UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski, III takes your questions.
Q. You are well-known for your unending energy. Many students and alums marvel at it and wonder: What is your secret? Do you have any advice for staying energetic and healthy while maintaining a busy work schedule?
A. Balance in life is so important. I am thrilled to be moving towards my 40th wedding anniversary and my 40th reunion from college. So I’m reflecting this year about what’s important in life. And what I’m thinking about more and more is balance.
That has everything to do with positive energy and creating a spirit of optimism and hope. Don’t allow things like financial difficulties to lead to depression and negative thinking, because it doesn’t help. It’s important to be realistic. But it’s also important to believe that where there’s life, there’s hope.
Laughter is the elixir. Laughter can be so rejuvenating even in the midst of great difficulties. I believe humor and positive energy go together. If you hear a room with laughter, you’ll hear a room where people can be far more productive. If everybody’s gloomy and there’s a self-pitying environment, you just don’t get as much done.
I also get such positive feedback from students, faculty and staff every day. People who are proud of UMBC and proud to be a part of this community. I am energized. I think we energize each other.
Q. This semester, the UMBC campus held a series of discussions and lectures marking the 50th anniversary of C.P. Snow’s 1959 essay “The Two Cultures.” What’s your view on the relationship between the sciences and humanities at UMBC?
A. In my speeches and talks, I like to quote Daniel Pink and his book, A Whole New Mind, about left and right brain thinking.
…Ours has been the [information] age of the “knowledge worker,”…but that is changing… We are entering a new [conceptual] age…animated by a different form of thinking and a new approach to life… Our brains are divided into two hemispheres. The left hemisphere is sequential, logical, and analytical. The right hemisphere is nonlinear, intuitive, and holistic… Today, the defining skills of the previous era – the “left-brain” capabilities that powered the information age – are necessary but no longer sufficient. And the…“right-brain” qualities of inventiveness, empathy, joyfulness, and meaning… increasingly will determine who flourishes and who flounders… [P]rofessional success and personal fulfillment now require a whole new mind.
This speaks to a need for people to be broadly educated, and to be able to put their lives in context. Whether they are planning to be an artist or a scientist, they need to understand the history of ideas, appreciate ethical thinking, and being able to think about the role of technology in society – including the growing relationship between humanity and artificial intelligence. These are all questions that educated people will have to grapple with for a long time into the future.
So I believe that a liberal education is more important than ever. Teaching students how to think critically and write clearly and express themselves orally with confidence will be increasingly important as we find ourselves challenged by new problems.
More and more, leaders on the political side and the scientific side need to recognize what different disciplines bring to the table as we try to solve these problems. The more grounding leaders have in different disciplines, the more comfortably they can discuss the integration of perspectives.
People are starting to understand, too, that it’s not enough to be trained in one discipline. The most interesting discoveries will come through interdisciplinarity and collaborations across disciplines and across institutions.
That’s the point Daniel Pink is making. The logical analytical approach is just not enough. Innovation and creativity have a lot to do with being able to get beyond a traditional approach and connect ideas that may seem distant from one another in interesting ways.