May 03, 2010 - Claremont, CA -
Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, longtime president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), and a tireless advocate for promoting education within underrepresented groups, delivered the keynote address during the 52nd Commencement ceremony for Harvey Mudd College (HMC), Sunday, May 16, 2010.
In his commencement address, Hrabowski hailed the importance of science and math education for tackling the world’s urgent problems.
"We need the technical skills you have, combined with the humanities knowledge, for the health care issues, for the energy issues, for the defense issues." he said.
"You will be the leaders that will get the American public to appreciate the need to invest in science, and to invest in math and science teachers," he told the graduates. "You will be in a world, in a country, where people are afraid of math and science. And a part of your role will be to bridge this divide between people who love math and science and people who are afraid of it. Because math and science will make the difference in solving the problems of the world."
Hrabowski riveted the audience with moving stories from his youth as a civil rights activist as well as his experiences drawn from his 18 years as college president, nurturing students to achieve their dreams. He recalled sitting in the back of a church at the age of 12 while his parents listened to a man in the pulpit preach. Hrabowski’s ears perked up when he heard the words, "Every child in America should have the chance to have a first-rate education." Hrabowski told the crowd, that’s what I wanted, a first-rate education. I asked, who is this man? "The man who said those words was Martin Luther King, Jr." he told the crowd, "and I thought, 'yes, I want'. Since I had been working on math in the back of the church at the time, I connected math and civil rights."
Hrabowski, whose research and academic publications often concentrate on science and math education with a special emphasis on minority participation and performance, has served since 1992 as president of UMBC, which, like HMC, was named one of the best colleges in America this year. He currently chairs the National Academies’ Committee on Underrepresented Groups and the Science and Engineering Workforce Pipeline.
A native of Birmingham, Ala., Hrabowski was a dedicated student who graduated at the age of 19 from Hampton Institute, now Hampton University, and, by the age of 24, he had earned a master of art’s degree in mathematics and a Ph.D. in higher education administration/statistics. A child-leader in the Civil Rights Movement during a period when it was first gaining widespread momentum, he was prominently featured decades later in Spike Lee’s acclaimed 1997 documentary “4 Little Girls,” which examined the racially motivated 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The documentary was nominated for an Academy Award.
In cooperation with noted philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff, Hrabowski co-founded the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program in 1988. The program, now a national model, is open to all high-achieving students who are committed to pursuing advanced degrees and embarking upon research careers in science and engineering, with the hope of advancing minorities along in these important fields. He also has co-authored two books: “Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African-American Males” and “Overcoming the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African-American Young Women,” which examine the important topics of parenting and rearing high-achieving minority young men and women. Both books are used by universities, school systems and community groups around the country.
Hrabowski was named one of America’s Best Leaders by U.S. News & World Report (2008), which the following year named UMBC the No. 1 “up and coming” university in the nation and fourth among all colleges and universities for its commitment to undergraduate teaching; he also was selected as one of America’s 10 best college presidents by Time magazine (2009). He serves as a consultant to the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the National Academies, and numerous universities and school systems around the country and sits on the boards of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, France-Merrick Foundation, Marguerite Casey Foundation (chair), The Urban Institute, Constellation Energy Group, McCormick & Company, and the Baltimore Equitable Society.
Other honors bestowed upon Hrabowski through the years include election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society; receipt of the prestigious McGraw Prize in Education, the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, and the Columbia University Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service; and being named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Hrabowski was named Marylander of the Year by the editors of the Baltimore Sun and was listed among Fast Company magazine’s first Fast 50 Champions of Innovation in Business and Technology. He holds honorary degrees from more than a dozen educational institutions, including some of the most prestigious in the country: Princeton, Duke, and Georgetown universities; Haverford College; and the University of Michigan.