myself focused on community growth and cultural sustainability through effective land use. I intend to be a public servant that will guide our cities to function in a more humane manner, restore the environment, and operate in a way that is responsive to population needs. It is my goal to engage in planning methods that not only enhance the natural resources and built environment of a community but also its culture. To get there, I am seeking experience and philosophies that help me serve a public and advocate for justice (both social and environmental). I expect — and hope — that this will be a lifelong process.

This fall, I will leave Baltimore for the first time to study Community & Regional Planning at the University of New Mexico. While it will be difficult to leave the city during such an exciting and hopeful time, I am excited to return to school and to live in a landscape so culturally and physically different from where I have lived before. I know I have experience to share and personal views to challenge.

Was there anything about your UMBC experience – a class, a professor, an internship experience – that inspired you to go into nonprofit work? What was your path after UMBC?
Dr. Ed Orser, Dr. Nicole King and Dr. Warren Belasco changed my life forever. The AMST courses I took with them challenged both my perceptions and lifestyle. I had the opportunity to explore concepts of food security, public spaces, community development and cultural sustainability; this led me to my undergraduate research on urban environmentalism and ultimately, the work I do now. I also owe gratitude and recognition to faculty and staff I worked with at UMBC: Dr. Tyson King-Meadows and Jennifer Dress. They pushed me harder than I thought was possible by simply feeding my motivation, providing me with the resources I needed and making me think.  I can’t say enough about any of these people. It is such an honor to know them and they are in my thoughts often.

My training in the humanities and social sciences has helped me perceive my work in a context much different from my science trained colleagues: civic ecology as a way to address many of the complex social ills that plague our urban communities.  Aside from environmental decline, Baltimore faces many other challenges; poverty, crime, systemic racism, poor public transportation and government dysfunction plague the urban community. Environmental degradation is directly tied to these issues. The culture, history, and economy of the city and state are directly tied to the water.  I feel a strong connection between the environment and issues of food security, public spaces, community development and cultural sustainability. While the last few years my work has been focused on natural resources, I have always been interested in one thing: people and an increased quality of life. For the last decade my academic pursuits, professional career, and volunteer activities have been directed towards this goal; they have also put me in a position to create networks and programs that allow us to work effectively towards a more humane metropolis.

After graduation from UMBC, I accepted a position as the Community Greening Resource Network (CGRN) Coordinator with the Parks & People Foundation. CGRN, pronounced “See Green,” an annual membership program assisting individuals, community gardens, schools and green spaces throughout the City of Baltimore. Restoring vacant lots, exploring opportunities to alleviate food deserts, advocating for site development and land protection, organizing communities and educating the public about health became my full-time life. I began this position as an AmeriCorps*VISTA and transitioned to a full-time staff member to continue the development and implementation of the program.  After I moved to Blue Water Baltimore, I joined the Board for the program.

As a first-generation college student, my family did not understand the correlation between my degree and paid stub or my major and chosen career field. They still don’t but to me, it all makes sense. Everything I have chosen to do since my graduation from undergraduate school is connected to the concepts I explored in my classes and in my undergraduate research.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give an incoming UMBC student?
Jump. Put yourself out there and explore. Dive deep into the things that get you excited or angry or blissful. Connect with your peers and professors. Ask questions that make people think. Explore the things that will make you think for a lifetime.

I started UMBC in 2006 when we were celebrating the 40th Anniversary. I remember listening to speakers just before the fireworks went off above the library, knowing that I was in the right space. UMBC is something special and you should celebrate that grit and greatness this year and well into your years as an alum. You are surrounded by a community of knowledge, wisdom and support. Everyone around you wants you to be a part of the revolution: contribute new knowledge and innovative ideas to address the complications and issues that are present in our world.

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Read about where your fellow Retrievers have been since graduation, and tell your own story here!

Round-Up: UMBC in the News, 7/25

One of the things that makes UMBC great is how wonderful our alumni, students, faculty, and staff are. Because of these amazing people, UMBC often finds itself “in the news,” so each week, we’ll be sharing with you a round-up of the most newsworthy achievements from our community.

Read more great news here!

Round-Up: UMBC in the News, 4/4

One of the things that makes UMBC great is how wonderful our alumni, students, faculty and staff are. Because of these amazing people, UMBC often finds itself “in the news,” so each week, we’ll be sharing with you a round-up of the most newsworthy achievements from our community.

Check out all the other great campus news on Insights Weekly.

Building A Tradition – Lafayette Gilchrist ’92

The path to preserving Maryland’s traditional arts and culture sometimes begins when a jazz musician walks through an unlocked door in UMBC’s Fine Arts building.

One of Baltimore’s master jazz musicians, Lafayette Gilchrist ’92, Africana studies, was taking a summer class before his freshman year when he discovered that the building’s piano rooms were left open in the evening. One night, he finally gave in to temptation.

“The very first piano I played was this nine foot Steinway grand piano,” recalls Gilchrist, who had taken no formal lessons before coming to UMBC. “People think I’m lying when I tell them this, but the piano was in a concert hall, all the lights were off and there was a spotlight on it,” he said. “I fell in love. The music moved directly from my body to the instrument and into the air.”

Gilchrist audited composition classes during his time at UMBC and he was even hired to play at campus events. His musical passion and skill also eventually led him to Maryland Traditions – a statewide program that supports efforts to find, share, preserve and sustain traditional arts and culture.

Over the past academic year, Maryland Traditions has forged an exploratory partnership with UMBC that has not only brought Gilchrist back to campus for a March 30 event centered on introducing the program’s artists to the UMBC community, but created classes and events throughout the year.

The university installed Elaine Eff, the program’s co-director, as a folklorist-in-residence in the American studies department. In that role, Eff has connected UMBC students with internship opportunities, created a film series for campus and co-taught a humanities scholars class on Maryland’s traditions with Nicole King, an assistant professor of American studies.

“Elaine is such a force,” observes King. “She’s bringing the energy of the public programming realm here to the university.”

One of Maryland Traditions’ cornerstones is a Master-Apprentice program in which Gilchrist has been working. He first served as an apprentice to jazz saxophonist Carl Grubbs, and now Gilchrist is a mentor himself – advising pianist Ethan Simon (son of The Wire’s creator David Simon.)

Making strong connections is a key to the collaboration’s success. King says that Eff’s connections are invaluable to an American studies department, which has aspirations (especially with the recent establishment of its Orser Center for the Study of Place, Community & Culture at UMBC) to become a center for Baltimore area community studies.

“If we have these relationships with outside organizations and people,” King adds, “we don’t have to re-invent the wheel every time we go to work with the community.”

Eff says that the benefits of UMBC’s own pre-existing networks can’t be overstated. The university’s reach has allowed her to recruit interns for Maryland Traditions, inspire students to turn an analytic eye honed in campus classrooms to their own communities, and tap into the cultural knowledge of UMBC’s ethnic student organizations.

Who knows? Eff may find the next Lafayette Gilchrist practicing in the Fine Arts building after hours. “Every accomplishment we have here has tremendous value in building towards the future,” she concludes.

— Chelsea Haddaway