Up on the Roof – Winter 2011

By: Magazine Editor
Jan 20, 2011

UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski, III takes your questions.

Q. Innovation is something that you talk about in many venues across the country, and you’ve been acknowledged as an innovator in higher education. How do you view the overall importance of innovation in the university and the nation as a whole? How does UMBC instill a desire to innovate in students, faculty and staff?

— Richard Byrne ’86, English
Editor, UMBC Magazine

A. I talk a lot about Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind and the need to have a balanced approach to solving problems. His new book is titled Drive and it’s a book about how true motivation – the motivation that creates sustained change – occurs not simply because of extrinsic rewards, but because people really believe that it is important to do something.

What’s interesting about UMBC is that people here are investing in creative initiatives not because people told them to do something different, but because they really believe – and they know – that they are empowered to think broadly and differently about the possibilities for the campus.

How does that fit in with innovation? Well it seems to me that to create a climate of innovation, leaders need to say to the community that thinking matters. And they also need to worry less about failure and focus more on a vision of who we want to be. And to do that people need to feel comfortable coming up with ideas that sometimes seem to be kooky. Things that we haven’t really tried before. Whether it’s talking about how we market ourselves, or how we teach and learn, or how we use innovation in research, the fact is that UMBC encourages people to think broadly and differently and creatively.

I would agree with Pink that the secret to high achievement is that people really want to direct their own lives. They want to be able to learn and create new things. And they want to feel empowered to make decisions about the future of the institution and the work that they do here.

That’s what we’re working to do at UMBC. Get away from telling people what to do, and at all levels – students, faculty, staff and alumni – ask everyone to help us think differently about the institution.

I know that I am using students and colleagues to inspire me to think differently. I am constantly listening to their ideas about changes we need to make at the university. The inspiration comes from all around me.

Q. Taking into account UMBC’s overwhelming growth during your tenure, the distinguished honors you have received, and UMBC’s #1 rating as an up and coming university two years in a row, what are your long and short-term goals – both for the university and for yourself?

— Katie Locke ’06, psychology

A. I think the goal is just to continue building quality here at UMBC. Building on the success that we’ve had. Getting the word out about just how excited we are about the work that we do here. The more that people come to our campus and talk to our students and faculty and staff, the more impressed they are.

I just celebrated my 40th wedding anniversary. So I’m a strong believer in stability and building on that stability. My marriage is better than ever and what I see at UMBC is more impressive than ever.

People are always asking: “What else do we need to do?” I say: Keep doing what we’re doing. Focus on the work and the excitement and substance of this work. Emphasize the use of technology and collaboration across disciplines. Find new ways to bring the campus to people.

There’s something very exciting about not knowing how far we can go. We’re constantly evolving.

Have a question for Dr. Hrabowski? Please visit retrievernet.umbc.edu/askthepresident

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