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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University April 24, 2006 | Vol. 35 No. 31
Charm City Under a Lens

Do murals affect the neighborhoods that have them? Angela Chen took to the streets for a close look at the Baltimore Murals Program. Here, she stops at 1740 Druid Hill Ave., site of a 2001 work by MICA and the Marble Hill Community Corp. that showcases notable onetime Druid Hill residents, including Thurgood Marshall, top left.

Woodrow Wilson Fellows' projects on Balto. among 16 to be shown on Friday

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Angela Chen strongly contemplated punching her Woodrow Wilson fellowship ticket for a trip to France or Italy. The senior history of art major imagined herself in Paris or strolling through Italian cobbled streets as she delved into her subject, courtesy of the $10,000 research award.

Ultimately, however, Chen chose Eastern Avenue over the Champs-Elysees.

Chen wanted to study the mural tradition, and she decided to focus on Baltimore's commissioned public murals and their effect on the communities that have them. Specifically, she wanted to quantify the impact of the Baltimore Mural Program, which began in 1987, and compare it with other programs of its kind.

Since 1999, the Woodrow Wilson fellowship awards have allowed undergraduates like Chen the opportunity to pursue an independent research project over the course of his or her college career. Chen is one of 16 seniors who on Friday, April 28, will display and discuss the results of their research at a poster session, sponsored by the university's Second Decade Society, to be held from 3 to 5 p.m. in Homewood's Glass Pavilion.

Chen began her project in earnest during her sophomore year. She first headed to libraries to read up on the mural tradition, and later ventured out into the city to see many of the more than 120 murals produced by the program, which operates under the auspices of the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts. She called her excursions "mural runs," and they took her to all parts of the city, including Greektown, Pigtown, Druid Hill and Franklintown.

To examine the effectiveness of the program, she compared pre-existing sociological data from areas of the city with and without murals, before and after the murals were painted.

The California native used a good portion of her fellowship money on living expenses for the two summers she resided in Baltimore to work on the project. During these months, she interviewed the artists, community members and Baltimore Mural Program staff to explore the mural creation process and determine whether or not the works of art had improved the neighborhoods they decorate. Chen's research said that, by and large, they had.

"In general, I found that the mural brings the community up in so many ways. For example, financially, you see people reinvesting in renovation of their homes," she said. "I also looked into how people felt about the area where they are living, and that would rise after the creation of a mural."

She also found that the areas in the immediate area of the mural tended to be clean, perhaps out of pride and admiration for the work of art.

Chen also factored in that neighborhoods that commission a mural tend to be healthier in the first place.

"It's a bit of what came first, the chicken or the egg scenario, but either way you look at it, [the murals] tend to have a positive impact," Chen said. "I'm very glad I decided to conduct my research here. I got to see what it was like in these neighborhoods and just meet lots of people when I was walking around."

Chen's adviser for her project was Matthew Crenson, chair of Political Science and an expert on urban studies who has written about Baltimore's neighborhoods.

Crenson said that Chen's project was a perfect fit as it paired her interest in art with her "relentless sociability."

"The great thing about Baltimore is it becomes something you can form a long-term attachment to," said Crenson, a Baltimore native. "When students go to France, for example, they go for a month, at most a year. But when you do a project in a local neighborhood, you can really make connections with and keep in touch with the people who live there. You can get deeply involved, as I think Angela did."

The annual Woodrow Wilson Undergraduate Research Fellowship Program allows students in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences to delve into unconstrained research during their undergraduate experience, mentored by distinguished Johns Hopkins faculty. Each Wilson fellow receives a grant of up to $10,000 to be distributed over four years to support research expenses, including costs associated with travel, equipment and use of archives.

The fellowships are given to incoming freshmen of outstanding merit and promise and also to rising sophomores, who receive up to $7,500 for three years. For high school seniors, a Woodrow Wilson brochure is included in the application packets mailed out by the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Current freshmen, however, must submit a two-to-three-page proposal, a resume, a second-semester transcript and a letter of recommendation from a JHU faculty member who would become the student's mentor.

The award is named after the former U.S. president, who received his doctorate from Johns Hopkins. The program was developed for the School of Arts and Sciences by Herbert Kessler, then dean of the school and now a professor of art history; Steven David, vice dean for centers and programs; and university trustee J. Barclay Knapp, who funded the fellowships through the school's James B. Knapp Deanship, named for his late father.

