Honors Students Create Flint Water App

H2OFLINTBy Miyako Jones
The City of Flint has been experiencing a lead-in-water crisis for over 27 months due to improperly-treated water flowing through city pipes. It has been necessary for residents to filter their water or obtain access to alternate sources such as bottled water. Unfortunately, locating these resources is sometimes not as simple as it ought to be.

Two Computer Science Honors students, Phil Boyd and John Collins, became involved in an outreach project to help Flint residents locate resources related to the water crisis at the request of Dr. Mark Allison. Phil and John are both members of the UM-Flint chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), which Dr. Allison oversees as faculty advisor. They built an Android app called H2OFlint that assists residents with locating bottled water and water filter pickup locations, recycling locations, and blood testing locations. Icons representing the various types of resources appear on a map of Flint. Tapping an icon lists information about the location such as its name, address, and hours of operation.

The app was designed, developed, and launched in just a few weeks back in February. Both students gained valuable real-world experience and, in the case of Phil, working on the project confirmed his career path as an app developer. John learned “just how important being organized and good coding practices are to a project.”

The water crisis project has since been extended thanks to a $150,000 grant from Google. Phil continues to work on Android development while John intends to create an iOS app.



We are looking for great stories from our alumni. We want to know what you’re doing, where you are, what’s been going on since graduation, how the Honors Program affected your life, or anything interesting you want to share with us about your life since Honors.

Please contact us:
[email protected]

Is there something or someone you want to hear about? Your favorite Biology Professor? What’s changed on campus? Some stats you’re craving? Let us know, and we’ll do our best to put it in a future post.


Volunteer Abroad in the Dominican Republic – Stephanie Chapman, Honors Social Work Major

Chapman PaintingThe idea of going to the Dominican Republic to help a few small communities became very appealing to me. I knew it would be a cultural immersion and it would definitely help to increase my cultural awareness and competence, which is something that is stressed in my chosen profession, social work.

Our task was to level the ground surrounding the Women’s Center in Las Palmillas, paint a mural, and help to prepare for a fence to be built around the center. We only had a few pickaxes and shovels, but we quickly learned to work with what we had. I got to speak with some of the women who emphasized the fact that we were empowering them. Because of all the hard work we were putting in and them physically seeing us make progress, they knew that they could also accomplish much. This was my first indication that I was making a difference in this community.

By the end of the week we had completed what we had set out to do and the Center looked beautiful. We also were able to put on workshops for the women and children on proper nutrition and hygiene. Later that night, I was asked if I wanted to spend a day at the clinic which is where some of the other students had been all week. I agreed because I wanted to see how their health care system differed from the system in the United States.

When I arrived at the clinic I was amazed at how many people were lined up to be seen. I was able to work in pediatrics in the morning and this was truly rewarding. I got to hold a baby and try to cheer the kids up who were sick. Many of the children just needed a simple antibiotic, but their family just could not afford it. In the afternoon I got to work on fitting people for eyeglasses. This was rewarding because something so simple as a pair of readers made a significant difference for these older individuals. They expressed much joy after they realized they could see clearer and read. They were truly grateful.Chapman Streets

I never imagined spending my off campus study in a foreign country, but I am so glad I did.

As I reflect back on my time and experience in the Dominican Republic, it is very difficult for me to narrow down all that I learned. First of all, the Dominican people are some of the most respectful, caring, and grateful people that I have ever come to know. They welcomed us every day, laughed with us, fed us, the list goes on. Most importantly, as they learned from us, I know we learned from them. Although a barrier, language didn’t matter. We related to one another as people with rights and worth. It was difficult for me to see that the women and children had so little when I have so much. The trip really allowed me to reflect on American culture and develop a sense of cultural awareness for other cultures that I am not familiar with.


Dr. Quamrul Mazumder – Associate Professor and Program Director of Mechanical Engineering

mazumder1Dr. Mazumder received his Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Bangladesh Agricultural University, his M.S. from South Dakota State University, his MBA from Oklahoma State University, and his Ph.D. from The University of Tulsa. “I have worked in aerospace industries such as Honeywell and NASA for 18 years prior to my academic career.”

When asked how he got involved with the Honors Program, he said, “My interaction with Honors Program director and students started since my arrival at UM-Flint. My teaching philosophies align closely with the Honors Program as I am passionate about student success by integrating them in the learning process.” Dr. Mazumder uses “metacognition and experiential learning methodologies” to motivate students to become better learners. He also advises Honors engineering students to “develop a seamless plan of study by balancing engineering and the Honors Program courses.”

Teaching 15 Engineering courses over the past seven years, at UM-Flint, Dr. Mazumder has developed, or redeveloped, most of those to create a better learning environment for his students. Two of the courses he teachers are General Education courses: one in technology and the other in Social Science. He is constantly thinking of ways to immerse students in the concepts of Engineering.

mazumder2Dr. Mazumder enjoys working on projects involving “breakthrough technologies such as computational fluid dynamics analysis to analyze the pressure drops in arteries. Students are encouraged to brainstorm and develop open ended approaches towards solution through extensive literature survey. Students also develop strategies, cost, and project schedules for implementation of the project. In most cases, experimental validation of the simulation or model is done for the study.”

