Freeman Hrabowski’s experience as an undergraduate at the historically black institution Hampton University had fed the model of a learning community for high-achieving minority students in the sciences.
What historically black colleges and universities give students is a strong sense of self-worth, Hrabowski explains. Students have an opportunity to see and to talk with African American faculty members who can share their life experiences. And they also get a chance to work with other bright students who are black. Thats why these institutions continue to produce a disproportionate percentage of African American scientists.
Hrabowski believed that UMBC, which was founded in 1966 as an historically diverse institution, could be a supportive learning environment for minority students. Many Meyerhoff parents agree. Gerald Green, past president of the Meyerhoff Parents Association and parent of Heather Green, M7, 2004 Ph.D. in Biochemistry at NYU, says the Meyerhoff Scholars Program offers the best of both worlds to its students. “My daughter had the advantage of being with a group of highly motivated, academically achieving minority students in a predominantly white university,” he explains.
Freeman is one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met, says Robert Embry, Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, who first introduced Hrabowski to Robert and Jane Meyerhoff. It always amazes me when I walk on campus how he knows so many of the UMBC students and all of the Meyerhoff Scholars personally. He knows each one of their situations and gently needles them to keep up the good work.
Hold Fast to Dreams
At every gathering of Meyerhoff Scholars, Hrabowski reminds students of the importance of persistence, asking them to recite the Langston Hughes poem expressing that sentiment:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
A symbol of the Meyerhoff Scholars Programs culture and a reminder of the importance of their shared goals, these words reinforce the value of investment in personal aspirations and those of an entire community.
We push, and we love, says Hrabowski. We expect the most, and we care. The effort has been worth it. At a UMBC commencement ceremony, when I asked one of the many African American science graduates marching across the stage what he planned to do, he responded, I’m going to change the world! I thought to myself, We must be doing something right.