Poly Senior Taylor Williams receives associate’s degree at BCCC one day before high school graduation

— As Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) celebrated its 64th commencement Saturday, June 1, 2013 attesting to the spirit and determination of graduates who completed 60 hours of college credit and their associate’s degree, one standout was noted for the way she accomplished the same feat while still in high school.


President Obama’s letter to Taylor Williams

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Taylor Williams, age 17, a senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, approached the stage for her associate’s degree at the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric. She was one of the first at her school to earn a two-year college degree in the same time it takes to get a diploma. In fact, her high school graduation ceremony takes place the very next day.

Taylor began her journey nearly four years ago when she transferred from her first high school, Grace Brethren Christian School, to Poly. Because she needed a biology class, her parents helped her enroll at BCCC. Her father accompanied her to class since she was only 14. Over the course of her studies, she learned about BCCC’s Early Enrollment Program, which enables students to rack up college credits while they are still in high school, as long they earn a grade of “C” or better.

“I never thought this would be such a big deal,” she says. “But the Early Enrollment Program became an outlet for my motivation. I’m a bit stubborn; all I wanted was to be competitive so I kept on taking classes and building up my college credit. You have to set yourself apart.”

Taylor credits the community college environment at BCCC— smaller class size, individualized attention and convenience to her high school schedule— as indispensable to her success.

Taylor will attend the University of Maryland-College Park this fall where she is thinking of pursuing a double major in engineering and pre-medicine. She was also accepted to Howard University in Washington, D.C., North Carolina A&T State University and Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg.

Her father is a network engineer and her mother, a software engineer. Both stay actively involved in her academic life. Taylor’s sister, Kayla, is in 10th grade. Despite her young age she is working at an internship in Northrup Grumman’s High School Involvement Partnership (HIP) Program, which focuses on young people’s pursuit of technical degrees through hands-on experiences and training.

In addition to her academic pursuits Taylor has maintained an ambitious schedule of extracurricular activities. She received a personal letter from President Barack Obama recognizing her simultaneous achievement of an associate’s degree and high school diploma. She was awarded a Governor’s Citation from Gov. Martin O’Malley and similar acclamations from Maryland State Sen. Bill Ferguson and Baltimore City Council President Jack Young. As an Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) speaker, Taylor addressed Baltimore area middle school audiences on the importance of education. She participated in NASA’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Research Program and was a member of Poly’s indoor and outdoor track teams. In 2010, she was First Runner Up in the Miss Maryland Teen USA Pageant.

Earlier this year, Taylor was selected by the National Society of High School Scholars to attend the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Conference in Washington, D.C. where she met retired four-star General and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark.

BCCC’s 64th commencement featured Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown as keynote speaker, who coincidentally was also the speaker at Taylor’s Poly graduation ceremony the next day. This year the college will graduate over 500 of its students. For more information about programs offered at BCCC, contact the BCCC Institutional Advancement Office.

BSA appoints new director of TWIGS program

— Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA) is pleased to announce the appointment of Becky Schnydman Mossing as the new director of the school’s free after school and Saturday program, TWIGS (“To Work in Gaining Skills”). Mossing, who is a 1988 graduate of BSA, will begin this role in August following the retirement of Georgia King after 22years as director.

Since 1982, TWIGS has given young aspiring artists who reside in Baltimore City the opportunity to gain skills in music, dance, visual arts, stage production and theatre classes taught by professional artist/teachers. TWIGS, has grown exponentially over the years and today serves 700 young artists from second through eighth grade from more than 100 public, parochial and independent schools.

“Becky brings her expertise, her joy and her enthusiasm to BSA every day. She delights in sharing these qualities with young people,” said Dr. Chris Ford, director of BSA. “We have been honored to have her on our team and are thrilled for her to share her talent and passion with the area’s youngest artists and their families.”

Mossing has been a staff member at BSA since 2006 and has served in several roles including program assistant, musical theatre instructor and alumni director.

“I came back to BSA because I love the school’s mission— to work with city kids who have a passion, but limited opportunities for training,” said Mossing. ”The mission to give these kids the ability to follow their dreams is extraordinary and magical.”

Prior to BSA, she taught acting and musical theatre classes at Everyman Theatre, Summer Stock Performing Arts Camp and Musical Theatre Works, Inc.

Outside of BSA, Mossing co-directs The Hippodrome Foundation’s Summer Theatre Camp, a free program that serves middle school children primarily from Baltimore City. Additionally, her cabaret performances can be seen regularly around Baltimore.

Following graduation from BSA, Mossing attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. While there, she received the Outstanding Achievement Award in musical theatre. After graduating from NewYork University, she began her career in theatre by performing in off-Broadway performances, touring nationally and doing regional theatre. Mossing also went on to receive her Master of Arts in teaching with certification in general and special education from Goucher College in 2000. She taught elementary and special education in Baltimore County public schools for four years.

Current TWIGS Program Assistant and 1996 graduate, Iris Andersen, will continue working with the program with an expanded role and Michael Solomon will also continue in his role with the program.

