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Grassroots Effort to Train Burmese Refugee Teachers

January 22, 2014

Halima Cherif 301-405-0476

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – More than 5,000 Burmese refugee children living in Malaysia—who are prohibited from attending public schools—now have the opportunity to receive a better education, due to the work of Colleen O'Neal, an assistant professor in the University of Maryland's school psychology program in the College of Education.

There are currently approximately 40,000 school-age refugee children in Malaysia. Refugee communities are forced to teach their own children, setting up hidden schools in kitchens and apartments. O'Neal is co-leading a grassroots effort to train these community members to become effective and confident teachers, as well as helping them train their colleagues.

"Refugee children are typically hidden in urban areas, not in tent cities, and are either uneducated or undereducated," says O'Neal. "I had not planned to do refugee education research when I arrived as a Fulbright Scholar to Malaysia in 2010. However, the tens of thousands of hidden refugee children eventually became visible to me, and I saw a clear, powerful need to make an impact on their education and lives."

Funded by the U.S. State Department Fulbright program and partnering with the U.N. High Commission for Refugees in Malaysia as well as local universities, NGOs, and refugee schools, O'Neal's team of Fulbright alumni, students, and interventionists work to empower refugee teachers to improve their students' socio-emotional and academic functioning. 

Using a training manual as a guide, O'Neal and her colleagues teach behavioral and emotion-focused approaches to managing students' emotions, attention, and behavior challenges. They help them build more positive relationships with their students, employ positive management techniques, and use less physical punishment. The trainers focus on helping the new teachers identify and manage their own emotions and stress as well.

"We use as much hands-on, nonverbal training tactics possible. These teachers are refugees themselves, and although they often teach in English, their English is sometimes rudimentary," says O'Neal. "For example, we do activities like teachers pretending to be students tossing a ball from one teacher to the next, with the goal of helping them cultivate a tool box of safe, quiet physical activities they can do with their students—without their neighbors calling the police."

A total of 160 teachers have been trained to-date through refugee teacher training intervention.

The refugee project research study has shown preliminary, significant results in improving refugee teacher knowledge and confidence in managing students' emotions, behavior, and attention, in addition to the teachers improving their own stress management and self-care.

O'Neal adds, "The importance of refugee education research lies in the fact that global political change has an impact on millions of refugee children worldwide, numbers that are increasing at alarming rates."

For more information on the project, visit


For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

UMD at the Forefront of Next Chapter in MOOCs

January 21, 2014

Alana Carchedi 301-405-0235

"Specializations" Now Offered, Including in Android Development and Cybersecurity

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland is taking a pioneering role in expanding students' learning experiences with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) beyond just one course. Starting this semester, the university's MOOC offerings will include "specializations"—multi-course sequences in cutting-edge fields. These specializations, now being offered through Coursera, are a new type of program that allow students to dive deeper into learning and develop mastery in a particular subject.

“These specializations take MOOCs to the next level by adding structure and consistency,” says University of Maryland President Wallace Loh. “We just pioneered a MOOC specialization with another institution, and now we can expand the concept at home, drawing on our many strengths in cybersecurity.”

android developmentThis semester, UMD, in partnership with Vanderbilt University, is offering one of the first-ever specialization programs shared across universities. The MOOC specialization on Android development includes courses on:

  • Design and implementation of user-facing applications;
  • Middleware systems programming; and
  • Integrating mobile devices with computing clouds.

The first course in the specialization will be taught by UMD Computer Science Professor Adam Porter, and the following two will be taught by Vanderbilt Computer Science Professor Douglas Schmidt and Electrical and Computer Engineering Professor Jules White.

