This special edition of the Politics Hour combined local and national politics live from Slim's Diner in Petworth, Northwest D.C.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), once little known outside of the state, is now a national powerhouse in science, technology and math education. The driving force behind the transformation is University President Freeman Hrabowski, now in his 20th year at the school. We talk with the mathematician, who also emphasizes the importance of the arts, about the state of higher education and how we can all help ensure more students succeed.
- Freeman Hrabowski, III President, The University of Maryland, Baltimore County
CBS “60 Minutes” report on Freeman Hrabowski III.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. In the last 20 years, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County has gone from a quiet commuter school to a celebrated hub for science, technology, engineering and math scholarship where an emphasis is placed on making sure each student feels connected to the school and engaged in their studies.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe chess team is the coolest crowd on campus, and the graduation rate is nearly the same for students of all ethnicities, a feat practically unheard of in higher education. So how does a school undergo such drastic changes in such a relatively short time? Who better to ask than the driving force behind the plan, Freeman Hrabowski? He is the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He's also the author of the books "Beating the Odds" and "Overcoming the Odds." Freeman Hrabowski, thank you very much for joining us.
DR. FREEMAN HRABOWSKI IIIThank you very much, Kojo.
NNAMDIWell, of course, you know the first thing that people always ask you -- and I'm going to ask you, too -- he's an African-American? Where did he get the name Hrabowski?
IIII've been saying it recently. My great-great grandfather was Polish, actually, in Alabama.
NNAMDIAnd that's how you got the name. It's a subject...
IIIThat is exactly right. That's exactly right.
NNAMDIIt's a subject that some students love to hate, math, that is, so why did math appeal to a young Freeman Hrabowski?
IIIIt appealed to me because it's a way of solving problems, but it's also the same thing that I would say about literature. I mean, the question is, how do we find disciplines that can help us think critically? And it's true that we're known for science and engineering, but one of the most important lessons that we've learned is that it's important to have broad-based education. And so we are a liberally educating place. In fact, arts and humanities are as exciting on our campus as math and science, and...
NNAMDIOh, yeah. That's something we'll be getting to later.
IIIAnd so I would say, for me, as the son of a mother who was both a math and English teacher, I saw great value in each, in the humanities and in the sciences.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast, we'll talk about the new arts building going up on campus, but, first, you can join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. If you have questions or comments for Freeman Hrabowski, 800-433-8850. If you're a UMBC student or alum, we'd like to hear from you about your experience at the school. You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIOr simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. As a child growing up in Birmingham, you excelled in school. You were active in the civil rights movement. Did your parents encourage that involvement, or were you, well, otherwise inspired?
IIINo, they encouraged my involvement. I was in church. I was in church when on Wednesday evenings and whenever the Alabama Christian movement leaders were speaking. They wanted me to hear what was being said and to discuss the issues of the day.
NNAMDIWell, you had an encounter that you told on "60 Minutes," but not everybody hears...
NNAMDI..."60 Minutes" with the, I guess, infamous Eugene "Bull" Connor, the sheriff.
NNAMDITell us about that. You were just 12 years old.
IIIRight. I was in the back of the church, not wanting to be there in the middle of the week, and my parents allowed me to do homework while I was in church. And I was doing math, something I loved. And a man said that if we can get children involved, the nation will see how important this issue is because even children understand how important it is to get a great education. And if we get the children involved in the march, these kids can have the best possible education.
IIII looked up and asked, who is that man? And they said his name was Martin King. And I was inspired, and I did go. I did lead a group of kids to march, to demonstrate. And, in essence, we marched from one of the churches to the steps of city hall. And all we wanted to do was to kneel and pray for our civil rights, the rights to have the best possible education. We got there, and I was very nervous.
IIII was not a courageous kid. I was a fat, little, nerdy kid, loving math. But I wanted a great education. And the police chief asked me -- he was very upset because there were cameras all around, and he asked me. What did I want? And I said we want to kneel and pray for our freedom, our freedom to get the best possible education. And he spat on me and picked me up and threw me into the police wagon, and I went off to jail for five days.
NNAMDIWhy five days?
IIIWell, they wanted us -- the civil rights leaders, Dr. King and others, wanted us to stay there as they were negotiating with the city for certain demands at that time, basic demands. We wanted people who would work downtown. We wanted to see somebody black behind a cash register. We wanted to see somebody of color on the police force.
IIIThere was no one of color in any position -- fireman, policeman, any of those things. We had wonderful neighborhoods with churches and schools. But when it came to the infrastructure of the city, when it came to the schools with the most money, we were not there. And they were asking for those things.
NNAMDIAnd you talked about we had wonderful schools. My wife is from Birmingham, Ala.
NNAMDIAnd they always say, tell -- ask him what high school he went to.
