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Freeman Hrabowski: one of TIME magazine's most influential leaders in the world

This past month I had the privilege of getting, alongside 60 minutes and The New York Times, an exclusive interview with Dr. Freeman Hrabowski. Hrabowski’s story is so pertinent to the chaotic reality of which we call our current state. Not only does he have inspirational advice for all of us but he reminded me that one of his vice presidents is a graduate of Loyola- this in itself is a testament to the kinds of students that we foster on our campus.

 

Daniella Genovese, '17

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Growing up in Birmingham Alabama, society ingrained in Dr. Freeman Hrabowski that because he was black, he couldn’t compete academically with white children. However, as a 12-year-old child who thrived off of education, he knew otherwise.

To Hrabowski, skin color wasn’t a determinant of someone’s intelligence.

“I thought smart meant you were willing to work really hard and get your work done and work to be the best,” he stated.

With this thought process, Hrabowski took to the streets to what was considered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s main effort to get the world to recognize that even our babies, our children knew the difference between right and wrong. This effort was formally known as the Children’s Crusade. At 12 years old, young Hrabowski marched. He marched with the threat of water hoses, brutal police tactics and jail, a few of which quickly became his reality.

While withstanding the grim circumstances of jail, Hrabowski received a visitor from one of the most prominent individuals of the era.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knelt down and reminded young Hrabowski that what he was doing today would impact generations to come.
 
Fifty years later, this advice has served Hrabowski quite well. He is now recognized as one of Time magazine's most influential people in the world for his ability to show, through the success of UMBC, that minority and low-income students can compete and excel at the highest academic level.

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However, give this man any sort of compliment and he’ll laugh it off. He made it clear that, though he accepts the honor, it reflects the effort of more than just him.

“We in America tend to think about the one leader, the one person,” stated Hrabowski. “And if I have learned anything in the last few decades about leadership is that it’s always about a team; it is always about a group of people.”

Years ago, before any honors were given, Hrabowski’s research indicated that America was facing a great crisis within the world of higher education.

What he discovered was that 2/3 of students who entered college with the intention of getting an M.D. or PH.D within science and math were leaving their intended programs within the first year. As a result only 20% of minorities were succeeding within these taxing programs, with only 32% of whites and 40% of Asians. Not only were minorities underrepresented in these fields but in general, so were Americans.

These statistics brought Hrabowski to one eye opening conclusion. “If it were not for people from other countries, we would not have the scientific infrastructure that we would need to do all the things we are doing in healthcare, intelligence work and in the environment,” explained Hrabowski. “It has been because of people from other countries that we are considered the admired nation of the world.“

Hrabowski and his colleagues made it their mission to change these statistics and change they did. UMBC is now considered the nation’s number one producer of minority graduates who go on to complete M.D or PH.D programs. And though they are excelling within math and science, this does not take away from the strides they are continually making within their arts and humanities programs, which have seen much success throughout the years.

In order to see these results it took the collaboration of many brilliant and tenacious minds to rethink the traditional approach to education. Knowing that college students can only focus up to 8 minutes before their mind starts to wander, UMBC has made it a point to create an environment where students are not simply absorbing information but rather collaborating together and asking questions.

But education within UMBC goes way beyond what one can learn within the parameters of a classroom.

“We want to prepare you to be better citizens and what it means to be a good citizen. It means you’re not just about yourself. It means that you are thinking about the public good and about your role in a democracy that is run by people, by citizens. The fact is we want our campus to be one that values service to others,” asserts Hrabowski.

Hrabowski’s students are taught to lend a hand in an effort to create a society in which all succeed. Ironically, this was the very message that Hrabowski was reminded of when he was sitting in jail.

The actions of Dr. King and Dr. Hrabowski, along with the rest of his faculty, have shown the world that the success of our nation can only come from the prosperity of all.

“Community makes a difference, for any group of people, any race, any age. When people come together to support each other they can achieve so much more. And when they have high expectations and can dream about the possibilities, they begin to be inspired to move towards those goals, “ says Hrabowski.

Everyone is told to leave their mark on the world: Hrabowksi’s mark is his students.

“What gives me such hope is that I know that they will help people I will never see… It is the hope that comes with the next generation that wants to pay it forward; that is my legacy."