UMBC Mourns Passing of Chancellor John W. Dorsey

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of former Chancellor of UMBC, Dr. John W. Dorsey. President Freeman Hrabowski addressed the UMBC community regarding his passing:

photo via The Baltimore Sun

I know I speak for the entire UMBC community in mourning the death of Dr. John W. Dorsey, the third Chancellor of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, at the age of 78. Chancellor Dorsey died on July 28 at his home in Laurel of respiratory failure.

John was named UMBC’s Chancellor in 1977. He came to UMBC from the University of Maryland, College Park, where he held a number of academic leadership positions during the 1970s, including Vice Chancellor of Administrative Affairs and Acting Chancellor (1974-1975). He served as Chancellor at UMBC until 1986, overseeing nine years in which the university boosted its enrollment and raised its academic profile significantly.

When I heard the news, I thought immediately about his thoughtful and effective approach to leadership. He was always dedicated to advancing the University and spoke to me with such pride about our progress over the years. It’s very clear that UMBC made considerable progress under his strong leadership.

Among Chancellor Dorsey’s key achievements was bringing stability to the University, which experienced a number of growing pains after its founding in 1966. He led a major reorganization of the University’s administration, which paved the way for sustainable growth. UMBC’s enrollment grew steadily over his nine-year tenure and surged past the 6,000 mark in his last year as Chancellor.

His intimate knowledge of Maryland’s university system also allowed UMBC to substantially expand its academic offerings. UMBC added 30 new degree programs during his tenure.

Most important, he always spoke strongly when the University and its mission were threatened. The most memorable example occurred when he took a strong and persuasive stand against a 1981 proposal to convert UMBC into an industrial park. Chancellor Dorsey understood not only that UMBC was a great institution but also that the people of Maryland needed this University. Upon his departure from UMBC in 1986, he worked with John S. Toll, President of the University of Maryland system. Chancellor Dorsey also returned to teaching economics at UMCP and retired from there in 2001.

Chancellor Dorsey is survived by his wife, Jeanne, his daughter and son-in-law, Rachel and Tim Small, and three grandchildren. I encourage you to read the obituary in The Baltimore Sun reflecting on his legacy. Dr. John W. Dorsey will always be a very special part of the history of UMBC.

-Freeman A. Hrabowski, III
President, UMBC

Alumni Take Flight with Robo Raven III

Man has long envied the avian ability of flight. Wings offer the opportunity for flight, yes, but also for exploration and a different point of view. Now, three UMBC alumni are working to borrow that vantage point through the Robo Raven project at the University of Maryland, College Park. We spoke with Meyerhoff alumni Ariel Perez-Rosado ’11, M19, mechanical engineering; Luke Roberts ’12, M20, mechanical engineering; and Alex Holness ’13, M20, mechanical engineering, about their continued connection in graduate school and what it is like to work on this amazing micro air vehicle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ: Why did you decide to study robotics?

Ariel: I never really intended to study robotics. I was more interested in materials and structures. However, when I started at College Park, I started working with the wings of a small robotic bird. When it came time to run more experiments I had to rebuild the same robot from scratch. No one else was working on the small bird so I had to figure things out on my own. I slowly started learning what it takes to make a robotic bird. I really enjoyed the project and in order for the project to grow, design changes needed to be made. By the time it came to make Robo Raven I had learned enough robotics to know what we needed to do to make a successful flying robot.

Luke: I decided to study robotics because I wanted to be able to make complete systems that integrated concepts from mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and computer science and robotics utilizes each of those. I knew it would be challenging, and it definitely is, but I really enjoy what I am working on.

Alex: I have been fond of innovation and technology. Additionally, as cliché as it might be, I liked to build with Legos, K’nex, wooden blocks when I was a child. My parents encouraged and enabled me to explore my curiosities. I became a mechanical engineer because I liked to create things, understand processes and mechanisms, and applicable theoretical concepts. I ultimately decided to be robotics because I experienced a number of other subject topics at internships and didn’t find myself fond of them, and I am able to build things regularly. Robotics covers a variety of topics, which keeps the work interesting. Additionally, it is a cutting-edge field, which does make it viable for a future career.

Q: What inspired this project?

Ariel: Our lab has worked on Micro Air Vehicles for years, but recently the research took a new turn. We wanted to look at controlling each wing independently. This is something that birds do but has not been studied in robotics yet. In order to do this, the wings needed to be powered by independent motors. This means that the wings needed to be larger than ever before and calls for a whole new robot. So basically in an aim to study what actual birds in nature can do, Robo Raven was made.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAQ: What are the applications of a project like this?

Luke: There are many applications for this platform. Robo Raven has the potential to be used in the future to monitor farms as a mobile scarecrow or crop inspector, fly at higher altitudes and track weather, or serve as recon for soldiers on the battlefield while looking like a normal bird to the eyes of the enemy. It could also give a push to the FWMAV hobbyist community because of the aerobatics it can perform.

Alex: The project could be used in disaster relief situations, such as gathering video and sensory data (such as chemical sensing). It could also be used in educational programs–bio-inspired robots cover so many disciplines. I remember my best educational experiences being tangible. I am in the process of arranging a visit to my high school to show Robo Raven to a robotics club as a teaching tool.

Q: What’s it like, as alumni of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program, to continue your work together at UMD?

Ariel: It is great to have other Meyerhoff Scholars to work with. I know exactly what they have gone through in terms of classes and experiences. This allows us to hold each other to higher expectations than other students.

Luke: It was really helpful to me that Ariel, whom I already knew, was in the lab when I first got there and helped me get settled in and just have a friend there. I was really excited when I heard Alex was coming because we were in the same cohort and actually roomed together during Summer Bridge. We also worked on a lot of projects together during our undergrad years.

Q: How has your time at UMBC helped you in your work and studies now?

Ariel: UMBC’s Mechanical Engineering Department gave us a great education and foundation in mechanical engineering. The transition from undergraduate school to graduate school was effortless and seemed like an extension of what was already being taught. The Meyerhoff Scholars Program did a great job in preparing us for the research side of graduate school. Thanks to their guidance, I knew what to expect when coming to graduate school. They prepared me and showed me the work ethic necessary to be a good researcher.

Luke: My time at UMBC helped me to learn to push hard, even when classes are ridiculously tough and life is difficult, because there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I couldn’t see that light very well till the end of undergrad, and now that I’m in grad school and working on this project I see the light more clearly. Sometimes it pops out of my field of vision for a bit but that’s when I put my head down and push on. It comes back.

Alex: The strength of my graduate application and research skills are a result of applying to and completing internships at the admonition of UMBC staff, 5 in total, and, naturally, the academic content I learned at UMBC. UMBC taught me the importance of group collaboration for generating ideas in addition to management of personal assignments and tasks.

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