IIIOh, that's right. I went to Ullman High School, and it was an amazing school where George Bell was the principal, a mathematician, who influenced me to become a mathematician. George Bell is the uncle of Alma Vivian Powell. And my high school counselor was Rev. Rice, the father of Condoleezza Rice. And they were incredible role models who taught us how to think and how to care about others.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Freeman Hrabowski. He is the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of the books "Beating the Odds" and "Overcoming the Odds." You can call us, 800-433-8850. This is your 20th year at UMBC, and much has changed in those two decades that I imagine other educators would like to emulate.
NNAMDIWhat's different? Well, allow me to quote from somebody who attended the University of Maryland, Baltimore County before you were there. Former student Diane Auer Jones wrote on a Chronicle of Higher Education blog in 2009, writing, "I earned my master's degree in applied molecular biology at UMBC during the B.F., before Freeman, years, and I returned a decade later during the Hrabowski presidency to enroll in the Ph.D. program in cellular and molecular biology. The change in campus culture was literally breathtaking." What is she talking about?
IIIFirst of all, she's the one who went on to work for Princeton and became assistant secretary of education, brilliant woman. And I think what she's talking about is that we had brought more visibility to the academic quality. It's really important for me to say that when I got there -- actually, 25 years ago with 20 as president, there were so many really smart people there -- faculty -- who were working to help students.
IIIWe were able to attract increasingly well-prepared students and funds to keep building on the foundation that those in the first 20 years had begun. And as a result of that, we were having more and more success, with more and more students coming with a notion that this is a place where smart students come to learn and to do research with faculty. And they're going to the best grad schools and professional schools and get Ph.D.s here. I have to tell you this is an exciting day for me because I met one of our most famous alumni today. Her name is Kathleen Turner who graduated...
NNAMDIAnd she was a guest on "The Diane Rehm Show"...
IIIShe was just -- yeah.
NNAMDI...prior to this hour.
IIIYeah. Yeah. And I'm really excited because she said she'd be willing to come over, and so I'm working to make that happen for sure because we're very proud of her in theatre. We are very strong in theatre, and we're -- well before the time I got there, we've gone to the American College Theatre Festival at the Kennedy Center a number of times, seven or eight.
IIIWe were just there. We won again this past year. So whether we're talking about theatre or talking about imaging and digital arts or women and gender studies and all these arts and humanities areas, there's a great deal of stress.
NNAMDIIt's what we do here at WAMU. We bring people together who have never met before but who needed to meet. And it just so happened that it happened today with Freeman Hrabowski and Kathleen Turner meeting in the studio. Before we pursue the arts, I want to get back to science and math for a second...
NNAMDI...because to what extent have location and timing...
NNAMDI...been a factor in the university's success since your arrival? You made the point earlier that obviously it was a very good school before you got there.
IIIOh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
NNAMDIBut to what extent have you been able to use location and timing?
IIIAbsolutely. The Baltimore-Washington Corridor is a geographical area that has one of the largest concentrations of well-educated people across the sciences and technology and across the arts and humanities, and so you have many families in this area who have well-prepared students. You'd be interested to know that Montgomery County is our number one feeder school system, right outside of Washington.
IIIAnd we get about a third of our students from this part of the state. We get students from 150 countries. It is a campus that's quite international. So we'll have the Caribbean Students Association. We'll have Caribbean-Americans, and there's a distinction between those two groups, for example, a large number of kids from China and India and from different African countries.
IIIWhat's significant about us is that we bring both international and domestic diversity together to talk about inclusive excellence. It's a predominantly white campus with all of these rich ethnicities and races. And the Baltimore-Washington Corridor is known for just that. And so we take advantage of that in several ways. Number one, many of our students and faculty work in different research labs in the national agencies, from NIH to NASA, Goddard to NIST, all these places.
IIIAnd then other students are working at different museums in the Washington area. We've got relationships with the Smithsonian, all the way up to Walters in Baltimore. So students will connect disciplines. We'll have students majoring in ancient studies and biochemistry, planning to go into archeology, for example. And you find this emphasis on interdisciplinary which allows students to get involved in different types of companies and agencies in this region.
NNAMDIMy college roommate teaches math here at the University of the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIHe spends all of his summers in Russia because he's been studying Russian...
NNAMDI...for the past 15 years. He's the kind of diversity and combination...
NNAMDI...that you encourage.
IIIOh, yeah, very much so.
NNAMDIPut your headphones on, please, because we're about to go to the phones. We will start with Faye in Silver Spring, Md. Faye, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
FAYEHi, Freeman Hrabowski. I'm a transfer student. I'm actually a political science major.
FAYEMy comment is, actually, I love UMBC and what it has to offer for science students. But I also don't think it highlights how the liberal arts that are offered at UMBC. As a political science major, I know personally that the faculty there are one of the best in the country.
