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

Aug 02, 2022 · 64 comments
Bret (Park)
Today we live in a time of enormous risks due to a dystopian distortion of what our nation is about, and where it may or may not be going. Tragically, our fractured nation represents a significant mass that has become so inured to half-truths and falsehoods that pass as knowledge that we are at risk of devolving into another dystopian nation that seeks to bring back its perceived glorious past. It has never been clearer that a sound education that teaches the fundamentals of STEM and elevates critical thinking has never been as wanting and needed as it is now where we are a hair's breadth away from losing our identity, and our democracy. We need hundreds more Dr.Hrabowskis if we're going to win this war for the soul and the future of our republic.
Gail Viechnicki (Silver Spring)
My daughter attends UMBC and there is something going on there that is nothing short of magical. She got a lousy science/math education in high school, and never thought of herself as a STEM kid, or smart in that way. After just a year there, she fell in love with bio and chem and is now planning on med school. Great teachers, ethnically and socioeconomically diverse classrooms, great support, and an encouraging atmosphere of “of course you can do this”… it’s the secret sauce for all sorts of kids, I think!
ISAAC CHEIFETZ (Minneapolis)
Great article, could you share links to resources as to how he accomplished this, and best practices?
Ben (Maryland)
The influence Dr. Hrabowski has had on Black student college admissions and support has been nothing short of incredible. As a graduate of University of Maryland at College Park ('87) I and my college friends always looked at UMBC as UCLA (University of Catonsville, Left of Arbutus), but Dr. Hrabowski changed all of that. My younger daughter attended UMBC and graduated, having experienced all the changes he implemented. It is no longer the commuter school we all disparaged. Now everyone knows that the population - while ethnically diverse - is pretty darned geeky. I mean, for a long time the school's claim to fame was its World Champion Chess teams. Their success was also replicated by other Brand Name schools. UMBC isn't for everyone. If you want flash and popularity go to College Park. If you are more serious go to UMBC. That's another legacy.
Chip (Wheelwell, Indiana)
Happy retirement! Thank you for your long successful run at UMBC; the world has benefited, rest well on your laurels.
JonP (Virginia)
Both of my kids graduated from UMBC. Dr. Hrabowski Is a modern-age hero. One of a kind. I would listen to him speak every chance I got and I was inspired every time. I look forward to great things from him in the future.
Susan (PA)
Would like a little more info from this article. 1. More data and comparisons 2. A deeper dive on what they do differently
alicia (nj)
the article may not include it, but if you actually want that, umbc will teach you how to find it. they are a research institution, after all.
Damien (District of Columbia)
Respectfully, that's not the purpose of this article. It's a profile of a dynamic leader. Data on UMBC's success in producing Black Ph.Ds can be found at the Institute of Education Statistics.
William Harris (West Coast)
i applaud you, sir. as a white man in a large mostly white southern university i had classes with fellow students from many ethnic backgrounds. i had two study partners; a black nab from maryland and the descendant of vietnamese refugees. we were ridiculed by most communities on campus. but it worked for us. as payment for my apartment they would bring raw foods. nothing canned, and taught them how to cook it - veggies, protein, pastas. though at the end i showed them how to take packaged pasta dishes and make them easy and nutritious. a student must live cheap and simple these days (since the 70s, 60s in california)
distressed american (Pa.)
Needed this delightful article today. Thank you and thank you Dr. Hrabowski.
Gail (Maryland)
I taught at UMBC for 18 years, all during Freeman's tenure. His leadership brought the most wonderful and diverse students into my classrooms and into my life. It was a privilege.
Allegra McCullough (Dover DE)
Beautiful article, NYT. Dr. Hrabowski is indeed a Presidents' President. We need more like him.
Eileen (Illinois)
Having spent nearly forty years engaged with higher education, I can say that this type of leadership is rare. This article is a beautiful tribute to a remarkable human being as suggested in the comments of those who know him. I would like to recommend a follow up piece that introduces readers to how he did what he did. I can and will research that question, but an article in the NYT would provided a forum for discussion among those of us who care about higher education in the US.
