Making Math Fun Again: Dead Poets Society Breathes Life into Math at Frostburg State

Background:

It can be challenging to find a compelling story about your blue chip majors like mathematics and one academic club at Frostburg State puts a face to numbers.

We tend to think of majors like mathematics in a vacuum, almost how your mother would ask, “Well, what are you going to do with an English degree?” Someone ignorant, partially incredulous. These majors are typically coupled with another major, especially for future teachers and engineers.

Mathematics faculty brought a chapter of the Dead Poets Society to Frostburg State University after hearing about it at a conference. The club shows that something as complex and difficult for most of us can be socially invigorating and inspiring. Plus, the club atmosphere is great about breaking down barriers.

As Assistant Professor of Mathematics Justin Dunmyre explains, the movie “Dead Poets Society” isn’t exclusively about poetry — it’s about finding your passion. And that’s what this club does, but with a math bent. (I still have to watch this classic, which I’m ashamed to say because I am a big Robin Williams fan.)

It was critical that this story included video storytelling to show how happy and engaging the students are with the faculty, puzzles and yes, Rock Band —a story with images showing much more than students quixotically inspecting a worksheet.

Frostburg State University Dead Poets Society Breathes Life and Fun into Mathematics
Originally Published: 02/22/2017

Frostburg State University Dead Poets Society Breathes Life and Fun into Mathematics

Oh Captain! My captain! Rise up and hear the excitement over mathematics among friends.

You can hear the laughter and debate each Monday coming from Room 247 in the Gira Center for Communications and Information Technology. That’s where a new academic club at Frostburg State University called the Dead Poets Society seeks to make math a social experience. Brain teasers, puzzles and even the video game Rock Band are all part of the equation that solves for fun.

Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dr. Justin Dunmyre says the club shares its name with the movie starring Robin Williams. Math plays a storytelling role in the movie.

The move is about celebrating one’s passion, and that’s what we’re trying to do here,” Dunmyre says.

Mathematics major Sarah Sparks of Sykesville says the club helped her feel more connected with the campus as a transfer student coming from Carroll Community College.

I really didn’t know anybody. I really didn’t have any friends. Coming to the math game nights that we were having at the time, it got me interacting with other people in my math classes and got me interacting with other people in general,” Sparks says. “I think it’s really important to kind of take a break from the math that’s stressing you out during the semester and doing math that’s just for fun.”

Mechanical engineering major Demetrick McDonald of Randallstown says the puzzles and math problems help him reset during a grinding semester.

“Doing these challenges and these brain teasers are just a way to distract my mind, but it’s a constructive distraction,” McDonald says. “It’s a distraction from everything that I am doing, but it’s constructive in the sense that I’m using my brain to still answer questions and different things, not to mention I get to sit down and have time with all my friends and hang out and crack jokes.”

Frostburg State started its own chapter in the 2016 fall semester. The initial chapter started at Berry College in Georgia. Dunmyre describes the club as an underground national movement.

The club was created as a service of the Department of Mathematics, a way for students to connect with faculty and their peers. Dunmyre attends each meeting, along with the department chair, Associate Professor Dr. Marc Michael, and Assistant Professor Dr. Sarah Dumnich.

“I found out about it at the National Meeting of Mathematicians, and it sounded like a really good way of just building a math community,” Dunmyre says.

Dead Poets Society also kills the notion that math is not solved aloud.

“The hardest problems require communication between people,” Dunmyre says. “Just getting a community together is really important.”

The puzzles and questions cater to a variety of levels and majors. One night could feature a brief worksheet of questions testing math and logic. Another night might feature matchstick puzzles or the game Knights and Knaves. When students really need a break from brain teasers, they get together to play Rock Band, a video game, one night each month.

“The idea by doing different activities is to get lots of different people interested and involved – not just people who are excited about math,” Sparks says. “It’s just another way for people to socially interact and kind of let loose in this environment where we get to interact with each other.”

The Dead Poets Society at FSU is open to any student and features a diverse mix of majors with puzzles and questions for all levels. Meetings are held at 5 p.m. each Monday in Gira Center Room 245.