FAYEAnd if anything, I would like to see for my school it's more of a highlight that does not only science majors but also has a great (word?) of other types of disciplines and a really good faculty in other types of disciplines. And it's a great school for policy and international relations and not only sciences. Why do you think the nation now focuses so much on sciences where it also should focus on liberal arts?
IIII think you're absolutely right. If you were listening to me earlier, you will -- would have heard me saying -- trying to move things away from science and engineering to broaden the conversation. Kojo...
NNAMDIAnd I kept pulling him back.
IIIYeah. He kept pulling me back to that. We're going to get to more arts and humanities and social sciences, but I'm so glad. And you'll have to tell people I did not pay you to call in and say that, that you're saying that on your own volition.
IIIAnd I'm delighted to hear you say that. What happens is that because we have such a shortage of students in science and engineering, and we've been able to figure out how to get more students of all types succeeding in those areas, we're proud of that. But I don't want the pride in STEM areas to take away from just what you said, the excellence in the broad liberal arts. Now, math and chemistry and biology are part of the liberal arts, but we need to also be talking about the social sciences.
IIIAnd you're really right when talking about political science because we have so many students who are involved in international relations, who are involved in state government in Annapolis. And so students are going back and forth between Annapolis and D.C. and in our different local areas all the time. Large numbers of our students will go to law school. Others will get involved in intercultural communications.
IIIAnd because of the international nature of the campus, many are looking at bridging the gap among these different areas. A part of our country's challenge, as you know, is to find ways to help Americans understand the cultures of other places, just as we work to have people in other parts of the world understand the best of America. So your points are well-taken. They were well-said, and I could not be more proud of you.
NNAMDIAnd, Faye, you and Dr. Hrabowski have dragged me kicking and screaming, therefore, into this question: This fall, a new building will be opening on campus, and it's not a building that's going to be full of shiny, new science labs. What will that building be home to?
IIII am so glad to have you get to that.
IIIThe arts and humanities building, we worked really hard with our state to get this building. And when it's finished, it'll actually have cost about $170 million. The first $90 million facility -- the first half has just been completed, and this is for theater. And we're talking about the humanities, and so all of our writing courses and interesting philosophy and -- amazing how excited people are about that building right now.
IIIAnd I would say, I want to give credit to the governor and the legislature because they really worked to make this happen. And they understood that well-educated people must be grounded in the arts and humanities and social sciences.
FAYERight. And I would just really like to say really quickly, thank you so much. If I didn't hear you when I as a senior in high school speak, I would have never attended UMBC. And UMBC has given me opportunities in fellowships and scholarships that I don't think I would have gotten in any other school. And I would like to just thank you, and I appreciate your work for the school.
IIIFaye, you're wonderful. Come and see me, OK?
FAYEI definitely will.
IIIThank you, Faye.
NNAMDIFaye, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break. If you have called already, stay on the line. We'll get to your call. If the lines are busy, you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Send email to email@example.com. Teachers, we'd like to hear from you. Have you worked with students struggling to overcome the achievement gap? We're going to talk about how that's done at UMBC. 800-433-8850. We're talking with the president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Freeman Hrabowski. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Dr. Freeman Hrabowski. He is the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of the books, "Beating the Odds" and "Overcoming the Odds." I have questions. But it seems here I am outnumbered by listeners who have called and are sending emails, so allow me to go directly to the phones. Here is Charles in Howard County, Md. Charles, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHARLESGood afternoon, Kojo and Dr. Hrabowski. I want to first say to Dr. Hrabowski thank you for being such a wonderful role model to the men of our country. And, secondly, the -- I met my wife at UMBC in 1985 which -- and I'm still married to her at this time, and my oldest daughter graduated there in 2009 class.
CHARLESAnd I just want to thank you for helping to develop such a wonderful institution of higher learning. If I had 10 other kids, I would persuade them with every cent of my being to go to UMBC. And I think it's just a wonderful, wonderful place for kids to learn. I've never seen so many bright, intelligent kids as I have when I went to graduation that day, any of the other times that I was always at the school. But my experience actually dates back to 1985 at UMBC, like I said where I met my wife.
NNAMDIThe woman to whom you are still married, the mother of your children.
IIIYou see that -- you had the good sense. You're a very smart guy. And I've got you on tape now, and you're giving me goose bumps. Thank you, Charles, very much.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Charles. You mentioned that this is a predominantly white campus, yet it is distinctive not only because of the quality of students overall that it produces, but the fact that minority students do just as well on that campus as do white students. How does one accomplish that?
IIII think we have a committed faculty, and the faculty members are predominantly white. We have people of color on the faculty, but it's -- but what I can say is that the faculty, regardless of race, care deeply about our students, expect the most from them and believe in them and show them through example what authenticity means.
IIII can't imagine a faculty being more committed to both their students and to their research than is the case on our campus. It's a place where the life of the mind is very active. People enjoy talking about ideas.
NNAMDIFor years, especially in rigorous fields of study, the assumption has been that not every student will succeed. Why do you think that notion took hold, and is it starting to fade?