Damien (District of Columbia)
You can find information on how Dr. Hrabowski did his work by reading his books. His first 2 are specifically about Meyerhoff, his third is autobiographical and his fourth is about how he and his team crafted UMBC into the school it is today.
Global Charm (British Columbia)
This is an important story about important accomplishments, but it needs some follow-up. In order to do well in college-level science and mathematics, a young person has to have done well in high school, or at least survived the experience with some of their enthusiasm still intact. In these days of persistent black-white-asian achievement gaps, the students and alumni at UMBC ought to be a very good source of information. Why did they succeed when so many others failed?
Damien (District of Columbia)
Great comment, I would encourage you to actually read Dr. Hrabowski's 1,2, & 4 books for that answer.
Dave Toole (Silicon Valley)
Thanks so much for this inspirational article. It is so important to foster the next generation in science and technology and bring a more robust combination of diverse talent to solve the challenges that are in front of us. Congatulations.
Leticia Miranda (San Diego)
Loved learning about this man and his success is building an institution that truly nurtures the potential in all young people, especially those that rarely get that kind of positive encouragement. I hope other leaders in all areas can learn something from his model.
dupr (New Jersey)
Wonderful beautiful human being. Dr. Hrabowski you are an amazing person and I only wish the best for you and your family.
Mother of two (Seattle)
Hey NYT - more stories like this please. Beautifully written story about a beautiful human, makes me feel more hope for us in these seemingly dark times.
Barbara (Pennsylvania)
What a remarkable individual. Kudos to Dr. Hrabowski on his achievements at UMBC and beyond.
B (Washington, DC)
Dr. Hrabowski is one of those rare figures where what you see is what you get. There are smoke and mirrors here. He is a treasure!
Anonymous (NY)
Great job! It's embarrassing that University of Maryland College Park hasn't matched UMBC's success!
Nancy (Boston)
Thank you NYT for publishing this interesting and timely article. I yearn for news that doesn't sadden and dishearten me.
michael (oregon)
Thank You NYT. This is a story everyone should know about
Alicia (Washington, D.C.)
Sounds like a genius whose genius is actually exceeded by his humanity. Thank you for this profile.
Truth Today (Georgia)
Can any good thing come out of Birmingham? Yes, Dr. Hrabowski and many others who have paved the way for a more educated, just, and equitable society and nation. The article is a tribute to the many like Dr. Hrabowski who made it against the odds stacked against them by a racist system that tried to compromise their educational quality and opportunities. While Dr. Hrabowski may say very little about his Birmingham experience, his actions and successes speak volumes that reverberate around the world. Actions often speak louder than words. May all the Dr. Hrabowski's in our nation and world continue to allow their actions to speak louder than words.
Bill (FL)
Great, inspiring article! Clearly Black and other minority students can excel in college and beyond. However, it is highly likely that the high-achieving students described in this article were well above average in high school grade averages and pre-college test scores, and spoke/wrote English well. The way to get more high-performing minorities into college is not to lower entrance and grading standards, but to take steps to ensure that ALL high, middle and lower schools are improved so that the majority of their students can reasonably expect to be accepted to, and graduate from, college.
RB (Michigan)
I wish there were hundreds more like Dr. Hrabowski. The world needs mentors and leaders like this very fine person.
Gustavo (Arequipa)
My deepest congratulations to Dr. Habrowski and to the UMBC student body at large for developing and maintaining the excellence that is required for minds to grow, explore and thrive. Receive this from an older PhD in the sciences.
