At 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 21, students convened on the Greens to start a Mardi Gras parade through campus. Students brought pots, pans, spoons, and various musical instruments to play, along with funky, colorful costumes. The parade went all around campus, through the dorms, and even banged its way through the library.
On Feb. 22, St. Mary’s faculty, staff, and students were granted a day where they could address the issue of race and stereotypes and participate in discussions and workshops on campus.
As President Joe Urgo explained in a school email, the campus community was asked to “spend the day envisioning our collective future and addressing core community issues of personal identity and the evolving nature of interpersonal and intercultural relations on campus.” St. Mary’s Day began with morning discussions in the Great Room and continued in the afternoon in Aldom Lounge and in Montgomery Hall.
The morning discussions consisted of faculty and students talking about the strategic aims of the college. The topics that were presented were “Affordability and Accessibilty,” “Academic Rigor,” “Sustainability,” and “Community Wellness.”
In Montgomery Hall 25, students reprised a performance of “St. Mary’s Hear and Now.” Director and writer Caleen Sinnette Jennings and her husband were there to present the play and the mini documentary that accompanied it. The play addressed racism, generalizations, acceptance, and facing our fears through song, poetry, and monologues. The cast gave updates on what had changed since they were first featured in “St. Mary’s Hear and Now” during the fall semester. After answering profound questions from the audience, the cast and those in attendance closed out with the “River Song,” an original piece from the play written by Jennings.
The day continued with film screenings in Cole Cinema followed by discussions and a workshop in Aldom Lounge led by Angela Johnson, Associate Professor of Educational Studies. The workshop was titled, “How to Act with Integrity in a Racially Unjust Society” and involved the participants discussing their experiences with race and how to deal with peers who make derogatory comments. “It was great that everyone came and participated. Not just students, not just professors, which makes us different from other colleges,” said Maggie Schmidt, a sophomore student who enjoyed Johnson’s workshop.
Barrett Emerick, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, also led a discussion about the survey he gave the St. Mary’s community on what it’s like to be them on this campus. The discussion began with a few students reading the anonymous surveys aloud to the audience. After hearing varied and personal experiences with racial issues, Emerick proposed the question, “What comes next?” The audience gave their opinions on the matter which ranged from discussing the issue further to ignoring race altogether. Many believed that those who are guilty of being racially intolerant should undergo certain training sessions to show them the consequences of their actions.
Many in attendance at the activities of St. Mary’s Day believed it to be a good experience. Junior Jacob Hancock, a student in attendance at “St. Mary’s Hear and Now,” said, “It is important for the SMCM community to open up and to break down barriers.”
Fellow student Adebisi Tiamiyu also felt that St. Mary’s Day touched on important issues. “It brought problems to surface, but the issues are much larger and run deeper.” St. Mary’s Day ended with a budget presentation by Urgo and Tom Botzman, Vice President for Business and Finance.
From Feb. 17 to 19, men’s and women’s swimming competed in the Capital Athletic Conference Championships. Both teams won second place.
Team member Claire Huckenpohler ’14 described the format of the events as follows: “It started on Friday and it went to Sunday. Each morning there was a preliminary competition to see who can come back for the finals. So the point is to score high enough to get into the final; that’s where all the points come from. There are two heats in the Finals, the top 8 and then the 9th through the 16th. Even if someone from the 2nd heat gets a better time than someone in the top 8, the people in the top 8 are still guaranteed 1st through 8th place. That’s why its important to get as many people in the top heat as possible. The second heat is still important because they still score points.”
Huckenpohler described the feeling of the team by saying, “Before and during the match the team was focused, excited, motivated, spirited, and just all around enthusiastic about the meet.” This enthusiasm seems to have pulled off because both the Men’s and Women’s teams earned new school records. Cameron Headquist ’13 and Dylan Cope ’15 both pulled records for the Men’s team, while Kelly Heyde ’13, Elaina Kohles ’15, Erin O’Conner ’14, and Brooke Raab ’15 swam a new school record in their 800 Free Relay.
Huckenpohler responded to the event as a whole by saying, “Overall we were happy, we were a little disappointed that we didn’t beat [the University of] Mary Washington at [championships] but we know that we had a good season.” Earlier in the season, the women’s team won for the first time against Mary Washington, who now has now been the CAC champions for 22 straight seasons.
