Home U.S.Education Longtime University President’s Legacy: A Diverse New Generation in STEM

Longtime University President’s Legacy: A Diverse New Generation in STEM

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BALTIMORE — Late one night in the fall of 2020, when Kizumekia Corbett learns that the vaccine she helped design is highly effective against the coronavirus, there’s only one person she wants to call. No: Freeman A. Hrabowski III, longtime president of the University of Baltimore County, Maryland.

Dr. Corbett, 34, became the first black woman to achieve such a feat. This is a milestone in the recent fight against the worst pandemic in US history. But all she could think about was the man she met as an 18-year-old freshman at college. The man quickly recognized her thick Southern accent and history-making potential.

“I had to call someone who understood everything I was going through. I had to,” said Dr. Corbett. He graduated from Harvard TH Chang School of Public Health. “So I called Freeman.”

Dr. Hrabowski, who retired last week after leading UMBC for 30 years, has made a name for himself in academia by transforming what was once a rural day school into the nation’s strongest pipeline of black graduates in science, technology, engineering, and related fields. Famous.

Dr. Corbett is an alumnus of the school’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which has served as a model for breaking down barriers for universities across the country. The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and the University of California, Berkeley are among his of the universities that have replicated it.

As the nation’s top producer for a black college student pursuing a Ph.D. In the fields of natural sciences or engineering, UMBC has solved one of higher education’s most vexing conundrums: the shortage of black students who excel in science.

These achievements earned Dr. Hrabowski a celebrity status during his tenure. He has authored four of his books, given thousands of speeches, been on his list of influencers, and hundreds of alumni have earned professorships and other positions at some of the country’s most prestigious institutions. I’ve seen the

But Dr. Corbett’s call that night was also arguably a testament to a lesser-known but important part of Dr. Hrabowski’s legacy. It has served as a mentor to leaders in various fields of science and academia, many of whom have come to emulate. His style as much as his essence.

When the Howard Hughes Medical Institute recently announced a $1.5 billion program to support the next generation of diverse faculty in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, it clarified its mission by calling the initiative “Freeman Hrabowski. It was called the Scholarship Program. Its Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer. “If every institution adopted his recipe, it would transform his STEM education in the United States without changing ingredients or cutting corners.”

University presidents across the country point to the “freeman lesson” that is modeled in classrooms and conference rooms every day.

James P. Clements, president of Clemson University and UMBC alumnus, recalled how Dr. Hrabowski coached him for his first presidential interview at West Virginia University. “Without Freeman, I wouldn’t have been president of the university. Fourteen years later, he’s still mentoring me.”

Paula A. Johnson, president of Wellesley College, met Dr. Hrabowski several years ago as a young faculty member at Harvard University. That’s when he got her honorary degree and she ended up being his host. He specifically wanted a professor of color.

“He thinks about his role all the time, not only in terms of the honors he gets, but who else he can include and promote. she said.

Starting this week, Dr. Hrabowski, 71, will continue his work in a number of advisory positions, including a Centennial Fellowship with the American Council on Education, representing 1,700 colleges and universities.

Council president Ted Mitchell said, “There are many ways to think about influence. Some are more glittery than others. Freeman really reaches out to our hearts.” , asked to remember what education is. He is a moral compass for all of us, which makes him the most influential leader in higher education of our generation.”

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Hrabowski came of age at the height of his Jim Crow era. The idea that black children didn’t deserve a quality education spawned fighters at a very young age who called themselves “fat nerdy kids who could only solve math problems.”

He was 12 years old when he attended the historic Children’s March inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. He was one of hundreds of boys and girls arrested during the march for equal rights and spent five days in prison.

Dr. Hrabowski has largely refused to talk about the details of what he saw and experienced in Birmingham prison. But in an interview he recalled a visit from Dr. King.

“What you do today will affect children who are not yet born,” Dr. Hrabowski remembered him telling children in prison.

Dr. Hrabowski attributes it to his upbringing in Birmingham in the 1960s. It was the funeral of three of the four people from the small but vibrant middle-class neighborhoods that formed him and other black leaders, including Angela Davis and Condoleezza Rice. up to the church. A black girl who died after a white supremacist terrorist attack.

“Our parents, teachers and pastors insisted that we not define ourselves as victims despite the blatant racism all around us,” he said. “Rather, we knew the world wasn’t fair, so we were taught to believe in ourselves and strive to double down.

