Growing Art from Agar

Two students pouring agar into a dish in a lab
Ten Nazur and Sara Kaufman pour agar into dishes to create their art.

This year’s January Intersession was cold and snowy, but students in From Proteins to Living Art were sweating with concentration while loading DNA samples onto gels for electrophoresis. “I’m shaking in my boots!” one student yelped. The students spent two weeks painstakingly pipetting and cloning to make fluorescent E. coli bacteria and create decorative, glowing, agar art.

The class was taught by doctoral candidates Hannah Haller-Hidalgo (Program in Cell, Molecular, Developmental and Biophysics) and Taylor Devlin (Program in Molecular Biophysics). They created the class so students from any major could learn basic lab skills and etiquette in a fun, low-stress environment. 

A fun way to learn about labs

Agar art is made by culturing microbes in patterns on a jelly-like growth medium, agar. It’s popular on social media, and Haller-Hidalgo, who also teaches at local high schools with Mentoring to Inspire Diversity in Science, thought it was an approachable way to teach the fundamentals of molecular cloning. More than half of the students in the class had never worked in a lab before. A junior-year sociology major could partner with a first-year chemical and biomolecular engineering student to learn key skills (and practice art) together. 

“I really wanted to take a lab course without having to commit to a full semester,” says Ten Nazur, a History of Science and Technology major focusing on medicine with an interest in genetics. While he doesn’t need to work in a lab for his major, understanding lab work helps his research, and he liked having a creative final project. “I get to show up for two weeks and two credits, and have the time of my life,” he says.

The students started simply by learning how to pipette with good form and load DNA into miniscule gel wells. They built up to sequencing of their fluorescent protein genes and understanding the real-world applications of molecular cloning. Making the fluorescent art was the last step.

Mixing art and science

The students poured teal, red, black, purple, or plain agar into petri dishes, then laid the dishes over paper sketches to use as a guide to trace custom designs. One student drew a wave full of jellyfish, another a mushroom diorama, while Nazur took a crack at drawing Dawk, a yarn ball toy from Special Collections in the Sheridan Libraries. The students used tiny paintbrushes and long, thin stirring rods to carefully jab the transparent bacteria solutions into the agar. Without a black light, they couldn’t see if they had hit their marks. They had to wait a few days for the bacteria to grow before they could see their fluorescent agar pictures.

Sara Kaufman, a first-year biomedical engineering student, took the class to indulge her interest in the arts. “I’m really into the combination of science and art,” she says. “With intersession classes, having the freedom to choose something is really cool … this is a nice break from the hardcore, fully STEM classes.” She painted organs in space because she’s passionate about creating the perfect heart for those who need transplants, possibly with bioprinting. 

Instructor Haller-Hidalgo hopes to see some of these students working in JHU labs next year. First-year student Chiara Cole says she wants to get involved with labs on campus, and this class has helped her brush up on technique. 

“Because I want to be a film and media studies and a behavioral biology double major, I like mixing art and science,” she says. “If I ever want to do some type of research, now I know I have the tools to do it.”

Notable: Cherié Butts

Cherié Butts

Cherié Butts ’92 BS, ’97 MS is a medical director in the Therapeutics Development Unit at Biogen, a global biotechnology company that seeks to develop novel therapies for complex diseases.

Career Highlights

  • At Biogen, Butts is responsible for assessing treatments for neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disorders.
  • Before joining Biogen, she held research and drug development-related appointments at the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health, including the National Institute of Mental Health and National Cancer Institute. 
  • She is a past chair of the Salem State University Board of Trustees and chair of the Minority Affairs Committee of the American Association of Immunologists. She was responsible for creation of the AAI Young Scholars Award program for emerging scientists interested in research, and the Biogen experiential learning conference to help scientists and clinicians in academia learn drug development.
  • She works with organizations, including the National Academies, to help scientists and clinicians appreciate the interconnectedness of drug development and how researchers in each sector can contribute to new drugs, devices, and diagnostics.