Head coach of both the men’s and women’s teams is Andre Barbins, who has been with the teams through 13 seasons, and has won the CAC’s Women’s Swimming Coach of the year for the fourth time. Huckenpohler commented saying, “We are all really excited that he won this award.”
Huckenpohler responded to being done for the season by saying, “You always feel accomplished at the end of champs, you feel like your training has been worth it.” Headquist responded to the same question, saying, “Everyone did really well, I’m happy with the progress we made this year, and I’m excited for next year’s champs.”
Points-wise, the Women’s team had 678.5 points, coming behind Mary Washington who had 924.5 points. The Men’s team had 549 points, again behind Mary Washington who had 969 points.
Assistant Vice President of Academic Services Lenny Howard spoke about black actors and the issues that concern the African American community as part of the Black Film Series and Discussion, lead by members of the Black Student Union (BSU) Executive Board. The film series featured showings of prominent films such as “Good Hair” and “Hard Times of Douglas High. ”
On Feb. 9, the campus community received a campus wide e-mail from President Urgo informing them that due to a recent push for Keep St. Mary’s Beautiful, Public Safety will begin to more strictly enforce traffic and parking violations. In the e-mail, President Urgo stated, “On campus, I have asked Public Safety to be diligent in enforcing traffic and parking prohibitions… We don’t like to do so, but violators will be ticketed.”
Cars detract from the natural aesthetic unique to St. Mary’s. “[The parking regulations are] part of our desire to… emphasize the beauty of the campus and to emphasize it as a walking campus, not a driving campus,” said Urgo. “In the past year or so we’ve noticed that people have gotten bad habits, gotten used to parking on grass or driving on the sidewalks… It’s just little things like that that compromise the beauty of the campus.”
“The campus has been constructed as a walking campus. Gradually over the years we’ve removed the roadways that bisect campus. We’ve been pushing, even before I got here, the parking areas to the perimeter so you don’t have parking in the middle of the campus,” said Urgo about his vision for St. Mary’s. “The idea is that once you arrive on campus, you walk everywhere. It emphasizes the sort of pastoral, studious setting of a college. It also emphasizes the wellness that we stress here. People should be out and about walking instead of driving.”
There are several rumors flying around campus about plans to build an off-campus parking garage down Route 5 to move parking completely off campus. “I’ve heard rumors of us building a parking garage. We’re not doing that,” said Urgo with a laugh. “The Campus Center parking lot is going to be expanded pretty far up the road as part of the Anne Arundel project. An underground parking garage is not going to come to the campus.”
Since the increase in enforcement hit the college, it has received mixed reactions from faculty and students. “I think the downside of the whole thing is that last semester because of all the disruptions, we just didn’t enforce a lot of parking regulations and now we’re back on it pretty hot and heavy,” said Dave Zylak, Director of Public Safety. “It’s caused us to get some comments from students. It is what it is, I’m afraid.”
“I think that there are other things that the school could be focusing on right now than cars parked in the wrong spots,” said Bridgette Brunk, sophomore.
Not all students see it as negative, however. “I don’t really see it as much of an obstacle. As long as PS gives fair warning, it seems justified,” said senior Tricia Byers.
The current policy on towing is that any abandoned vehicle may be issued a citation and/or towed when it meets the criteria laid out in the “To The Point” Student Handbook. Public Safety gives four parking citations before towing through T&R Towing with a $60 towing fee, payable through cash or via a parent’s credit card, company policy because of issues in the past with student credit cards.
“We tow on the fourth citation. You get three free chances to basically park illegally before you get towed. The big thing is fire lanes; we have to keep the fire lanes open so you could get towed quicker if you park in a fire lane,” said Zylak.
Public Safety reminds students to park in their usual spots and to be wary of parking regulations. “I would just tell students to be cognizant of where they’re parking, even if it’s what they think is a short period of time. Look for signs that say whether you can or can’t park there and if you have a sticker… stay in that lot.”
“I hope that students understand the motive behind this,” said Urgo. “It’s not to make their lives more difficult… [St. Mary’s is] not an urban center, it’s a pastoral college campus.”
