Thomas grew up in Salisbury, MD. He shares about his family, his mother worked in retail all her life while his father worked in construction all his life.
This is Chistine Warden, and it is Wednesday, March 23, 2011. I’m interviewing Mr. Thomas Webb, at Academic Hall at McDaniel College Campus. Mr. Webb, can you start off telling me a little about– a little bit about where you grew up and what were your parents like?
THOMAS WEBB: Sure. I grew up in Salisbury, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, which is about 30 minutes from Ocean City, Maryland, if you’ve ever been there. Uh, my parents, um, what were they like? Both my parents are from the Eastern Shore of Maryland too, um, one from Snow Hill, one from Pocomoke, if you’ve ever heard of those areas. Um, and both– let’s see, mother’s always been in retail her entire life, father’s always been in construction. Um, so very blue collar, uh, family, um, and, uh, I guess very supportive, uh, family in general, um, and, um, still together as a matter of fact, so that’s also a rarity–
INTERVIEWER: That’ awesome.
THOMAS WEBB: –that the family– my family’s still– parents are still together.
INTERVIEWER: Uh, what was your neighborhood like that you grew up in?
THOMAS WEBB: Um, average, middle class, uh, neighborhood. Um, I would say it was unique, because it was, uh, the entire cul-de-sac that I grew up on, um, were all young families so we all kind of grew up together as children, which was nice, and we all hung out together. Um, there’s probably about, um, eight or nine different families, um, that really, um, were actively kind of engaged, um, both on the weekends and even, like, after school. Um, and the neat part is we’re actually still friends after, uh, you know, 20 years later, basically. So, we’ve all kind of maintained, uh, close contact there.
INTERVIEWER: That’s very cool.
THOMAS WEBB: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Uh, what activities did you participate in?
THOMAS WEBB: Um, in high school, or just as a child?
INTERVIEWER: In– in general.
THOMAS WEBB: In general. Um, well, I guess growing up, the major activity I participated in would be, um, Civil Air Patrol, uh, and that is an auxiliary of the Air Force, if– for those of you not familiar. Um, and I started that when I was 14, um, and the nice part about that is it allowed for me to work on my pilot’s license for free, uh, because the government paid for that, um, but I spent a lot of time, um, kind of progressing through, um, the ranks. Very similar to, kind of like, Scouts–
THOMAS WEBB: –I guess is the best comparison. Uh, except its military base, and you work on search and rescue. Um, and I did until I was 18 and went away to college, but that occupied a lot of my time. That was–
INTERVIEWER: Did you actually get your pilot’s license?
THOMAS WEBB: Uh, I soloed, but I did not actually, um, go beyond that, and unfortunately I haven’t touched it since I was 17. Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Very cool.
THOMAS WEBB: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: What did you do for entertainment?
THOMAS WEBB: For entertainment. Um, I was definitely, um, from the generation where I played a lot of Nintendo and a lot of computer games. Um, I remember my family being the first on the block to have, um, the first Nintendo, so, um, those eight families were always over at our house playing, uh, circling around Nintendo. Also my brother was into sports, and so I kind of, um, spent a lot of time going to his sporting events, and, um, just overall normal childhood, you know, hanging out the other kids in the neighborhood really was– was pretty common.
INTERVIEWER: Where’d you go to elementary school at?
THOMAS WEBB: Um, a place called Beaver Run Elementary in Salisbury.
INTERVIEWER: OK. Is there anything that you did in elementary school, like any memories you can remember?
THOMAS WEBB: Any unique memories? Um, I mean, the only thing that’s unique about that experience, I would say, and it’s– it’s not something that I necessarily remember, is that, um, I was one of the first children– if not the first– to go through, um, that elementary school with a disability. Um, and that was because the law had just changed, um, but prior to that they would send any child with a disability to a separate school. Uh, and typically they had significant cognitive, uh, impairments too, um, so that obviously would have been a different outcome for my life had I not been, kind of, fully, uh, fully inclusive in– in my education.
INTERVIEWER: Were you happy that you went to elementary school–
THOMAS WEBB: Absolutely.
INTERVIEWER: –with all your peers?
THOMAS WEBB: Absolutely. It was– it’s meant a huge difference in the outcome where I am in life today–
THOMAS WEBB: –and, um, thankfully I had a set of parents that– that advocated very effectively for me.
INTERVIEWER: That’s awesome.
THOMAS WEBB: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you go to middle school at?
THOMAS WEBB: Uh, I went to Wicomico Middle School, um, probably as– if you talk to most people– not a good experience. I–
THOMAS WEBB: — think everybody just wants to try to get through middle school, and get to the next, uh, the next step, which is high school, but nothing– I can’t say there’s anything significant there that– that, uh– I was– had just started Civil Air Patrol at that point–
THOMAS WEBB: –which was probably a good external activity to get– get out of the mindset of middle school.
INTERVIEWER: What about, uh, high school?