IIII think that innovation has -- in education has everything to do with suggesting that things don't have to be as they have been. In asking good questions, in considering factors that may not have been considered before and whether talking about studying literature and understanding T.S. Eliot -- for example...
III...I keep talking about "The Waste Land" because I'm still reading it after all these years -- or looking at a problem in biochemistry, what we have to do is to find ways of engaging the students in the work, of getting them to think critically and to not only ask questions but to work with others. And I think the notion of building community amongst students and strong connections between students and faculty can lead to more students doing well.
IIIAnd then we use our understanding of student performance to think through best strategies in a variety of ways, including bringing students together for focus groups, including getting suggestions from them and, most important, having the faculty lead the path. I mean, these are efforts that are led by faculty members because, I mean, who's really with the power in a campus? It's the people who are teaching those students who are at the focal point of the academic program.
NNAMDIUMBC, by example, runs a summer program for incoming Meyerhoff Scholars every year, and some of its rules may seem, well, counter-intuitive. What are those rules, and why are they in place?
IIIThose are rules that both students and faculty and staff members particularly together have come up with over the years. Some of them surprise me, quite frankly. But the fact that they take the technology from them for a while has to do with the emphasis on building community among the students. So often these days, as students are working with whatever it is, an iPhone or a computer, the student focuses more on other people who are not there in the room than on the people right there.
IIIAnd the goal is to have them knowing each other well. And these are students from all races, and they are planning to become physician scientists and engineers, whatever. And the emphasis is on helping them help each other, and it's during that period that they're learning a different approach to building community. That's the idea.
NNAMDIThey go from being digital natives to UMBC natives and learn a little bit about one another.
IIIExactly. But they also take a course in culture. They really are involved in the humanities in that program also because we believe all students should be broadly educated.
NNAMDIHere now is Nicole in Dayton, Md. Nicole, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NICOLEGood morning, Kojo. Good morning, Dr. Hrabowski.
NICOLEI have a couple of comments. My daughter is a junior at UMBC and is receiving an excellent education. She's gotten some great opportunities to do some research not only at UMBC but through Hopkins. And I found Dr. Hrabowski, in general, in the last two years has been extremely responsive. She had a small advising issue. We happened to email him just to let him know on a Sunday. Within two hours, I got an email back from Dr. Hrabowski. I got all kinds of emails back, and the issue was pretty much taken care of. So it's amazing.
NNAMDIHe doesn't have to spend that much time in Sunday school anymore, so (unintelligible) on Sundays.
NICOLESo he is clearly accessible and clearly responsive. And she had actually went -- came to UMBC with the intention of transferring after a year and has no longer any intention of transferring and is going to finish at UMBC. But the one thing I just wanted to point out -- and I'm sure it's a very small minority of faculty at UMBC. But she, like a lot of students, I think, her first semester was a bit of an adjustment. There were a couple of Cs on the report card. And in the meantime, she's figured out exactly what she needs to study. She's found some great faculty mentors.
NICOLEShe's figured out what she needs to do to get those As. And once she declared her major, though, she was assigned an adviser who took a look at that one C in freshman biology. And when she expressed an interest in either graduate school in psychology or medical school, the adviser looked at her and said, I don't think so. You'll never make it. And I just -- I think, given Dr. Hrabowski's attitude of things, that's not the attitude I'm getting from most people, that she's getting from most people at UMBC.
NNAMDIWell, I suspect not every faculty member's a carbon copy of Dr. Hrabowski.
IIIWe've got -- Nicole, I think...
NICOLEThey're not. They're not. Exactly.
IIIBut I think that you're being very fair. And people have different opinions about those kinds of things. But I will tell you, you said it well. Most of my colleagues will do whatever they can to help people succeed, and even when somebody has a different point of view. What I like about the place is that we can use reason with people. I think you're being honest about this. It's very helpful because my colleagues will go back and talk about it because there's a fundamental question, if someone sees that someone earned a C in a course, what should you be saying that can be encouraging to the student?
IIII mean, that's -- it's a very good point. It really is. And I appreciate your balanced assessment in talking about the fact that there are still things we can work on. I think any university that really cares about students understands it can always be better. It could always -- because human beings, as human beings, we can always improve. What gives me hope is that I know that, as you just said, the faculty at UMBC care. They care deeply, and students are serious. I appreciate you calling in. It makes a difference. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Nicole. We move on now to Stephanie in College Park, Md. Stephanie, your turn.
STEPHANIEYes. Thank you very much for having me. I have a, I guess, a less serious question. It's about the name of the university. UMBC sometimes sounds like a commuter campus when you're saying it to people not from the area. And it's grown into quite a prestigious university. So have you ever thought of changing the name from UMBC?
IIIWell, I think -- I appreciate that, Stephanie. I think the time will come when a very wealthy person will come along and give us an amazing amount of money, amazingly large amount of money.