Most of the residents who were displaced last semester due to the mold in Caroline and Prince George’s (PG) Halls were able to easily recover all of the belongings they placed in storage. However, some residents have reported missing items that have not yet been found. In light of this situation, the Office of Residence Life has been able to compensate these students for their losses.
Usually, these items were lost after being submitted to storage rooms in Caroline and PG over winter break. Jenna Crutchfield, a first-year, was able to find her missing rugs with the help of the Residence Life staff.
“My RA had come by and wrote down our names [and items] on a ‘lost’ list that was on the second floor of PG. It had been about two weeks and I still had not heard anything,” said Crutchfield. “Finally, an RA told me that she heard they had some lost items in the basement of Caroline and to ask Res Life if they could help. I got so impatient that I went into the Residence Life office asking if I could get into the storage room in the Caroline basement. We made our way down and entered the room with boxes along the walls and some scattered on the floor. But as soon as I walked in, there they were, right there during the entire three-week process.”
While Crutchfield was glad to find her lost items, there is still one part of her ordeal that she does not understand. “My room number was written on the rugs that were wrapped together and taped,” she explained. “In big black bold print, 319 was written on them. There were only two dorms effected by the mold. That means there are only two rooms with the number 319. If you saw that, would you not check with [the residents of] those two rooms?”
Joanne Goldwater, the Director of Residence Life, explained that so many different people helped with simultaneous, multiple moves that it is impossible to place responsibility for the lost items, or the fact that some items were not returned efficiently, on one group or person. “We had a moving company hired by the Physical Plant, Physical Plant workers themselves, students, faculty, Residence Life staff, and Student Activities staff all helping with the move,” said Goldwater.
“The people who were inexperienced or confused about the way we were storing things may have misplaced certain boxes in Room X when they should have gone to Room A, or didn’t notice the markings on boxes. Any unclaimed items were brought to Caroline so there would be one space for people to look for missing items. If the residents do not find their items, they can bring the receipts for their replacement purchases to the Office of Residence Life and we will reimburse the item or we will order it for you. We can’t do this unless the student notifies us of his or her missing items,” said Goldwater
Lena Castro, a first-year, lost two boxes that contained important items like her printer and her desk lamp in the move from the Sea Voyager back into her dorm and took advantage of Residence Life’s offer.
“I returned from winter break to find two of the boxes I had submitted for storage out of an original four outside of my dorm room,” said Castro, “and I wasn’t too concerned at first, because I figured everybody else was still sorting out what was theirs and what wasn’t and that my belongings would eventually show up. I reported my missing items to my RA and I listed my missing boxes on a master list on the second floor of PG.”
“I spoke with residence life several times regarding my missing belongings,” Castro continued, “and they assured me that if they did not turn up by a specified date, then I would be reimbursed for my missing belongings. So I continued searching and checking in with Res Life and there was no sign of my missing belongings so I went ahead and purchased replacements and submitted my receipts of purchase to the Office of Residence Life.”
Goldwater said that this unprecedented event of moving the residents of two full dorms has helped Residence Life prepare for similar events, if they should ever happen.
“A majority of students have been successful with their adjustment back to their dorms, but we have definitely learned lessons and would probably do things differently if something like this happened again,” she explained. “We could have made the situation less frenzied, but I am amazed that it didn’t descend into complete chaos. We [the Residence Life staff] are so appreciative of the outpouring of assistance and support from students, faculty, and staff that helped us when we had this crisis. I think it speaks volumes about what our community is like.”
Amidst discussions of living wage on campus and the finding that executive wages are overall higher than values estimated by the College’s peer institution benchmark, the faculty senate has begun an examination of wages paid to all College employees.
When establishing salaries and subsequent raises, many academic organizations aim to set their executives’ values around the median of a peer group of institutions, which in the case of St. Mary’s includes 12 other colleges and universities across the country. The idea is that a roughly median salary compared to peer institutions presents a reasonably competitive wage while also not costing the College too much of the annual budget.
“The Board of Trustees tries to go to the median with our peer institutions,” said Vice President for Business and Finance Tom Botzman. “Part of what we do is balance the budget, to show that we’re giving competitive wages.”
