Hrabowski, Freeman A. 1950–
Freeman A. Hrabowski 1950–
Freeman A. Hrabowski has built his impressive reputation as an educator by challenging minority students to reach their full potential. As president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, he oversees an institution of 10,000 students from all races and backgrounds. However, he is best known as the co-founder of the university’s Meyerhoff Scholarship Program, which is designed to encourage African American men to pursue high-level academic work in science and engineering. By 1998, 112 students had graduated from the program, and 95 percent of them had gone on to pursue graduate work.
In 1998, Hrabowski wrote about these top scholars in Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males. To research the book, Hrabowski and his co-authors interviewed participants in the Meyerhoff Program, along with their families, to determine what parenting methods had helped the sons to succeed.
“Beating the Odds is undoubtedly one of the most important tools the African American parent can possess,” Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, was quoted as saying on the book’s jacket.“This inspirational text reconceptualizes the falsely perpetuated image of the black male and introduces us to the fundamental elements needed to help our young men achieve academic excellence.” While parental involvement is critical in raising African American men to become successful, schools and universities also must play a role.“The critical question is what commitment will the administration and faculty of each institution make to ensure that in spite of legal obstacles, we continue to educate large numbers of minority young people,” Hrabowski noted in Black Issues in Higher Education.“If the commitment is there, we can do it.”
Freeman Alphonsa Hrabowski III was born on August 13, 1950, in Birmingham, Alabama. His parents, Freeman and Maggie Hrabowski, were both teachers and they expected their children to perform well in school. In fact, Hrabowski did so well in his studies that he was able to skip two grades, graduating from high school when he was just 15 years old.“No one was more critical to my development than my parents and family,” Hrabowski wrote in Beating the Odds.“Both my father and mother made me feel that I was the most special part of their lives and that my future would be bright….My parents taught me by example the importance of work, faith, family, and being the best.”
As well as focusing on his education, Hrabowski was involved from a very young age in the civil rights movement. At the age of 12, when he was in his first year of high school, he took part in a demonstration led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When the march was stopped, allegedly because the marchers did not have a permit, the demonstrators were arrested. Hrabowski spent a week in jail,
At a Glance …
Born Freeman Alphonsa Hrabowski III, Aug. 13, 1950, Birmingham, AL; son of Maggie Hrabowski and Freeman Hrabowski; married to Jackie; children: Eric.Education: Hampton Institute, B. A, 1970; University of Illinois, MA, 1971; University of Illinois, PhD, 1975,
Careen Assistant dean for student services, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, IL, 1974-76; associate professor of statistics and research and associate dean for graduate studies, Alabama A&M University, Normal, AL, 1976-77; professor of mathematics and dean of arts and sciences, Coppin State College, Baltimore, MD, 1977-81; vice president for academic affairs, Coppin State, 1981-87; vice provost, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC, 1987-90; executive vice president, UMBC, 1990-92; interim president, 1992-93; president, 1993-.
Awards; Educator Achievement Award from the National Science Foundation; the first U. S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (awarded in recognition of the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program).
Member: American Council on Education, Baltimore Community Foundation, Maryland High-Technology Council, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Past president, Maryland Humanities Council.
Addresses: Office —5401 Wifkins Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21228,
along with King.
After graduating from high school, Hrabowski enrolled at the Hampton Institute—now Hampton University—in Hampton, Virginia. Despite the fact that he had performed well in high school, he found the transition to higher education difficult.“After my first week of college, I was devastated,” Hrabowski recalled in a lecture at the University of California at Davis that was quoted in the California Aggie.“I found out I was mediocre. People from private, integrated and preparatory schools were used to working harder.” At the same time, Hrabowski found that his instructors were not always a source of support or encouragement.“Often, professors didn’t expect me to do well,” he remarked in Sun Spot Black History Month, “or they made discouraging comments.” During his time at the Hampton Institute, Hrabowski spent a year studying abroad in Cairo, Egypt. At Cairo University, he took courses in mathematics, physics, and Arab culture. In 1970, at the age of 19, he graduated from Hampton with highest honors in mathematics.
The following year, Hrabowski went on to pursue graduate work at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In addition to his studies, he established a tutorial center that offered mathematics instruction for minority students. In spite of all the hours hedevoted to the tutoring program, Hrabowski was able to complete all the requirements for his master’s degree in just one year and graduated in 1971.
Hrabowski remained at the University of Illinois to complete his PhD, writing his dissertation on college-level mathematics instruction for African American students. Even before he had finished his research, Hrabowski’s talents for teaching and working with minorities gained the attention of the university. In 1974 he was named assistant dean for student services, with responsibility for two programs: Project Upward Bound, which encouraged low-income high school students to attend college, and the Educational Opportunities Program, which provided support for minority students after they had arrived at college. In 1975, Hrabowski earned his PhD in higher education administration and statistics.
In the fall of 1975, Hrabowski moved back to Alabama. He accepted positions at Alabama A&M University as associate professor of statistics and research and associate dean for graduate studies. The following year, he was appointed professor of mathematics and dean of arts and sciences at Coppin State College in Baltimore, Maryland. By 1981, he had become vice president for academic affairs, the second highest administrative position at Coppin State.