“MOOCs are exciting to the University of Maryland, not only because they demonstrate our excellence in so many areas, but because they also help us learn how to better take advantage of technology to improve our on-campus courses,” says Professor Ben Bederson, special advisor to the Provost on technology and educational transformation.

cybersecurityNext, in Fall 2014, the university will begin an all-new MOOC specialization in cybersecurity. Taking advantage of UMD's expertise through the Maryland Cybersecurity Center, the specialization will present students with a broad, multidisciplinary perspective on current topics in cybersecurity, including courses on:

  • Cryptographic algorithms and protocols;
  • Tools and techniques for developing secure software;
  • Human-centered approaches for designing usable secure systems; and
  • Elements of hardware security.

This new series will take a unique, interdisciplinary approach to teaching cybersecurity, with professors from across the university, including Jonathan Katz and Mike Hicks in computer science, Gang Qu in electrical and computer engineering, and Jen Golbeck in the iSchool.

Capstone courses, in which students will have the opportunity to apply their knowledge in several of these areas, will finish off both specializations.

"With the recent security breaches of several major U.S. corporations, the importance of addressing the cybersecurity challenges of today's world has become increasingly critical," says Katz, director of the Maryland Cybersecurity Center and a professor of computer science. "Our multidisciplinary course sequence, drawing on faculty from three different departments on campus, will provide students with a unique opportunity to obtain a comprehensive introduction to this exciting—and growing—field."

The University of Maryland also offers individual MOOC courses on a variety of topics, from understanding terrorism and developing innovative ideas, to tolerance in religious societies and making better group decisions. To view UMD's full MOOC offerings, visit


For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

Warning Computer Hackers Shortens Their Intrusion

January 16, 2014

Andrew Roberts 301-405-2171
Lee Tune 301-405-4679

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - Cybercrime has grown to define the criminal landscape of the 21st century. Yet, cybersecurity research has focused on the crime – computer system attacks – and on counter measures to it, while largely ignoring perpetrator behavior during such attacks. However, University of Maryland researchers now are exploring the conduct of the computer intruders. In a groundbreaking new study, they show for the first time that the appearance of a warning banner upon entry significantly shortens the time an intruder remains on an attacked system.

Honey Pot ServerThe researchers also found that slow network speed combined with a warning message further hastens criminal hackers’ departure from the system.

Led by Assistant Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice David Maimon, the UMD team’s research, recently published in the journal Criminology, demonstrates the potential to influence hackers’ behavior by targeting their responses to warning messages during attacks.  This study is just the “tip of the spear” in criminology-based hacker behavior research and they have additional studies already nearing completion or well underway, according to Maimon.

“There is a lot of literature and research on the effects of deterrents – how to discourage criminal activity,” says Maimon. “However there’s almost no research on the immediate impact of these efforts, in this case warning messages, on what’s happening during the act. In our study we’re effectively able to watch a heist in progress, instead of investigating a crime scene after the fact.”

Maimon and study colleagues Michel Cukier, associate director for education in UMD’s Maryland Cybersecurity Center (MC2) and an associate professor of reliability engineering in Maryland’s A. James Clark School of Engineering; Bertrand Sobesto, a Clark School Ph.D. student; and Mariel Alper, a Ph.D. student in the department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, note their research is filling an important void.

A number of industry regulators, such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), have developed national guidelines and policies regarding the display of warning messages when a cyber attack, or intrusion, takes place. However, these policies are largely influenced by the experiences of industry leaders, and are seldom designed around research that supports their effectiveness.

As a result, the UMD team notes, recommendations are being made on a national and global scale, without sufficient testing to prove their value in various environments. These recommendations substantially influence the approach institutions and corporations take to combat cybercrime and if these are misguided, it may have long term implications for the integrity of their security protocols.

The Maryland researchers conducted their study by deploying massive systems of high-interaction “honey pots,” or computers that appear to be part of a network, but are actually isolated. These highly monitored systems are designed to study hackers and precisely document their tactics.

By using several hundred “honey pots,” altering their system configurations and observing how computer hackers respond, Maimon and his collaborators learned a great deal about the attacks and the attackers. “Think about the burglar analogy. The low-interaction systems, used in a number of other studies, are equivalent to a façade,” Maimon explains. “The high-interaction systems we use are like watching criminals break into multi-story homes that are under intense surveillance.”