THOMAS WEBB: High school? Um, I went to Parkside, uh, High School, uh, which is also in Salisbury. Um, I actually had my choice between high schools, because of having a disability, uh, and the layout of the schools being very different and one having kind of an open college, um, layout, and that was Wi High– Wicomico Senior High School– and then the other one being Parkside, um, was a much more closed in, um, kind of, smaller area to navigate–
THOMAS WEBB: –so that’s why I chose Parkside. Um, and, uh, I guess in terms of, um, memories there, I think that was overall a good experience but, once again, spent a lot of my time, um, with Civil Air Patrol. Also spent a lot of time doing drama. I was kind of a drama, um, geek at the time. Um, and, uh, let’s see what else besides– oh, my freshman year of high school I spent, um, actually being home schooled–
THOMAS WEBB: –because I had a significant operation, so actually missed my first– my freshman year of high school, and so I started when I was a sophomore, which, um, I think for most people would be kind of difficult. Um, there’s a little bit of adjustment there, kind of coming in as the– the new kid, um, especially because it wasn’t supposed to be my regular high school where all of my peers went.
THOMAS WEBB: I kind of shifted– somewhat shifted some of the peers that I had started to go to school with, um, but yeah, so I had the operation, and uh, had to kind of wa– learn how to walk all over again, um, during my freshman and then luckily started back as a– as a sophomore, um, and attended, you know, regularly after that.
INTERVIEWER: How were the kids, um, how did they act when you came in? Like, were they very accepting, like–
THOMAS WEBB: Yeah. I– I would say that, um, surprisingly, um, I’ve– I’ve always had very positive experiences, uh, with other kids growing up. Um, I can’t say that I was one that was bullied or teased–
THOMAS WEBB: –at least not, um, in my face to where I was aware of it.
INTERVIEWER: That’s good.
THOMAS WEBB: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Where did you attend college at, and what did you study?
THOMAS WEBB: Um, I went to Washington College, also on the Eastern Shore. If you’re sensing a theme, that is correct. Um, and, uh, I went there for undergrad and grad, um– let’s see, undergrad I was poly sci. Um, and then for graduate I was, um, a psychology, uh, grad student, and completed both of those degrees, and then went on for my doctorate at the University– Wilmington University, or what at the time was Wilmington College. It since has changed its name to Wilmington University up in, uh, New Castle, um Delaware.
INTERVIEWER: That’s great. Um, were there any particular laws that influenced the education that you received?
THOMAS WEBB: Um, yeah, I would say the significant– the– the most significant law being IDEA, Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Um, obviously opened the door for me to have the opportunity to go, um, to kind of a fully integrated, mainstreamed setting, um, that I don’t know that I would have necessarily had the opportunity to go to if it had been even three years earlier before the law passed, um–
THOMAS WEBB: —but luckily there was, um, you know, the law was in place, and, uh, my parents obviously could fall back on that as– as one of the main reasons to– to do the right thing in terms of the school system, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: Um, what made you decide to come to McDaniel?
THOMAS WEBB: Um, well, uh, I’ve been in higher ed, um, a majority of my career. Um, I worked at a community college for, um, four years on the Eastern Shore– Chesapeake College– and was in student support there and really enjoyed working with students and watching them transition, transform, succeed, um, and, um, then I went and had the opportunity to work on Capitol Hill for a couple of years, uh, as a Kennedy Fellow, and um, that was a terrific experience, but it also made me realize that I really missed and enjoyed higher ed.
So then after spending two years in DC sort of looking to see what was out there and, uh, landed at McDaniel after completing several interviews in the area at different universities and colleges, um, working in the field of disability support services. But what ultimately attracted here, I guess is your question, and that is, um, I would say the– the extra level of support, um, that we offer that’s very unique to McDaniel in terms of, uh, disability support services. We have a fee-based program here where, um, a lot of students sign up for, um, academic coaches, uh, learning specialists to work with them above and beyond what you would find at most colleges or universities, um, and I think that’s, um, a nice support that, um, really allows people to be successful that wouldn’t always have that opportunity or that support to be available in– in a higher ed setting.
INTERVIEWER: Um, what types of changes have you seen, um, at McDaniel since you’ve been working here?
THOMAS WEBB: I’ve only been here two years, um, obviously the most recent one being the new dining hall that opened up last night, uh, which is a pretty significant change and one that was long overdue, and thankfully the new president saw that it was a priority, and I think that, um, if anything that will actually draw people to the college now, because it’s– it’s a– a very, very nice, welcoming, uh, energized space. Um, so– I mean, that’s one– I guess one significant change that I’ve seen here in two years, um, and I’ve also seen a change even in the services we offer within the department here, um, within Academic Support Services, uh, and there’s growing numbers of students that we’re seeing through the door that require some– either accommodations or additional supports.
Um, when I first started here, um, there were only 35, 37 students enrolled. Um, now we’re close to 70, so we’ve almost doubled our numbers in two years, which is pretty significant, so that kind of shows the– the trend out there, that we’re seeing a lot more students with learning challenges or other disabilities entering higher ed, which is– which is a great thing.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of disability– like, what kind of disabilities do you guys, like, most commonly–
THOMAS WEBB: Um-hmm.
THOMAS WEBB: The most common disability within, uh– I guess here at McDaniel would be, um, students with ADHD, um, and here by itself or in combination with some type of learning difference– or what used to be called learning disability. Uh, dyslexia, dysgraphia, um, dyscalculia. Um, those being kind of the major ones–
THOMAS WEBB: –and also processing disorders, um, but, uh, we also have certainly students that are on the autism spectrum, um, and we also have students that have cerebral palsy and some other, um, neurological, um, based, uh– developmental disability based disabilities.
INTERVIEWER: All right. Well, thank you so much for, um, letting me interview you today.
THOMAS WEBB: Sure.