Embee (New Jersey)
Thank you for this article. Dr. Hrabowski is inspiring. Your descriptions of him, his dedication and his achievements brought tears to my eyes.
alicia (nj)
One of the proudest moments in my college career was being acknowledged by Dr. Hrabowski. UMBC was perhaps the most incredible educational experience I've ever had and I know it was, in huge part, due to Dr. Hrabowski's leadership. I never imagined when I had to drop out of art school years prior that I would ever be able to finish my degree. Indoctrinated by years of elitist talk to believe that local was less than, I had doubts that I'd find a decent education at a local college (especially from one right around the corner from my high school - I know that sounds absurd). When I was finally able to go to back to college in the late 90s and chose to go to UMBC, I discovered that I was given an unparalleled gift. I learned more in the two and a half years I was there than I learned in all my prior years of schooling. My eyes were opened, opportunities and guidance were continually offered, and, in the end, I truly found my voice, self, and career. From professors to students to the incomparable community to the overall culture of innovation, I was over the moon with my experience (and apparently still am!). I'm forever grateful to Dr. Hrabowski for leading UMBC and helping to shape it into an educational powerhouse.
Really Tired (USA)
Thank you, Dr. Hrabowski, for all you have done and continue to do to raise up leaders of all colors. We in Maryland are so proud to have had you in our state system for so long. And another great article, @ericag - we are watching your star rise, too.
Tom (CA)
What's very overlooked in the American higher education system is that almost all of the innovative measures that change outreach/the curriculum happen at large, "lower tier" state schools -- and not the markee universities: those are too busy protecting their brand, and thus can't afford to take any risks.
Steve Lux (Syracuse NY)
@Tom Indeed Tom. Have to take on board the disincentive that exists within elite institutions to be truly inclusive, to stop excluding potential applicants based on all types of "diverse differences." There are witch brews of class, race, gender, able-ism that are so difficult to confront. Cheers to Dr. Hrabowski.
R-Pierre Bourgeois (Connecticut)
Dr. Hrabowski -- words cannot express the extent of his achievements. A stirring example of what just one person can accomplish.
Doug (Rockville. MD)
Proud also to say that UMBC is more than STEM. We have a daughter Theater graduate and son-in-law Archaeology graduate from there and Freeman knew and supported them as well. The Arts and Culture program there is extraordinary and well-supported.
Chris (San Francisco)
Decades of efforts to diversify the sciences with little success. Yet the formula is simple: “financial scholarships, academic guidance, research experience and mentoring.” Dr. Hrabowski is a true hero, but don’t believe that’s what it takes. It takes an efficient, dedicated administration and financial scholarships, academic guidance, research experience and mentoring. Are you reading this Mr. Gates?
SteveRR (CA)
@Chris It takes an involved parent during the formative learning years up to high school and it requires being raised around folks that value education... and even then it is often not enough. I have been involved in recruiting young women of all races into engineering for over a decade now - despite parity in law and medical schools now - they still have virtually no interest in engineering.
Rom Johnson (DC)
Thanks for this story. It's good to know that some things in our country are actually working well. But why bury thus in the Politics section? How is this educator's success at graduating black STEM students partisan?. We should all want schools like UMBC to succeed.
Jean Toomer (People’s Republic if Brooklyn)
@Rom Johnson It's partisan because no one wants to talk about race anymore. The NYTimes has caught on and hardly publishes any pieces on race. In fact, right now only pieces that show black people are succeeding is what is acceptable to show because the "victim-narrative" is wearing thin and most white Americans could care less that we are only a few generations from Jim Crow and who knows how many Americans practice Jim Crow in their professional and daily lives. I'll take this over nothing. But, black Americans still are second class citizens if you ask me.
reaylward (st simons island, ga)
I am the same age as Dr. Hrabowski and I grew up in the segregated South. I am white. My family employed many Blacks so I was accustomed to spending most of my time around Black children, my playmates. But when attended different schools and lived in different neighborhoods. I went off to college and didn't return. Then 15 to 20 years later I returned for a visit, including with the now much older Black employees who worked for the family. When I asked about their children I had grown up with I was shocked how many had gone on to college, mostly HBCUs, and how many had earned graduate degrees and were in academia, the professions, and fine arts. The challenges they faced had likely deterred many talented young Blacks, whose lives were shortchanged by the era of Jim Crow. We have made lots of progress, but we must soldier on because any young person who doesn't achieve his or her potential could have become an adult who changed the world. Just like Dr. Hrabowski.
