December 7, 2009

Learning about

This Intersession, Craig Hollander will teach a class titled Movers and Shakers: Baltimore by Biography. Hollander, a fourth-year doctoral student in history and a native Baltimorean, will hitch his lessons to famous city sons and daughters such as H.L. Mencken, Babe Ruth, Billie Holiday, Thurgood Marshall and Joshua Barney.

Barney may lack instant name recognition, but Hollander says that the naval officer’s impact on the city and American history is nonetheless significant. Born in Baltimore in 1759, Barney had a long, decorated and eventful naval career. He was captured and imprisoned by enemy forces no fewer than five times, served in both the U.S. and French navies and as a commander helped defend Baltimore and ships on the Chesapeake Bay during the War of 1812.

“Ask anyone on the street 150 years ago, and they would have heard of Barney,” Hollander says. “Barney was a very prestigious Marylander, and I think by studying the trajectory of his life we can learn a good deal about the development of the modern navy, the War of 1812 and the city during this period.”

Hollander has less than one week to make his point.

The Movers and Shakers course is one of 15 academic offerings in the third annual B’More: A Common Freshman Experience, a one-week academic and personal enrichment program with the city as its centerpiece. The innovative and increasingly popular program, which will run from Saturday, Jan. 16, to Friday, Jan. 22, offers freshmen in the schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering the opportunity to get to know Baltimore better, make new friends and foster school spirit.

Freshmen select one of 15 one-credit classes that focus on Baltimore. In addition to Movers and Shakers, this year’s program includes Urban Schools; Before Harborplace: Downtown Baltimore Before and After Urban Renewal; City on Display: Exploring Baltimore Through Its Museums; Junk Food vs. Whole Foods: Access to Food in Baltimore; and The Wire, The Corner: The City?

Classes meet all day and are divided into a morning classroom lecture session and an afternoon slate of related activities, which this year include field trips to museums, guest speakers, city tours, a concert night, dinners and more.

For his Movers and Shakers course, Hollander is looking to take students to such destinations as the Babe Ruth Museum and Birthplace and Westminster Hall and Burying Ground, the final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe.

“I want to use the life stories of about 10 famous Baltimoreans to trace the development of the city and their impact on the country as a whole,” he says. “Billie Holiday, for example, had a huge cultural impact with her music, and Babe Ruth was a phenomenon that clearly transcended sports.”

For Intersession 2010, B’More has been greatly expanded, according to director Jessica Madrigal. In addition to courses in humanities and the social sciences, the program now includes courses in the fields of public health and medicine. Students in What Ails You? will receive an introduction to the core concepts of public health and be asked to write about a particular health problem that affects Baltimore.

The 2010 program will also feature Divide and Explore trips to 15 Baltimore neighborhoods led by city natives—upperclassmen who are Baltimore Scholars, students from Baltimore City Public Schools who were admitted to Johns Hopkins on full-tuition scholarships.

Madrigal says that the program has grown significantly in just three years. In the first year, 48 students registered for four courses. Enrollment last year exceeded 100 students for nine courses. Based on the number of calls and e-mails from students she has received, Madrigal anticipates that 250 or more students will enroll in the 15 being offered this year.

“I’ve actually been getting calls from juniors and seniors who wanted to enroll. They feel they have missed out,” Madrigal says. “I hate to turn them away, but this is really for freshmen and building class spirit. It’s about getting new students familiar with the real Baltimore, not just the popular tourist destinations.”

William Smedick, a co-chair of B’More’s steering committee and director of leadership programs and assessment initiatives for the Office of the Dean of Student Life, says that the mission of the program has remained the same: introduce freshmen to their new home.

“Some time ago, we conducted in-depth exit interviews with about 200 graduating seniors, and one thing that came up again and again was that they wished they had become more familiar with Baltimore during their time here,” Smedick says. “We asked ourselves, what we can do about that. We thought, let’s offer a short but intensive program while the students were still settling into Baltimore.”

Many B’More classes include an afternoon of course-related community work. Students will also participate in the university’s Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service Day on Jan. 18, which includes such activities as staffing the St. Francis Academy Community Center Job Fair, building a woodworking shop in the Remington neighborhood and hosting a youth sports camp with JHU athletes in the O’Connor Recreation Center.

“We thought these activities would enhance class spirit and get [the students] involved with the community in a meaningful way,” Smedick says.

This year’s list of B’More guest speakers includes Catherine Rogers Arthur, director and curator of the university’s Homewood Museum, who will talk about the history of Baltimore and Johns Hopkins; Matt Crenson, a professor emeritus of political science at Johns Hopkins, who will discuss the city’s political history; and Bishop Douglas Miles, a prominent community and civil rights leader and the pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church.

Bill Tiefenwerth, director of the Center for Social Concern and a B’More steering committee co-chair, says that Miles has become a fixture of the annual program.

“He is a very dynamic speaker and someone who has clearly made an impact on students the past two years,” Tiefenwerth says. “I had a group of students come up to me last year and say, ‘We listened to Bishop Miles and participated in the community service activity. We really want to commit to something long term, is there something we can do?’ Some students have been very moved by their B’More experience, and we’d like to see that happen a bit more.”

Madrigal says that the entire program is now more integrated into the classroom experience.

“Everything we are doing out in the community reinforces what they are learning in the classroom,” she says. “And with the diversity of classes we are offering this year, there is something in there for everyone.”

Enrollment for B’More runs from Dec. 7 to Jan. 11. For a full list of courses and activities, go to