The individual research projects are designed by the fellows, and each student has the choice of focusing on a single long-term project, exploring several aspects of a particular discipline or working on various short-term undertakings in an array of fields. Students can opt to pursue research in their own major or, if they wish, branch off into a totally unrelated discipline.

Elizabeth Krimmel decided to concentrate on her chosen field and, like Chen, to focus on Baltimore. A senior sociology major, Krimmel wanted to study the effects of a local effort, the Power/Excel Foundation's Prison Project, on reducing recidivism among inmates at the Baltimore Pre-Release Unit for Women.

In the past 20 years, national incarceration rates for previous criminal offenders have quadrupled, Krimmel said, and the number of women in prison has increased at nearly double the rate for men. Life after prison, Krimmel said, is fraught with challenges. The women often have difficulty securing a job due to their criminal record, fight substance abuse battles and face the constant temptation of returning to criminal activity in order to meet financial obligations, especially in the case of women with children to support. In addition, former inmates have trouble rebuilding relationships with family and friends.

The Power/Excel Prison Project, founded in 2001, attempts to prepare these women for re-entry into society by addressing life skills, such as effective communication and conflict management, while empowering women to take control of their lives and to build meaningful relationships. The program, which is voluntary, has groups of eight to 15 women who meet once a week over an eight-week period. The women learn conversation skills, basic money matters, conflict resolution and even how to meditate.

Krimmel shadowed one group of women in the program last spring, helped teach a course and tracked the progress among 136 women who had gone through the program. For comparative purposes, she matched up each one of these women to a former inmate who did not go through the program but had similar offenses, family situations, age and release date.

Krimmel is still waiting for the state's data on the women's current status to complete her study. Her preliminary findings, however, lead her to believe that the program is valuable and effective, but that even more is needed to overcome the obstacles these women face.

"These were real people with real problems. They were fun to be around and excited about getting out, but scared because they had nowhere to go. There are just not a lot of services for people who are released, especially women, since everything seems to be targeted for men," she said. "That is what's so unique about my study: that there really isn't much research on female incarceration. This was such an interesting experience for me. I got to know these women well. Some of them have children, some my age, so they were kind of mothering to me."

Subjects of other Woodrow Wilson projects on display at the Friday poster session [see below] include the origins of modern Jordan, the business of Hollywood, creating an energy policy in the 21st century and a watershed analysis of the Monkey River in Belize.

To get a close-up look at the murals that Angela Chen studied, consider taking a Baltimore Mural Bike Tour, run by the Baltimore Office of Promotion. The next one is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Sunday, May 21, leaving from the Wynns Falls Bike Trail parking area off the 2700 block of Frederick Avenue. The cost is $15 per person.


2006 Woodrow Wilson Poster Session
Friday, April 28 | 3 to 5 p.m., Glass Pavilion | Homewood campus

Michelle Browne
"Breaking the Cycle of Child Soldiers: Criminalizing the Use of Children in Armed Conflict"

Angela Chen
"Baltimore Murals and Their Effects on Neighboring Communities"

Travis Crum
"Creating an Energy Policy for the 21st Century"

Thomas Cusack
"Mind Moves Matter: An Integrative Approach to Looking at How Stress Affects Cognition and the Immune System"

Edward Esborn
"Stage Play Development and 17th-Century London Apprentices"

Abigail Gibbon
"Music and Lifestyles: An Ethnomusicological Examination of Baltimore"

Joseph Hood
"The Origins of Modern Jordan"

Kenneth Kay
"Genetic Polymorphisms in an Olfactory Receptor Gene Family"

Sarah Kelley-Spearing
"A Watershed Analysis of the Monkey River in Belize, Central America"

Elizabeth Krimmel
"Reducing Recidivism Among Female Inmates at the Baltimore Pre-Release Unit for Women"

Rui Lu
"The Commercialization of China's Education System"

Ashlyn Schniederjans
"Human and Social Effects on the Employment of Somali Bantu Refugees"

Archana Shah
"Uplift of Women Through the Arya Samaj"

Zirui Song
"The Social Disease in Public Health"

Danielle Weinberg
"Mr. DeMille, I'm Ready for My Contract: The Craft of Screenwriting and the Business of Hollywood"

Lily Zou
"Preventing Cervical Cancer: Personal Hygiene and Other Risk Factors for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in Rural China"


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