Pres. Hrabowski reflects on how Civil Rights movement inspired his career in education

When Freeman Hrabowski was 12 years old, he marched for civil rights in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala., part of the legendary Children’s Crusade of 1963. It was an early lesson in the way a loving community can help empower children to take hold of their own futures.

The president of UMBC recalled that and other lessons from his Birmingham childhood and discussed his latest book, Holding Fast to Dreams, in a wide-ranging podcast conversation with Dan Rodricks of the Baltimore Sun.

Hrabowski noted that UMBC, which he has headed since 1992, was the first Maryland university open from its founding to students of all races. Now UMBC has a highly diverse student body, including students from more than 100 countries, he said.

Rodricks called Hrabowski “a master practitioner of encouragement,” who had “left his mark on UMBC in the area of encouraging students, particularly minorities, in the fields of science and technology.”

Hrabowski acknowledged UMBC’s success in sending students on to graduate study and careers in those areas, while saying that the arts, humanities and social sciences are also important at UMBC.

He challenged the widespread idea that an individual is either good in math and science, on the one hand, or English and history, on the other. Both kinds of study are important, and both can be mastered by those with the determination and support to do so. “What really matters,” he said, “is the approach we take in teaching children”—that high expectations and support are combined with an emphasis on grit in achieving goals.

Listen to the podcast here.

Image: Pres. Hrabowski speaks with students in the UMBC Commons during visit with leaders from Simmons College. Photo by Marlayna Demond ’11 for UMBC.