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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University March 26, 2007 | Vol. 36 No. 27
Hello, Baltimore

In a city known for its neighborhoods, students' collages capture the spirit of Hispanic Upper Fells Point (above) and Little Italy (below left).
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

With cameras in hand, students explore Charm City's neighborhoods

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

A college campus can feel like an isolated island to a student, especially a freshman new to a city.

Realizing this, and wanting to help forge a sense of community among students and Baltimore residents, the JHU Counseling Center and the Office of the Dean of Student Life earlier this year provided the Class of 2010 with a means to explore and find out more about their new home: A Hop Hon Hunt.

The inaugural program, held on the weekend after orientation, divided the 120 freshmen who signed up into 10 groups that were then assigned to the neighborhoods of Canton, Federal Hill, Fells Point, Hampden, the Inner Harbor, Little Italy (two groups), Mount Vernon, Mount Washington and Upper Fells Point.

Each group was provided with upperclass student guides and a camera, and was asked to find clues, scavenger hunt-style, and take pictures of their assigned neighborhood. The groups would later use the pictures to make collages that conveyed the uniqueness of their neighborhood and the experience.

The creative collages have now been hung in the Gilman Tunnel, where they will be until April 1.

The Hop Hon Hunt was the brainchild of Citlai Miranda-Aldaco, then a faculty member in the Department of German and Romance Languages and Literatures, and two graduate students in the department, Regina Galasso and Ann Deleon.

Their concept was the winning entry of "The Spirit of Community" competition organized by the Counseling Center Advisory Board, which set out to find new ways to increase the sense of community at Johns Hopkins. The board solicited ideas from Homewood campus faculty, staff and students. Fifty-eight proposals were received.

Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

Galasso said that what her group wanted was to create an event that would acquaint incoming freshmen with the diversity of Baltimore neighborhoods.

"We thought that a scavenger hunt would give students an opportunity to meet each other, talk to upperclassmen about JHU and Baltimore, and introduce them to the city," Galasso said. "Our impression has been that JHU students don't really know about all that Baltimore has to offer, and this was a way to expose them to places they may not visit."

Galasso said that the feedback from the participants was overwhelmingly positive, and she has since learned that many students have built friendships with team members and returned to the neighborhoods with family and friends. She said that the collages the students designed do a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of the day.

"It's amazing to see students playing boccie with the residents of Little Italy or eating tacos at the Tortilleria Sinaloa in Fells Point," she said. "Overall, the event was people-centered and connected Hopkins students to the community and local businesses. It really was a win-win."

The MTA provided free bus passes to allow students to navigate the city streets. Several merchants welcomed them to their neighborhoods and donated prizes to the Counseling Center that included free dinners, trapeze lessons, tours of the city and gift certificates. The gifts were distributed to participants at the end of the event.

Michael Mond, director of the Counseling Center, said that while the advisory board considered opening the event to the entire undergraduate student body, it made sense to scale it down to freshmen.

A Fells Point collage: The set of 'Homicide,' oysters, tattoos and water taxis that took them to the Inner Harbor.
Photo by Will Kirk / HIPS

"We said, let's try a pilot program with the freshmen and start building this idea of community right from the get-go," Mond said. "We decided to hold it the first week [students] were here because everything was new to them. They probably didn't really know the city at all, even if they had already visited, and their time was not already taken up by studies, sports and clubs."

Mond said the Counseling Center would like to make this an annual event, one that he hopes will draw even more students next year and involve more Baltimore neighborhoods.

The journey is not over yet for the first-year teams, however.

The collages will be judged by members of the campus community, and the winning entry will be awarded $500, donated by the Counseling Center, for the team to divide. Judges will be told to look for the collages that capture the spirit of the day and the "personality" of the neighborhood in the most creative way.

The winner will be announced at the Johns Hopkins Spring Fair, which starts on Friday, April 13.


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