Alumna reignites her childhood motorcycling passion and finds it crosses over to her higher ed career.
Amanda Knapp (EdM ’03, BS ’00) loved motorcycling ever since her father put her on a Honda 70 as a six-year-old growing up in rural West Virginia. Although she didn’t ride motorcycles while attending UB, she received a KTM 300 XCW from her mother and husband (Ryan Nathaniel Knapp, BA ’01) after earning her PhD from the University of Maryland. Now a seasoned racer in a mostly male sport, she’s received a fair amount of attention from the press. (Just Google her!) But Knapp stands out for other reasons: She’s associate vice provost and assistant dean, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) and, in 2019, she helped establish UMBC’s Academic Success Center, one of the first of its kind in the nation.
What made you decide to go into racing?
My family couldn’t afford to race when I was young, but when I received my “gift,” I felt as if this was finally my opportunity to try it. I was 34 with three children when I entered my first race (called a “hare scramble,” an off-road race over hills, sand, mud, roots, rocks, rivers and other obstacles), and it was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. I thought: “Am I even going to survive?” But I lined up with 300 men and I did it! After that first race, I was hooked.
So it’s mostly you against men in these races?
Yes. There are still very few women who race competitively, which is probably why I have gained some media recognition and sponsorships. You don’t look at me—a mother of three with a PhD working in higher ed—and think, “Oh, she races motorcycles.” But it’s a sport that anyone can do if it’s something you are passionate about.
What made you decide to go into education, in particular, university administration and student advocacy?
As a first-generation college student, it was a challenge navigating college. But at UB, I found people to help me: to answer questions, to decide on a major, and I felt like part of a community. Then I realized, “These people work here. They get paid to work at a college!” It seemed like a way for me to give back to higher education because it literally changed my life.
How do racing and higher education cross over for you?
When I’m working with students, I talk about the parallels of racing and higher ed. Signing up for my first race was terrifying. For a first-gen student, applying to college is also terrifying. Similarly, in a race you go around the first corner, then the next, just like you go through your first semester, then the next, and your goal is to get to the graduation stage, i.e., the finish line. In both, you may fall down and/or struggle. But you get up and persevere, and find people who cheer for you. On the flip side, when I go to a racing event, I have people ask me for advice about college for their kids and even for themselves.
Published March 23, 2022