Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Oral History of Postsecondary Access: Martha Maxwell, a Pioneer

Academic journal article Journal of Developmental Education

Oral History of Postsecondary Access: Martha Maxwell, a Pioneer

Article excerpt

Truly a pioneer in the field of learning assistance and developmental education, Martha Maxwell has mentored hundreds, if not thousands, of professionals and students as well as authored a variety of reference shelf publications. Her career spanned 50 years. In her classic, Improving Student Learning Skills, she says there are seven persons named Martha Maxwell: counselor, teacher, academic advisor, reading/learning disabilities specialist, researcher, administrator, and perennial student.

Martha Maxwell: I think there are a few others. Cheerleader ought to be included. I would say that perennial student and cheerleader are the most apt descriptions. In our profession, we are dealing with students who come from backgrounds where success has not been part of their repertoire. They have not been encouraged; in fact, many of them have been discouraged in academia. So they feel they can't do it. Once you get them working, then I think you have to be a cheerleader and help them along that way.

Educational Background

I worked very hard in school. I did well in elementary and high school. I attended school at a time when high school students who wanted to attend selective colleges either look an extra year of high school or went to college preparatory schools.

Dr. Maxwell received her B.A. in Psychology in 1946, her M.A. in 1948, and a doctoral degree in 1960.

When I got to college, I began by majoring in music, then I shifted to English, then to half a dozen fields, and finally majored in psychology...left school for a couple of years, came back and graduated with a split major in economics and psychology.

I started college before World War II at the University of Maryland at a time when many freshmen dropped out of college; there were no academic support services. We did have one psychology professor who helped some students with vocational counseling, but there was no counseling either. After the war when ex-GIs came to college in great numbers, colleges started counseling centers, reading and study skills programs, and offered free tutoring services. At first, these were just for ex-GIs, but later they were opened to all students.

One of the most significant neu groups to attend college consisted of veterans returning from World War IJ. The GI Bill of Rights, written with the assumption that few would take advantage of it, inspired more than one million veterans to enroll in college by the Fall of 1946. This brought funding to colleges that, in turn, helped to create guidance centers, reading and study skills programs and tutoring services. Following the veterans came more women, more students with special needs, and more students from impoverished backgrounds. Support systems continued to grow and to become more comprehensive in order to meet the increasingly diverse needs of the new students. (M. Maxwell, personal interview, January 17-19, 1999.)

I remember not knowing what I wanted to do in college, so when I was a senior in college we had a unit in career planning. One of the things we read about was the role of the vocational counselor. I said, "Gee, that sounds like a great job. I don't know what I want to be. Maybe if I were a vocational counselor, I'd learn about a lot of fields and be able to make my mind up." I did eventually become a vocational counselor.

When I had been a freshman, I had gone in for vocational counseling myself. I only saw one person, and he tested me and said, "You are an overachiever." That kind of hurt. What he meant was that you were working harder than you should, and you are getting higher grades than you are capable of. I don't think people worry about that today, but in those days I felt sort of taken aback about it. For the next 8 years I refused to take any of the standardized tests. But I also took an interest test from him, and he said, "Your interests look like you should go into college teaching." So here is an overachiever going into college teaching. …

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