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Community Retriever Project

The Community Retriever Project is a Center for Democracy and Civic Life virtual art series designed to sustain connections within the UMBC community during and beyond the period of physical distancing in connection with COVID-19. Groups within the UMBC community create photo collages in which members communicate their shared hopes and perspectives on solidarity and democracy in light of the pandemic. Each collage also links to individual members’ responses to questions about their UMBC and COVID-19 experiences.

Click the tiles within each collage to be taken to group members’ stories.

April 27, 2020: Center for Democracy and Civic Life Staff



“Community Is Not Cancelled #CivicProximity #UMBCtogether”
From top left to bottom right: Pat Michael, David Hoffman, Brandon Liu, Tess McRae, Ravi Bhatt, Romy Hübler

Pat Michael

Global Studies, B.A. ’20; Mathematics, B.A. ’20; Community Civic Engagement Intern, Center for Democracy and Civic Life; President, Students Helping Honduras

What is your favorite memory of UMBC?

One of my favorite memories of UMBC is running in the SGA election. I was part of a team of candidates. It was fun to make pancakes together in the early morning, hand out quarter cards with soon-to-be friends at the dining hall, low-key live for the drama, and be a part of something bigger than myself.

What are you learning about community and connection from living through the COVID-19 pandemic?

Community and connection are important. I would say the need for connection is stronger than the need for food, water, sleep, which we deem as “most critical” as a society. That’s why solitary confinement is such a harsh punishment. I’m the type of person who tends to shut myself in, but I’ve found, and this was true before the pandemic, that having a good chat leaves me feeling better.

What are your hopes, wishes, and goals for the UMBC community post COVID-19?

More online classes! That we have more fun ways to come together as a community that are not just physical. I liked how the [April 3, 2020 UMBC] town hall felt like I was a part of something as a member of the entire UMBC community, and I don’t get that feeling often (mostly at graduations, Commencement, the 16-1 [2018 NCAA Tournament] game). I want more times when I get to feel like we are all in something together!

David Hoffman

Language, Literacy, and Culture, Ph.D. ’13; Director, Center for Democracy and Civic Life; Faculty Fellow, Honors College

What is your favorite memory of UMBC?

I have been at UMBC for almost 17 years and have countless wonderful memories. What stands out more than any single episode is how much has changed at UMBC in that time because people have worked together with determination, skill, and appreciation for each other’s humanity. Even as UMBC has grown and developed a national reputation for innovation and excellence, our community has become more engaged and humane. I love it.

One memory of this process that I especially treasure is the development of the BreakingGround initiative, a civic innovation grant program supported by the Provost’s Office. In the eight years since its launch, BreakingGround has supported the creation or redesign of more than 40 courses and more than 30 community projects. But BreakingGround started two years before its launch with five people in a room, dreaming of possibilities. Those five were a student leader, a faculty member, and three staff members. We decided to begin an organizing process that involved talking with, and building connections among, dozens of people from all over UMBC. By the time we formally launched the initiative, President Hrabowski and Provost Rous had provided crucial support, and I had gotten to know many people who have become friends and partners in UMBC’s civic work. Among them were my now-colleague Romy Hübler, who became a key BreakingGround leader as a doctoral student.

What are you learning about community and connection from living through the COVID-19 pandemic?

I am learning about how important even the simplest, most routine interactions are to my sense of identity and well-being: the process of walking in from the parking lot each morning and making eye contact with people along the way; the encounters in the hallway where all I do is say “hey” to someone I know. In the past I have dismissed those interactions as too superficial to mean anything. But as it turns out, they were mirrors; my reflection affirmed that I was present and alive. When we return to UMBC, I’ll cherish them all.

What are your hopes, wishes, and goals for the UMBC community post COVID-19? 

One of the lessons of this crisis is that we hold great power over each other’s lives. Through our choices and actions, we can keep each other safe or endanger each other; check in with each other or just check out. It’s hard to feel a lot of personal or collective power when you are under quarantine, but we do have it, and we need to use it well.

My hope is that post-COVID-19, the UMBC community continues to demonstrate this truth. We all want to make a difference, and we can, and we will. Civic life is everywhere; let’s make the most of it together.

Brandon Liu

Biological Sciences, B.S. ’20; Animation, B.F.A. ’20; Campus Civic Engagement Intern, Center for Democracy and Civic Life

What is your favorite memory of UMBC?

There are so many amazing memories of UMBC. I can’t pick just one, so I think I’ll pick a feeling. The feeling I get bumping into my friends when I’m walking to class or to a meeting. The feeling that I get sharing conversations over a cup of coffee, talking with Ms. Pat, in the Commons, Taylor, at Dunkin. The amazing people I’ve found friends in and been able to work WITH. UMBC is where I feel true belonging and meaning. Reflecting on all the time I’ve spent here, there are countless memories I’ve made that I treasure, but what ties them all together is this feeling of belonging.

What are you learning about community and connection from living through the COVID-19 pandemic?

I’m learning about how important it is to make an active effort to continue building community and maintaining connections with my friends and family. It’s so easy, when I’m shut at home, to keep my head down and stay in my own bubble, but the relationships that I have with other people are what make life truly fulfilling.

What are your hopes, wishes, and goals for the UMBC community post COVID-19?

I hope that we come back and CELEBRATE the community we have together! If COVID-19 taught us anything, it’s that we can’t take being able to participate in our communities for granted. Our UMBC community is working so hard to continue working together and being collaborative over distance. I can’t wait to rejoin everyone with renewed appreciation, ready build up from the resilience and collaboration we’ve cultivated together.

Tess McRae

Individualized Study, B.A. ’21; Civic Design Intern, Center for Democracy and Civic Life

What is your favorite memory of UMBC?