“I believe there is tremendous opportunity in biomedical research. This is only the beginning. I believe [that] we will innovate by leveraging the power of working in teams across academia, government, and industry. If we each do our part, the impact will be exponential.”

Color Magazine, 2019

“Decreasing morbidity and mortality across an entire population will require that we consider the needs of all individuals. A variety of people with different backgrounds and experiences should be at the decision-making table to ensure everyone afflicted with disease is taken into consideration.”

ASBMB Today, March 2020

Art Historian Daniel Weiss Returns

Daniel H. Weiss

Art historian Daniel H. Weiss, A&S ’82 (MA), ’92 (PhD), has returned to Johns Hopkins as Homewood Professor of the Humanities, following eight years as president and then president and chief executive officer of the Metro­politan Museum of Art in New York.

Weiss joined the faculty of the Department of the History of Art in 1993 and served as James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School from 2002 until 2005, when he became presi­dent of Lafayette College. In 2013, he was appointed president of Haver­ford College, serving until 2015, when he joined the Met. Last year, Weiss announced that he would step down from his role at the Met in June 2023.

“We welcome back our esteemed colleague with open arms,” said Christopher S. Celenza, James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. “Dan brings a breathtaking depth and breadth of knowledge and expertise to the fields of art history and museum leadership. We look forward to the ways the presence of such a distin­guished scholar will advance discovery across the school, and to watching stu­dents and peers alike flourish through his inspiration and mentorship.”

Weiss steered the Met—where he had been a regular visitor since child­hood—through a time of financial struggle, taking the institution from high deficits at his arrival to a bal­anced budget by 2020. With some 1.5 million objects in its collection and an operating budget of $350 million, the Met is one of the world’s larg­est and most diverse art museums.

A New Beginning

Weiss is considered a leader across the museum landscape for such initia­tives as turning down funding from the Sackler family over their connection to the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma; prioritizing diversity and inclusion in areas ranging from hiring to collections and programming to community engagement; and increas­ing attendance—under his watch, the museum set records for three years in a row at more than 7 million visitors per year.

As Homewood Professor, Weiss will conduct research and teach. A specialist in the art of the Middle Ages, particularly French art in the age of the Crusades and during the reign of Louis IX in the 13th century, Weiss has also published widely on a variety of other topics, including higher education, museums, and American culture. His most recent books include Why the Museum Matters (2022), In That Time: Michael O’Donnell and the Tragic Era of Vietnam (2019), and Remaking College: Innovation and the Liberal Arts (2013).

“It’s an honor and a special pleas­ure to return to Johns Hopkins,” Weiss said. “I look forward to rejoining the extraordinary community of scholars, teachers, and students at this great uni­versity. Teaching and mentoring stu­dents have always been great passions of mine. I look forward to being back on campus and to contributing what I can to the work of the Krieger School.”

A History in Art

Weiss, who grew up on Long Island, earned a BA in psychology at George Washington University in 1979. Inter­ested in pursuing a museum career, he went on to earn a master’s in medi­eval and modern art at the Krieger School in 1982, and an MBA from the Yale School of Management in 1985. After four years of strategic manage­ment consulting in New York, he was ready to combine his interests in arts and education, and returned to Hop­kins. He earned a PhD in western medi­eval and Byzantine art with a minor in classical Greek art and architecture and then joined the faculty, remain­ing at Hopkins for the next 16 years.

Weiss was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2021. Also that year, he was one of the inau­gural recipients of George Washing­ton University’s Monumental Alumni Award, the highest form of alumni recog­nition the university gives to honor liv­ing alumni who have made an impact on the world through their work and service. He was elected to the Soci­ety of Scholars at Hopkins in 2018, and is the author of seven books.

Missing Piece in Human Genome Decoded

The chromosome associated with male development, which is the last mysterious piece of the human genome, has been fully sequenced by a team of more than 100 researchers around the world, including Johns Hopkins University scientists.

The achievement completes the Y chromosome’s genetic code and unveils key details that could pro­vide a crisper picture of the role the chromosome plays in male-specific development, fertility, and geneti­cally triggered diseases like cancer.

