Some teachers don’t expect students to succeed in science and math, says Freeman Hrabowski III, but don’t count him among them.
Hrabowski is president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, a school that has become a leader in graduating students in science, technology, engineering and math. As this year’s Noel Distinguished Professor, he began a daylong visit to MSU Denver on Monday with a breakfast meeting where he cited the contributions of Rachel B. Noel – “an amazing example of scholarship and activism”—and sketched out attitudes that discourage as well as promote STEM education.
Such a gathering was a first for the Noel Professorship, said President Stephen Jordan. Some 40 educators from MSU Denver and elsewhere, as well as community and political leaders, were invited by the University to listen to and question an educator named by Time magazine as one of America’s 10 Best College Presidents in 2009 and one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2012. The breakfast was added to Hrabowski’s full schedule of campus discussions and the community event at Shorter Community AME Church.
In his welcoming remarks, Jordan noted that Hrabowski “has transformed a young, mid-sized school into one of the country’s most prolific producers of minority graduates who go on to earn doctoral degrees in science and engineering.” It ranks first in Maryland for graduating the highest percentage of students in computer and information science, he said, and almost half of UMBC students earn graduate degrees in science and technology.
Hrabowski has led UMBC since 1992. He established the Meyerhoff Scholars Program 25 years ago to encourage students of color and others to pursue graduate degrees in STEM disciplines. UMBC’s success, he said, results from a supportive, high-expectation culture that challenges a can’t do attitude.
“We don’t expect students to succeed in science and engineering in America,” he said. At any university “you’ll see far fewer seats at the sophomore level in science and engineering than you had in the first-year courses because the assumption is most will leave.”
The challenge, he said, is to take the time “to know every student and figure out how best to motivate that student.”
This gathering was meant to be a conversation, not a lecture, so Hrabowski encouraged questions. Happy Haynes, vice president of the Denver Public School Board, asked what educators should be doing in K-12 to motivate students.
“We have to accept the fact that kids who have grown up with technology don’t want to sit there and listen to somebody talking and writing on the board,” he said, endorsing the idea of flipping courses to reduce lecture time and emphasize teamwork and problem solving.
Parents also need to get into the act. Even if they haven’t gone to college or don’t enjoy math and science, “what they can do is show an interest in the work.”
Hrabowski also was asked about the culture at UMBC and what helps its students to be successful.
The school, he said, has set high expectations and encourages hard work. “We say to these students, it’s not enough to get an ‘A,’ we want you to get a high ‘A’... dare to know more than the professor and the ‘A’ will come.”
The value of community is also stressed. “Building community means having a structure that would encourage students to work together...When you think about problem-solving, not just in STEM, but across disciplines, usually group work is required. And the more interesting the problems, the more important different perspectives will be.”
And there is an expectation on campus that teachers and researchers become more involved with students. “In the final analysis in science and engineering, it’s the faculty who make the difference...when they take ownership of those students.”
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