The benchmark of comparing St. Mary’s to its peer institutions is a practice done for those at all employment levels, and benchmarks are in place for housekeeping and other staff members through comparison to more local institutions.
“We benchmark [salaries] in many ways,” said Botzman, “and even use local benchmarks for some.”
Over the past decade, many institutions nationwide have shown a seemingly large increase in executive salaries relative to economic success and raises of other faculty and staff members. This includes the College, which in the span of eight years between 2000 and 2008 showed an almost 70% increase in salary among the institution’s top four executives, according to a letter submitted by the faculty senate to the College Board of Trustees in 2009. This represented an increase of $418,166 among those executives over the course of an eight-year period.
Faculty salaries have recently raised to match the benchmark of the College’s peer institutions. But, while increases in executive salaries have not increased as rapidly in the past few years, recently accumulated data indicate that in 2011, several College executives received salaries above the projected benchmark, including four Vice Presidents of the College.
“There’s no pressure downwards on executive salaries,” said Dave Kung, Associate Professor of Mathematics and Faculty Finance Delegate. “This isn’t personal; it’s a similar problem in private sectors, and it’s a structural problem in higher education.”
The problem underlying wage adjustment seems to be sheer numbers. It is more difficult to offer raises for larger groups of employees, including faculty and non-executive staff, than to do so for executives with the same amount of money. The large number of employees at lower levels in an institution creates a natural cap on what is possible in regards to salary increase, one that does not exist as strongly at the executive level. As even peer institutions increase pay for executives or other institutional members, others continue the increase to outbid other institutions. Furthermore, faculty and staff at the College (including executives and administrators) often have a higher-than-average salary based on time spent at the institution.
“People should be compensated for the value they can offer to the institution,” said Botzman.
Currently, the Board of Trustee’s Finance Investment and Audit committee, chaired by John Wobensmith and including Kung, is discussing the issue of balancing the budget, a topic that does not include College member salaries. Raises are awarded mid-year, before and outside of the committee’s discussion of how the budget should be adjusted for College expenses.
“I think the examination indicates a healthy process of inquiry and fact-finding,” said Andrew Reighart, who recently won the majority vote for the SGA presidential election. “Every aspect of the College needs to be looked at in a non-adversarial, forward-thinking manner so we can come to a consensus on how to finance a socially just trajectory for the institution.”
Another difficulty surrounding the issue is that in the past three years, about 130 faculty and staff have not received raises. “I know I’m not a part of it, but it’s unfair,” said Botzman. “The harsh reality is that as we spend more on wages, we can’t spend it elsewhere.”
Through examination of the College executives’ salaries, the faculty senate hopes to address this issue at St. Mary’s to see what the best course of action will be.
“I think we are going to remind the [Board of Trustees] that [executive salary raises are] still a problem,” said Kung. “Runaway executive pay has no place in the community we profess to be.”
By request of the Senate, Kung has designed a council, the Just Wage Group, to continue discussing ways of internally and externally benchmarking salaries at the College. Members include Associate Professor of Spanish José Ballesteros, Assistant Professor of Economics Barbara Beliveau, Director of Career Development Dana Van Abbema, Student Trustee Maurielle Stewart, and Assistant Vice President for Academic Administration Mark Heidrich.
Among other executives at the College whose salaries exist above the peer institution median, President Urgo has accepted a salary below the median during his time at St. Mary’s. Even with a 5% salary increase from 2011 to 2012, Urgo remains below last year’s peer group median (around $335,000). Urgo has also been an advocate for slowing the institutional awarding of merit-based aid, which (if decreased) would provide more revenue for College students while not significantly impacting aid recipients. But, he has yet to advocate for controlling executive salary increase.
While individuals at the College differ in opinion regarding what should happen in result of the examination, the overall view appears to be an approval of the process itself.
“I see the value of the [Board of Trustees] slowing down raises for the [peer institution] median to catch up,” said Botzman. “But, I don’t like the feel of cutting salaries. People should be compensated for the value they offer to the institution, and when you talk about cutting someone’s pay, you’re telling them to go look elsewhere.”
