People, Politics & Business

Scoundrels, Educrats, Rogues and Champions

Educator shows how collaboration is key to math and science mastery

CJ Westerberg, April 19, 2012 9:51 AM


Headline quote made by Freeman Hrabowski -  60 Minutes - 3rd Video below - 2:45 mark

" . . . the most beneficial thing that I got out of UMBC.
Believing in myself as a scientist and
learning how to work with others,
how to think deeply,
how to seek people who were great in other areas without being intimidated in that and build teams to solve problems together."    
- student

Modern or an "old school" educator?
You decide*
Videos Below

by C.J. Westerberg

TIME magazine announced its 100 most influential people this week featuring personalities exhibiting a wide range of accomplishments.  One college innovator and educator who made the list, Freeman Hrabowski, caught my attention last year because not only are his backstory (jailed at 12 and a Ph.D. at 24) and achievements remarkable, certain methods he uses to reach such notable achievements may seem counter-intuitive, or against trend, yet are well worth noting, such as banning the use of electronics in favor of in-person socializing, because as one student explains, "they want us to socialize and form real relationships and bonds with each other."  (Note: Technology is utilized at UMBC yet, such as during bootcamp, social tech use is a no-no.)

Why does this seem paradoxical?

For one, under Hrabowski's leadership, the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC),
once a sleepy commuter college, has been transformed by Hrabowski's leadership to where science, engineering and math now account for 41 percent of the bachelor's degrees earned there last year - well above the national average of 25 percent. "Nationwide, most college students who start off in the sciences either change to a different major or don't graduate. UMBC keeps undergrads engaged by including them in research typically left to graduate students.  (For example) These students are investigating the secrets of HIV. 

For another interesting twist, students here can get internships and jobs at any of 76 companies located on campus, where most are technology startups.      

It seems like everything's flipped.
Where, you might go to another university and the football team
might be top dog. Here, it's the chess team that's top dog. . . 
  Yeah, it's cool to be smart.

Another curious juxtaposition may be while Hrabowski is relentless about promoting the importance of hard work, he eschews competition, instead opting for collaboration.  So, for all  who equate collaboration with less work by students, UMBC exemplifies how collaboration is used in parallel with rigor, while at the same time offering a substantial support system for students.   Here's how one student describes how other students are considered teachers, taken from an excerpt from CBS' 60 Minutes segment with reporter Byron Pitts at the 7:45 mark:

Student 1: You could be worried, you know, 'Oh, I might not make it,' or stuff. But then, there's the 72 people right around you saying that you can do it.

Student 2: We have 72 of us that we can ask, 72 teachers all around us. It just makes such a difference that I love.

Byron Pitts: Seventy-two teachers, that's how you describe your classmates--

Student: Definitely, definitely. 'Cause I can safely say that we can all learn from each other and teach each other.

Check out the 3 videos below from the 60 Minutes program featuring Hrabowski and more surprises:
1) Getting Beyond the Grades - 1 minute video
2) Education Transforms Lives - 1 minute video
3) Entire 60 Minutes episode

"We need hands-on experiences.
We need to be encouraging that curiosity.
And people cannot-- should not be allowed
simply to sit back and be bored."
- TIME magazine recipient, Freeman Hrabowski, 100 Most Influential People

Sidebar from video transcript:  "The Meyeroff Scholars program started in 1988 when Hrabowski teamed up with billionaire philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff. Both men worried that African American males were shut out from careers in the sciences from lack of opportunity, not talent. Over the years, the program expanded to all students and helped put UMBC - and Hrabowski - on the map of higher education.So far, 813 students have come out of the Meyerhoff Scholars Program and nearly 90 percent of them have gone on to graduate school.

Let us know what you think - - -

* There is always the third choice: Both

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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