For more information about the TWIGS program, visit www.bsfa.org/TWIGS.

Local boxer packs punch, carries tune

— Not only does Franchon Crews pack a powerful punch but the 25-year-old Baltimore resident can also carry a tune. However, the most important battle she fights daily does not directly involve her.

“My mother suffers from chronic kidney disease and we have been battling this since 2005, which is around the time I started my boxing career,” said Crews, who has accumulated more than 13 national titles and became the first American woman boxer to win gold at the Pan American games.

Known as the “Heavy Hitting Diva,” Crews said her mother’s condition has helped to educate and inspire her during her amateur boxing career.



Courtesy photo

Franchon Crews packs a punch

Franchon Crews also known as the “Heavy Hitting Diva,” is first American woman to win gold at the Pan American Games.

“I have a motto that I live by and which became more prominent as my mother’s battle continued,” Crews said. “That motto is, while she fights to live, I fight to win.”

Crews’ successful career, which also includes a silver medal at the Women’s World Championships in Quinhuangdao, China, has allowed her to shine a brighter light on her mother’s condition and the plight of others with the illness.”

Crews, now uses her notoriety to help bring attention to the National Kidney Foundation of Maryland.

The foundation is scheduled to hold its fourth annual Rappel for Kidney Health signature event on June 8, 2013 at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel. Crews will be among those to scale 28 of the hotel’s 33 stories, from the roof to a fifth-floor pool.

“I am proud to support the foundation, which is committed to helping the more than 13,000 Marylanders with end stage renal disease through direct services, research, funding and advocacy,” said the event’s chairperson, Brigitte Sullivan, an administrative director at the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center.

Ten of the rappel participants, who were asked to raise $1,000 each before the event, will fund a research mini-grant at a local hospital while two will fund a kidney health risk assessment in a local community officials said.

The fundraiser will also help to fund the cost for 50 people to have their blood drawn at a kidney screening and to fund five emergency assistance grants for patients. The fundraiser will also help fund part of a rent or mortgage payment for at least four patients who are on dialysis.

Mostly, Crews said, it will benefit those in urban communities where there isn’t always enough exposure and a lack of focus and health and fitness.

“I want to change that,” she said. “My mother is my inspiration. I look at it like, if she can fight every day, I can fight for 8 minutes in a boxing match to help bring attention to this illness.”

Crews started boxing at the age of 16 and won her first national title at 17. She is an aspiring singer, but was once told that she was too heavy. “So, I hit the gym and started boxing to lose weight,” she said. “But, I liked it. I have three older brothers and they rough me up, even though I get a couple of punches in.”

Crews, who will fight in Washington, D.C. in December, remains serious about her singing career, which got a boost when she appeared as a contestant on American Idol in 2005. “That’s why they call me the Heavy Hitting Diva,” she said, noting that she does have three new songs available on her website, www.theheavyhittingdiva.com.

She even got to sing the Star Spangled Banner on ESPN before a nationally televised fight card. “That’s where I showed off my ‘diva’ skills and not my ‘heavy hitting’ abilities,” she said with a laugh.

Six week community college program opens door to Ivy League

— Felix German Contreras, age 22, is a second-year student at Atlantic Cape Community College in New Jersey on a sure-footed path to health sciences.

New Jersey State Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society President. Atlantic City Boys and Girls Club Staff Assistant. Medical school-bound.

Who knew this was possible for the six-year-old Dominican boy who immigrated to Atlantic City in 1996. His father, a biochemical engineer, discovered his experience did not translate laterally to the U.S. and settled for casino employment. His mother, a high school graduate, is a beauty school-trained cosmetologist who enjoys styling hair.

A naturalized U.S. citizen at 17, Contreras watched his neighborhood friends wither under the weight of harsh challenges. Four of them were lost to drug abuse, incarceration and death. Peter, his closest friend since age seven died from a heroin overdose in 2012.

“Wasn’t this move to America supposed to open a brighter future?” he wondered. The situations could easily create more doubt than possibilities for Contreras who describes himself in a desperate search for that “catalyst to achieve.”

One late night in early 2012, Contreras, a calculus and chemistry whiz, tapped a few keystrokes that redirected his fate. A Google search for “medical summer program” returned the life-changing link— “SMDEP”— Summer Medical and Dental Education Program.

The Summer Medical and Dental Education Program is a free, six-week academic enrichment program sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The intensive program— which offers tuition, housing and meals at 12 university sites across the country— equips college freshman and sophomores from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue careers in medicine or dentistry.

Contreras applied and was accepted by SMDEP at the Yale University site. The rigorous science, math and medical school preparation was accompanied by workshops to improve reading and writing skills. Contreras admits the training helped him clear hurdles around English as his second language.

Encouraged by a site advisor to “step up his game,” Contreras read six novels in six months, turning the corner on a newly found love for English.

Less than a year after the program, Contreras is poised for a career in nutrition or public health.

Recalling his experience, “You can’t believe how much six weeks can give to someone, who is eager to receive,” he notes. “I believe everybody wants to better themselves. But sometimes, they just don’t know how. SMDEP showed me the doors of opportunities to the other side.”