NNAMDIStop looking at me.
IIIAnd we will consider it. We've had so many names that people have recommended, and nothing seems to work. In the meantime, you know, there was time when UCLA worried people because in the '60s even, L.A. had gone through riots, and people were worried about University of California, Los Angeles. It was that image issue. And yet, today, when you think UCLA, you think high quality. Well, what's happening more and more around the country is when people hear UMBC, they are saying, wow, what a good school. A lot of people are doing really well there.
IIIAnd we're just -- in the meantime, we'll just keep building excellence. And I think it'll work itself out as time goes on. What's really nice is that the alums are proud of that name now more than ever. And I can be in New York or other places, and somebody will see me. And they say, UMBC, and it's always said with great pride. And there's nothing better than to know that the alums -- that alumni really believe in the place and know that they received a superb education. It makes all the...
NNAMDIStephanie, thank you very much for your call. But speaking of financing, college costs have skyrocketed. And in a bad or difficult job market, a lot of people are eager to get the most for their money.
NNAMDIWhat advice can you give to students and parents weighing their options so that they can make smart decisions?
IIII think it's a great question. I think people need to look at the amount of debt that will be owed when the student graduates, quite frankly, based on financial aid in relationship to the resources that the family has because often families are helping graduates pay that debt. And I also think they need to look at the different types of financial aid, whether it's low-interest loans or grants or scholarships.
IIIAnd, finally, one of the things -- one of the strategies we use a great deal is to get students connected to work that is associated with the major. So large numbers of the students do research and are paid in a range of major research labs and in internships in the social sciences when they can get -- and a number of places who'll actually pay, quite frankly. All the students in IT areas are working and making quite a bit of money.
IIISo, depending on the major -- and then people in English and philosophy, interested in all kinds of disciplines, can receive opportunities in the corridor for which they can be paid. I would say that, most important, the family needs to think carefully about the level of debt at the end. Now, what I will say that's most important: students who go to college and get a degree are much more likely to get a job that will allow them to live a middle class existence. And even if the first job is not what the student wants, hard work leads to progress all the time.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you like the join the conversation with Dr. Freeman Hrabowski. He is the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of the books "Beating the Odds" and "Overcoming the Odds." You can also send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Do you work in a STEM field? What inspired you to pursue a career in that arena? Do you think children are adequately prepared for college? Why or why not? 800-433-8850. We move on now to Cass (sp?) in Silver Spring, Md. Cass, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CASSYes, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. Good afternoon, Mr. Hrabowski.
CASSYes, I'm glad to hear about you. And I'll make out some time to come and visit with you in Baltimore County. I have family there.
CASSSecondly, please, what would you consider to be best practices for University of Maryland system institutions to get funding from Annapolis? You know, you seem to have figured out a way to do that. I'm associated with one of the institutions, so I have interest in this.
IIIYes. Sure. I think that Maryland is more fortunate than almost any other state in the union. We actually have a governor and legislature who have spent a lot of time thinking about the relationship between higher education and the economy and the future of our state. And so we have received far more support than almost any other state. Most states have been cut 30, 40 percent in revenues. That has not happened in Maryland, and it's not happened for two or three reasons.
IIINumber one, I'd really believe that under Brit Kirwan, our chancellor for the system, we have worked to focus on E and E, effectiveness and efficiency, for the past five years. And we have been literally redistributing cost, and we've had, for the entire system, about a quarter of $1 billion in cost savings and avoidance in that period. The legislature and the governor -- and I think the public all would say we've been working to use public funds well.
IIIPeople understand that we are a knowledge economy in the country, but in Maryland, especially for a lot of reasons, our economy is based on educated people. And so we have received more support than almost any other state in the union in this period, and it's paying off because people want to be in Maryland. People want to work at our universities. More and more students want to come to our institutions from New York, New Jersey, other places. And, most important, the quality continues to improve. And so we're known as the place that really focuses on public support for higher education.
NNAMDIBut what's been going on in this area in the news recently has been the disturbance on the campus of the University of Virginia over the president -- over the removal of the former president of the University of Virginia, Teresa Sullivan. I'm not going to ask you to comment specifically on what happens there because the details are unknown to most of us.
NNAMDIBut I suspect that college presidents around the country, especially those involved with state schools, must feel some of the reverberations of something like that. So I'd just like you to share any initial thoughts or impressions you have about what's going on.
IIIKojo, I think you said something very important. We don't know the details there. What I do know is that I have a great deal of respect for President Sullivan. I have known her for some years, and she is an outstanding educator and leader. And, secondly, in Maryland, we feel really good about the support and respect we get from elected officials and from the board of regents and the chancellor.
IIIPeople give educators in this state the kind of respect that says to everyone, education is at the core of our future. And so, for this state, knowing the relationships we have with our regents, with our elected officials, I think educators would say our job is simply to keep working hard to support our students and build the research.
