At Play – Fall 2012

PUZZLE POWER

Marie desJardins

Marie desJardins, a professor of computer science at UMBC, specializes in research on artificial intelligence. But at the 2012 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in March, her research became downright competitive when desJardins crossed pencils with a crossword-solving computer program.

The progam, dubbed “Dr. Fill,” was going up against one of the best crossword puzzle solvers in the country. DesJardins is the top-ranked female solver in the Mid-Atlantic region and she is the 44th best solver in the country. (Dr. Fill finished the same tournament in 141st place.)

“I didn’t realize I could be this good at crossword puzzles,” says desJardins. She adds that her development as a crossword competitor also highlights the hurdles to bringing more women into the sciences.

“A lot of girls think that they must not be intrinsically good at ‘that stuff,’” argues desJardins, who adds that the biggest impediments are “the psychological blocks we put up for ourselves.”

DesJardins has been closely involved in programs at UMBC to remove those blocks, including the Center for Women and Information Technology (CWIT). She also works with the Multi-Agent Planning and Learning Lab (MAPLE), which she founded in 2003 to facilitate student research in artificial intelligence.

DesJardins has her eye on next year’s tournament – if she can reconcile it with an academic conference scheduled for the same weekend. “I might go to that conference,” she says. “But I’ll have to leave early to go to the tournament.”

— Andrew Holter ’12

NOT CAMERA SHY

Orientation Peer Advisors

Even on a campus as welcoming as UMBC, some incoming freshmen and transfer students find that orientation makes them nervous. There’s the stress of course selection and presentations on campus life, but also the question that comes with joining any new community: Will I make new friends?

This year’s contingent of UMBC Orientation Peer Advisors (OPA) decided to break the ice with a bit of video comedy, powered with the Mika song “Love Today” as a soundtrack. This year’s advisors are caught in a range of fun and goofy activities: playing video games, dancing, tossing a football, chasing ducks, bumping into things, and that perennial undergraduate favorite: sleeping.

Christina Animashaun ’13, who studies media communications and photography, teamed up with Jason Palumbo ’13, a graphic design major, to make the video in a single day. Palumbo was behind the camera, and Animashaun coordinated the sequences. Spontaneity was a key to the feel of the video: “It was very much talking out the storyboards,” says Animashaun, “as opposed to having it all set and ready to go.”

An introductory video made by the Orientation Peer Advisors has become a staple through the years, but the 2012 video duo wanted to get this year’s orientation started with a jolt of humor and movement.

“On the morning [of orientation], people are rolling up at 8 or 8:30 a.m,” says Animashaun. “They’re hyped up on coffee, and then you [show the video]. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re real people. We’re real students…” Palumbo finishes the thought: “…and we also like to dance.”

Watch the video here.

— Nathan Glover ’12

SPURS OF THE MOMENT

Tottenham Hotspur Football

North London’s Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (often called “Spurs” for short) is one of the world’s great soccer teams, having recently played in the UEFA Champions League and finishing fourth in the English Premier League last season. Clad in iconic white and dark blue uniforms adorned with a cockerel, Spurs are known for playing an attractive, free-flowing and attacking football.

For one sweltering day in late July, however, Spurs found a home on UMBC’s campus, which they used as a training facility before a July 28 friendly match at Baltimore’s M&T Stadium against Liverpool Football Club –another one of England’s biggest and most iconic teams.

Tottenham stars including Gareth Bale, Aaron Lennon, and longtime U.S. men’s national team goalkeeper Brad Friedel got in a morning training session on UMBC’s soccer field under the watchful eye of new Spurs coach Andres Villas Boas. Spurs players then adjourned for lunch at the True Grits dining hall.

Later that day, young Maryland soccer players sampled how Tottenham coaches players in its own football academy at an afternoon clinic led by Spurs’ head of football development Mark Jones.

“We plan for everyone to get 2,000 or so touches of the ball this afternoon,” Jones told the players and their parents before putting them through an afternoon of coaching and drills.

It is the second time in four years that world soccer powers have used UMBC’s state-of-the-art facilities on visits to the region. In 2009, English and Italian soccer powers Chelsea and AC Milan trained at UMBC before a friendly match.

— Richard Byrne ’86

THE RINGS THING

Mohamed Hussein '13

Every four years, the Olympic Games give athletes a chance to chase their dreams and compete at the highest level.

For UMBC swimmers Mohamed Hussein ’13 (Egypt), Patrick Husson ’14 (USA) and Pierre De Waal ’13 (South Africa), those dreams almost became reality. Husson and De Waal competed in the Olympic Trials of their respective home countries but fell short of earning a trip to London.

Hussein did his teammates one better – qualifying for Egypt’s team in the 100-meter freestyle and the 200-meter individual medley. But his trip to London was cut short by FINA, the international governing body of swimming, which abruptly changed the qualifying times required to make the Olympics. Hussein’s times fell just short.

“[In] all the past Olympic games, FINA allowed more than 1,200 swimmers to participate in the competition,” Hussein observes.

Despite the disappointment, Hussein remains one of the best swimmers in his native Egypt as well as at UMBC, and calls 2012 “the best year in my swimming career.”

De Waal had to return to South Africa to compete in the Olympic Trials during the spring semester. After a day and a half of travel from Baltimore to Durban, De Waal took to the pool for his best event, the 200-meter butterfly, where he fell to fellow countryman Chad le Clos, who went on to win gold in the Olympics over U.S. Olympic swimming star Michael Phelps.

Former walk-on Patrick Husson also swam in the Olympic Trials in his best event, the 200-meter breaststroke, finishing 99th out of 132 competitors.

“The three of them have all raised the level of our competition and our team,” UMBC swim coach Chad Cradock ’97 says.

— Dan Levin ’13

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