“I’ve heard time and time again that we want to keep the best and brightest administrators here at the College so we can maintain the excellence we’ve come to expect,” said SGA President Mark Snyder. “I heartily agree with that, but is continuously increasing their salaries the only way to do that?”
Other peer institutions to which St. Mary’s compares its salaries are Dickinson College, Southwestern University, Connecticut College, Colorado College, The College of Wooster, Virginia Military Institute, The University of Mary Washington, Gettysburg College, Beloit College, Guilford College, The University of North Carolina Asheville, and the University of Minnesota Morris.
Peer Median (2011)
|VPAA, Dean of Faculty||
|VP Business and Finance||
|VP/Dean Admissions/Fin. Aid||
|Total Surplus Above 2011 Average||
*No change in salary currently reported.
On Thursday, Feb. 16, the Living Wage Campaign hosted a Living Wage Forum to discuss the campaign with faculty, students, and staff.
The forum was held in Schaefer Hall 109, and by 4:15 the hall was packed and chairs were filled. The key speakers were Caroline Selle ’12, Kevin Paul ’12, Associate Professor of Mathematics David Kung, and Associate Professor of Philosophy Sybol Anderson.
Selle and Paul began the forum by discussing what exactly living wage is and how it differs from how minimum wage is defined. “[Living Wage] differs from minimum wage because minimum wage is determined by politics and living wage is determined by how much it costs to live, [which includes] housing, food, etc.” said Paul.
They also presented testimonies from staff members who have faced economic hardships because they lack the financial stability. Selle stated that many staff members have had to take on a second job and many qualify for food stamps. The testimonies ranged from stories of taking in an extra boarder to forgoing needed prescriptions because they were unaffordable. “As you can see from these testimonies, there are a lot of people in this community who are suffering,” said Paul.
After the presentation of staff testimonies, Selle and Paul went on to dispel some rumors about what implementing a living wage at the College would mean for students in terms of tuition. What was stressed by both parties is that a living wage does not necessarily mean a tuition raise, and that students should not feel as though they are powerless to help this cause. “Big decisions that have been made on this campus have come from student initiative,” said Paul, who also incited last year’s Chick-Fil-A debate as a time when student activism created campus change.
When Kung took the floor, he began by setting up a scenario for his portion of the forum. He presented the monthly budget for a single mother living in St. Mary’s County who makes the average staff salary of $24, 500 per year and has an eight-year-old daughter. Kung went through the budget step by step using major monthly expenditures like health insurance, rent, childcare, vehicle expenses, and food. Kung did real research to generate the numbers he used, and he looked on websites like Craigslist in order to calculate expenses such as rent. “…I kept trying to do this [budget] and I kept running out of money,” he said. One thing that Kung made a note of while he was presenting was that his fictional child was eligible for reduced school lunches. He said he found it interesting that the state would pay for his fictional child to have lunch but would not pay him a high enough salary so that he could provide that lunch.
After he covered the “essential” bills, Kung’s budget left him with only twenty dollars for the remainder of the month. According to Kung, this twenty dollars still needs to cover clothing, home goods, car repairs, computer, Internet, cable, field trips, credit card debt, and retirement. “All I have left to spend on these things is $20.00 a month…this is what a living wage isn’t to me, this is not a living wage a single parent can live on…I think we have enough in our budget to offer a living wage to our staff on campus,” said Kung.
The next section of the forum was held by Anderson who discussed the moral questions associated with the implementation of a living wage at St. Mary’s. “I was asked to call our attention to the moral question [of the living wage] because there is a moral question,” said Anderson. When she examined this issue, Anderson came up with an argument for the implementation of the living wage, as well as an argument against the implementation of a living wage.
For both, she cited the St. Mary’s mission statement. “Our commitment to social responsibility and civic-mindedness,” was what Anderson cited as an argument for the implementation of a living wage. However, on a similar token, Anderson also used the St. Mary’s mission statement to argue against the living wage. Not implementing a living wage shows “fiscal responsibility.”
“We see institutions balancing budgets by firing people. To keep fiscal integrity some of the lowest paid staff members will be let go,” said Anderson. When she completed her presentation, Anderson opened up the forum for discussion.