The work was published in August in Nature.

“Now that we have this 100% complete sequence of the Y chromo­some, we can identify and explore numerous genetic variations that could be impacting human traits and disease in a way that we wer­en’t able to do before,” says co-first author Dylan Taylor, a Johns Hopkins geneticist and doctoral candidate in the Department of Biology.

The sequence of DNA that com­prises chromosomes encodes the genes and genetic circuits that guide the development and function of all cells in living organisms. The Y chromosome has been particularly challenging to decode because of its repetitive molecular patterns, but new sequencing technology and bioinfor­matics algorithms allowed the team to resolve these DNA sequences.

New Insights

The team revealed the structures of sperm-regulating gene families and discovered 41 additional genes in the Y chromosome. They also unveiled the structures of genes thought to play sig­nificant roles in growth and function­ing of the male reproductive system.

“We completed the wiring dia­gram for all these genetic switches that get activated via the Y chromo­some, many of which are critical to the genetic contributions to male development,” says author Michael Schatz, a Bloomberg Distinguished Professor in computer science, biol­ogy, and oncology. “We are at a point where scientists can start using this map. We were previously blind to different parts of the genome and different mutations, but now that we can see the whole genome, we hope we can add new insights to the genet­ics of a lot of different diseases.”

The Y chromosome, along with the X chromosome, is often discussed for its role in sexual development. While these chromosomes play a central role, the factors involved in human sexual development are spread across the genome and very complex, giving rise to the array of human sex characteristics found among male, female, and intersex individuals. These categories are not equivalent to gender, which is a social category. Additionally, recent work demonstrates that genes on the Y chromosome contribute to other aspects of human biology, such as cancer risk and severity.

Building Blocks

The research was led by the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the Telomere-to- Telomere consortium that in 2022 unveiled the complete sequence of a human genome, a decades-in-the-making revelation expected to open new lines of molecular and genetic exploration. However, that work was done with two X chromosomes. Now, using a donor with both an X and a Y chromosome, the consortium built a complete blueprint of the Y chromo­some and every element of its DNA.

The new findings lay the foun­dation for high-quality genome assemblies that didn’t exist before, including for personalized genomes.

“The genome is a very personal thing—it has the basic instructions for the building blocks of our devel­opment and what makes us human,” says co-author Rajiv McCoy, assistant professor of biology. “We knew we had an incomplete picture up until now, but we can now see the entire genome from end to end for the first time.”

Other Johns Hopkins authors are Paul Hook, Winston Timp, Steven Salzberg, Nae-Chyun Chen, Ariel Gershman, Jakob Heinz, Stephen Hwang, Michael Sauria, Alaina Shumate, and Samantha Zarate.

Johns Hopkins Opens a New Home in Washington, D.C.

In October, hundreds turned out for the dedication of Johns Hopkins’ gleam­ing new building at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. It ushers in a new era for the university in the heart of the nation’s capital—and will soon also be home to JHU’s newest academic division, a School of Government and Policy.

The Hopkins Bloomberg Center brings new purpose and possibility to the university’s longstanding mission to connect the worlds of research and policy. In this new location—and build­ing on the well-established reputation of the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington policy circles— Hopkins will educate future leaders and innovators, convene a range of view­points to foster discovery and dialogue, and create a vibrant new space for artistic expression and performance.

Data-driven approaches to policy

“The opening of the Hopkins Bloomberg Center marks a significant moment in the life of our university. The new center will deepen our presence in D.C. at a time when society is struggling to come together to solve problems and seize opportunities to advance the common good,” Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels said at the dedication. “Through the center, we will amplify our university’s proven capacity to bring the world’s greatest research and data-driven approaches to government innovation and policy.”

The Hopkins Bloomberg Center has been years in the making, beginning with the university’s 2019 acquisition of the 435,000-square-foot building on one of the world’s most iconic avenues, a street where generations of Americans have marched, celebrated, paraded, and protested. In the ensuing four years, the space has been transformed into a light-filled, vibrant center for learning, research, and public engagement, a modern multipurpose space actualized by a talented and creative team of architects, designers, artists, technicians, engineers, and construction crews.

