The Big Question

What’s the Smallest Change People Can Make to Have the Biggest Positive Impact on Society?

Rajshree Agarwal
Rudolph Lamone Chair of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and Director of the Ed Snider Center for Enterprise and Markets, Robert H. Smith School of Business

Make the world a better place by focusing on creating win-wins in your world—the places you go, the people you meet and the things that you do—and by using an ABC approach: Acquire information about each other’s abilities and aspirations. Build on common interests. Create value and claim your share.

Eric Adler
Professor and Chair of the Department of Classics, College of Arts and Humanities

Engage in introspection. Many people enjoy demonizing their political opponents. This is a tendency that social media encourages. It would be more useful to take stock of ourselves. Are we living up to our potential?

Kathy Best
Director of the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

People can take one minute to determine whether the source of news they’re reading is trustworthy before sharing it. That investment of a moment will strengthen our democracy.

Lisa A. Boté
Clinical Associate Professor of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership, College of Education

End each class session five minutes early to leave room for appreciation. Ask students to consider what felt valuable, interesting or surprising about the content and experience. Closing with appreciation leaves positive residue and pushes you to increase engagement.

Paul Brown
Associate Clinical Professor in the School of Public Policy and Director of Civic Innovation Center

Speaking out is cathartic, especially when today’s politics is so frustrating. But a healthy democracy also needs good listeners. Numerous civic engagement groups now provide platforms for constructive discourse across ideological divides, including for students. Try it. You never know what you might learn, and others might learn from you.

Josh Davidsburg
Senior Lecturer, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

Read local news, subscribe to a local newspaper, support local journalism.

Gerard Evans
Lecturer, School of Public Policy

Be kind and civil in your discourse and dealings. Remember, everyone has feelings and emotions. Keep your arguments, thoughts and suggestions based on facts. Respect each person as a valuable peer and colleague.

Bethany Henderson
Lecturer, School of Public Policy

Vote. In every election in which you’re eligible. Bring your kids (from infancy on) into the voting booth with you. And encourage your friends, family, neighbors, etc., to do the same.

Elinda F. Kiss
Associate Clinical Professor of Finance and Banking Fellows Faculty Champion, Robert H. Smith School of Business

Smile. Although we cannot see your mouth when you are wearing a face mask, we can see how your eyes crinkle when you smile. A smile lifts the spirits of those who see it. When you smile when you teach, your voice is more pleasant and people are more likely to remember what you say.

Jing Lin
Harold R.W. Benjamin Professor of International Education, College of Education

Peace is built on a kind heart, and preservation of nature is based on love and respect for Mother Earth. Being kind to everyone in your life, and to all things including a tree, or a small animal, can enhance the energy of love, which is the most powerful force gluing the whole universe together.

Sarah McGrew
Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership, College of Education

When you’re online, think about whether stories are from reliable sources. Especially if you have a strong emotional reaction, ask yourself: Who created this? Are they trustworthy? If you’re not sure, read laterally—do a quick search for information about the source to help you decide whether to trust it.

Dana Priest
John S. and James L. Knight Chair in Public Affairs Journalism, Philip Merrill College of Journalism

Get news from reliable media sites only: Quit reading editorials and watching opinionated television people, delete junky news sites and ignore trending social media posts. Then subscribe to the best of the best so only they survive.

Chris Sargent
Faculty Research Specialist in the Department of Entomology, College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

The smallest change people can make to have the biggest impact in all areas of life is to be kind. If you are kind to people, all will benefit; if you are kind to the earth, environment and climate benefit. A kind attitude actively expressed improves all aspects of life.

Daria Scala
Lecturer, School of Public Policy

The smallest positive change we can make in our lives and the lives of others is to smile. Smile at passersby on our way to the store, the store clerks, our dog when we come home. Smile even if our smiles are behind a mask.

Oliver Schlake
Clinical Professor of Management and Organization, Robert H. Smith School of Business

Create a Plan B for your life—one you build while your Plan A is in place and working fine. Next time things don’t work out as expected (pandemic, downturn, etc.) you have something to go for without shifting things around in panic mode.

Campbell F. Scribner
Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership, College of Education

Driving across America during the 1950s, Jack Kerouac wrote that he “had nothing to offer anybody, except (his) own confusion.” The same sentiment reaches back to Socrates, for whom perplexity was the first step toward humility, curiosity, integrity and wisdom. To learn, we must first acknowledge our ignorance.

Arjav R. Shah
Adjunct Lecturer, College of Information Studies

Understanding that nothing is the end of the world, patience is key, and controlling your emotions will help your success.

Hedwig Teglasi
Professor of School Psychology, College of Education

When we listen to others, it is natural to judge what they are saying from our own perspective. Imagine if we could set aside our assumptions for a bit to seek clarification about why and how each of us has arrived at our respective opinions.

Bridget Turner Kelly
Associate Professor of Higher Education, Student Affairs and International Education Policy, College of Education

Validate students. Having at least one meaningful relationship with a faculty or staff advocate who values and understands their unique perspective helps mitigate challenges students encounter due to their intersecting marginalized identities (e.g., immigrant, person of color, bisexual, agnostic, low socioeconomic status, woman, transgender, disabled). Be creative and proactive with validation.

Gregg Vanderheiden
Professor and Director of the Trace Research and Development Center, College of Information Studies

A comment to a young person, or a simple act, that inspires them to a career of service—that inspires others.

Selvon Waldron
Lecturer, School of Public Policy

Life in our region is hyperproductive and the pace is nonstop, even during an ongoing health pandemic. The nonprofit sector and education institutions have seen high turnover and extreme rates of staff burnout. The human cost and impact to student learning/community development of this is enormous. The toll on the sector’s employees of color is even greater due to lack of equity. So, balance is the change we must make.

Kathy Weaver
Senior Lecturer, College of Information Studies

Always start with the positive.


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