Michael J. Knapp

Michael J. Knapp is a business executive and entrepreneur who has served as a community leader supporting higher education for more than 20 years in both elected and appointed positions. As a leader at the local, state, and federal levels, his ability to bring groups together to address challenging issues has allowed him to be an ardent advocate for educational institutions to provide an inclusive environment for economic growth; meaningful opportunities for students, faculty and staff; and collaborative learning and community spaces for residents. 

Mr. Knapp served on the Montgomery College Board of Trustees in Montgomery County, Maryland, for 11 years receiving appointments by both a Democratic and Republican governor. He served in board leadership for 10 years of his tenure, including the final four years as chair of the board. In this role, he strengthened relationships with College’s stakeholders and brought the MC board together as a team to achieve success as they  oversaw the College’s reaccreditation process; managed two presidential transitions—that include the selection and appointment of an interim president and leading the process for the selection and appointment of a new president; provided governance and policy guidance during the pandemic; and spearheaded efforts to gain approval for a fourth College campus to help meet the needs of the county’s underserved communities.

Elected as a County Councilmember in Montgomery County in 2002, Mr. Knapp served as the Council President and chair of the County’s Education Committee—overseeing an annual budget of more the $2 billion for Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College. While in this role, he served to bring the disparate interests of the greater Washington DC region together as chair of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments representing 24 jurisdictions from the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.

Mr. Knapp served as chair of the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) Board of Advisors for five years, while also serving on the board for 15 years from 2006 to 2021. USG is a Regional Higher Education Center in Maryland that provides undergraduate and graduate degree programs from nine different state universities in a single location in the community designed to meet the specific workforce requirements of local employers.

He is currently the CEO and co-founder of SkillSmart, a software company helping communities and organizations track and demonstrate economic impact. Mr. Knapp previously helped found two groundbreaking biotechnology companies, and also worked as a staff member in the U.S. Senate.

A graduate of The College of William and Mary in Virginia—Mr. Knapp received his Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Government, where he also received his commission into the U.S. Army Reserves and served as an Infantry Officer for 10 years. He and his wife live in Germantown, Maryland, where he continues to serve on the board of a number of local organizations.

Spotlight Questions

1. Who was your earliest professional influence? 

I grew up in a small town in Upstate NY and my father served on the local board of education and when I was ten he introduced me to our superintendent, Dr. Howard Lynch. Even at that age, I was really impressed with how much esteem my father held Dr. Lynch and as I went through school, I came to recognize the critical role he played in ensuring our school’s high standards, positioning the school as a cornerstone for the success of employers in our community, and sought to make education accessible for all.  Dr. Lynch retired the same day I graduated from high school, and I was honored to receive one of the last diplomas he handed out. His leadership demonstrated for me the transformative role that education plays in people and communities and throughout my career I’ve sought opportunities to continue that legacy.

2. What are you most proud of personally and professionally? 

Professionally I’ve had the opportunity to work with amazing people in many different types of institutions and I’m most proud of the array of efforts that I’ve been able to help advance in education like developing materials to improve understanding of groundbreaking genetic technologies, reducing class sizes to improve learning outcomes in underserved elementary schools in the largest school district in Maryland, expanding access to university programs in STEM and related fields for highly diverse students, and creating and implementing policies around inclusion and anti-racism so that students in our community who represent nearly every nation in the world feel welcome, accepted and can thrive.  Personally, I’m blessed to have married my high school sweetheart who I still get to come home to everyday and together we have raised two amazing daughters who, along with their friends, continue to demonstrate how our next generations will overcome the many challenges we see today.

3. What is your favorite pastime or hobby?

I’ve been a runner since I was 13 and continue to find new ways to challenge myself and stay in shape.  My wife and I enjoy traveling and visiting vineyards here and abroad.  I continue to be active serving with many organizations focused on empowering residents and making communities stronger.

4. If not Higher Ed, what? 

Higher Ed is an avocation for me and not something in which I’ve engaged professionally.  I have always known the role that education plays in the growth and success of a community, and as an elected representative in one of the most diverse communities in the US, it was clear that higher education was the most common path for our residents to achieve their dreams.  So, I served as the chair of the board of both our community college, and university regional higher education center to help ensure much needed access to education for our residents and businesses.  I’ve spent the rest of my life doing the “what”, which has included time as an elected official, entrepreneur, biotech executive, Army officer, basketball coach, Dad, and husband.  I’m always on the lookout for the next “what.”

5. What was the best piece of advice you have received? 

When in charge, be in charge.

Never forget to say thank you, gratitude doesn’t cost you a thing.

It is nearly always more important to listen, than to speak.

Treat all people with respect.

6. What is your favorite drink?

During the day I am fueled by my vice, Mt. Dew, and in the evening, I enjoy a good old fashioned.

7. What is your favorite cuisine? 

I love a great Italian meal, and living in Maryland, there isn’t quite anything like sitting with friends and having crabs and beer on a Saturday evening in the Summer.

8. What is your favorite movie?  

Nobody’s Fool with Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy

9. Fun fact?

I’ve worked with two Nobel Laureates and for the organization that sequenced the human genome.