The building will host programming from all corners of Johns Hopkins, bringing experts, students, and researchers from all of the university’s Baltimore and D.C.-based divisions together. This includes 40 projects and programs supported by the university’s Nexus Awards program; awardees include more than 100 scholars and researchers from all nine JHU academic divisions covering a range of topics, including artificial intelligence and health policy, the arts and humanities, global health and gender equity, and much more.

A home on Pennsylvania Avenue

“We are honored that the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center chose to open a new space on Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of our downtown,” said Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser. “We have set the bold goal to win back our downtown by making Washington, D.C., a place for successful businesses and opportuni­ty-rich neighborhoods. Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg Center brings a new hub for global leaders to convene, and new employment and educational opportunities to our downtown.”

Situated at the doorstep of the nation’s government in a location specifically selected to foster collabo­ration with policymakers and prac­titioners, the Hopkins Bloomberg Center will be a hub of interdisciplinary partnerships and convenings, and an academic engine to advance solutions to the challenges that confront city halls, Washington, and beyond.

From the Krieger School Dean

Dean Christopher S. Celenza

This coming spring will mark the 50th anniversary of commencement for the first full undergraduate class at Hopkins that included women. That’s quite a milestone for the university and for this remarkable group of women, many of whom will return to campus for Reunion Weekend 2024, April 5–7, to share their stories.

During their four years at Hopkins, that group of female undergraduates faced challenges and even obstacles at times. Not everyone was pleased with their arrival. But they knew they were breaking new ground, and they pursued their studies with dedication and vigor.

The move to accept women to its undergraduate programs was a sea change for the university and a positive, if belated, step in the right direction to bring new and important voices to our campus and classroom lives. Now, half a century later, our quest to welcome diverse voices to our community is stronger than ever—indeed it is the only way we will continue to grow and flourish.

Without different voices and viewpoints, a vibrant university like ours would not only be prone to navel-gazing, but also miss out on critical new knowledge that only arises when multiple efforts are made together in the name of a single goal: discovery.

It’s not just the discovery that happens in the classroom or the laboratory—it’s the understanding that we can hold diverse viewpoints on critical topics and still work side by side with respect for one another. In fact, our feature article on page 18 explores civic education and the importance of teaching our students how to productively engage with people who may have different opinions or ideas. If we ever expect to emerge from our nation’s current state of polarization, it’s critical that we first learn how to have dialogues across differing viewpoints.

As that determined and courageous first class of women at Hopkins knew, having an array of unique voices creates a community that is curious, engaged, and always discovering.

By ensuring that our community includes as wide an array of voices, viewpoints, backgrounds, and experiences as possible, we hope to serve as a small-scale example of the kind of democracy our nation aspires to. Our community in all its richness remains at the heart of all we do. Thank you for making your voice a part of it.

Christopher S. Celenza

James B. Knapp Dean

The Political Dynamics of Disasters

When war or natural disasters occur, many activities of daily life still proceed due to the efforts of everyday people who quickly adapt to extraordinary circumstances.

Sarah Parkinson has dedicated her research to studying the behavior of organizations that are active in con­flict and crisis zones. In recent years, Parkinson has focused increasingly on medical professionals, especially first responders. Ranging from local clinicians to international volun­teers, these providers inhabit com­plex roles by working across political lines when treating people from rival factions or different nationalities.

Sarah Parkinson

If we want to understand the politics of conflict and disasters, it’s important that we look at most people’s lived experience, which is not on the front lines.”

—Sarah Parkinson

“It’s not their job to stand out, but medical professionals can have significant influence on public safety and social change in their societies,” she says. “If we want to understand the politics of conflict and disas­ters, it’s important that we look at most people’s lived experience, which is not on the front lines.”

Preparing for Challenges

An Aronson Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Studies in the Department of Polit­ical Science, Parkinson is under­taking a new project researching where war and disaster overlap.

