Faith Davis ‘22, M30, sociology and biological sciences, grew up in Mechanicsville, a small town in Maryland. Her family regularly welcomed people in need of temporary housing into their home. This shaped her sense of how housing and income insecurity affect people, but did not prepare her for the shock she felt at seeing the scale of people living without housing in Washington D.C. while visiting the capital as a teenager.
That was a deciding moment for Davis. She wanted to understand the underlying factors of why homelessness persists widely and at such high rates, and she was determined to find sustainable interventions. She has invested the last three years researching food and housing insecurity both on campus and in Baltimore City, as well as working with community organizations to implement interventions. In recognition of her engaged leadership and long-term commitment to this work, Campus Compact Mid-Atlantic (CCMA) has named Faith Davis a 2021 Newman Civic Fellow.
“While I have spent a great deal of my time at UMBC conducting scientific research and taking advanced chemistry and biology coursework, I have also tried to engage with the campus community and the surrounding community,” shares Davis, who is a Meyerhoff Scholar. “Being selected as this year’s Newman Civic Fellow means UMBC recognizes my efforts to change the world in a positive way.”
Davis is the most recent in a long line of UMBC students who have earned Newman Civic Fellowships in recognition of their dedication to public service. They include Nihira Mugamba ‘21, political science and Africana studies; Maheen Haq ‘20, global studies and economics; Stephanie Milani ‘19, computer science and psychology; Sophia Lopresti ‘17, global studies; Maxwell Poole ‘18, computer science; economics; and Kelly Cyr ‘12, biological sciences, and M.S. ’13, applied molecular biology.
Davis joined UMBC’s Center for Democracy and Civic Life’s (CDCL) Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program as a participant in her first year on campus and as a leader every year after. ASB is an immersive learning experience in which participants explore the systemic and human dimensions of complex social issues in Baltimore. Through UMBC’s Shriver Center, ASB students participate in a service-learning course to learn how to best foster sustainable, long-term connections with local communities.
Her first ASB project focused on housing insecurity in Baltimore. “I learned that the most common causes of death for people experiencing homelessness are conditions that could have been easily treatable,” explains Davis.
As an ASB leader her sophomore and junior years, she helped design projects focused on how structural barriers to the availability of nutritious food impact residents’ overall health, education, and well-being in Baltimore, as well as approaches to achieving nutritional equity. Davis has also facilitated several of CDCL’s programs such as the Change Makers Dinners, where she leads discussions addressing nutrition and food access and on women’s political empowerment.
Research to address healthcare access
Davis’s work in ASB increased her awareness of the challenges that people experiencing homelessnes face in accessing preventative healthcare and basic information about chronic health issues. “I had the opportunity to survey the health resources available in Baltimore City,” shares Davis. “There was a noticeable gap when it came to providing basic health information.”
Davis designed a research project to develop a model that could both assess individuals’ current state of health and connect them with groups who could follow up with free medical services. She received an Undergraduate Research Award in 2019 to gather and analyze health information from shelter residents at two homeless shelters in Baltimore City who volunteered to participate.
The data revealed that the population she surveyed frequently lacked access to consistent primary medical care and regular health screenings, where preventative medicine could reduce the risk of life-threatening emergencies. She was able to present the initial phase of the project at UMBC’s 2019 Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day. Unfortunately, the project could not continue to its next phase due to COVID-19.
Examining food insecurity
In the fall of 2020, Davis was invited to join the Retriever Essentials on a research project analyzing food and housing insecurity at UMBC. Retriever Essentials is an organization led by faculty, staff, and students that tackles food insecurity in the UMBC community. Davis worked alongside Fariha Khalidshe, a CCMA AmeriCorps VISTA member serving with UMBC Retriever Essentials.
Together they compiled and analyzed data from surveys of faculty, staff, and students to determine the prevalence of food and housing insecurity at UMBC, the effectiveness of UMBC’s efforts to address these issues, and the impact of the pandemic on people’s housing and food access.
“Faith is an outstanding member of our research team,” says Khalidshe. “She is an avid advocate for understanding food and housing justice by looking at the statistics and hearing people’s stories about their lived experiences.”
The research team found that a decrease in access to public transportation due to COVID-19 restrictions has been a significant barrier to people’s ability to access food. Additionally, Davis notes that limited income due to unemployment has also affected food and housing security, especially “because government support is decreasing while many people are still unemployed.”
Many organizations that support local communities’ food and housing needs rely heavily on volunteers to function, and have been impacted significantly by COVID-related shutdowns. “As these organizations suffered, more mutual aid networks have taken hold or grown,” explains Davis. “The pandemic has also led to people growing in community and supporting their neighbors, both through formal mutual aid networks and informally.”
In addition to her research in housing and health insecurity, Davis also has interests in biomedical research. She is both a U-RISE Scholar and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Scholar. She has worked with Distinguished University Professor and HHMI Investigator Michael Summers, chemistry and biochemistry, for three years, helping to examine the structure of the HIV-1 5` leader.
“The lab work is focused on determining an unsolved piece of the structure of the 5` leader of HIV-1’s genome, which is important because this area is what makes HIV so infectious,” explains Davis. “If we can determine the structure of this area, it could possibly inform cures or better treatments for HIV.”
She presented her research on the structure of the HIV-1 5` leader at the American Society of Microbiology Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students. She also won a poster presentation award at UMBC’s Undergraduate Research Symposium in the Chemical and Biological Sciences and came in 2nd place in the poster presentation at UMBC’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fest. Davis presented her latest research at this year’s 25th UMBC Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day.
Above and beyond
Davis’s passion for being an agent of change in her community extends well beyond her campus work. Through UMBC’s Shriver Center service learning community partnerships, she was placed as a volunteer at the St. Agnes Hospital Stroke Center in Baltimore County, collecting and recording patients’ vital signs and helping with administrative tasks. She is active as a tutor for Arbutus Achievers, a mentoring and college readiness program for middle school students at Arbutus Middle School in Baltimore County.
Among her leadership roles, Davis is the president of UMBC’s Phi Delta Epsilon Medical Fraternity, the secretary of the Ethics Bowl and the Catholic Retrievers, and is a member of the Physical Chemistry Club. While at UMBC, Davis also served on the Volunteer Rescue Squad In her hometown of Mechanicsville.
“Faith is someone who truly walks her talk. She is committed to making a difference through collaboration and engagement over the long haul,” say CDCL’s director, David Hoffman, Ph.D. ‘13, language, literacy and culture (LLC), and assistant director, Romy Hübler ‘09, modern languages and linguistics, M.A. ‘11, intercultural communication, and Ph.D. ‘15, LLC. “We are proud to work with her.”
Social change network
This type of long-term commitment to social change is precisely what the Newman Civic Fellowship honors. The year-long fellowship supports each recipient in further developing their social change and leadership skills through regional and state gatherings. Fellows are paired with mentors and become part of a national network of peers. They support each other in finding solutions for challenges facing communities locally, nationally, and internationally.
Davis has already met other Newman Fellows through online events. She has begun to volunteer in some of the new social justice organizations they introduced her to. She is grateful to be able to learn from previous Newman Fellows and join peers who, like her, are ready to lend their energy and expertise to move social justice work forward. Davis plans to pursue an M.D.-Ph.D. after graduating next year. She hopes these experiences will help inform her future work developing community programs to improve health outcomes for people experiencing poverty.
“My greatest hope for this fellowship is to connect with a large network of change-makers who I can learn from and be inspired by throughout my life,” says Davis. “I hope to eventually work together to create a better world.”
Banner image: Faith Davis (second from the right) with fellow 2019 ASB participants. Photo courtesy of Davis.