The discussion generated many different points of view, but it appeared as though a majority of the people in attendance were for implementing a living wage. One of the largest points of contention appeared to be the salaries of certain campus Vice Presidents being above average of those with similar positions at St. Mary’s peer institutions.
However, not all in attendance were in favor of asking those who make the most to cut their salaries. Associate Professor of English Kate Chandler suggested cutting faculty salaries so that the college could pay staff a living wage. “…We never said anything about faculty, about cutting faculty salary. I can tell you what I make and it’s not that much, but it’s more than a living wage. I think we need to ask ourselves [faculty, to take a pay cut] not just the administration. I’m just not comfortable with that,” she said.
When the discussion turned to the possibility of raising tuition, Hortensia “Tensia” Montoya ’12 stated that she feels as though students have already been asked to give enough. “Every year that students take a tuition increase, we take a hit for this. I don’t think it’s right to think solely about a tuition increase,” said Montoya.
The steps that are being proposed by the Living Wage Campaign are ones that will either raise the living wage at the College to either $29,000 a year, which means $200,000 would be needed to make it possible, or raise it to $35,000, which would require $500,000. Kung stated that if tuition were to be increased by 1% there would be enough funds to cover this across the board, though this is simply one suggestion.
If you are interested in learning more about the Living Wage Campaign, meetings are held every Monday at 8pm. If you are interested in seeing the college budget, it has been posted on the portal following the St. Mary’s Day discussion.
The state of Maryland has instated a two percent tuition buyback for schools in the state system for the 2012-2013 school year; however, St. Mary’s will not be included in the program.
The plan simply means that whatever increase in tuition for state schools like Towson University, Salisbury University, Bowie State University, Morgan State University, Frostburg State University, and all the University of Maryland institutions, the state of Maryland will cover two percent of the hike in price.
Though the College’s Board of Trustees decided to table voting on the tuition cost for the 2012-2013 school year until March 17 in their meeting on Saturday, Feb. 25, students at St. Mary’s will not receive the assistance being given at the other colleges no matter the decision.
According to Vice President for Business and Affairs Tom Botzman, the state will not include the College in the buyback program because it is funded by a unique block grant that was agreed on in 1992, therefore giving it freedom from the state system and a steady source of funding. In a budget presentation on Feb. 22 in St. Mary’s Hall, President Joe Urgo said, “We are lucky and pleased that the state has kept its promise all these years [with the block grant program].”
“The state allows us to operate as a quasi-private and independent institution, but we’re still public,” said Botzman. “That agreement was made so [St. Mary’s] could build an academically rigorous program, and so that we could thrive on diversity.” He also noted that this position allows the college to set its own tuition to compete against its private peer institutions.
As far as tuition goes, Botzman, in the Feb. 22 budget presentation, gave the audience possible budget scenarios for tuition increases between zero and six percent.
If the College were to keep both in and out-of-state tuition at this year’s price, it would face a pro-forma deficit of 1.3 million dollars. Cuts would come from cancelling IT (Information Technology) upgrades, faculty and staff reductions, and having to identify $419,000 in reductions to current academic and non-academic programs, and cancelling all new initiatives like the creation of faculty and staff positions.
If the tuition were to go up three percent, the pro-forma deficit would be at $684,000, forcing the College to cancel most new initiatives, including new personnel positions, and cutting IT upgrades by $70,000. It would also cap the faculty salary at two percent after a three-year salary freeze. A four or five percent increase would still leave the College in a six-digit deficit, having to freeze new faculty lines and taking an impact on students’ ability to pay and the College’s retention rate. Finally, a six percent increase, Botzman explained, would actually leave a budget surplus of $70,000, but would severely reduce diversity and increase student financial strain.
Botzman also presented on the possible expenses with potential for reduction, which include reducing College coverage of unfunded Foundation scholarships by $500,000; closing Anne Arundel Hall in December 2012, saving $80,000 in construction costs; eliminating several open houses, saving around $5,000; eliminating admissions mailings, saving around $10,000; and delaying the implementation of two housekeeping positions, saving around $100,000.
“They are relatively little options, but they add up,” said Botzman.
Though the Board of Trustees gave recommendations at the Feb. 25 meeting ranging from a zero percent increase, raising it two percent for in-state and four percent for out-of-state students, and a four percent raise across the board, the final decision will not be made until March 17.