I attended the Homecoming Bonfire for the first time as a sophomore in 2018. That same afternoon we had our first-ever Center for Democracy and Civic Life staff photoshoot, and for several hours afterwards I was bursting with excitement and pride about this milestone and what it meant for us. As I watched sparks from the bonfire drift into the sky later that night, I realized that I finally felt completely at home at UMBC, in large part because of the work I was doing with the Center and the connections I had made through it. This sense of purpose and belonging was something I had hungered for since I first arrived on campus… and there it was at long last, as bright and hopeful as the flames before me. To stand around the fire with so many members of the UMBC community in that moment — people I knew already, and people I knew I’d likely get to know someday — was a magical and powerful thing.

What are you learning about community and connection from living through the COVID-19 pandemic?

I was studying abroad at the University of Brighton (UoB) in Brighton, England this semester, but due to the COVID-19 outbreak I had to return to the US prematurely. I was homesick for months before I even left home, and my first few weeks in Brighton were pretty rocky because I missed UMBC so much. But I was able to realize my strength and find my footing in the end, and I quickly formed some amazing memories and friendships with the people I met there.

Now I’m back long before I was supposed to be, and I’ve had lots of mixed feelings. It has been difficult and even painful to try to reconnect with the UMBC community while sustaining my connection with the community I found at UoB, especially since this pandemic has changed so much about the ways we interact. But I have come to realize that it is truly a gift to have two campus communities to navigate this challenging time with. I’ve been doubly supported through the aftershocks of my sudden departure, and I’ve had ample opportunity to contribute to the profound resilience and collective healing that each of these communities are cultivating together. More than anything else, this experience has shown me that I am always connected to both UMBC and UoB no matter where in the world I am… and that no matter where in the world we are or what we are facing, these communities will always stay connected.

What are your hopes, wishes, and goals for the UMBC community post COVID-19?

The COVID-19 quarantine has dramatically shifted the ways people at UMBC go about fostering and nourishing our community. We have had to pay very close attention to what it means to be a community in the first place and how COVID-19 may or may not impact that understanding. I think UMBC has always had a distinctive focus on community engagement… but now we are working more consciously than ever before to collaboratively explore our values, and to creatively expand or modify the support we can offer each other. My hope is that after we return to campus we can keep maintaining and strengthening that heightened consciousness. This is a beautiful kind of grit we are building together, and we need it always.

Ravi Bhatt

Psychology, B.A. ’19; Health Administration and Public Policy, B.A. ’19; Civic Literacy Program Specialist, Center for Democracy and Civic Life

What is your favorite memory of UMBC?

My favorite memory of UMBC is from Homecoming in 2018. Specifically, the bonfire, which fell on October 5th. That night I brought my mom to watch the Bonfire and all of my friends gathered to surprise her with a cake and balloons. After she left, we all spent some time together walking around campus. That time together provided so many amazing memories and fostered immense amounts of connection and love from and for each other.

What are you learning about community and connection from living through the COVID-19 pandemic?

Community and connection are a pivotal part of being human and the UMBC community embraces that in whatever way we can. Through these challenging times, connection with others is what will bring us together and bring us to the other side. The connection we build now will also build the community we have post-COVID. I am grateful for the technology that allows us to have the connection that we do.

What are your hopes, wishes, and goals for the UMBC community post COVID-19?

My biggest hope is that UMBC leadership continues its commitment to being transparent to students, faculty, and staff. Throughout this pandemic, UMBC leaders have kept us informed through every step of the way including every decision. They have also done a phenomenal job in including the students, staff and faculty in their decision making processes, which I hope continues post-COVID. My goal is to maintain the level of connection I have with people around me beyond the pandemic.

Romy Hübler

Modern Languages and Linguistics, B.A. ‘09; Intercultural Communication, M.A. ‘11; Language, Literacy, and Culture, Ph.D. ‘15; Assistant Director, Center for Democracy and Civic Life; Faculty Fellow, Honors College

What is your favorite memory of UMBC?

One of my favorite memories is a recurring one: entering Commons 331 on a Friday at 3pm in early December, a room filled with Alternative Spring Break (ASB) participants who are attending their program launch. ASB leaders and Center for Democracy and Civic Life staff have worked together closely for several months at this point, but this is the moment where it suddenly feels real. I always feel an immense sense of joy, gratitude, and purpose when I am in that space, interact with participants, and envision the incredible six-day immersive experience we will have a few months later.

What are you learning about community and connection from living through the COVID-19 pandemic?

In the last decade, I have purposefully sought out a place of work and made my home in a city neighborhood in which community is central. I feel a sense of belonging when I unexpectedly cross paths with dear colleagues, neighbors, and friends who are smiling, waving, and stopping to say hello. I feel a sense of mutual care and support when I trade ingredients and homemade foods with my neighbor, or when we share the latest news on new local small businesses and initiatives. As an immigrant without family in the United States, I have spent the last six weeks in self-isolation, but it is this sense of belonging and mutual care that keeps me feeling grounded, supported, and hopeful during the pandemic. While the ways in which I can be in community have shifted, the new ways are even more explicitly focused on ensuring everyone’s well-being, whether that is through frequently checking in with each other, sharing resources, or bringing joy to one another’s lives.

What are your hopes, wishes, and goals for the UMBC community post COVID-19?

This pandemic has shown us that change not only happens, but can happen quickly and alter long-standing traditions and practices. My hope for the UMBC community is that we use this time to reflect on the traditions and practices that were in place before COVID-19. Which were helpful in creating environments in which all members of our community could thrive? Which were unhelpful? If we can use this moment to hold onto the former and put effort into changing the latter, UMBC will be an even stronger and more thriving community.