One such place is in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, which often house a mix of Palestinians, Syrians, and even migrant workers. Civil defense groups there have taken the lead in fighting wildfire out­breaks and promoting public health by educating the local population about diseases such as cholera.

“I plan on talking to various civil defense agencies in Lebanon and else­where about how they’re doing their work and preparing for challenges,” she says. “The research will examine the ways in which unexpected actors in cri­ses can contribute to political dynamics.”

Parkinson’s ongoing research traces back to her dissertation work at the University of Chicago, where she earned her doctorate in 2013. Over the years, she has engaged in extensive field work in the Middle East and North Africa, working with Palestinian and Syrian refugees in Lebanon, humani­tarian responders in Iraqi Kurdistan, and members of civil defense agen­cies in places such as Tunisia.

Repur­posing Social Networks

She came to Johns Hopkins in 2016 and has further developed means of using social network theory and eth­nographic methods to examine how organizations handle crises. Some of the work recently culminated in her award-winning book published in early 2023, Beyond the Lines: Social Networks and Palestinian Militant Organizations in Wartime Lebanon.

In the book, Parkinson examines the evolution of Palestinian militant groups during the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990). Engaging in backstage labor such as supplying their forces, unmasking collaborators, and dis­rupting the operations of rivals was critical to the groups’ resiliency. Also key, though, was the effective repur­posing of social networks to serve local populations and garner support, for instance by providing essential services such as health care—tying in with Parkinson’s focus on medi­cal professionals in crisis zones.

Overall, Parkinson argues, the traditional emphasis on reporting the numbers of lives lost in disasters— both human-caused and natural in origin—alongside high-level political actions can unintentionally erase the politically pertinent activities of on-the-ground groups.

“A significant issue is that policy is often made from headline news, and that’s not what policy should be based on,” she says. “It’s the wrong set of relationships among affected populations being looked at.”

Note: This story was reported before the violence in Israel and Gaza started on Oct. 7.

Questioning Reality and Our Place in It

The book Rigor of Angels

Questions surrounding the nature of the universe and the fabric that holds existence together have long intrigued humans. This contemplation is exactly what united celebrated Argentine poet and fiction writer Jorge Luis Borges, piv­otal German philosopher Immanuel Kant, and pioneering German quan­tum physicist Werner Heisenberg.

“Three people you couldn’t think were more different in a variety of ways, all managed through their own ways of thinking about the world to come to a remarkably similar understand­ing about the relationship between the human intellect and the ulti­mate nature of reality,” says William Egginton, the Decker Professor in the Humanities and director of the Alexander Grass Humanities Institute.

Bill Egginton

[This book] tells a cautionary tale about the danger of assuming reality must conform to the image we construct of it, and the damage that our fidelity to such a seductive ideal can wreak. ”

—William Egginton

In The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant, and the Ultimate Nature of Reality, Egginton probes four central themes: Are space and time infinitely divisible? Is there a supreme, uncon­ditional being? Is there an edge to the universe? Do we choose our own path, or are our choices predeter­mined by our physical environment?

“[This book] tells a cautionary tale about the danger of assuming real­ity must conform to the image we construct of it, and the damage that our fidelity to such a seductive ideal can wreak,” he writes. “Most of all, it sings an ode to the boundless poten­tial of our knowledge, once we have worked ourselves free from the blin­ders imposed by imagined perfection.”

The Stories Behind the Ideologies

Egginton uses narrative nonfiction to explore the book’s main characters, trac­ing their evolution of thought from their childhoods to their triumphs and trib­ulations in relationships and careers.

An incident that greatly influenced Kant was the morning he arrived late to a carriage ride with English merchant Joseph Green. Kant saw Green’s car­riage moving down the road, and despite his gesturing, his friend kept moving.

“Kant was ruminating about ques­tions like, ‘How do we know what the right thing to do is when life is nothing but change and disruption?’” Egginton says. “I think that’s how you can explain this famous affinity that Kant would have for regularity, for structure in life and not simply going with the flow of things.”