Having written or co-authored up to 54 publications, twenty years of experience in the engineering industry, and teaching since 2006, Dr. Mazumder is a great resource for our Honors students. He is continuously attempting to recruit more students to work on research projects, and his passion for teaching and for his students is undeniable. “My inspiration in teaching is to contribute to the greater benefit to society and mankind. This can be achieved by helping students become successful and motivate them to contribute towards positive change to the world.” He has been known to say, “Engineering isn’t hard. Send them to me: I will show them it is easy.”


Physical and Analytical Chemistry in Germany – Alexander Khobeir, Honors Biochem/Molecular Bio & Biotech Major

khobeir1“One saying I learned that I will never forget is ‘traveling is not for the rich but for the bold.’ As I live here in the United States, I will live what I learned; I will teach what I learned; and most importantly, I will share what I learned.”

Alexander spent nearly a year searching for an off-campus study location at universities around the world, but had no luck. Just as he was about to give up and stay at UM-Flint, Dr. Thum approached him with an amazing opportunity. “How would you like to go to Germany for the summer?” His answer was an immediate “Yes!”

For over two months, Alexander worked in Dr. Thorsten Benter’s Physical and Analytical Chemistry Laboratory at Bergische Universitat Wuppertal in Wuppertal, Germany. During this trip, he had his first experience with culture shock. “Although I knew conversational German, it was not on the level of native fluency. The first day there I was physically and mentally exhausted! Everything around me looked like America, but it was not America!”

The first day in the lab was nothing like Alexander or his lab partner, another Honors student, had expected. They had both taken a class on proper German etiquette before leaving, but it failed to take into account the unique personality of their professor. When they politely addressed him as “Professor Dr. Benter,” he laughed and said, “Who is that? I am Thorsten!” Having been exposed to the casual style of the University of California, Irvine, he preferred it over the formality of Germany.

khobeir2Dr. Benter and his research group made Alexander’s experience unforgettable. He noticed that people loved working for Dr. Benter and that everyone functioned as one cohesive unit. His assigned project was based on physical and analytical chemistry, two courses that Alexander had yet to take. He and his partner spent the first week taking a crash course in chemistry, reading scientific papers and asking questions. “Professor Benter sat with us the entire week and explained everything at the most basic level and worked his way up. I learned more in that week than I would in one semester of chemistry classes.” Alexander was assigned to Professor Hendrick Kersten’s project to develop, test, and calibrate an analytical and sensitive method to detect explosives, narcotics, etc. in the air, which would then be integrated into a product to be used in airports, schools, and medical offices around the world. His specific task was to test various chemicals and create calibration curves for each chemical. Although Alexander plans to attend medical school, what he learned can also be used in medical biotechnology. “I was in love with the whole process and task. In fact, I loved it so much that the professor noticed and asked me to stay longer.”

Studying and research were not the only things he did during his stay. He traveled to over 20 cities in Germany along with Paris, Rome, Vatican City, Amsterdam, and Belgium. “Rome was the most beautiful city I have ever seen. The history you experience as you walk up and down a block is astounding!”

Alexander has received a job offer from Dr. Benter for next summer and looks forward to working in his lab again.


Honors has moved!

newhonorsuite1Thanks to a wonderful partnership between the Honors Program and the Thompson Library, Honors now has a new home!

The new suite consists of a reception area, manned by our wonderful assistant, Miyako Jones, two offices, a workroom/storage room, and a conference room. We are located inside the Library on the first floor, just left of the stairs and elevator.

There is still a lot of work to do, boxes to be put away, pictures to hang, and furniture to move in, but we are excited to have this new home to call our own.

A big thank you to Bob Houbeck, Becky Waller, the folks in Technical Services who had to put up with our dust, as well as the rest of the librarians and staff. We newhonorsuite2truly appreciate the sacrifices, time, energy, and funding that went into this project.

We would especially like to thank Dan Sherman. Dan is a wonderful person to work with, and made this project painless and fast. We’ve even had some laughs along the way. Thank you Dan, and facilities, for all you do.

Once we are all setup, we hope to host on open house. In the meantime, feel free to stop by and say hello!


Need a Change of Scenery?

The National Student Exchange (NSE) provides opportunities for students to study for a semester or a year at another NSE member college or university in the United States, Canada, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

With nearly 200 universities from which to choose, students should be able to find a campus with just the right combination of courses, facilities, and environment to meet their personal and academic needs and interests.

Minimum requirements are: Full-time enrollment, cumulative 3.0 GPA, good standing (academic, personal, and financial).

Students can apply for exchange through at www.umflint.edu/nse. The process includes a non-refundable application fee, a transcript, recommendations, statement of goals, biographical data, and a personal interview.