Most doctors in his area are either Asian or Caucasian, which explains the “culture shock” he experienced while studying with fellow black and Latino students at the Yale SMDEP site. He eagerly welcomed the exposure, recognizing the wave of the future.

Rapid demographic changes are transforming the nation’s population. According to physician workforce data provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges between 1978 and 2008, 75 percent of all medical school graduates practicing medicine were white. Meanwhile, blacks, American Indians and Hispanics comprised a combined 12.3 percent U.S. physician workforce. For nearly 25 years, SMDEP has served as a pipeline to position more diverse health care professionals in the field.

Contreras offers that his mother, who speaks little English, has experienced sub-par health care due to language barriers and a lack of cultural competence by some physicians.

“My mother is like many immigrant people who do not get adequate health care because there is not enough sensitivity to and for their realities,” says Contreras.

Eyeing Amherst College or Wesleyan University for undergraduate studies, Contreras applauds the two years spent at Atlantic Cape Community College. He insists that the supportive community college experience, coupled with his SMDEP participation has prepared him to succeed academically at a four-year college. He indicated he wants to study at Yale School of Medicine and then return that training to his Atlantic City community.

“I want to attend Yale School of Medicine— not because it’s Yale— but because of what Yale SMDEP has done for me,” he shares. “It is where my fundamentals were built and has paved everything for me to today.”

“All of this has made me realize, wow— I can be a leader! The little things add up to be big in the end. Sí se puede,” he says, which translates into “Yes We Can!”

Started in 1988 (formerly as the Minority Medical Education Program and Summer Medical and Education Program), more than 20,0000 alumni have completed SMDEP which today sponsors 12 university sites with each accepting up to 80 students per summer session. Now preparing for their summer 2013 cohort, SMDEP accepts applications annually November 1 thru March1. For more information about SMDEP and how to apply, visit www.smdep.org.

Towsontowne Rotary offers gift of sight to children of Mumbai

— The Towsontowne Rotary Club recently announced their latest project, which will provide much-needed eye care for over 60,000 children in Mumbai’s poorest districts. The Mumbai grant will fund the planning and implementation of a series of comprehensive eye care diagnostic clinics at local public schools and help to educate teachers, administrators and community volunteers to identify children at risk, all at a cost of only $108,500.00 or $1.80 per child.

Along with participating Rotary organizations in Towson, District 7620 (Capitol Hill), Bombay and Rotary International, Towsontowne is partnering with other major players in eye care and restoration including: The International Federation of Eye & Tissue Banks, Tissue Banks International and United to Restore Sight International— all based in Baltimore; the Khan Bahadur Haji Bachooali Hospital (founded by Mahatma Gandhi) and the Eye Bank Coordination & Research Centre, both in Mumbai.

“As crucially important as it is to save the sight of these children, this project is as much about peace as it is anything else,” says Towsontowne Rotary Club member Mahmood Farazdaghi, president of International Federation of Eye and Tissue Banks and president of United to Restore Sight International. “Already widely known in India, this project says to many that more can be accomplished by working together peacefully than by taking up arms with violence and anger.”

Roughly one-third of Mumbai’s 20,500,000 people live in slums, totaling some 7,000,000 people. Nearly 40 percent of these people are children with

little or no access to even the most rudimentary health care. Few, if any of the children in Mumbai slum areas have ever had an eye examination of any type. Many suffer from trachoma— a condition that blinds children in developing countries who are forced to wash with dirty water. Corneal blindness is the other common vision impairment, which can be corrected with corneal transplants from donated tissue.

“Ten percent of all children suffer from one form of eye ailment or another, says Farazdaghi, “from simple refractive error to the most serious of eye diseases. However, these children may also have nutritional deficiencies, which are easily detected and remedied but local leaders and educators have little ability to deal with eye ailments and no resources to alleviate the condition. That’s why this project is so perfect. Those who have the ability to treat the children, along with the equipment, donated corneas and a mobile clinic are already in place, ready to go. Our grant provides the fuel to make it happen— figuratively and literally.”

The Towsontowne Rotary grant will provide new eyeglasses to correct refractive errors; vitamin A supplements; training for teachers and community volunteers to help with on-going screening; additional equipment to facilitate field screening; and expenses for operating the mobile clinic.

The enormity of such a project with so many active participants spread out over two separate continents demands strong working relationships and a deeply shared belief in the mission. “Working together with all of these wonderful partners to bring aid to the children of Mumbai really emphasizes what can be done when people pull together as a team and embrace the spirit of cooperation and humanitarianism,” says Towsontowne Rotary President, Tanya Sher whose club was founded in 1989. The organization is part of a worldwide network of Rotary Clubs, defined by the ideal of humanitarian service.

“Can you imagine millions of children who won’t ever see a sunrise or sunset because they lacked the proper care?” says Timothy Askew, CEO of Tissue Banks International (TBI). “We are excited to be partnering with so many local and international organizations who take major steps through prevention and paving the way for people to live better lives.”