Different Perspectives

Kant approached the questions cen­tral to Egginton’s book with a skep­tic’s eye—space and time are not nec­essarily things that exist in reality, but take shape via our own perception; they are “mapping devices,” Egginton says. Borges similarly believed in the subjec­tive interpretative nature of reality, that humans have no way of encountering the world as it is without putting it into this subjective packaging. Heisenberg’s work in quantum physics and his sem­inal uncertainty principle—that it is impossible to simultaneously know the exact position and momentum of a par­ticle—suggests that reality is inherently uncertain and open to interpretation.

So where does that leave the reader, grappling with the nature of the world around them?

“What unifies these three charac­ters is they had an uncommon resist­ance to a very common way of think­ing about the world, that it must exist independently of our ways of measur­ing it,” Egginton says. “I’d like the reader to come away with a kind of skepti­cism as to their own certainty about the way things must be out in the world.”

Ask the professor: Danielle Evans

Danielle Evans
Associate Professor in The Writing Seminars

Danielle Evans
Danielle Evans, Associate Professor in The Writing Seminars

Danielle Evans: I always carry a notebook with me because I usually have a running list of more than 75 ideas that are pushing me in the direction of a story. Once I land on something, it’s kind of like putting a puzzle together: if I’m thinking about a character and a space, for example, I need to understand why I want to connect those two things and identify some of the ways I might do that. After I’ve entertained the different pieces in my head for a while, I will write a quick draft, always looking for the point where the story really opens up. Sometimes I don’t know what I have until the story is over and I can see what it’s really about.

So from that first draft, I start making foundational edits and then start doing lots of rewrites. It’s a long path to get to what I’m happy with. I tell my students that it’s ok to be in a space where you’re trying to figure out if you’ve given the characters enough room to breathe. I also encourage them to consider the intention of a story they have written, and I will share with them what I understand the intention to be. I want them to experiment with the stories they write.

Danielle Evans is author of two story collections:
Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self and The Office of Historical Corrections

Prizes/Awards: Her first collection won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize, the Hurston/Wright award for fiction, and the Paterson Prize for fiction; her second won the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize and was a finalist for the Aspen Literary Prize, the Story Prize, the Chautauqua Prize, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for fiction. She has also been awarded the New Literary Project Joyce Carol Oates Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Her stories have appeared in magazines and anthologies including The Best American Short Stories and The Paris Review.

Yulia Frumer on edible landscaping

Yulia Frumer

Birds usually snag Yulia Frumer’s blackberries before they have a chance to ripen, but she gets to enjoy plenty of other treats grow­ing in her yard just blocks from the Homewood campus.

Frumer, who holds the Bo Jung and Soon Young Kim Professorship of East Asian Science as associate professor in the Department of the History of Science and Technology, was already an experienced vegeta­ble gardener, but stumbled into edi­ble landscaping during the early days of the pandemic. “You can have something beautiful in the garden, and have it be edible, or if you want to grow something edible, you can also make it beautiful,” she says.

Just down the hill from her fig and quince trees, oyster mushrooms sprout several times a year in the tree stumps Frumer inoculated with spores. Herbs including sage and tar­ragon, nasturtiums and dill spill down a vertical stone spiral she constructed near the sunchokes. There’s a hedge of pomegranates to share with the neighbors, and around a corner are persimmon, plum, and native pawpaw trees, and medicinal herbs including echinacea, valerian root, and chamo­mile. Even the daylilies are edible.

It’s been a Zen experience of relin­quishing control to weather, pests and disease, and plants with minds of their own, Frumer says. “One of the lessons is that you can’t get too attached to any of this.”

close-up of hand holding branch filled with blackberries

Digital Comedy Series Takes Dad Jokes Seriously

The cast of Turf Valley.

Adam Rodgers

In the first episode of the online comedy series Turf Valley, a couple of suburban dads, after waving good-bye to the morning school bus, turn their attention to a very tall, very athletic-looking neighbor.

“That guy’s definitely played some ball,” one says to the other. “You don’t let hands like that slip through your fingers.” Their gawking soon esca­lates from awkward to embarrassing.