He attended the Hampton Institute, a historically black college, and earned a degree in mathematics at the age of 19. At his graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign, Dr. Hrabowski said: In the classroom. ”

He has a master’s degree and a doctorate in mathematics. There he completed his PhD in Higher Education Administration and Statistics and started his career in Higher Education Administration. He then moved to Coppin State University, a small, historic black school in Baltimore, where his reputation as a change agent who advocated for students even when adults offended put him on UMBC’s radar. rice field.

It was a young institution, the first campus in Maryland to accept all races, and was desperate for leadership that matched its ambitions.

When Dr. Hrabowski arrived at UMBC in 1987 as vice-chancellor, one of the first questions he asked was why the research university he wanted to graduate had only double-digit numbers of black students with science degrees. did. Twenty years after consolidation, the average black GPA was barely 2.0 for him, while the average GPA for white students was 2.50 for him. There was a difference of at least 20 points between the graduation rates of the two races.

The following year, he persuaded Maryland philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff that with the right guidance and resources, black students could excel in many sciences at a predominantly white college. financially supported his quest to prove

“It’s never been done domestically before,” Dr. Hrabowski said. “People have never seen it, so I didn’t think it was possible.”

The two co-founded the Meyerhoff program, which has since graduated more than 1,400 students, most of them African-American, in science and engineering. Receive financial scholarships, academic instruction, research experience, and mentoring, our graduates participate in some of the nation’s most prestigious doctoral programs and prominent research spaces.

He is equally proud that the school produced the first black speaker in the Maryland House of Representatives and was also the first woman to hold the position.

Since taking office as Chancellor in 1992, his goal has been to create and model a culture of “inclusive excellence” where all students are supported in the way they need to succeed.

The UMBC campus expanded to 675 acres, incorporating $1.2 billion worth of construction, another research park with over 120 biotech labs and cybersecurity companies. But it wasn’t the flashy new buildings that Dr. Hrabowski was bombarded with these days. Academic His Row, the main thoroughfare on campus, was hoisted with more than 100 flags of his, representing the countries of origin of some 14,000 students.

“It’s hard for a black president to say, ‘I care about all races,’ and get that heard,” he said.

But he was.

Kaitlyn Sadler followed her sister from a rural suburb in Maryland. She never thought of getting her Ph.D. She was just grateful that she was able to attend an affordable state university. leads a 10,000-participant NIH study on Covid-19 antibodies at the National Institutes of Health.

But Sadler looked back on her time at UMBC and pointed to memories that had little to do with science. Her half-Japanese roommate persuaded her to eat the rice she vowed never to eat again after being raised on Minute Rice. And the beloved black president who knew every student’s name and major.

“I’m from a very white neighborhood, so I’d like to say that UMBC kicked off my education on multiple levels,” she said. “I was exposed to new things and never felt uncomfortable or out of place.”

Twenty-six years into his work to build inclusive communities, Dr. Hrabowski received a painful reality check.

In 2018, the school faced a class action lawsuit for violating Title IX, a federal anti-sex discrimination law, by working with county law enforcement officials to cover up reported sexual assaults. The lawsuit shook the campus, sparking student protests and drawing anger from alumni.

Dr. Hrabowski was invited to a conference on campus that September.

Instead, I was asked to listen to a female student discuss the history of sexual harassment. The lawsuit she dismissed in 2020, but the issues it uncovered continued to come under intense scrutiny, leading to changes at the university.

“It was a very dark moment,” Dr. Hrabowski said. “We may have complied with the law, but it became clear that we needed to do more.”

He has used some difficult episodes during his tenure to help other presidents navigate their respective challenges.

David A. Thomas, president of Morehouse College, consulted Dr. Hrabowski several years ago when the university started an online degree program. Controversy erupted among faculty who feared it could damage the Morehouse brand.

He took the first vote on the bill and it passed by a narrow margin. Dr. Hrabowski told him, “Keep discussing,” he recalled Dr. Thomas. In the final vote he was supported by over 70%.

“Without the consultation with Freeman, I would have taken the majority abstention on the first ballot and stated a positive outcome,” Dr. Thomas said. “But I think we benefited from continuing the conversation. That was the ‘Freeman Lesson.'”

Hrabowski’s successor is Valerie Sheares Ashby, a chemist and former president of Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. She became the first female president of UMBC on her August 1st.

Several years ago, Dr. Sheares Ashby earned the firm trust of Dr. Hrabowski, who would become one of her most trusted mentors before she headed the department. At the end of the first meeting, he turned to the young faculty and said,

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