Photo of Amanda Knapp riding a motorcycle.

GSE alumna Amanda Knapp, PhD, hones her off-road, hare-scramble race technique during a ride clinic in 2019. (Photo courtesy Samantha Kilgore)

Advocating for students: GSE alumna’s career journey enhanced by lessons from off-road racing


Amanda Knapp, BS ’00, EdM ’03, has two passions: motorcycle racing and student success. She wins off-road motorcycle competitions with the same kind of determination that drives her career as a university administrator and student advocate. She developed her focus as a first-generation college student, earning her master’s in higher education administration from UB’s GSE before finishing a doctorate in education policy at the University of Maryland.

She has made it her job to forge connections with students as she helps them overcome obstacles.

An associate vice provost and assistant dean leading student success initiatives at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, she traces her relationship-based approach to leadership, on campus and on the racetrack, back to GSE.

One professor stands out: Raechele Pope, associate dean for faculty and student affairs, associate professor of higher education and GSE chief diversity officer. Pope’s lessons and group project work emphasized that leadership is built on strong ties—with students, families, faculty and staff.

Knapp celebrates with undergraduates on campus at UMBC’s First-Generation Student Day, 2018. (Photo courtesy Amanda Knapp).

Knapp celebrates with undergraduates on campus at UMBC’s First-Generation Student Day, 2018. (Photo courtesy Amanda Knapp)

Knapp now oversees academic success programs that serve UMBC’s 12,000 undergraduates, 25 percent of whom are first-generation students like herself. She leads standards and policy work, learning resources that include a tutoring and writing center, and a new effort: a year-old, data-driven “academic advocacy” program that identifies and assists at-risk students using data like GPA, out-of-state residency and first-generation status.

Her office reaches out if faculty report concerns or when students withdraw from class, have an overdue balance or fail to login to an online course. So far, the results are promising. Students in the program stayed in school 82 percent of the time, compared to 69 percent who persisted without it.

“We will walk them through whatever barriers they face until it’s resolved,” Knapp said. “That personalized support is what we have learned makes the difference.”

Her sensitivity to student needs comes from her experience as a first-generation student. Her grades were good, but she didn’t know to apply for scholarships and instead took out loans, which she is still paying off.

At UB, Knapp developed her career interest in helping others with their college journeys as she moved from earning a bachelor’s degree in management to studying at GSE.

Knapp family standing outside in front of motorbikes.

For the Knapp family, off-road motorcycle racing is a sport everyone is passionate about. From left to right: husband Ryan and children Riley, Priscilla and Mason. Virginia Motorsports Park, November 2019. (Photo courtesy Samantha Kilgore)

Her racing became an inadvertent career asset when she got a motorcycle graduation present eight years ago. After she earned her PhD, her husband and mother, worried about what she’d do without a dissertation to work on, gave her the kind of dirt bike she rode as girl growing up in rural West Virginia.

Just as she became known professionally as Dr. Knapp, she also became racer No. 334, a number she picked because she was a 34-year-old mother of three. That November she entered her very first “hare scramble,” a race style with trails through woods and water.

Her public profile, elevated by two recent East Coast championships, led her to become a role model for young women as she landed on the cover of American Motorcyclist, drew sponsorships from companies like Dunlop Tires and, last year, joined Toyota’s MakeUp2Mud Campaign at the Monster Energy Supercross Race, which attracted an estimated 40,000, in Tampa, Fla.

Now she finds links between her academic work and racing.

“It’s all about keeping students on track,” she said. “You find a way within yourself to overcome that hurdle … It’s all about having the right support around you. Anything is possible. We all cheer for our students. Just like racing.”