Students pay normal tuition and fees to UM-Flint. However, when students reside on campus, they pay for room and meals at the host campus. They will also be responsible for transportation, personal expenses, and sightseeing opportunities while on exchange.

For Information:
Contact Laura L. Staudacher
National Student Exchange
[email protected]

Posted in NSE |

Three Win Maize and Blue

Three Honors Students won the Maize and Blue Distinguished Scholar Award this fall, which is the highest academic award available to graduating seniors. Kayla Cornell will receive a B.A. in Communication, Salaam Tarakji will receive a B.S. in the Mathematics Teacher’s Certificate Program and a B.A. in Psychology; and Miri Weidner will receive a B.S. in Health Care Administration.

Within the next five years, Kayla would like to begin working in marketing for higher education somewhere on the east coast while beauty blogging on the side; Salaam plans to obtain a master’s degree in Educational Administration and become part of positive movements to help revitalize Flint; and Miri hopes to continue her education and make progress in her chosen career.

When asked about their time in Honors, all the winners agree that the program has helped equip them with the skills necessary to succeed in life. Kayla believes that she greatly benefited from being pushed beyond her comfort zone in writing while in the program. Salaam is grateful for her trip to the Netherlands, which she believes would not have been possible without her participation in the program. Miri feels thankful that Dr. Thum helped her discover her hidden potential in areas she would not have considered prior to joining the program.

Congratulations to our December 2013 Maize and Blue winners and good luck with all your future endeavors!


Rhonda Stowers, J.D.: Class of 1998

rstowersMs. Rhonda Stowers is currently an associate attorney in the Flint office of Plunkett Cooney. The former Maize and Blue Scholar received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School in 2001 and strongly believes that she would not be where she is today without the Honors Program. “It’s not easy to get into the University of Michigan Law School, which is where I wanted to be. I think the Honors Program assisted greatly in that regard.”

Her Off-Campus Study took place in Tempe, Arizona where she gathered data from circuit court files to assist Arizona State University Psychology professor Dr. Sanford L. Braver in his research concerning divorce. She later reviewed the manuscript of his book. Divorced Dads: Shattering the Myths, and offered suggestions for revisions.

Ms. Stowers focuses her practice in the areas of general litigation, municipal law, and title insurance law. She has defended numerous municipalities on a wide range of topics, including the Freedom of Information Act, Open Meetings Act, federal and state constitutions, civil rights, zoning charter amendments and revisions, ordinance drafting, employment-related issues, and use of excessive force and has also handled numerous misdemeanor prosecutions. Ms. Stowers also represents homeowners, lenders and mortgagors in real estate litigation, focusing on title claim related issues such as vesting title-clearing and access issues, as well as boundary disputes. In addition to practicing law, she has also taught classes on search warrants and civil litigation for the Law Enforcement Officers Regional Training Council.

For several months of the year, she works for three to four hours as a volunteer in the Legal Services of Eastern Michigan’s legal aid clinic where she meets with individuals in the Flint community who have met the organization’s financial hardship criteria. She assists them with a variety of legal issues including driver’s license restoration, guardianships, adoptions, estates, landlord/tenant disputes, lawsuits, and contracts. Her work was recently acknowledged by Legal Services of Eastern Michigan, who named her the 2013 Pro Bono Attorney of the Year.

She loves what she’s doing now, and plans to continue working at Plunkett Cooney and raising her three boys. Once the boys are older, she may spread out a bit more professionally. Ms. Stower’s advice for current and future Honors students: “Make the most of every opportunity. It’s never too late. Find a good mentor and surround yourself with positive role models.”


Jeffery M. Coller, Ph.D.: Class of 1994

JDr. Jeffery Coller is currently an Assistant Professor in the Center for RNA Molecular Biology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He received his Ph.D. in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2000 and was a Post-doctoral Fellow in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Arizona-Tucson from 2000-2005. “The Honors Program at UM-Flint was a quintessential experience in my life both personally and professionally,” Dr. Coller asserts. “Personally, I met many brilliant people, some of whom I’m still friends with to this day. In fact, my best friend at that time is still my best friend today and we keep in touch constantly. The Program helped me meet people that inspired me to reach my career goals. It was like a geeky support group.”

His interest in RNA took root from his off-campus study project, which he conducted on group I introns in Dr. Britt-Marie Sjöberg’s lab at Stockholm University in Sweden. He believes that his experience overseas was professionally critical. “It opened my eyes to a big world of culture and opportunity. In fact, I can honestly say to this day that I would simply not be in the position I am in without the overseas experience.”

Dr. Coller is a principal investigator of a federally funded research lab comprised of 10 people, undergraduate and graduate students and research technicians alike. His work focuses on understanding fundamental aspects of cellular function, specifically the decay of messenger RNA.

In the future, he plans to continue to develop his lab’s research program and do the science that he loves. His advice to current and future Honors students: “Take advantage of your opportunity in this program. Dare to take a risk and do something you never thought you could do. It is a rare and golden opportunity to test your abilities. Also, make friends. The people you are surrounded by will one day be the leaders of our society. You can learn much from each other.”