Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama in the 1950s and 1960s, Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III could never have imagined a world like the one that exists on the campus of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) , where he served as president for 30 years.
“When I walk around the UMBC campus, I feel like the Plaza of Nations at [United Nations]says Hrabowski, whose grandfather was named Freeman because he was not born into slavery, of diversity on campus. “What’s so different for me is that as a kid growing up in Birmingham, I couldn’t have imagined a world like this. The world was all black – wonderful people, but all black I never thought I would see people from all of humanity studying, laughing, working together.
“You come to this campus, I promise you, you’ll feel uplifted. You will feel the magic. There is something magical about UMBC. That’s why I stayed for 35 years,” he says.
Yet it was his foundation in this Birmingham community that made Hrabowski the man he is. All around him there were “a lot of people who cared about others”, he says, starting with his “parents, who always helped others, especially in the field of education”. Whether it was helping the men who worked at the steel mill study for their GED or helping the neighbors’ children go to college, the message young Hrabowski heard at church every Sundays around the true measure of a Christian as being of service to others was actively modeled by his parents.
When he arrived on the campus of the Hampton Institute (now the University), he found the same culture of love and service. “We Hamptonians love each other,” says Hrabowski, who met his wife, Jacqueline, on the first day of class in Hampton.
“I challenge every university to have the kind of love we have at Hampton,” he continues. “And I will tell you that we have that at UMBC.”
Hrabowski says the message of love has been central to his personal and professional philosophy for more than 50 years. “We say UMBC is the house that love has built – it’s about how we support our students, and how we give to each other, and how we solve community problems at the broad sense,” he says.
And UMBC alumni do just that. Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, one of the leading scientists behind the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, is a graduate of UMBC. Adrienne A. Jones, the current Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates and the first woman and African American person to hold the office, is also. Dr. James P. Clements, president of Clemson University in South Carolina, is also a graduate of UMBC. Clements is the first person in his family to graduate from college.
Hrabowski recounts the names of other UMBC alumni as a proud father sharing updates on all of his children and their accomplishments. The place has 130 on-campus businesses started by faculty, students, and others. One in five of these companies has a person of color as CEO, and many are women. UMBC Retrievers are the American Mock Trial Association’s 2021 National Mock Trial Champions. “We beat Yale University,” he says. “And the captain of that team was a black woman! It was as exciting for me as when we made NCAA basketball history in 2018′ by beating the University of Virginia Cavaliers as the 16th seed in the basketball tournament. men’s NCAA.
“We pride ourselves on being a nerdy campus,” says Hrabowski.
In the past two years, two of UMBC’s graduates have won the Franklin Institute Award, often considered the precursor to Nobel Prizes in science. He still dreams of seeing one of his former students receive the Nobel Prize.
Hrabowski himself was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as the American Philosophical Society. In 2018, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Council on Education. He also received the McGraw Prize in Education and the US Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. In 1988 he co-founded the Meyerhoff Scholars Program to encourage greater participation of underrepresented minorities in science and engineering, and the program is now considered a national model of excellence.
“We have shown that…an institution that started primarily for whites but has always served all students, [and is now] seen as serving a minority [and now leads the country in the number of] Blacks who go on to earn a doctorate in natural science” — a title Hrabowski is proud UMBC has claimed at Howard University — can serve students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds and socioeconomic levels.
Hrabowski, who says “I want to be completely exhausted when I die,” has no plans to slow down anytime soon. Last month, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute announced a $1.5 billion award to create the Freeman Hrabowski Fellowship Program to support efforts to diversify STEM teachers across the country. There is a building named after her and Jacqueline in their beloved Hampton, and UMBC announced earlier this month at their retirement gala that they would also name the main administration building after her. campus.
“Life is not a short candle,” he says. “I’m very excited for the next chapter.” He looks forward to continuing his study of French language and culture and consulting with other campus leaders across the country to help spread the UMBC model – one that has seen the university go from a graduation rate from 35% to around 70% for all students. , with virtually no racial gap in the number of graduates.
Hrabowski was named a Centennial Fellow of the American Council on Education and will work with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute on its namesake program. He says he can’t wait to enjoy “this next chapter of our lives” with Jackie in particular. “When you have your best friend as your partner in life, in romance, and in whatever life throws at you, you couldn’t be luckier,” he says.