NNAMDICass, thank you very much for your call. We hear that tech companies, engineering firms and some government agencies have job openings that they cannot find skilled workers to fill, that, despite that, most students who start out with a science major either change their focus or drop out. How do we fix that disconnect?
IIIRight. We need to look at something we called course redesign. Most of the courses -- first-year courses in America are seen as barrier courses or weed-out courses. And I had the privilege of chairing the National Academy of Sciences Committee on underrepresentation in science. And it wasn't surprising to people that only 20 percent of Hispanics and blacks who begin with a major in science and engineering graduate in those areas.
IIIIt did surprise people that only 32 percent of white Americans who begin with a major in those areas will graduate in those areas, and only 42 percent of Asian-Americans. And the number one reason is those students don't do well. People say, oh, it's because they want to go to something where they can make more money. No. Typically, they did not do well in their first-year courses. A large numbers of students make below Bs in first-year courses.
IIIAnd if you're going to major in a discipline, whatever the discipline, it really helps to get at least a B in those disciplines. And we have done something that the entire system of University of Maryland is working on right now, and it's called course redesign, where we are rethinking how we teach and learn in chemistry, in math. But what's exciting for UMBC is we're doing that in those areas, and it's worked so well that we're now doing that across disciplines.
IIIWe've got this major innovation fund that focuses on allowing faculty the time to think through how to redesign courses. So we are -- we've redesigned the writing courses, more emphasis on faculty-student interaction, building community among students, having chances for people to critique the writing, using the technology, collaboration across people and looking at the results.
IIIAnd so I think what you're going to see across the country -- just as we're seeing it in our system right now -- is a greater emphasis on feeling responsible for more students who want to be doctors or engineers actually succeeding. At the same time, I honestly believe in (word?) systems -- and I believe USM is -- University System of Maryland is one of those -- will focus more and more time on K-12 and helping not just at the high school level, but in pre-K through 12. We should be doing as much as possible to support teachers and students and families.
NNAMDII guess I'm making an inference from your remarks here. In an increasingly global society, do you worry about the U.S.'s ability to keep up in these fields?
IIIWe will have to do more than we're doing right now. We really will. And there are all kinds of creative ways. Let me give you an example. Many of my humanities majors at UMBC actually take a few courses in technology and have options, including becoming involved in technology jobs in government, in companies, in school systems. And I'm amazed at the number of English majors and history majors who are now working as chief information officers or deputy chief information officers because they took 12 credits in information systems.
IIIAnd one of the advantages they have is they speak well. They write well. They are broad. And so it's not just my computer science majors or my information systems majors. It's majors in the humanities and in areas that you've not thought about for the most part. I mean, the public, we have areas that connect disciplines: imaging and digital art, geographic information systems.
IIIAnd so you'll find that this technology thread will be important across disciplines. And people don't have to just major in technology. They can major in one of these fascinating humanities or social sciences, take a few courses that can allow them to have a broad range of opportunities.
NNAMDIChristine in Howard County, Md. You're on the air, Christine. Go ahead, please.
CHRISTINEGood afternoon. My name is Christine, and I am a dance teacher in Howard County, Md. And I was one of those students. I'm a product of Howard County, Md. And I was so affected by my poor abilities in math and in the sciences, but my gift was kinesthetic. And because, though, I did not do well in what they considered what we needed to do well in, I thought I was too stupid to go to college.
CHRISTINESo I didn't start going to college till I was 22, and that was a community college. And then I received a scholarship in dance to UMBC. And I must say that it changed my life. Carol Hess and Liz Walton, they -- you know, all of a sudden, I was valued, and then I got certified in education. Now, I teach in a Howard County public school. And my concern is that I have students that say to me, I know that if I can just make it to fourth period or second, whatever time they have dance, that they'll be OK.
CHRISTINEBecause they feel, like as myself, you know, back in the day, that they're trying to be incredibly pushed and in -- with these HSA tests, et cetera. And that's not really where their gifts lie. And so when they come to dance or let's say choir or drama -- so my concern is that we are trying to pigeonhole every single student toward the math and the sciences wherein their gifts might not lie there.
NNAMDIWell, allow me to have Freeman Hrabowski respond.
IIISure. First of all, I'm very proud of you as one of our dance majors because dance is a very strong major at UMBC. It's interesting that Carol Hess, the professor of dance that you mentioned, actually had an undergrad degree in math and dance. It's very interesting that a lot of people will do -- will have majors in a lot of these disciplines. There are several things I would say. Number one, I spoke to about 1,000 math supervisors from around the country recently.
IIIAnd I was saying that I'd like us in math and science to rethink how we view students who may not be as excited about math and science as others and how we can give them support in learning the things that can be helpful to them in life and, of course, in supporting them in deciding what they really love doing. You're absolutely right. We certainly don't want everybody going into any one discipline or any one group of disciplines. And, quite frankly, right now, we have this problem that, as I said, only 6 percent of the bachelors in our country are in natural sciences and engineering.