“There’s a high percentage of human interaction here,” says Maimon. “These aren’t ‘BotNet’ attacks. These are people committing crimes, sitting in front of a computer.” By capturing massive amounts of data in these environments, and applying new methods of translated code into behavioral actions, Maimon can literally observe and analyze hackers’ keystrokes and draw conclusions about the hackers’ tactics and their reactions to warning messages. “Through extensive collaboration, with the right tools to analyze data on cyber attacks, the application of these newly formed behavioral models can help to mitigate the effects of hacking by applying effective interventions.” The findings have tremendous implications for both technology and the social sciences.

Their application of criminological theory to cybercrime is part of a new and a growing field of research into behavior of the individuals who carry out the attacks. “We’re combining computers and ‘soft science’ models for the first time,” says Maimon. “We can see that we’re making an impact…but there is a great deal left to learn. What kinds of warnings are most effective? Are we able to influence the hackers’ behavior over time? These questions will define how our research progresses…and ultimately the future of how we confront cybercrime.”

Maimon says he and colleagues are already taking the next steps in applying criminological models to the prevention of computer system trespassing through underway studies that examine:

  • how different kinds of warning messages might influence attackers’ behavior; and
  • how the presence of surveillance mechanisms changes the behavior of computer system trespassers.


For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

MTV Shows Led to 5.7 Percent Drop in Teen Births

January 13, 2014

Laura Ours, University of Maryland, 301-405-5722
Sofiya Cabalquinto, Wellesley College, 781-283-3321

COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Despite concerns that turning teen moms into reality TV stars has glamorized teen pregnancy, a new study shows that MTV's 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom have had a more powerful impact in the opposite direction: the series has significantly reduced births to teens.

The research, coauthored by University of Maryland economist Melissa Schettini Kearney and Wellesley College economist Phillip B. Levine, finds that MTV's 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births, which accounts for around one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the year and a half following the show's introduction in 2009.  The study, "Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV's 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing," will be published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, January 13, 2014. 


As Kearney and Levine addressed in an earlier study, the U.S. teen birth rate ranks high among developed countries, although it has been declining dramatically over the past 20 years and is now at a historic low. In particular, the U.S. teen birth rate fell rapidly between 2008 and 2012. The researchers showed that the Great Recession played the biggest role, explaining more than half of the staggering drop in the most recent, sharp decline. However, the economists also theorized that the timing of the introduction of MTV's 16 and Pregnant is such that it could also have contributed to the staggering drop in teen birth rates. This theory launched the first study to offer a credible estimate of the causal effect of specific media content on teen childbearing rates.

UMDKearney and Levine investigated whether the show influenced teens' interest in contraceptive use or abortion, and whether it ultimately altered teen childbearing. "In some circles, the idea that teenagers respond to media content is a foregone conclusion, but determining whether the media images themselves cause the behavior is a very difficult empirical task," said Professor Kearney.

To determine the show's impact on teens, Kearney and Levine conducted an in-depth empirical study, analyzing several measures of exposure, including Nielsen ratings data and metrics from Google and Twitter. The researchers then examined the impact on teen birth rates using Vital Statistics Natality microdata.

WellesleyKearney and Levine show that 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom have a large and highly engaged following, win ratings wars, and lead teens to search for and tweet about the themes within.  They also find that searches and tweets about birth control and abortion spike exactly when the show is on and in locations where it is more popular. According to Professor Levine, "our use of data from Google Trends and Twitter enable us to provide some gauge of what viewers are thinking about when they watch the show. We conclude that exposure to 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom was high and that it had an influence on teens' thinking regarding birth control and abortion."

