UMBC President Hrabowski’s Amazing TED Talks

You have to be pretty extraordinary to give not one, but two TED talks within two years.  Well, he is.  Last year, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of my alma matter  — University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) — gave a talk at TEDxMidAtlantic.  And, earlier this year, he gave another awesome talk at the national TED series.

Dr. Hrabowski has transformed UMBC, propelling it to the top of a number of national lists, including student success in science and technology, high racial, ethnic, and national diversity in the student body, and the success specifically of students of color.  Specifically, he co-founded the Meyerhoff Scholarship Program, which has placed many students of color into PhD programs in the STEM fields (e.g., biology, chemistry, engineering).  It is no surprise, then, that his leadership has been recognized (e.g., one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2012).  And, now it is on demand in talks around the country.

In his latest TED talk, Dr. Hrabowski shared the model for educational success that he has developed at UMBC.  Specifically, he noted emphasis on:

  1. Setting high expectations for all students.  Is a C in a course in your major really satisfactory?
  2. Building community among students.  While it is important to be driven, students can be further empowered if they help themselves and other succeed in their courses.
  3. Involving students in faculty research.  And, this cannot exclusively reflect students having to ask faculty to join in.  It is important to have faculty already open and, ideally, actively seeking promising lab and research assistants.
  4. Faculty involvement inside and outside of the classroom; paying attention to all students, whether they are excelling, failing, or just getting by.

For me, this kind of active, enthusiastic mentorship is an ideal model for training the next generation of scholars and college-educated adults.  It counters the somewhat lazy advice of not pursuing certain paths because they may not be as lucrative today.  Rather, it encourages students to see all of the options that may exist for them.  And, once inspired, even if some options do not pan out, students will be empowered enough to start thinking more creatively, maybe even making new options for themselves.

Another strength of Dr. Hrabowski’s leadership is that he is open about his experiences and passions.  In talks, he often talks about participating in a Civil Rights rally with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the age of 12 — an event in which he and several other children were arrested.  It is no secret that he is an anti-racist activist at heart.  In fact, that passion is the driving force behind his leadership in educational reform.

While a student at UMBC, I also felt that he supported students’ advocacy, as well.  No surprise, I was a bit of a hell-raiser in college, too.  (In a good way!)  Once, I emailed him directly to complain about homophobic and sexist graffiti in some of the men’s restrooms on campus.  When I used one of the bathrooms before a lecture the following week, I noticed the stalls had been freshly painted.  And, in response to my push for more campus resources for LGBT students, he charged his vice president with leading a team of staff and administrators to make it happen.

If you cannot tell, I am pretty fond of the leadership and mentorship of Dr. Hrabowski.  But, I think it is pretty obvious why!

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