Photo: Tara E. Buck
With the plethora of data available to them today, institutions of higher education must work harder to develop a story that provides meaningful context around it, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), President Freeman A. Hrabowski III says.
Hrabowski gave the keynote address Tuesday to kick off sessions at the Campus Technology 2014 conference now in full swing at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. About 900 attendees — CIOs, sysadmins, media specialists and other educational technology specialists — as well as representatives from roughly 150 companies are on hand for the event, which runs through July 31.
“More and more, we appreciate the fact that there is so much data all around us,” Hrabowski told those gathered. “What gives the data context will be a story, and we can begin to be able to appreciate how that data can be used most effectively.”
Hrabowski, a mathematician, is a strong advocate for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and was named one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News & World Report in 2008. In 2009, Time magazine named him one of the country’s 10 best college presidents.
UMBC students are a diverse group, Hrabowski said, and many of their parents were born abroad. Drive and determination to fulfill the American dream leads to the success of many immigrants and their children, he noted, adding that some lessons can be taken from their experience.
Beyond raw data points, students’ motivation to succeed is a key indicator of their future success as well as a point of entry for critical support systems, Hrabowski told the audience. At UMBC, groups of students are mentored based on their primary drivers or motivation for educational success, he said.
“We decided to rethink the work itself. That’s the idea of academic innovation,” the UMBC president explained.
“We looked at the least prepared kids to see what we could do. How do you understand what they do well, what they don’t do well? How do you have a reasonable chance of helping them to succeed?… Understanding the motivation of students, listening to the voices of different types of students, different backgrounds, gives any institution the chance to become even more adept at creating a climate that can make a difference,” said Hrabowski.
“Think about ways of connecting students, faculty and staff in ways that will build retention,” he said.
Such focus is particularly important in STEM education, as U.S. institutions fail to retain science and engineering students within those majors beyond first-year courses, Hrabowski said. UMBC has built partnerships with corporations based in the D.C. metro area, such as Northrup Grumman, and with federal agencies such as the National Security Administration, to develop curricula and work experience programs to bolster students’ chances of success.
The university also has a strong focus on technology, not simply through computer labs, but through redesigned learning spaces that enable technology to be leveraged more effectively in the classroom. “We need to be rethinking our spaces on campus to stimulate active learning through the technology students bring with them,” he said.
Hrabowski told the IT professionals gathered that they, too, have the ability to “transform your institutions as your institutions transform the lives of your students.”