Their most important finding, though, is that "the introduction of 16 and Pregnant along with its partner shows, Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, led teens to noticeably reduce the rate at which they give birth," according to Kearney and Levine. Their estimates imply that these shows "led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teen births that would have been conceived between June 2009, when the show began, and the end of 2010. This can explain around one-third of the total decline in teen births over that period."

Although data limitations precluded Kearney and Levine from conducting separate analyses of abortions, the researchers note that teen abortion rates also fell over this period—suggesting that the shows' impact is likely attributable to a reduction in pregnancy rather than greater use of abortion.

According to the authors, the finding that 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom had an impact suggests that MTV drew in teens who actually were at risk of teen childbearing and conveyed to them information that led them to change their behavior, preventing them from giving birth at such a young age. "The fact that MTV knows how to make shows that teens like to watch, which speak to them in ways that resonate, presumably is critical to the show's impact," they said.

"This approach has the potential to yield large results with important social consequences," concluded Kearney and Levine. "Typically, the public concern addresses potential negative influences of media exposure, but this study finds it may have positive influences as well."

"When we developed 16 and Pregnant, teen birth rates were reported to be on the rise, so we created this series as a cautionary tale on the hard realities of teen pregnancy.  We are deeply grateful to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy for their expert guidance," said Stephen Friedman, president of MTV.  "We've always believed that storytelling can be a powerful catalyst for change, and are incredibly heartened by this news."
"The entertainment media can be, and often is, a force for good," said Sarah Brown, CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.  "One of the nation's great success stories of the past two decades has been the historic declines in teen pregnancy.  MTV and other media outlets have undoubtedly increased attention to the risks and reality of teen pregnancy and parenthood and, as this research shows, have likely played a role in the nation's remarkable progress."


For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

Half of Black Males, 40% of White Males Arrested by 23

January 10, 2014

Laura Ours 301-405-5722

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Nearly half of black males and almost 40 percent of white males in the United States are arrested by age 23—which can hurt their ability to attend school, secure employment and participate fully in their communities, according to a new study in the journal Crime & Delinquency. The study's authors include Professor Ray Paternoster, a faculty member in the University of Maryland's No.1-ranked Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice.

handcuffsThis groundbreaking report outlines the first contemporary findings on how the risk of arrest varies across race and gender, analyzing national survey data from 1997 to 2008 of teenagers and young adults, ages 18–23, and their arrest histories, which run the gamut from truancy and underage drinking to more serious and violent offenses. The study excludes arrests for minor traffic violations.

The study reveals a higher prevalence of arrest among black males compared to white males, and little race variation in arrest rates among black and white females.

"These findings are troublesome because they show that a large proportion of young males, particularly African-American males, will carry the stigma of an arrest. What makes this so problematic is that the repercussions will be manifested throughout their adult years as youth with arrest histories—even if the arrest does not result in a conviction—will find it difficult to find full-time and adequately paying employment, and without adequate employment they do not make attractive marriage partners," Professor Paternoster said. "Our findings would suggest that for African-American males, the cumulative probability of an arrest by age 23 is higher than the cumulative probability completing college. This does not bode well for their futures."

Other key findings include:

  • By age 18, 30 percent of black males, 26 percent of Hispanic males and 22 percent of white males have been arrested.
  • By age 23, 49 percent of black males, 44 percent of Hispanic males and 38 percent of white males have been arrested.
  • While the prevalence of arrest increased for females from age 18 to 23, the variation between races was slight. At age 18, arrest rates were 12 percent for white females and 11.8 percent and 11.9 percent for Hispanic and black females, respectively. By age 23, arrest rates were 20 percent for white females and 18 percent and 16 percent for Hispanic and black females, respectively.

Professor Paternoster said that while the study's findings are eye-opening, they prompt further inquiry and investigation.

"This is the first study in a very long time to be able to get these estimates of the cumulative risk of arrest, and it would be expecting too much for this one study to answer many questions. For instance, we observed that African-American males had a greater risk of arrest than white males, a difference we did not see among females, and it is not clear why this would be so. Further, how much of the difference between African-American and white males is due to differences in behavior and how much is due to other factors like differences in police behavior or the behavior of victims is an important question for future research," Professor Paternoster said.

