Students for a Better World: The Beyond the Classroom Blog

Stories, Resources, & More from the Beyond the Classroom (BTC) Program at University of Maryland


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It’ll Still Be Cold Out Tomorrow: The Polar Vortex as a Catalyst for Helping the Homeless and Addressing Homelessness

BTC students at Capital Area Food Bank

University of Maryland Beyond the Classroom students volunteered at the Capital Area Food Bank in October 2013.

by Beyond the Classroom Staff

Those of us in the Washington, D.C. region and elsewhere who are lucky enough to have heated homes and offices seem to have busied ourselves today by going online to talk about how cold it is outside. A sampling: The Washington Post live blogs the weather; #polarvortex trends on Twitter; NPR asks: “What is the polar vortex, and why is it doing this to us?”; The New Yorker compiles a slideshow of people “Surviving the Polar Vortex”;  and– of course– the cold air brings with it impassioned Reddit debates on the relationship of the polar vortex to climate change on r/science.

Why are we being so dramatic about some cold air? Because a day like this one reminds all of us that we are at the mercy of the natural elements. It makes us confront our physical limits and our mortality, so we take to the internet and reassure ourselves through the act of making a weather event into just another grand spectacle for us to discuss and be amazed by. We’re creating a shared cultural experience– a cultural meme– and cataloging “fear of cold weather” as an unusual state of being: we know that this is a temporary situation, and that we will return shortly to our regularly-scheduled lives. In the meantime, we might as well get some entertainment value out of this weird weather, right?

There is one population in our community, however, who are the most at risk in this bitter cold and yet for whom today is ultimately just one day of many dangerous days: the homeless. When the polar vortex has left our part of the globe and our collective cultural consciousness, the homeless will still be engaged in the daily fight against the elements to survive. In recognition of this reality, Beyond the Classroom presents a collection of resources for taking immediate action to help the homeless; we also propose how the experience of (and hype around) extreme weather events like the polar vortex can serve as a catalyst for addressing homelessness more broadly.

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Beyond the Classroom Provides Real Life Experience

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" -- Nelson Mandela at the University of Witwatersrand in 2003By Colleen McMullen, BTC Student

In college it is very easy to get swept up in academics, to only think short term, study all the time, and develop tunnel vision on getting good grades. While this may enable a student to master the concepts of his or her major, it is an incomplete way of preparing for the “real world”.  Even easier is failing to think about how what students learn at the University of Maryland applies and will contribute to the rest of the world. College is a rather sheltered environment in which students may learn about the issues facing the world today, but have little opportunity to see them in action and learn what is being done to combat them.

The Beyond the Classroom program has changed this perspective for me. It has exposed me to the world’s leading problems in new and engaging ways: through community service, activism, research, and meeting and speaking with those that are directly affected by challenges and work to fight them. Continue reading


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Converging Issues: Earth Day, An Inconvenient Truth?

Editor’s Note: Beyond the Classroom encourages program participants to identify civic issues that are most important to them.  Through activities, lectures, films, seminars, classes, events, and internships, students learn how they can address those issues through civic engagement, advocacy, and action.  This post is the fourth in the “Converging Issues” series, which are blogs that examine these issues from student and staff perspectives – including what inspired the authors to get involved in their civic issue and how they were involved or can be involved in that issue through BTC.
Kevin Lalama

The author

By Kevin Lalama, BTC Student

“We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
~ Chief Seattle

A recent Foreign Policy article caught my attention.  The post begs a serious question: Do we care about Earth Day anymore?  I thought to myself, how could we not?  But Elizabeth Ralph’s article poses some disheartening facts; surprisingly, worldwide, the Google search for “Earth Day” is at an all time low since 2004 (Graph 1 below).

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A Semester of Discovery at Bread for the World

Hermela Capitol

The author, at left, pictured in front of the Capitol with other Bread for the World interns at a lobby day on Capitol Hill.

By Hermela Hailemeskel, BTC Student

“One in 6 people struggle with hunger, 5 in 6 can help.”

This semester, I was able to follow my passion to help end hunger. I had the opportunity to intern in the Church Relations Department of Bread for the World, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to urge decision makers to end hunger at home and abroad through advocacy. I initially learned about Bread for the World last semester in the Beyond the Classroom UNIV325 Seminar class. Continue reading


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American Security Project: An Internship That Matters

Editor’s Note:  Every semester, BTC presents awards to students who have exceeded program expectations.  For the Spring 2013 semester, Kevin Lalama was awarded the Internship Excellence award for his work with the American Security Project, highlighted below.

By Kevin Lalama, BTC Student

As part of my Beyond the Classroom (BTC) experience, and to fulfill my UNIV326 requirement, I am currently interning at the American Security Project (ASP) in Washington, DC. Had it not been for BTC, I would have never applied to a nonprofit organization, I would have never found ASP, and most certainly would never have had the experiences from this semester. My time in UNIV325 last year prepared me for the internship search, interviews, and overall success in the nonprofit sector. Continue reading


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Converging Issues: Hunger and Homelessness

Editor’s Note: Beyond the Classroom encourages program participants to identify civic issues that are most important to them.  Through activities, lectures, films, seminars, classes, events, and internships, students learn how they can address those issues through civic engagement, advocacy, and action.  This post is the third in the “Converging Issues” series, which are blogs that examine these issues from student and staff perspectives – including what inspired the authors to get involved in their civic issue and how they were involved or can be involved in that issue through BTC.

by Meaghan Potter,BTC Student

The author, learning first hand about community gardening in Atlanta.

The author, learning first hand about community gardening in Atlanta.

Hunger and homelessness is an incredibly influential issue that impacts numerous individuals across the globe. While this has always been something I have been aware of, it was never something that directly seemed to impact my daily life. After joining Beyond the Classroom, I became more aware of the true extent to which hunger and homelessness is present in the world today through the foundation course with BTC Director Dr. Jim Riker. In addition, it is an issue that requires civic action. After learning a bit more about the true impact of hunger and homelessness in our society today, I chose to attend an Alternative Spring Break trip to Atlanta, Georgia in hopes of lessening the impact of hunger and homelessness in the Atlanta region.  Continue reading


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Internship Teaches About Sustainability at Universities

by Alexis Robinson, BTC Student

What is sustainability, and how does it apply to us? This is a question that got the Office of Sustainability started at the University of Maryland. My internship is in the Office of Sustainability in the Green Office program, which has taught me so much about the inter-working of sustainability efforts on campus. Continue reading