For more information about the Dead Poets Society, contact Justin Dunmyre at jrdunmyre@frostburg.edu.

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity. Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.

More Harry Potter Magic at Frostburg State (Video)

Frostburg State University’s Children’s Literature Centre has a trifecta of major community events for children.

I’ve covered Pirate’s Ahoy in the summer, Storybook Holiday in December and in February, it’s Harry Potter Book Night.

This year was the first time I had the chance to cover the Harry Potter event and it’s taught me to really come ready to shoot out of the gate next year. Unlike the other events, Harry Potter Book Night only lasts a few hours but Everything.Is.Happening.At.Once.

So for next time, while I’ll lose some ambience behind the people being interviewed, the interviews have to be done after the event because I missed a few areas I wanted b-roll from. Still, the students do a tremendous job telling the story of Harry Potter Book Night in their own words.

The first video is a fun story on exchange student Harry Buchan playing Harry Potter. The guy is from England and is a huge fan. It doesn’t get any better than this! (Our News and Media intern Melani Finney provides the voice for my script.)

The second video tells what the night is about and what it entails through the words of graduate student Chenoa Zais from the CLC:

Storybook Holiday Creates Magic for Frostburg Business Community

The story about Frostburg State’s economic impact on the community needs to be told. It’s something that’s said in the community about how FSU benefits the community through spending, but it’s important to show that it’s not just from its employees spending money. The university has many programs it provides and produces for the community, creating sales spurred by tourism. Storybook Holiday is just one of many events that you can see how much FSU helps the area.

Originally published: 12/13/2016

When Storybook Holiday is unwrapped each December in Frostburg, it’s a gift that keeps on giving for downtown businesses.storybook

The event, coordinated by Frostburg State University’s Children’s Literature Centre, completed its 13th year where an event that inspires reading for children also inspires purchases in local shops and brings out a festive spirit from merchants to make the event successful.

“One of the biggest reasons that CLC Director Bill Bingman and I started this was to get people to come and see why we love this town so much,” said Dr. Barbara Ornstein, associate director of the Children’s Literature Centre. “It’s such a great place for kids but we wanted them to see our little shops, good places and great restaurants.”

Storybook Shopping

Main Street Books is one of the busiest businesses during the event, thanks to the literacy theme. Owner Fred Powell says children and their parents flood the store for a solid three hours, buying up children’s books during the day. The day is his second busiest Saturday of the year behind Small Business Saturday.

“This is the benchmark for the holiday season in Frostburg,” Powell said.

More than 2,000 people – about 700 children and their families – show up to the annual celebration that is tied in to a winter-themed book selected by the Children’s Literature Centre, and includes a visit and interaction with the author or illustrator. Powell credits the more than 250 student and alumni volunteers in making the event so large and successful.

“It wouldn’t have happened without all of these people to do it,” Powell added.

Ornstein and Bingman knew that part of the event’s success means getting the kids to go into the stores with their parents, so they developed a bookmark in which participating businesses give out holiday stickers to fill up the bookmark. After five stickers, children can show their bookmarks to Grammy’s Attic, Lorenzo’s Bakery and McFarland Candies to receive a free treat.

“Even if they don’t buy anything then, they go, ‘Oh, I didn’t know this existed,’” Ornstein said.

This year, 22 businesses participated as sticker stops and at least 35 businesses donated space or supplies, FrostburgFirst Main Street Manager Jessica Palumbo said.

“It brings a whole new level to the meaning of community that they’re so involved,” said Palumbo, an FSU alumnus.

Community Spirit

The day is not just about sales and exposure, as some businesses donate supplies or food or use their space to make the event successful. Armstrong Insurance Agency closes its office for the Saturday event so the building can serve as elf headquarters for the volunteers. FSU Educational Professions instructor Sarah O’Neal coordinates with local elementary schools to decorate storefronts for the season. She has decorated Main Street Books’ storefront for the last 11 years. Volunteer groups make wreaths for the city’s lamp posts, too.

“Thousands of cars drive through here each week, and what a sight to drive through and what a statement to make to have pretty much every business you see as you come through town with their windows decorated,” Palumbo said.

