As global travel expands, UMBC faculty and staff earn Fulbright awards for research, collaboration abroad

By: Megan Hanks Mastrola
Jun 6, 2022

Shimei Pan. (Marlayna Demond '11/UMBC)

Four UMBC faculty and staff members have received highly competitive Fulbright awards to conduct research and establish important connections around the world over the next year.  UMBC’s new recipients of Fulbright U.S. Scholar awards are Shimei Pan, associate professor of information systems, and Corrie Parks, assistant professor of visual arts, and Tiffany Thames Copeland, adjunct faculty in Africana studies. Nancy Young, vice president for student affairs, has received a Fulbright International Education Administrators Award. They will travel to Germany, Austria, Ghana, and France, respectively.

They follow on the heels of Helena Mentis, professor of information systems, who will soon return from a Fulbright experience in Denmark, working with the University of Copenhagen’s Human-Centered Computing research group.

“The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program sends up to 900 U.S. faculty members throughout the world to conduct research or teach their subject, as well as participate in cultural exchange during their time in their host countries,” explains Brian Souders, associate director of global engagement opportunities in UMBC’s Center for Global Engagement

“UMBC has a long tradition of faculty receiving this prestigious award, with 14 UMBC scholars earning this award over the past decade,” he notes. “Receiving three of these awards and an administrators award in a single year is quite exciting.”

Eliminating bias, increasing fairness 

Pan will spend six months at the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies and Heidelberg University in Germany. There she will conduct research related to natural language processing, which is a subfield of artificial intelligence (AI). Her research at UMBC focuses on developing natural language processing models trained on large amounts of text, including content from social media, and she is eager to collaborate with fellow researchers in Germany. 

Shimei Pan. (Marlayna Demond ’11/UMBC)

“I’m excited about the project because it’s a continuation of my recent interests on responsible AI,” she says. “In the past we focused on making the technology more powerful and efficient, but for the last five years or so I’ve been working to address bias and increase fairness.” 

“AI algorithms impact people’s daily lives,” says Pan, in explaining the importance of making these algorithms as equitable as possible. Because artificial intelligence technology is created by people and trained on human-produced data, it will inherit people’s biases. Pan is working to identify, assess, and mitigate various social biases encoded in large natural language processing models trained on massive text collections.

Focusing on the details

Parks will spend two months as an artist in residence at the Q21/MuseumsQuartier in Vienna. She will partner with ASIFA Austria, the International Animated Film Association in Vienna, to create an installation. She uses sand animation and other specialized animation techniques to explore broader themes. “My work examines small details and asks questions about the role of the individual in the collective or big picture,” addressing climate change and social issues, Parks explains. 

Fulbright award recipient Corrie Parks, wearing glasses and a shirt with water color print, stands with a group of other people in an exhibit space
Corrie Parks, right, at a CADVC event. (Marlayna Demond ’11/UMBC)

This is not the first time that Parks has received a Fulbright award. She spent time in New Zealand when she was a student pursuing her master in fine arts degree. She sees these immersive artist residencies as unique opportunities to make significant “creative leaps,” focusing exclusively on her art.

During her time in Austria, Parks will create a work for a public installation space in the center of a building that is both old and contemporary. While she will create her installation independently, she will work with collaborators on coding interactive and visualization elements of the work. 

Cultural exchange, diaspora research

Thames Copeland will complete her Fulbright award in Ghana where she will study the experiences and impacts of people in the African Diaspora “returning” to Ghana in the last century. “I am humbled to receive this Fulbright U.S. Scholars award to Ghana for the 2022-2023 academic year,” she says. “I am looking forward to the cultural exchange experience and investigating the Back to Africa Movement of the 21st century, as I research how the African Diaspora ‘returnees’ to Ghana continue in the fight for liberation.”

Tiffany Thames Copeland. (Image courtesy of Thames Copeland)

She has been an adjunct faculty member in the Africana studies department at UMBC since January 2021.

Seeing the world differently 

Young is part of the first group selected for the Fulbright International Education Administrators program since the COVID-19 pandemic began. She was named a finalist before the pandemic and, now that the program has resumed, she will be one of twelve U.S. administrators from across the country to spend two weeks in France, connecting with contacts in French higher education, government, and administration.

Portrait of Fulbright recipient Nancy Young in red shirt, black suit jacket, and black/gold necklace.
Nancy Young. (Marlayna Demond ’11/UMBC)

“I am excited to engage in an experience that I think will challenge me to grow and see the world differently,” Young says. She looks forward to establishing relationships with new colleagues and developing a deeper understanding of other education systems, and she is eager to apply what she learns from the Fulbright experience to her work at UMBC.

Young has been interested in the Fulbright program since early in her career. She shares that support from colleagues at UMBC, including Souders and David Di Maria, associate vice provost for international education, was instrumental in making her goal a reality. 

In addition to this honor, Young was also recently recognized as one of the Maryland Daily Record’s Top 100 Women. She has also been featured by the Chronicle of Higher Education as a leading voice on the future of Student Affairs.

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