‘Come from all kinds of backgrounds and become the best’: Hrabowski’s legacy at UMBC

After three decades as one of higher education’s most influential university presidents, Freeman A. Hrabowski III is preparing to retire on June 30 from the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). In a look at Hrabowski’s legacy, The Washington Post highlights his commitment to creating an inclusive campus and his success transforming UMBC into a model for educating diverse students.

At UMBC, located in the Baltimore suburbs, Hrabowski is “a celebrity,” the Post writes. Under his leadership, UMBC has become one of the nation’s top sources of STEM graduates of color and of Black doctoral candidates in engineering and the natural sciences.

Related: Colleges adopt UMBC’s model for STEM student success >

‘An environment where students of any background can come in and excel’

Hrabowski says he is always asking, “What will it take to become an environment where students of any background can come in and excel, and get to know people from different backgrounds?”

In pursuit of that goal, UMBC provides students with a variety of resources to support completion, including financial aid and mentorship programs. The university’s 34-year-old Meyerhoff Scholars Program—focused on increasing the diversity of students pursuing college degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—has attracted attention and has been replicated at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Pennsylvania State University.

“It has produced hundreds of Black and minority students that are literally changing the world,” said Letitia Dzirasa, Baltimore’s health commissioner and a Meyerhoff scholar.

Hrabowski also promotes a university-wide culture of inclusion, according to students and faculty. “I didn’t feel like I had any prejudices when I started at UMBC and yet, looking back, I definitely was interacting with Black students differently than I was interacting with white students,” said Michael Summers, a chemistry professor and Meyerhoff scholars mentor who credits Hrabowski with changing his perspective.

“It’s this idea that you can come from all kinds of backgrounds and become the best,” Hrabowski told the Post. “That’s the message that we’ve got to send.” The philosophy and its implementation has helped UMBC increase enrollment of low-income students and close disparities in graduation rates between Black and white students.

Related: Schools eye University of Maryland, Baltimore County, as a model for educating diverse student bodies >

UMBC is currently searching for Hrabowski’s successor. Hrabowski, meanwhile, intends to stay active in academia, consulting with other university leaders and emphasizing the transformative potential of higher education.

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