IIIIn Europe, it's almost double that, and in Korea, it's actually 70 percent. So we need more, but we shouldn't be pushing anybody -- you're absolutely right -- into any discipline. We need people to go into areas where they are enjoying the work. I do think that we can -- those of us in math and science can have opportunities to think about ways of giving people support because nobody should be made to feel stupid or like they can't do the work. They may not be somebody who's going to major in it.
IIIBut there are certain concepts with these new Common Core Standards that I think all people will need in order to live their lives and to deal with math in real life. It's that kind of thing. So I don't disagree with you at all. We don't -- we need to work to help students have a sense of self. One of the things the arts can be said to do as a -- just in general is to build that sense of self, even through constructive criticism.
IIISo students are stronger and continue to practice and work at whatever it is that they're doing, whether it is -- I mean, as somebody who's taken years of piano, I can tell you I could never be a professional pianist. And yet I know what it means to be good because I've worked so hard at it, and I love it. But I am not somebody who's going to be a professional in that. And, similarly, people will decide what they can do well and what they enjoy. I like the fact that you found your passion, and you're able to help other students. I commend you, and, quite frankly, I'm very proud of you.
NNAMDIChristine, thank you very much for your call. We've got to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org, to join the conversation with Dr. Freeman Hrabowski. He is the president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIOur guest is Dr. Freeman Hrabowski. He is the president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the author of the books "Beating the Odds" and "Overcoming the Odds." Before we went to break, when you were talking to our last caller, you talked about enjoying the work, and you mentioned that several times. You have said that nothing replaces hard work. Do you worry that people either are or are becoming averse to the idea of hard work?
IIII think that people will rise to the occasion. When they see what the standard is, they move to it. I will tell you that many of our students who have been here all of their lives are sometimes very impressed by students who come to this country from other places who can often be very hungry for the work and, amazingly, would give it all they have and can be inspired by that. I'm always saying that one of the advantages of having people from all over the world is you get a chance to see just how passionate people can be about the work.
IIIAnd so when you come to our campus, you'll see people who may be from the D.C. area but who may be from Lagos or they may be from the islands, may be from Russia or from China, and they are passionate about the work. Whether they are talking about a Beckett play or looking at the -- one of the undergraduate research journals that we have, they take it very seriously. They really do.
NNAMDII tell people a lot of times, people don't travel 10,000 miles to fail.
NNAMDIOn now to Brenda in Vienna, Va. Brenda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MS. BRENDA OTISHello, Kojo. This is Brenda Otis.
NNAMDIHi, Brenda Otis. Brenda Otis and I worked together in radio before -- well, a long time ago.
OTISTelevision at Howard University.
NNAMDII'm sorry, it was television at Howard University Television. Yes, Brenda.
OTISThat's right. And Dr. Hrabowski knows me as Brenda Wills Otis. We grew up together in Birmingham. Hello, Freeman.
IIIHey, Brenda. And we went to that same high school, and her mother, well, taught in Birmingham. Hi, Brenda.
OTISHi. My mother taught Freeman in fifth grade, and I can remember -- now, in full disclosure, I'm a couple of years older than Freeman -- Mother would come home and say, mm, Freeman Hrabowski, he is so smart. That's Freeman. And, of course, if all of us were struggling to make As, Freeman was always the A-plus student.
NNAMDIDidn't that make you mad? Didn't that upset you?
OTISHe was always A-plus. But I want to say that I really -- I am one of his biggest cheerleaders. And all of us in Birmingham and everywhere, we really applaud his excellence and his push to educate and give students such an opportunity to grow and to learn. And I was at his -- I and my husband, Amos Otis, we were at his installation some 20 years ago...
OTIS...when he was installed as president. We spent the whole weekend in Baltimore. It was a grand occasion, his late mother and many of his relatives that I knew as a child because Freeman and I lived in the same neighborhood.
IIIRight. That's exactly right. You know, I think Brenda and her husband Amos make the point, though, that you can major in a number of areas and use that education to do all kinds of things because they are real entrepreneurs. They are leading entrepreneurs in this country, and I think that's the point about education, that it transforms lives. We are very proud of them, very proud.
NNAMDIBrenda, thank you for your call. Brenda Otis was around when I got my start in television. And she helped me a lot also. So, Brenda, thank you very much for your call.
IIIThank you, Brenda.
NNAMDIWe move on to Michael in Washington, D.C. Michael, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MICHAELYes, good afternoon. How are you all gentlemen doing today?
NNAMDII'm doing well.
IIIFine, thank you.
