Education In Motion

It’s a bright Saturday morning in mid-July, and the first floor of the Fine Arts Building is covered in plastic grocery bags, chicken wire, and paint buckets. A four-person surrey bike, girded with steel pipes and pontoons, looms in the front window like the skeleton of a prehistoric sea monster. In the shadow of a stairwell, a giant octopus waits to be attached to the bike, its one water-cooler-jug eye glinting in the dim light.

This colossal cephalopod, its wire frame furred with shreds of plastic water bottles, is the Kraken Upcycle. The machine is the result of three semesters’ labor by a group of students and alumni working with Steven McAlpine, assistant director of interdisciplinary studies. The Kraken was the winning entry in the 17th annual East Coast Kinetic Sculpture Race hosted by Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum.

Kinetic sculpture racing contestants build all-terrain bicycle-powered works of art to navigate 14 miles through Baltimore’s harbor. After seeing the race five years ago, and being captivated by the way each entry combined creative artistry with engineering expertise, McAlpine brought the idea to UMBC.

McAlpine and UMBC students from a variety of disciplines explored the idea in a pilot course in spring 2014, then designed and built the Kraken Upcycle over the next year. The project drew student artists and engineers, as well as students from the humanities and interdisciplinary studies.

“It’s such a great example of why you need community to do a project,” says McAlpine in front of the pontoon system, built from plastic barrels and steel pipes salvaged from the trash, and cut outdoors in 20-degree weather. “[This group has done] amazing and transformative things with things that would have ended up in a dumpster.”

The larger idea behind the Kraken, says McAlpine, is that single-use plastics – bottles, jugs, soda can rings – are the new monsters of the deep. He observes that 1,500 plastic bottles per second end up in the ocean, and that only 30 percent actually make it into the proper recycling stream.

As the June 14 race date drew closer, the team tested the Kraken, even throwing it into Pig Pen Pond. During the race, Gabriel Margarida, mechanical engineering; Rob Ford, environmental science; Vijay Raju, media and communication studies; and Kirby Kelbaugh ’15, interdisciplinary studies, powered and piloted the Kraken, eventually overcoming a mechanical breakdown to win the race and qualify for the Kinetic Grand Championship in California.

Today, the students are preparing the Kraken for a victory lap at Baltimore’s annual Artscape festival. This time, the concepts of “kinetic” and “race” will be left out of the equation, and the sculpture itself will be displayed with the interactive sound wall the students are building for the festival.

“[We needed to] somehow upcycle the upcycle,” says Heather Mortimer, interdisciplinary studies, one of the undergraduate students who worked on the project. “We’re trying to find a retirement plan.”

Perhaps this Kraken will be retired, but plans are afoot to field another kinetic UMBC entry next year.

— Achsah Callahan ’12 and Julia Celtnieks ’13

Next Steps

fa15_ATPLAY-soccer-players_webGetting to the Final Four of men’s college soccer in 2014 was a crowning achievement for a Retrievers program that has made steady strides in recent years. It was the team’s fourth trip to the NCAA tournament in the last five years, and they shocked the soccer world with an amazing run of four road victories against national powers (Wake Forest, Maryland, Louisville and Creighton) to land in the national semifinals.

But UMBC Head Coach Pete Caringi won’t be resting on those laurels. He is already preparing his 2015 squad to understand the challenges last year’s success will bring.

“Teams will be zeroing in on UMBC,” says Caringi. “That’s the beauty of being where we’ve been, and accepting the fact that once you get there, you’re a marked team. That’s great, and we have to have players that have the mentality that they’ll accept that and understand it and not be afraid of it.”

The 2015 team will have a different look, with only three starters returning to Retriever Soccer Park this season.

Senior midfielder Malcolm Harris scored the game-winning goal for UMBC in the NCAA tournament victory against the University of Maryland, College Park on the Terrapins’ home pitch. He knows opponents will be eager for their chance to play a national semifinalist.

“Now there’s a target on your back,” he said. “Whether you like it or not, we’re now that top dog. Whether you like it or not, teams are going to be excited to play us. Whether we care or not, they’re going to be there. As a group, we’re going to have to understand that.”

Still, success isn’t all watching your back. It’s about looking confidently to the future. Caringi says that with the support of Tim Hall, director of athletics, UMBC is planning upgrades to the stands and the scoreboard at Retriever Soccer Park for fans who cheer for UMBC this season.

Caringi also hopes the momentum created by the team’s success will bring a new soccer stadium to campus, with a location just across the road from the Events Center that will open in 2018.

“Our ultimate goal is to try to put a nice soccer stadium here,” he says, “where we can all look back…and realize the success that we’ve had the last couple of years was the springboard [to it].”

Last season’s memories will be hard to forget, however. They have catapulted UMBC soccer to new levels. After a shaky start, the Retrievers peaked late in the season and put together a 10-game unbeaten streak that carried them to the Final Four and a fourth-place ranking in the final national men’s collegiate soccer polls.

Associate head coach Anthony Adams ’97 is excited by the rise of UMBC men’s soccer. But he says that there’s still a lot of work to do. “When I went here, nobody ever heard of UMBC,” says Adams. “And now we [have gone] to the Final Four. But last year’s over. Now we move on.”

— Jeff Seidel ’85

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