In 1988, when Robert and Jane Meyerhoff provided generous support to create a scholarship program at UMBC to prepare young African American men for scientific research careers, the project was viewed as a bold experiment. No one imagined then that the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program would become a leading national model for diversifying America’s scientific and engineering workforce, preparing large numbers of African Americans and others for careers in science, medicine, engineering, information technology, and public health.
UMBC President Emeritus Freeman Hrabowski was UMBC’s provost when he was introduced to the Meyerhoffs and their vision of a minority-oriented achievement program. Hrabowski believed that UMBC, founded in 1966 as an “historically diverse” institution, could provide a supportive learning environment for talented minority students in science, engineering and related fields. When he asked the Meyerhoffs to provide generous support to create a scholarship program to prepare young African American men for scientific research careers, they committed not only funding but ongoing personal involvement with the students as well.
Born in 1924, the Meyerhoffs matured during the Great Depression and World War II as members of a generation that believed in giving back to community and country. Their dedicated philanthropy has created a national legacy that spans the arts and sciences. After serving in the war, Robert Meyerhoff, a civil engineer and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, returned home to join the family construction business. He later left to establish Hendersen-Webb, a construction and property management company known for creating communities focused on quality and value. During this period, he and Mrs. Meyerhoff, a graduate of Goucher College, began to build the couple’s outstanding collection of post-World War II art, which they plan to donate to the nation as a gift to the National Gallery of Art.
While the Meyerhoffs’ contributions to education are many, perhaps the most significant is the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at UMBC. What began as an initiative to address the underrepresentation of African American men in the fields of science and engineering has evolved into a diverse program that now includes men and women from a range of backgrounds who share the goal of advancing minorities in the STEM fields. The program has received national acclaim for producing an outstanding number of high-achieving minority students in science and engineering and inspiring them to attain advanced degrees at the nation’s most prestigious graduate and professional schools. The Meyerhoffs have continued to support the program over time with scholarship endowment funds, The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Chair in Biochemistry, and the Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Science Fund, which supports teaching and research in the life sciences. In addition, the couple’s deep personal interest and pride in the Meyerhoff Scholars themselves has added a nurturing element that strengthens the experience.