Tuition has seen a steady increase over the past twelve years. “We will try to slow down the rate of tuition increase,” said Botzman. “With that said, there are certain costs that go up every year in which we have to cover, and then there are some things that we want to do. We always try to find the balance.” Though 44 percent of the College’s revenue comes from tuition and fees, Botzman said that in the future, the goal is to reduce that to about 35 percent. The target budget includes filling the nine percent gap mostly with more funding from private donations and fundraising.
Though the tuition increase is inevitable, students are concerned about the climbing cost. Student Government Association President Mark Snyder commented on the situation, saying, “It’s going to get harder and harder for people to come here. It’s supposed to be a small, affordable, liberal arts college. It’s just slipping out of people’s reach, it’s not good.”
This summer the College will be initiating the St. Mary’s Undergraduate Research Fellow (SMURF) program in which roughly eight students will be chosen to work closely with a faculty member of their choice in order to conduct research. The SMURF program will take place from May 21 to July 13, with each recipient receiving a $3,000 stipend for personal use and free room and board on campus for the eight-week duration of the program.
Formerly, the College hosted a similar program, the Program for Research Investigation at St. Mary’s (PRISM), but the funding ran out and the program was forced to cease. During the summer of 2011, members of the faculty took part in a workshop sponsored by both the Council for Undergraduate Research and the Consortium of Public Liberal Arts Colleges, where they were given the idea to bring back a summer research program for the student body.
“The workshop and the initiative [brought forward by faculty] were directed towards enhancing undergraduate research on campus,” said Associate Dean of Faculty Richard Platt. “This program is a major component of that initiative.”
The idea was brought forward to Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Beth Rushing; Assistant Professor of Biology Samantha Elliott; Professor of Biology Jeffrey Byrd; Professor of Psychology Wesley Jordan; Associate Professor of Psychology Aileen Bailey.
“We are really lucky at SMCM to already have a strong, established infrastructure in place for student-faculty collaboration on scholarly and creative projects,” said Elliott. “The summer allows the luxury of concentrating on our scholarly or creative projects without the distractions of other classes or obligations. This allows for more flexibility in what we can do in terms of projects, and provides an immersive experience for the person performing the work.”
The SMURF program is open to all rising juniors and seniors from any discipline, though rising sophomores may be considered if they have completed relevant coursework that has prepared them for such a project.
The projects chosen by the students accepted into the program can consist of answering their own research questions or working on their mentoring faculty member’s current research. The final results of the projects can range from artistic works to science experiments.
“Projects can vary in both scale and product,” said Platt. “Students in any discipline can participate and we plan for the program to be multi-disciplinary in nature.”
The students chosen for the program will attend weekly meetings led by Elliott, relay their research to others through a poster symposium at the end of the summer, and then present it to the St. Mary’s College of Maryland community in the Fall.
This summer’s SMURF program will be funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation through an award that President Joe Urgo has received.
“The Mellon Foundation has a deep interest in helping liberal arts colleges thrive,” said Rushing, “and their support will help us get the program started again. We’ll find other ways to support it after the initial year or two.”
While the budget for the program is still unknown and in the midst of being finalized, Platt said that it should be enough to support the eight separate student projects. Elliott also stated that after this summer’s pilot program is completed, the SMURF program organizers will apply for grant money that may help to “expand and sustain the program in the future.”
Current budget limits for the projects are $1,000 each, while the estimated average budget is $400. Students must discuss and plan the budget for their projects with their faculty mentor.
In order to apply to become a SMURF, students must first reach out to a faculty member that is willing to mentor them for the duration of the project. Working with the faculty member to develop a project plan, the student must then submit a two page, single-spaced description that includes the purpose of the project, their intended methodology, a timeline, and any relevant coursework or experience that has prepared them to undertake the project.
All applications are due by March 9 to SMURF@smcm.edu, with all accepted applicants being notified by March 30.
“I think the types of projects conducted are going to vary,” said Elliott, “depending upon the interests of the students and the disciplines in which they work. Until we see the applications, I’m not sure what will be proposed, but I’m excited about the possibilities.”