HML (Buffalo, NY)
I heard Hrabowski talk years ago in San Diego. He opened with "what's a guy like me doing with a Polish name?" Then he went on to say that his enslaved family had taken on the name of the enslavers. What this guy has done is near miraculous in helping others to succeed. I knew then, and it is confirmed now, that he was a remarkable person.
R. Cooper (Santa Monica, CA)
I saw the 60 Minutes piece on Dr. Hrabowski many years back. At the time, as a high school teacher, I knew of a bright young man who would have excelled as part of the Scholars Program. I called Dr. Hrabowski the next day. He was incredible. The application deadline was the same week, and he helped to facilitate an interview. This is a man of principle who is not just a role model for the black community but for the entire country and world. A true mensch!
MamaDoc (NC)
When? When are we going to learn that talents of all kinds are distributed across all racial and ethnic groups equally? That the a given percentage of poor little girls living in the projects was born with the brain power for excellence? I've literally handled thousands of newborns and wondered who would grow up to be a Leonardo da Vinci ... or a Steve Jobs ... ... or a Leontyne Price ... or an Einstein. If we are lucky, we get out of children what we put into them. Thank God for Dr. Hrabowski for doing the hard work to get the best from our brightest STEM minds.
jkl (nv)
This is what college should do. UMBC is doing more for America, American citizens, and they world than many more esteemed universities. More UMBCs and fewer Ivies.
LDurk (Rochester, NY)
Dr Hrabowski proved that with the proper expectations of themselves and their opportunity, each individual can succeed on his or her own merits. That, along with some focused support for the student to succeed on his or her own merits. The important thing is that it appears to have worked and worked well for many people. The key ingredient to this recipe, common to Dr Hrabowsi and his students, is the character, motivation, and intellectual commitment to learn deep knowledge about things that matter. To learn from both mistakes and good results and to move on to the next challenge or learning experience. They all have it. They all hold each other accountable to make the most of it. While they genuinely and movingly thank those who supported them, they also take deep pride in the reality that each and everyone of them did it on his or her own merits. That's a role model. These are the social transformations that matter. They benefit not only the lives directly affected, but their impact on others can last generations. We do not have nearly enough people like Dr Hrabowski. If the NEA had any real notion of educating people, they'd beg him to be an active executive on their BOD. Results matter.
Good. But only good if STEM entry and curricula standards are not lowered to comply with university mission statements favoring diversity, equity, inclusion goals. Lowered standards for STEM education is advancing now and will have unintended consequences.
@AS What in this story gives any indication that graduation rates were facilitated by lowered standards? The fact that these students have subsequently fanned out to and excelled at the most competitive institutions in this country and have been responsible for groundbreaking developments? Your comment comes across as a real non sequitur based on the content of this story.
Anonymous (US)
@JJ I didn’t read the comment that way. Curricula and admission standards have been changed at many major universities, public and private, to reflect DEI goals. The article alluded to that. Commentary is appropriate.
Colleen Mc (Boston, MA)
If the entry criteria are lowered, e.g., not requiring AP courses or high school laboratory based science courses that may not be available to all students, that is acceptable. Such students should be provided with support prior to entering college, and support throughout their education. For example, Bowdoin College has a program for STEM students who are likely to drop out. They are brought to campus the summer before their first year, paid (because many of the students would not be able to not earn money during the summer), and provided with classes to compensate for the deficiencies in their education. The school continues to provide mentoring throughout their time there. I would expect that the community — knowing that one is not alone on such an elite campus— is also important to the students. The graduate schools and other accomplishments of the students clearly demonstrates that they are more than capable.
Bernie Meyerson (Yorktown Heights, NY)
I had the tremendous pleasure of getting to know Freeman as the IBM Exec responsible for University Relations, and later as one of the countless scientists and educators supporting various faculty and educational initiatives Freeman launched at UMBC. Freeman's legacy is multi-dimensional, spanning creativity in funding a traditionally underfunded University to driving diversity in STEM education in concert with extremely high standards for academic achievement in those efforts. He supported the creation of world class laboratories in the sciences and base technology, and did this all with grace often lacking in those with his level of drive. Perhaps my most striking memory of my times with Freeman was walking the campus and being astonished by his ability to address, by name, virtually every student we encountered, knowing their passions, achievements, and challenges. I do not see this as his retirement, just his moving on to impact many other areas in our society where he will go forward and contribute to.
