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GRIT-X talks inspire the UMBC community

Although only in its third year, the GRIT-X talks are already becoming a Homecoming favorite among the UMBC community. Introduced in 2016 by Dr. Karl Steiner, the Vice President for Research, the event features alumni and professors sharing their passions and innovations with the campus. “I originally conceived GRIT-X back in 2016,” Dr. Steiner recalls, “to highlight the amazing and inspiring research, scholarship and creative achievement that is underway on our campus and among our alumni.”

While Homecoming has always featured weeklong events, Steiner felt that something was missing among the annual celebrations. Considering that research was a vital part of UMBC, he thought why not have ground-breaking researchers on campus present their ideas? With this idea in mind, Steiner soon accumulated nine speakers, three alumni and six faculty, to host the first GRIT-X event.

“It turned out remarkably well,” Steiner beams. Although it was a “one-time feature” to celebrate UMBC’S 50th anniversary, the talks started to occur annually during Homecoming season, showcasing prominent members of the university inspiring others with their revolutionary research.

One of the key speakers was Kavita Krishnaswamy, a 2007 graduate in computer science and mathematics, who is set to graduate from UMBC in 2019 with her Ph.D. in computer science. Since her passion is in robotics, it should not come as too much of a surprise when audience members saw a robot, displaying her face, roll onto the stage. Because the alumni, who has received awards from Google and Microsoft, has spinal muscular atrophy, she was not able to make an in-person introduction.

Nevertheless, she delivered a powerful testimony of how computer science influenced her life. As she explained her love for technology as a child, audience members learned how she was encouraged to become a Meyerhoff Scholar. It was not long before her mentors at UMBC guided her every step of the way, including studying at the graduate level in information technology.

Wrapping up her talk, Kavita displayed several prototypes she was working on, including a robotic mattress and an accessible robotic interface, explaining her hope “that technology can increase [independence] for people with disabilities.”

Dr. Manil Suri is a professor of mathematics and statistics, who talked at the event about combining story-telling and mathematics to better captivate students who may otherwise struggle in the subject. Introducing the concept of STEAM (arts mixed in with science and math), Dr. Suri explained how an English professor at UMBC collaborated with him to combine the idea of math and humanity into a theatrical play, which was portrayed in other U.S. cities, including the play being formed in India. “I like to now call it my International Hit,” Suri jokes to the crowd.

Overall, his message of how math outreach can be more effective with storytelling resonates with students. In fact, sections from “The Godfather of Numbers,” a book Suri is in the progress of writing, are taught in his math classes, so his students can better take hold of concepts.

“The goal of the talks,” Steiner emphasized, “[is to] show the inclusive excellence of what UMBC does in research and scholarship.” Not only does it highlight all of the great things occurring on campus, but it also allows a chance for alumni to come back and share how their education here paved the way for ground-breaking research they are currently conducting. “The talks are getting better every time,” said Steiner.

Although the GRIT-X talks are a challenge to put together, Steiner is nonetheless pleased with how they turn out — not only for himself and the speakers, but also for those who are inspired by the talks themselves. He also encourages those interested in hearing the talks to check out the GRIT-X section on the UMBC website.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the GRIT-X talks feature six alumni and three faculty and misspelled GRIT-X as “Grit X” and “Grit-X.”

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