P.S. Hair Designs certainly makes a statement, transforming Peggy Atkinson’s salon into Santa’s House.

Atkinson works up until noon the day before the event, then takes all of her retail products off the shelves and shoves anything that looks like it belongs in a salon into her storage room. All Friday night, her family and friends transform her business into the North Pole. Outside, she has wooden panels painted like Santa’s House, swallowing her storefront.

“I never dreamed when we started this that it would be this magical,” said Atkinson, who goes by Momma Frost during Storybook Holiday. (Her son, Rick Stevenson ’04, volunteered at Storybook Holiday when he was an education major at FSU and has been involved ever since. He has portrayed Jack Frost for many years now.)

Atkinson knows she won’t make a dime on Storybook Holiday, but every smile she sees on kids’ faces is worth it.

“I don’t even do it thinking somebody will come back,” she said. “I do it because we love Storybook Holiday.”

The sparkling atmosphere of Storybook Holiday continues inside City Place, where educational professions majors make snowflakes to hang from the ceiling and other student volunteers acting as Santa’s helpers run activities. Back on Main Street, before the parade begins, students from Mountain City Center for the Arts sing holiday tunes to preview the troupe’s annual Christmastime shows.

“Everywhere you look there’s some reminder that it’s winter and the holidays are coming,” Ornstein said. “Storybook Holiday turns Frostburg into a little winter wonderland.”

Storybook Holiday sponsors also include the city of Frostburg, FrostburgFirst and PNC Bank.

Tourist Elves

The love for the holiday event is turning into a driver for tourism, too. Dorothea Lay and her daughter Toni Lay, 14, of Bethesda, drove up to Frostburg with Toni’s childhood friend Meredith Blanchard, 13, who came from Connecticut. Toni remembered how much she loved the event when they were 5 years old and invited her friend Meredith to help celebrate Toni’s 14th birthday.

“Everyone in Frostburg is so into it, which I love,” Toni said.

The girls fully embraced Storybook Holiday by dressing as elves, helping to hand out bookmarks while walking in the parade and winning the people’s choice award for their lemon bar cookies (dubbed “So a Lemon Walked Into a Bar”) in the cookie contest.

As much as Meredith and Toni enjoyed the event, they got a bigger thrill making the littler kids smile at their elf outfits.

“One little kid came up to me and asked me if I was a real elf,” Toni said. “It was fun seeing all the little kids be so excited about everything.”

It was as if they were keeping an eye on all the little ones for Santa.

“If you gave them a wink, they whispered to their parents, ‘Oh my gosh, the elves just winked at me!’” Meredith said. “It was pretty neat to see them do what I would have done when I was really little.”

Part of why Meredith and Toni could still enjoy Storybook Holiday is because the event has grown to a full-day festival that’s great for all ages. Powell is encouraged by the buy-in of everyone involved with Storybook Holiday, seeing it grow from an event attended by a hundred people to well over 2,000.

“Everybody’s been touched by some sort of success by it,” Powell said. “If nothing else, it just makes you feel good.”

For more information about the Children’s Literature Centre, call 301-687-3133 or visit www.frostburg.edu/clc.

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity. Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.

 

Frostburg State University History Professor’s Book Examines Social History of Workplace Smoking

Greg Wood’s book is a fascinating look at how much smoking played a role in labor relations, especially involving unions. I interned in Erie, Pa., during my final semester of college in 2006 and never knew the history of worker’s revolts and workplace spying that led to a bargained smoke break at the former Hammermill Paper Co., plant.

Originally Published: 01/23/2017

woodDid the ability to smoke on the job serve as a barometer on labor relations in the last 100 years?

That question and others are explored by Frostburg State University associate professor of history Dr. Gregory Wood in a new book about the 20th-century tug of war between employer and smoker. “Clearing the Air: The Rise and Fall of Smoking in the Workplace” is an academic book published by Cornell University Press that examines the history of labor strife, government regulation and sentiment about smoking in the workplace in the 20th century. Wood, who is also the Honors Program director at FSU, plans on using the hardcover book as the basis of his HIST 299 Writing and Research in History course in the fall.

