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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University January 28, 2008 | Vol. 37 No. 19
 
Charm City Explorers

On their afternoon museum tour, Justine Mink and Tolu Adeofe head up President Street to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum.
Photo by Matthew D'Agostino

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

Baltimore is many things. It's the largest city in Maryland, a major U.S. seaport, the birthplace of Babe Ruth and a thriving cultural destination, just to name a few. To Paula Burger, dean of undergraduate education, Charm City is also a learning laboratory for Johns Hopkins students to experience, explore and have some fun in.

With this in mind, Burger helped champion the creation of B-More: A Common Freshman Experience, a one-week academic and personal enrichment program with the city as its centerpiece. The innovative program, which took place the last week of intersession, offered the students the opportunity to get to know Baltimore better, reconnect with friends and make new ones, and foster school spirit.

Freshmen had the chance to register in one of five one-credit classes held in the morning and then participate in a slew of afternoon and evening activities, which included movie nights, a city tour, site visits, guest speakers, dinners, a varsity men's basketball game and more.

The week kicked off on Sunday, Jan. 20, with a welcome back reception, followed later that day with a dinner at Charles Commons and an address from Burger. The opening night concluded with a viewing of the 1998 version of the John Waters film Hairspray.

Nearly 60 freshmen registered for the pilot program, which also included four "B-More ambassadors," upperclassmen who served as peer facilitators for the week's activities.

Burger said that the plans are to scale up the week in subsequent years and eventually have the entire freshman class, or close to it, participate.

"Our goal is to have students come to regard the B-More program as one of the highlights of their college experience," she said. "Baltimore can be an asset to undergraduate education, and we need to take better advantage of that."

The courses for the inaugural program were B-More: Health Realities and Health Care Disparities; Ancient Egypt in B-More: A Guided Tour; Rethinking Interventions in B-More: An Ethnographic Consideration of Everyday Life; B-More: Charm City Politics; and Lives on the Wire: Anthropology, Inequity and Urban Life in B-More.

Each offering involved visits to relevant off-campus sites. For the Ancient Egypt course, for example. students visited the collections at the Walters Art Museum and Baltimore Museum of Art.

The afternoon and evening group activities included lunches in a campus dining hall, a community service project on Greenmount Avenue, dinner in Little Italy, a bus tour of the city, field trips to four museums and a dessert night at the White Athletic Center, which featured talks by men's varsity lacrosse coach Dave Pietramala and a group of Johns Hopkins alumni. A tour of City Hall had to be canceled at the last minute, when a malfunctioning electrical panel filled the building's first floor with smoke just as the bus arrived.

Ralph Johnson, associate dean of student life and B-More coordinator, said that senior exit interviews conducted in recent years pointed out that too many students spent their four years at Johns Hopkins without getting to really know the city.

"We viewed this week as a way to expose [students] to what Baltimore has to offer culturally and socially so they get engaged with the city early on in their academic career," Johnson said.

Burger said that she wanted to create a rich educational experience to explore a variety of educational topics that play out in Baltimore.

In future years, Burger said, the program could include courses on such topics as the economics of port cities, museum studies, challenges of urban public schools and maintaining a city's infrastructure.

"Baltimore would serve as a lab to illuminate all these issues, a bridge from theory to practice," she said. "There's really no limit to the types of classes that we could offer. But it's not just about learning; it's about building class unity and having fun, and we tried to offer plenty of opportunities for that."

Burger said that a program like this would hopefully empower students to get out and explore the city on their own, and also bring students closer together.

What's the future of the program? Burger said that B-More week is here to stay and will only get bigger and better.

"My vision is that this program will be the kind of thing that all of the freshmen plan to come back for," she said. "They wouldn't want to miss it."

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