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

January 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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.


  • 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

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

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

*Media should arrive prior to the processional*

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.

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.

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

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

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

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."


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

December 12, 2016

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.


Lenzer to Cultivate UMD Innovation-Based Economic Development Efforts

December 9, 2016

Elise Carbonaro 301-405-6501

Julie Lenzer to serve as Associate Vice President for Economic Development and Director of UM Ventures – College Park

Julie Lenzer. Credit: Maryland Center for EntrepreneurshipCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland (UMD) today announced the appointment of Julie Lenzer as Associate Vice President for Economic Development, effective December 12, 2016. Lenzer will also serve as Director of UM Ventures – College Park in the UMD Division of Research.

Lenzer is an award-winning software entrepreneur, ecosystem builder, investor, and educator with a foundation in innovation-based economic development.

Lenzer joins UMD after a two-year appointment at the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration, where she was director of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. In this role, Lenzer developed and launched the Regional Innovation Strategies program, deploying $40 million in grants across the country over the course of two years. The program was recently recognized as one of President Barack Obama’s Top 10 Actions to Accelerate American Entrepreneurship. Additionally, Lenzer led the successful reorganization and institutionalization of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship within the Economic Development Administration, and as a result was named the U.S. lead for the G20 Innovation Task Force.

“Julie’s remarkable experience and connections will ignite our growing innovation ecosystem,” said University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh. “She has launched her own enterprises and worked in and out of government to build innovation networks. She has done it all and will do it here.”

Prior to her work in the Commerce Department, Lenzer served as the first leader of the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship. As executive director, Lenzer built and connected regional entrepreneurial ecosystems and delivered entrepreneurship development and growth programs across complex local, regional and state markets. She is also a founding co-chair of Startup Maryland, which through its statewide bus tour, Pitch Across Maryland, connected innovation communities and increased entrepreneurial success across the state. Recently, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan appointed Lenzer to the Maryland Economic Development Commission.

“The university’s academic and research programs are incredibly strong, and there is a great opportunity for university innovation to flow into the surrounding community, transforming good ideas into economic growth and jobs,” said Lenzer. “I look forward to channeling my most recent experience at the national and international level to benefit my home state of Maryland.”

As Associate Vice President for Economic Development and Director of UM Ventures-College Park, Lenzer will report to the Division of Research and the President’s Office. She will foster and support the development that is currently underway in the UMD Research Park and Greater College Park. She will also promote and facilitate productive, university-wide collaboration to launch startup ventures based upon University intellectual property, as well as maximize synergies between UMD and the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) to leverage strengths of each and encourage technology commercialization.

“Julie’s technology commercialization experience at the regional, state, national, and international level will surely benefit the university’s efforts to bring ideas from the laboratory to the marketplace to help stimulate the regional economy,” said UMD Interim Vice President for Research Amitabh Varshney.

In all of these efforts, Lenzer will foster collaboration between the university’s entrepreneurship and venture creation groups, including the Academy for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech), the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, the Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership, and the Maryland Small Business and Technology Development Center.

Lenzer is a serial entrepreneur, technology transfer educator, and an active member of the Maryland community. She received the EDA Bronze Award for Excellence in Development, participated in the President Leadership Workshop, and has been recognized as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women, an Influential Marylander, and a Bisnow Federal Innovator. Lenzer earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Texas A&M University.



UMD-Led Study Sheds New Light on How Socioeconomics Impact Childhood Language Comprehension

December 8, 2016

Sara Gavin 301-405-1733

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — New research from the University of Maryland Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences suggests that understanding the effect of socioeconomic status on children’s ability to learn and understand language requires identifying not just what children hear but how they use it.

Prior studies have found systematic relationships between how much caregivers talk to children and what they learn. A famous 1995 study by researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley indicated that some children heard thirty million fewer words by their 4th birthdays than others. On average, research has found that children from higher-socioeconomic status families hear more language than their lower-socioeconomic status peers; and it is commonly assumed that exposure to fewer words is a significant barrier to language learning for children in lower-socioeconomic households.

Now, the results of a new UMD-led study forthcoming in the journal Cognition suggest that socioeconomic status differences are much more targeted .
U.S. Dept. of Education_children-progress-in-our-schools photo
“Our research tests the hypothesis that all children—regardless of socioeconomic status—learn grammatical structure with minimal input, but hearing more language allows children to retrieve their knowledge from memory more efficiently during comprehension,” said Yi Ting Huang, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, who led the study. “This means the effect of socioeconomic status on development reflects not a failure to learn language but challenges with recalling what has already been learned during communication.”

Huang and study co-authors Kathryn Leech from the University of Maryland Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology and Meredith Rowe from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education tested roughly 130 English-speaking three- to seven-year-olds from families of various socioeconomic levels on their comprehension of an infrequent grammatical structure (e.g., passives like “The seal is eaten by it”). Relative to the higher- socioeconomic status (SES) peers, children from lower-SES families had more difficulty understanding sentences that introduce high comprehension demands. Yet, when these demands were removed (e.g., “It was eaten by the seal”), no SES differences were found.  These findings suggest that all children learned infrequent structures, but language experience may enable some to access this information more readily during later comprehension.
This work also sheds light on why vocabulary size differs across socioeconomic backgrounds. Current interventions like the 30 Million Words Initiative are based on the assumption that children’s failure to learn words reflects a lack of experience with those words at home. Yet Huang and her colleagues found that even when that input exists from caregivers, learning can be challenging if children can’t accurately retrieve grammatical knowledge in order to comprehend sentences.
“In total, our results suggest that isolating why outcomes vary across populations requires identifying not just what children hear but how they use it,” said Huang. “Gaining a better understanding of the effects of socioeconomic status on early language development is crucial for reducing achievement gaps in school readiness. I hope our research can help in the development of new strategies and interventions to help all children with language development, regardless of their socioeconomic status.”

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