Brian Sturdivant

Brian Sturdivant, MSW

University of Maryland, Baltimore

Inspiring Kids

When Brian Sturdivant, MSW, graduated from the University of Maryland School of Social Work in 2000 he knew he wanted to make a difference for children and families living in Baltimore’s most vulnerable communities. As director for strategic initiatives and community partnerships in the Office of Community Engagement at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), Sturdivant builds bridges between UMB and the neighborhoods surrounding its downtown campus. As a result, during the past decade, hundreds of local students and families have benefited from the many programs and partnerships UMB has provided as an engaged and committed resource institution for Maryland.

Of the many initiatives Sturdivant oversees, one that is close to his heart is CLUB UMB, an after-school mentoring and youth leadership program that connects University faculty, students, and staff mentors with children in West Baltimore schools. CLUB UMB gives students a leg up on healthy living, STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) achievement and college/career exploration by linking partner West Baltimore schools with UMB and Baltimore community resources to support their success. Students participate in campus-based programming to learn about careers in health, law, and human services and some even get to visit the University farmers market to participate in health and nutrition workshops. Students participating in the farmers market visits are sent home with fresh locally sourced fruit and vegetables.

Through the high school program started as a partnership with the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy, West Baltimore high school students are matched with post docs and research faculty for summer internships that incorporate soft skills training with health sciences career development. Students spend time in the University’s labs getting hands-on experience and receiving one-on-one mentoring.

“Unfortunately, among many of today’s youth, scholastic achievement isn’t celebrated. High performers often have nowhere to be themselves,” explains Sturdivant, who is also a member of the President’s Outreach Council at UMB. “CLUB UMB is their refuge. The kids love it. One told me the other day ‘I love snow days, but I don’t like them on Wednesdays, because then I miss CLUB UMB.’” And CLUB UMB students have another role: they are ambassadors providing their parents and peers with a better understanding of what goes on at UMB’s 71-acre campus.

But it’s the middle schoolers who really get Sturdivant excited. Under Sturdivant’s guidance, for the past two years CLUB UMB students from Southwest Baltimore Charter School have participated in the Maryland Science Olympiad. The program uses fun but challenging science projects — like a CSI-style crime lab mystery — to foster teamwork and teach STEM skills.

Sturdivant loves the sense of achievement students get when their projects succeed. At the 2015 regional Olympiad, Sturdivant’s CLUB UMB team placed third among 10 Baltimore City schools, and the students were invited to the statewide competition, where they earned silver and bronze medals. Even when students don’t win, Sturdivant isn’t deterred. “It’s great to do the Maryland Olympiad. It’s just fantastic for the kids, he says.”

Another UMB program that Sturdivant is involved in is the UMB CURE Scholars Program, where he will be working with UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, and Robin Saunders, PhD, Executive Director for the CURE Scholars Program. The program, funded by a $750,000 grant for two years from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a middle school STEM program aimed at strengthening the pipeline that leads Baltimore's children into well-paying, rewarding careers in cancer-related health care and research.

The program, a partnership between the University of Maryland, Baltimore and the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center, is primed to address even earlier intervention strategies to prepare a pool of students to enter the CURE pipeline. The Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences  (CURE) program is NCI's long-standing, highly successful program employed to increase the number of competitive cancer researchers from under-represented populations. It provides a continuum of support and professional guidance to students and trainees from high school to their first academic appointment.

A Cub Scout leader and avid fisherman, Sturdivant, the father of two school-age boys, dreams of one day fielding Maryland Olympiad teams in every Baltimore City school in communities where STEM performance is below par.

But it’s not just children who benefit from CLUB UMB, the CURE Scholars Program and other such initiatives. For University mentors, the program is a chance to expand their knowledge beyond the confines of the campus.

“We take volunteers from across the campus community,” Sturdivant says. The result is that the University gains a stronger, safer community partner. At its heart, Sturdivant adds, CLUB UMB is about being a good neighbor and reflects collaboration and leadership — two of UMB’s seven core values.

“This is how we should be interacting as a University in our community,” says Sturdivant, who was “born, raised, and educated” in Baltimore City. “We should know our neighbors and they should know us.”

Sturdivant knows that CLUB UMB is one program in a community with complex challenges, many of which are visible just outside the school doors. Despite that, Sturdivant knows the outreach is working. “It’s tough to see the success on the street,” he says, “but you can see it in the kids’ faces.”