The Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber (BWCC) heard from one of America’s most acclaimed leaders and awarded its annual Business of the Year and President’s awards on April 26, 2012, at its 65th annual meeting.
The speaker, Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), had recently been named one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World by Time magazine. The college he has led for 20 years placed third nationally — tied with Yale — in this year’s U.S. News & World Report rankings of Best Undergraduate Teaching universities.
Tower Federal Credit Union was named Large Business of the Year. The Laurel-based institution, which primarily serves National Security Agency employees, is ranked as one of Washington’s Top 200 Businesses and is the largest federal credit union in Maryland, with more than $2.4 billion in assets and 123,000 members worldwide.
Reliable Repairs Inc. of Pasadena, owned by Jo Ellen Soesbee, was named Small Business of the Year. A pioneer in the male-dominated construction industry whose trademark is wearing pink boots, Soesbee has blogged and hosted workshops and radio shows for female do-it-yourselfers, mentored at Woodland Job Corps Center and taught as an adjunct faculty member at Anne Arundel and Harford community colleges. She has been recognized as Professional Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women.
Chamber President and CEO Walt Townshend bestowed his President’s Award on Eric Harris of Marathon Financial Group in Laurel. He cited Harris’s assistance with new-member orientations and the mentoring of new and prospective members.
Improvement Strategy for Education
Hrabowski was introduced by Dr. Brit Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, who called him “the most honored university president in the country today.”
Kirwan noted that UMBC produces the highest number of underrepresented minority graduates in the nation that go on to earn a doctorate or medical degree.
U.S. higher education in math, science and technology is falling behind that of other nations, Hrabowski said. Americans aged 35 to 70 are the second-best educated in the world, behind Canada, but 25- to 34-year-olds have fallen to seventh, he said. Only 6% of American 24-year-olds with college degrees majored in science or engineering, compared with 11% in Europe. Only 20% of black and Hispanic college students starting out with a major in science or engineering complete it, he added, noting that white students fare only a little better, at 32%.
UMBC’s students come from 150 countries, and the foreign students “tend to be more focused, hungrier, more disciplined,” he said. “Other countries are moving ahead fast; we have not made that jump.”
Hrabowski suggested two solutions. One is that universities need to change their teaching methods. “Students tend to be bored sitting all day listening to teachers talking,” he said. Young people are multi-taskers and need to be challenged with real-world problems. To that end, UMBC is reshaping its science instruction to emphasize group projects focusing on challenges faced by the 75 science companies located on campus, he noted. “We are pushing [the students] to discover the theories using real-life problems.”
The second is a shift in attitude. “So often we [in America] forget that you have to struggle, even if you’re smart, to get the work, and that many more students can do it if we expect them to do it, whether they are women and minorities,” he said.