The reasons for writing the book run deep with Wood, who described himself as a “heavily addicted workplace smoker” in his teens and 20s.

By age 29, Wood could not touch another cigarette after a decade-plus of lighting up.

“My immune system was compromised,” said Wood, who is now 43. “I was getting really bad sinus and strep throat pretty regularly during the winter months. I really felt that it was definitely time.”

During Wood’s research, he found how much smoking was at the center of labor feuds at the former Hammermill Paper Co. plant in Erie, Pa., during the early 1900s – to the point that cigarette breaks were negotiated in exchange for wages and labor peace. He recognized those workers’ feelings well as a young smoker.

“Workplace rules that stood between me and my cigarettes were deeply resented at the time,” Wood said.

Like most smokers, Wood would have to leave his work to go smoke, experiencing withdrawals, and it eventually affected his leisure, too.

“At times, it was so bad I couldn’t sit through a movie in a movie theater. It was hard for me to go two hours without smoking,” Wood said. “I remember sitting through the movie ‘Titanic,’ which is extraordinarily long and absolutely nic-fitting.”

Wood wants readers to understand addiction as a common occurrence in workplace social history as well as to follow the rise and fall of smoking at work.

“The golden age of smoking in the workplace was very brief,” Wood said. “Probably during the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s, but for most of the decades of the 20th century, smoking was largely prohibited and forbidden very strenuously by employers.”

Even in the early part of the 20th century, industrial employers were “vehemently anti-smoking,” including Hammermill and Ford Motor Co., Wood added. Eventually, smoking became the addiction of choice at the workplace.

“If the working class of the 19th century was drinking its way through the 19th century, workers in the 20th century would smoke their way into the new century,” Wood said.

Today in the 21st century, smoking bans and the repeal of existing bans continue to be debated in communities across the country. Similar workplace battles rage on with the advent of smokeless cigarettes and vaping.

“It struck me that nicotine has outlasted its historical source, which is tobacco,” Wood said. “Nicotine and nicotine addiction will long survive after tobacco is gone into the ashtray of history.”

“Clearing the Air” is available for purchase through Cornell University Press and online booksellers.

Wood is available for interviews about his research on smoking in the workplace, its effects on unionization, social effects of smoking bans and the role of tobacco in American life by calling 301-687-4998 or emailing gwood@frostburg.edu.

Happy Halloween

Sometimes I still get to write a slice of life story that still meets our marketing messages.

Here’s a fun Halloween story I wrote on how Frostburg State Recreation and Parks Management majors were in charge of the city’s Halloween Party. I also shot and edited a video, wrote the script and had our intern Emily Michael do the voiceover.

10/28/2016

Frostburg State Students Treat Children to Halloween Tricks With Annual Town Party

Someone has to be responsible for keeping little goblins occupied during Halloween.

Frostburg State University recreation and parks management majors take on that duty by organizing the Halloween Party at City Place in Frostburg, giving the students practical hands-on experience while providing local children some spooky fun.

This year, students Rashaan Rhoden and Jeremy Pearson led the effort organizing the party, held Thursday, Oct. 27, working with the City of Frostburg’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“They have their parade and they have their trick or treating, but this is something a bit more special where they get their haunted house experience and be a little frightened,” said Pearson, a Boonsboro resident who also earned his associate’s degree in Adventure Sports from Garrett College.

Finding ways to keep kids entertained with some not-as-frightening Halloween activities gave Rhoden leadership opportunities that brought him out of his shell. He said that the Recreation Leadership and Program Planning courses within his major aided his growth.

“When I tell my mom I’m helping directing a program for the City of Frostburg, she’s so happy for me because I wasn’t like that when I first came here. I liked to stay to myself,” Rhoden said. “That’s the whole point of being in Recreation and Parks: You get out of your comfort zone. That’s why I love the teachers in it. Planning programs like this makes me happy. I recommend it for anybody.” Continue reading Happy Halloween

FSU Students Find Way to National Institutes of Health Thanks to Partnership

5d5e96a1-9b8f-4510-85a23030e6fe41f4_mediumBy Charles Schelle

Eugenia Asare is helping the nation’s top scientists find answers about anthrax before she earns her bachelor’s degree from Frostburg State University.