In 1987, Hrabowski joined the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) as vice provost. In this new position, Hrabowski continued to pursue the goal of increasing minority enrollment in higher education, especially in science and engineering. In 1988, with assistance from the Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Foundation, he cofounded the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program. Initially, the goal of the Meyerhoff Program was to encourage and support African American males who had chosen to study science and engineering. The focus of the program eventually shifted to increasing the number of African Americans earning doctorates, in order to bolster the numbers of African American college faculty members in engineering, medicine, and the sciences.“The challenge we face is creating role models of smart black males who can help other little boys to want to be like them,” Hrabowski told Joan Morgan ofBlack Issues in Higher Education.
In 1990, Hrabowski became executive vice president of UMBC. After a year of serving as interim president, he was appointed president of the university in 1993. In addition to his duties as president, Hrabowski continued to work closely with the Meyerhoff Program.“Dr. Hrabowski takes time to have a lot of personal contact with us,” Meyerhoff participant Tove Goldson noted in Blacklssues in Higher Education.“He meets with each Meyerhoff class individually and does things like stop us to talk if he sees us while out on the campus. He does that for other students, too. You can tell he really cares.”
The Meyerhoff Program was an immediate success, gaining national attention for attracting high-achieving minority students to the sciences. In recognition of his work with the program, Hrabowski was presented with the first U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. Because the program receives some federal funding, and similar programs have come under legal scrutiny for discrimination, it was expanded to include African American women, as well as students from across the country, in 1990. Six years later, the program was opened to all ethnic groups. However, African Americans remain the focus of the Meyerhoff Program. In 1996, the year the program was expanded, 55 percent of the participants were African American males, and 85 percent were African American students.“The idea here is that we need to educate people who are not African-American about the issues we face,” Hrabowski told Joan Morgan of Black Issues in Higher Education.“So when these people graduate, they will not only have a degree in science or engineering, they will have had time to reflect and become comfortable with issues of race and gender in our country.”
In addition to the Meyerhoff Program, UMBC offers several other innovative programs aimed at reaching students who might otherwise drop out of school. These programs include UMBC’s Choice Program, a mentoring program for troubled youth, and Upward Bound, which works with low-income high school students of all races.“Those of us who are fortunate need to take greater responsibility to helpthe underprivileged,” Hrabowski was quoted as saying in Sun Spot Black History Month.“Many children are not in an environment that helps them develop academically and intellectually.”
In 1998 Hrabowski teamed up with Kenneth I. Maton, a UMBC psychology professor, and Geoffrey L. Greif, a professor of social work at the University of Maryland Baltimore, to write Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males. The book, published by Oxford University Press, was based on interviews with 60 Meyerhoff scholars and their families. The parents of program participants explained the strategies they had used to keep their sons out of trouble, while encouraging them to excel at school.“Much of the previous literature on African American families has focused on their deficiencies and weaknesses,” Hrabowski and his co-authors wrote in the book’s preface.“Our book complements the growing body of literature that looks at the strengths of these families.” Based on their findings, the authors advocated a number of parenting strategies: demonstrating love through involvement in the children’s education, establishing an environment with strict limits, and encouraging children to struggle against adversity, whether it be racism or poverty. In addition, schools should create an environment that offers rewards for academic achievement, while providing opportunities for African American males to meet and talk about their performance in school.
As president of UMBC, Hrabowski continues to focus on improving the university’s academic competitiveness.“This place is like a dream fulfilled, a place that doesn’t have to be rich or be 300 years old to offer a top quality education,” Hrabowski told Fern Shen of the Washington Post. At the same time, increasing the number and quality of minority students who attend the college is a top priority.“We are now in the top ten in the country among universities sending African-Americans to science PhDs,” Hrabowski told Tamara Henry of USA Today in 1998.“We are hoping to become number one.”
In addition to his academic and administrative duties at UMBC, Hrabowski serves as a consultant to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Department of Education, and universities and school systems nationally. He is a member of numerous boards, including the American Council on Education, Baltimore Community Foundation, Maryland High-Technology Council, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. Hrabowski also makes time in his schedule to give lectures and speeches throughout the country.“In the sciences, to be a success, a student must marry the work,” Hrabowski told a group of students at the University of California at Davis (quoted as saying in the student newspaper, the California Aggie).“You can’t miss your classes. You have to develop the level of discipline and focus to push you to be the best… .Learn to love to read. Learn to think out of the box. Word problems andstory problems are at the heart of life.”
Black Issues in Higher Education, October 3, 1996, p. 16.
California Aggie, November 23, 1998.
Jet, June 7, 1993, p. 22.
USA Today, April 9, 1998, p. 9D.
Washington Post, September 17, 1996, p. D2.
Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males, by Freeman A. Hrabowski III, Kenneth I. Maton and Geoffrey L. Greif, Oxford University Press, 1998.
Distinguished African American Scientists of the 20th Century, by James H. Kessler et al., Oryx Press, 1996.
Additional information for this profile was provided by the California Aggie web site at www.californiaaggie.com/archive/98/11/23/hrabowski.html; the Meyerhoff Programs web site at www.umbc.edu/Programs/Meyerhoff/Undergrad/dream.html; the Sun SpotBlack History Month web site page at 188.8.131.52/news/special/blackhistory/profiles/hrabowski.shtml and the UMBC web site at www.umbc.edu/AboutUMBC/Welcome/freemanbio.html
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