MICHAELGood. I want to ask a question. UMBC seems to be not that known in, say, D.C. proper. I heard of UMBC when -- back in the '90s when Noam Chomsky gave a lecture there, and (unintelligible). But I found it kind of difficult also to find, but -- and to navigate certain buildings on the campus because of the geography there, but...
NNAMDIPre-GPS days, yes.
MICHAELYeah. And I also wanted to find out about -- in the systemic infrastructure education, you have a lot of gatekeepers or people at the frontlines -- there are counselors and things of that nature -- who doesn't give good advice to a lot of kids who want true education, but -- some of them are first-generation college kids.
MICHAELThey don't know the ins and outs and the politics of educating because there's a lot of politics in education on the ground (unintelligible) especially with the gatekeepers. How can we really solve a lot of those issues? 'Cause I was one of those kids, and thank God I was very curious. And I kept pursuing and persisted, and I went to college. But there were a lot of barriers in front of me.
NNAMDIWhich is one of the reasons we asked Dr. Hrabowski earlier about the advice he would give to parents and students facing difficult financial times. I guess the question now would be parents and students who are facing what they perceive to be difficult administrative procedures.
IIISure, sure. I honestly believe that we want to be helping families to have access to information. That includes helping families fill out financial aid forms, helping families know the questions they need to ask to each campus. I'm always saying to families, ask about student performance, but ask about the performance of students who are similar to your family or your son or daughter who's coming there. How are they doing?
IIIAre they able to graduate? Where do they get jobs? What would they say? And then ask -- I think the best people to ask about a college experience are the students. I think students need a chance to ask -- I mean, high school students or others considering coming to the university need a chance to ask other students what they think, same thing for students at community colleges.
IIII mean, our region has some of the best community colleges in the country. And I always say to community college students, talk to students who've gone to a community college and then to UMBC, and see how they feel about the experience because you want to make sure that the student will be given the support necessary to succeed. He's absolutely right.
NNAMDIIndeed, Michael. We got this email from Joanna, who says, "My daughter went from the Carver Schools for Arts and Technology with a visual arts prime to the information technology major at UMBC. She blended two grade school experiences available in Maryland. She was anxious about her college choice, but the bronze statue of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever on campus clinched it. We introduced our two flesh-and-blood Chessies to Dr. Hrabowski at homecoming."
NNAMDIBut she goes on to say, "The support of services at UMBC, perhaps geared to bring more diversity to the school, worked well to bring more women to STEM areas, which is still a challenge in our society. I also like that UMBC did not throw a huge amount of money into a football program. Nice campus, great instruction at great value." You had that offer, that opportunity, and you declined.
IIIThe -- I say this: we've got wonderful athletic programs, very balanced -- division one basketball, lacrosse, soccer, tennis, swimming. And half of my students were on the honor roll and the dean's list. They are serious. We like scholar athletes, and our students do quite well. Football is very expensive, and I'd rather focus on those sports we have right now and become better and better while we support those students.
IIIMy number one goal, our number one goal is to make sure they get a good education. We want them to have a great time playing sports. We'd like to win. That is not the first priority. Of course, we want to win, and we'll keep working on that. But number one is the academic side. We are -- we take great pride in the academic performance and emotional development of our students.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Michael. Now, finally, is Daniel. You're on the air, Daniel. We're running out of time. Please make your question or comment brief.
DANIELI will do. I am a recent graduate. I graduated in 2009. And one thing that kind of stuck with my generation thus far is the moniker, the boomerang generation. We end up back home. And one thing I noticed is that colleges, while kind of help you find your major, don't really do a great job necessarily with job placement or, even better, career placement. And I was wondering what the advantage that small schools like UMBC can sort of provide students who are trying to figure out what they want to do with life rather than simply what they want to do as a major.
IIIIt's a great question. I say to parents, if your son or daughter comes to UMBC and takes our advice, he or she will not have to come and live at home with you when they graduate because we'll make sure that they've had the experiences that will lead to a job. Quite frankly, the best way to get a job is to have internships along the way, and we are constantly connecting students to internships and research experiences across the arts, humanities, social sciences and in the STEM fields. Internships make all the difference in the world.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Daniel. And I'm afraid we're just about out of time. Freeman Hrabowski is the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He's also the author of the books "Beating the Odds" and "Overcoming the Odds." You're a busy man. It took us a long while to get to you. We've been working on getting you here since March. But, apparently, you still do find time to spend time with students and parents on campus.
IIIPlease come and visit. It's a great residential honors university, and we are very proud of our students. Thank you.
NNAMDIDr. Freeman Hrabowski, thank you so much for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
Have opinions about the Democratic National Convention, or the verdicts from the Freddie Gray cases? It's your turn to talk.
Maryland prosecutors on Wednesday dropped charges against the remaining police officers facing charges related to Freddie Gray's death. Kojo explores what the outcomes of the cases say about our local justice system and the national repercussions.
The next frontier in the battle against sexual harassment and sexual assault? Bars.