Grand Challenges Central

Pines Conducts as Freshmen Connect, Probe Tough Issues
By Lauren Brown | Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle

Eighty Maryland freshmen wading through the most unconventional semester in generations, with a pandemic, social unrest and a fraught presidential election, confronted those issues in an unconventional setting: a Fall course taught by the university’s new president.

Darryll J. Pines led the eight-week virtual course, “Grand Challenges of Our Time,” focused on four of them: COVID-19, the Black Lives Matter movement, climate change and voting access. The first class taught by a UMD president in more than 20 years, it brought together first-year students to examine these topics in their historical and current contexts and share their own perspectives in hopes of effecting change.

“I want our students to know that they can indeed come up with solutions to the grand challenges of our time,” he says.

Pines, who in his previous role as dean of the A. James Clark School of Engineering taught a similar course focused on that field, sought to broaden it after taking the reins at UMD in July.

Like in that last class, he had experts from across campus and around the nation participate in his Wednesday lectures. Several talks were branded as Presidential Distinguished Forums and open to the full campus community.

Students also went into small groups to explore the issues more deeply with the help of two co-instructors. One of them, Shelvia English Ph.D. ’19, assistant director of the Incentive Awards Program, says that as a Black woman and Christian, she wanted to show students that the campus is diverse, dynamic and open to different voices.

“This is an important way to encourage students to talk to each other about the tough things,” she says.


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