In addition to Professor Paternoster, the study's researchers include lead author Robert Brame of the University of South Carolina, Shawn Bushway of the University of Albany and Michael Turner of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. This study, a representative sample of the larger population, builds on a previous one by the team that was released in January 2012 in the journal Pediatrics. That study garnered national attention for providing the first look since the 1960s at arrest prevalence and for its key finding that one in three people are arrested by age 23.

The research team next will seek to develop an understanding of the economic, social and law enforcement factors that can influence arrests and what role gender and race play.


For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

UMD Project Helps D.C. Students Build "Sci-Dentities"

January 10, 2014

Lee Tune 301-405-4679

Courtesy of iSchoolCOLLEGE PARK, Md. – Researchers from the University of Maryland's College of Information Studies (iSchool) are working with school librarians in D.C. to encourage inner-city students to create superhero identities, write science fiction-inspired stories, and make videos and graphic novels, all incorporating real science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Led by iSchool assistant professors June Ahn and Mega Subramaniam, and funded by the National Science Foundation, the Sci-Dentity project seeks to explore how science fiction and other creative narrative projects can be designed and used to help young people imagine the exciting ways that science impacts and shapes human life. 

The project is also designed to explore the factors that may encourage under-represented youth to incorporate scientific ideas into their evolving identities as students and individuals.

"Our goal is to explore ways to work with kids who wouldn't necessarily identify with science or technology, engineering and math and figure out ways to help them engage with those ideas and find relevance in them," says Ahn.

Courtesy of iSchoolAnother component of the project is the context of school libraries.  The Sci-Dentity project is run as an after-school program in partnership with school librarians and library/media programs in D.C. public schools. The researchers are examining how school libraries can act as a secure and supportive physical space, allowing young people to explore their imagination.

The program also includes a virtual space, a private online social network, where students can share, remix and comment on each other's work to build community and their own "Sci-Dentities." Through the use of this site, the team hopes to find how social media can play a role in getting young people interested in STEM subjects.

"The biggest lesson we've learned from that project," says Ahn, "is how new media can open up opportunities for students to express their ideas and identify with scientific concepts, while not be constrained by traditional literacies such as reading and writing levels."

Additional information about the Sci-Dentity project can be found at


For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

TerpVision 12: Sports Journalism the Povich Way

January 9, 2014

Since its inception in 2011, the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism has brought sports media leaders like ESPN's Kevin Blackistone and Scott Van Pelt to campus to lead symposia on popular sports issues, provide real-world advice and mentor students, and champion Povich's commitment to racial and gender equality in sports.

Derby Dreams

January 9, 2014

Students in the university's equine studies program spent the majority of last year preparing two foals to fulfill their destinies of becoming thoroughbred racing stars. For more information about the Equine Studies program visit:

Arming the Immune System to Fight Cancer

January 9, 2014

Faye Levine 301-405-0379

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – In 2004Fischell Department of Bioengineering (BioE) Assistant Professor Christopher M. Jewell, a form of cancer known as neuroblastoma claimed the life of Alexandra (Alex) Scott, a little girl who gained national attention for using her lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research. Now, the organization established in her memory, the Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation (ALSF), has awarded the University of Maryland's Christopher M. Jewell, an assistant professor in the A. James Clark School of Engineering, a three-year, $375,000 research grant to support the pre-clinical development of a cancer vaccine technology that could give children like Alex a better chance to have a long and healthy life.

Neuroblastoma, the third most common pediatric cancer, causes nerve cells to turn into tumors. The prototype vaccine uses a unique combination of nanotechnology and immunology to “raise an army” of tumor-hunting immune cells, equip them to attack neuroblastoma, and leave them ready to reactivate if the cancer returns.