Matt (Ohio)
@Bernie Meyerson Thanks for your personal experience, he sounds like the real deal. "“If every institution took his recipe,” she [vosshall] said of Dr. Hrabowski, “didn’t change any ingredients, didn’t cut corners, that would transform STEM education in the United States.”" These high standards and expectations are a sharp contrast from the moves to compromise or water down programs in order to gain more diversity. Certain people are drawn to excellence, no matter their sex or skin color: it sounds to me like Hrabowski created an environment where those people can thrive...
LM (Bethesda, MD)
Wonderful article on an incredible life long educator and such a great person. Dr. Hrabowski is such an inspiration to us all! Proud to call my son a Retriever!
EB (New York)
Would be interesting to get some more details: other than belief in their success and inspiration, what exactly makes this college's students uniquely successful? What, then, is Berkeley -- mentioned in the story -- doing to replicate this success?
Sarah (Baltimore)
Hi @EB - To help answer your question, these stories provide some more context on the components of the Meyerhoff program and how they're being replicated at Berkeley and other places: https://umbc.edu/stories/umbc-meyerhoff-scholars-replications-at-penn-state-unc-show-notable-success-in-first-four-years/ https://umbc.edu/stories/meyerhoff-czi/ Specifically, from the articles: The components "include intensive advising, immersive transition activities the summer before the students’ first semester of college, institutional leadership that makes the program a priority, training for faculty and staff, and other components." And from the other one (with some overlap): "outreach to high achieving underrepresented high school students, robust research experiences, team learning, peer counseling, intensive advising, preparation in the summer before matriculation, and engagement with students’ families." Hopefully that helps!
Katie B (Chicago)
@EB how about buying his books and finding out?
Leticia Miranda (San Diego)
It’s buried in one paragraph in the story: scholarships, academic guidance, research experience, mentoring. And I think the cultural value he instilled throughout the institution of believing in the potential of all students, especially those who are typically not seen in this positive light like black and brown students.
Paul from Oakland (SF Bay Area)
Dr. Hrabowski has led a momentous challenge to academia by showing that Black and other marginalized people are capable of any achievement, and not merely in "hothouse" conditions. As a white scientist, I see how under-represented Black men and women are in the world of medical biotech. Private industry remains an even bigger problem than academia when it comes to excluding Black and Latinx scientists. Until those doors are opened, it's even more difficult to draw science-minded young people into the demanding rigor of advanced degree training.
Pete Tirp (Bakersfield, CA)
If the US has any hope of escaping intolerance, authoritarianism, and anti-intellectualism it will need institutions able to change the trajectories of disadvantaged students' lives. Dr. Hrabowski's iroundbreaking ideas showed how public education is by far the most effective engine for tangible change we have. While the groundbreaking research achievements of UMBC's graduates are laudable I was perhaps even more impressed with their awareness and appreciation of the fact that their achievements were possible because of the platform Dr. Hrabowski and his supporters created and nurtured at UMBC. I sincerely hope their impact will increase as they gradually move into leadership roles in higher education in the coming decades.
amorlockonvacation (802,701)
This kind of systemic work takes extraordinary commitment, talent, and teamwork. I’m so excited to read about these accomplishments and believe we face a better future because of them!
Marie (West)
What an incredible life and a beautifully written story. Deeply inspiring. Thank you!
Ulyssesnoman (Portland, Maine)
Progress shows itself in many different ways. Some require decades for a full appreciation, others taking action at this moment. Some are showy, others more subtle. The pathways are mutually supportive, not in competition. Congratulations on highlighting a life which, at the time of Bill Russell’s death, brings attention to meaning full models of humanity.
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