The incident, like much of the seven-episode first season of Turf Valley, draws from the real life of its co-creator, Adam Rodgers, Faxon Director of Film and Media Studies.

“One of my neighbors played football at the University of Maryland,” says Rodgers, who really does live in the Ellicott City, Maryland, neighbor­hood of Turf Valley. “He was like 6-foot-5 and super fit. We were all a little jealous in a fun way, so that became the basis for the pilot episode.”

Rodgers, who grew up in Baltimore County, co-wrote the series with Tom Ventimiglia, who teaches screenwriting at the Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA).

A New Season

The two are now working on a sec­ond season of the series, which has been praised for its non-toxic depic­tions of at-home dads and has won a fistful of awards, including Best Web Series at WorldFest Houston and the Independent Shorts Awards.

“The show isn’t about how incompe­tent fathers are, or how weird it is for a dad to be the primary caregiver,” writes Shannon Carpenter, author of The Ultimate Stay-at-Home Dad (2021). “It’s just about three dudes making life work for their family.”

Rodgers and Ventimiglia were invited to HomeDadCon, an annual convention for at-home dads, held in September in Milwaukee. “We brought one of our actors and shot a little piece of an epi­sode at the convention,” Rodgers said.

Each Turf Valley episode—shot, edited, and acted by professionals—is between six and 10 well-paced minutes. The cast includes Charles Mann, who played defensive end for the Washington Redskins and San Francisco 49ers before turning to acting.

Rodgers discovered the joy of film­making as a student at Duke University and earned a master’s degree in fine art at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Close to Home

As a screenwriter and director in Hollywood, his credits include Racing for Time, a television movie starring Charles Dutton and Tiffany Haddish; The Response, a 30-minute film that was short-listed for an Academy Award; and At Middleton, a feature romance starring Vera Farmiga, Andy Garcia, and Nicholas Braun.

He joined Hopkins and moved to Maryland in 2018.

Rodgers says his screenwriting classes at Hopkins are “more of a shar­ing sort of dynamic” because his stu­dents are so engaged and hard-working. “The most satisfying thing, I think, is helping young artists discover their voices,” he says.

He started Turf Valley in 2020 as a pandemic project. Working from home like many others at the time, Rodgers found inspiration right out­side his Turf Valley window.

“I was just charmed by the fact that I got to walk my kids to a bus stop, and the dads would hang out after we dropped our kids off,” he says. “That was the original launching pad. We would have these interesting conver­sations after the kids were gone.”

Since then, Turf Valley has grown into a sustainable creative endeavor with a growing audience. It’s funded primarily by product placements of local businesses, and gives students from Hopkins and BSA the opportu­nity to learn about filmmaking by shad­owing professionals as paid interns.

Rodgers says his ultimate goal is to secure more national sponsors, boost the budget, and make a distri­bution deal with a streaming service.

Environmental Justice in Curtis Bay

faculty and students walking outside Curtis Bay Recreation Center

For the graduate and undergraduate students in last year’s Environ­mental Justice Workshop, going to class meant boarding a van and driving to South Baltimore’s Curtis Bay, where residents have been lobbying for years to stop CSX, the rail-based freight transport company, from exporting coal out of Baltimore. A landfill, wastewater treatment plant, and med­ical waste incinerator also sit nearby.

Gathered in a modest rec center with members of the South Baltimore Community Land Trust and other activist neighbors, students explored how CSX and other local industries were allowed to cause widespread damage to the community, and devel­oped alternatives that prioritize both residents and industry workers.

“There is so much work we have to do to deepen our relationships as a university with the rest of the city that we happen to be located in,” says Anand Pandian, professor in the Department of Anthropology and co-instructor of the “community-engaged” course, co-taught by activist Shashawnda Campbell (center). Community-engaged courses partner with community members and institutions in a two-way process.

Student projects included a web page that offers a critical analysis of CSX’s past and present activities; a video about the history of industrial pollution in the area; a report offering alternatives to shipping coal through the area; a proposal to pre­serve a former landfill as an environmental amenity; and a vision for a community environmental justice center that will occupy a building near the rec center.