The health sciences major from Gaithersburg is working with world-renowned experts at the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Md., to help solve unanswered questions about anthrax by seeing what happens when a harmless protein found in the potential biological weapon is mutated.

“Research like this seems to be something you do at a Harvard or Yale, but to come from Frostburg and to be able to represent my school at NIH, it really is encouraging,” said Asare, who enters her senior year in the fall. “I hope a lot more Frostburg students can be able to do this as well.”

Asare completed an internship at NIH in summer 2015 then continued independent study research at FSU with related experiments in a student-safe system involving a different bacterial species. Continue reading FSU Students Find Way to National Institutes of Health Thanks to Partnership

A Fitting Relationship: ‘Healthy’ Partnership a Benefit to Business, FSU Students and Grads

As appeared in the Fall 2016 edition of Profile magazine. Republished in the Cumberland Times-News

By Charles Schelle

Amy Schwab Owens has built her life and business around helping others.

Her LaVale gym, Life Fitness Management, not only helps her clients find a path to better lives, but she and her co-owners are doing the same by building relationships with Frostburg State University students, faculty and staff.

“The students that I have that come out of the program know their stuff. They’re impressive,” said Schwab Owens, a 2002 FSU master’s graduate. “They can back up what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, which is really key when you’re working with somebody in this field.”

Schwab Owens, along with co-owners Brenda Owens, Greg Dull and Dr. Stephen Owens, Class of 1971, have made FSU an important part of their business and fitness community through offering internships, field trips and partnering with various FSU departments.

Thirteen of 15 Life Fitness Management employees have a degree from FSU. Also, Dull attended FSU for several years, and Stephen Owens, Schwab Owens’ husband, is a professor emeritus from FSU’s Department of Computer Science. Continue reading A Fitting Relationship: ‘Healthy’ Partnership a Benefit to Business, FSU Students and Grads

When Reporting Feels Like Speed Dating

Sometimes gathering content for public relations purposes can be as if not more hectic than reporting.

You’re going to hear about one of those.

Every spring, FSU has an undergraduate and a separate graduate research symposium to show off students’ in-depth projects. Our office hears about several of the research projects during the academic year and writes about them, but others fall through the cracks or the projects are just coming to a point of being reportable.

A couple weeks before, we receive a print-out of a the program with abstracts, student names and advisors. A co-worker and I sift through the program and divvy up who’s going where. Students are set up in a assembly hall with poster presentations, so it’s a lot like going to a conference or a networking event, or yes, speed dating.

Continue reading When Reporting Feels Like Speed Dating

The Importance of Inclusion

Sometimes people forget to tell you something really important because they assume you know.

I’ve had that happen a lot in newsroom from the person in the cubicle next to me or maybe from across the room. On a large campus, sometimes that happens, too.

I fortunately was recommended a student for a video I produced at FSU for a voiceover because I requested an international voice.

She did an amazing job and after she finished recording in the studio, she asked the radio director if his station plays student music albums. Oh, yes.

We glanced at her songs online and she had music videos. And she told us more. The biggest nugget among her talents was that she acted in a Disney Latino version of “High School Musical.”

Her name is Sofia Agüero Petros. She’s from Argentina and wanted to study abroad in the U.S. She found Frostburg State and she loves her semester spent here. This is her story:

Continue reading The Importance of Inclusion

Five’s A Crowd at Frostburg

Family stories always make nice around graduation and commencement.

This was my first time talking to quintuplets, however. And I didn’t realize any of them were one of five going to Frostburg State at the same time even though I met three of them. Someone finally told me and from there, it was the right time to do a story because they are graduating.

Each of the Groff quintuplets wanted to have an identity–Eric, Erin, Ian, Maureen and Diana. It worked out because I never connected the dots to lump them together without a first name.

After the story was released, WBAL radio, Fox45 in Baltimore and other stations either ran a partial version of the release or in its entirety. Continue reading Five’s A Crowd at Frostburg