The lymph nodes are the body’s immune system “command centers,” packed with different types of immune cells. Each cell is equipped with a protein that responds to a particular disease or infection. Fragments of viruses, bacteria, and tumors collected in the lymph nodes are presented to these cells as antigens, molecules that provoke a response to a specific threat. When an immune cell encounters an antigen that it is designed to respond to, the cell “activates” and multiplies. These cells are then released into the blood and tissue to hunt their specific pathogens.

One type of activated immune cell, the central memory T cell, is particularly effective at infiltrating tumors. These cells start life as ordinary, inactive T cells in the lymph nodes that have the potential to become one of a number of active T cell types. Jewell’s goal is to enhance the immune system’s natural response by encouraging T cells to multiply and become central memory T cells specific for tumor antigens.

Jewell, a member of UMD’s Fischell Department of Bioengineering, is an expert in immunomodulation, an emerging field that explores directing the body's immune system response to target a specific disease. He believes crafting a biomaterials-based vaccine that not only provides T cells with the weapons to fight neuroblastoma, but also instructions on how, will give oncologists a new, more specific treatment option that relies more on the patient’s own defenses than radiation and chemotherapy.

Creating any successful vaccine is difficult. Once injected, its components are dispersed around the body. Just a fraction of the vaccine reaches the lymph nodes, and its components are often so damaged or degraded by the trip they’re no longer functional. Engineered microparticle and nanoparticle vaccines face additional challenges, because they are either too large to drain into lymph nodes or become too large because they stick to cells, proteins, or other particles.

Jewell’s research group is developing a unique system in which controlled-release, biodegradable polymer “depots” are injected directly into the lymph nodes. The depots protect the vaccine components inside, control when they are released, and direct what happens next.

The vaccine contains two elements: the antigen that stimulates the T cells to attack neuroblastoma cells, and “immune signals,” small molecules that mimic the chemical signals immune cells use to communicate. The message, like the antigen, is another call to action: transform into central memory T cells, and multiply. Jewell hopes this approach will result in an army of central memory T cells prepared to destroy neuroblastoma tumors and capable of “remembering the enemy” later.

The cells’ mission continues after the existing tumors are cleared. “Establishing these large populations of immunological memory cells could also help keep patients in remission by rapidly destroying tumor cells that might arise during relapse events,” Jewell explains.

He adds that while the work is in the early stages, this technology could lead to new therapeutic technologies for treating other types of cancer.

“High risk tumors like neuroblastoma are treated with multiple therapeutic strategies with poor outcomes,” says Dr. Anthony Sandler, chief of surgery at Children's National Medical Center, who is collaborating with Jewell on the project. “Cancer vaccines add another therapeutic option, but so far have had very limited success. The novel approach proposed in this work may provide the spark that stimulates effective immunity against the tumor.”

“Cancer vaccines represent a new class of therapies, and biomaterials have great potential to treat cancers like neuroblastoma,” says Jewell. “The ALSF’s support and the clinical training we will receive through our collaboration with Children’s National Medical Center have created an amazing opportunity. This investment will have a lasting impact on my lab's ability to contribute to the pediatric cancer field.”


For the latest news and happenings at the University of Maryland, follow us on Twitter at @UMDRightNow.

Enriching Student Learning

January 9, 2014

The University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies takes pride in advancing and transforming the research and practice of theatre, dance and performance studies through its commitment to excellence and innovative education in the performing arts. We envision a School that serves as a national model for collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship among scholars and performing artists.


April 3
Distinguished University Professor Ira Berlin was awarded the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal for 2014 by Harvard University's... Read
April 3
The University of Maryland will offer a new master's degree program in technology entrepreneurship starting this fall. Read
March 28
UMD is launching the Partnership for Action Learning in Sustainability, a new university-wide initiative to offer a... Read
March 28
New research finds that the alligator's ear is strongly directional because of large, air-filled channels connecting... Read