Hrabowski: An educator focused on math and science

Under Freeman Hrabowski's leadership, the University of Maryland Baltimore County has become a powerhouse in math, science, and engineering

Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, has an unusual name -- and an even more unusual approach to education. His "Meyerhoff Scholars," for instance, are expected to adhere to a rigorous schedule and strict rules designed to instill discipline and build community. As Byron Pitts reports, what was once a little known commuter school is now graduating outstanding scientists and engineers, many of whom are minorities.


The following is a script of "Freeman Hrabowski" which originally aired on Nov. 13, 2011 and was rebroadcast on June 17, 2012. Byron Pitts is the correspondent. David Schneider, producer.

Last fall, we introduced you to a man with an unusual name you'd probably never heard of, but his message about education and America's future is something we thought you should know.

Freeman Hrabowski says the United States is not producing enough scientists and engineers - professions critical to creating more jobs.

Hrabowski is president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County. UMBC, as it's called, was once known primarily as a commuter school. Today, this mid-sized state university has earned a reputation as one of the most innovative schools in the country. Especially when it comes to getting students into math and science and keeping them there.

How Freeman Hrabowski got to UMBC is a journey through American history. And there's a story in his name.

Byron Pitts: I'm not sure how to phrase this in a delicate way, but how does a black man get a name like Hrabowski?

Freeman Hrabowski: Well, you're asking the question that most people just look at me and think and they don't know how to ask it. My grandfather's grandfather was the Polish slave master in rural Alabama.

Pitts: And Freeman?

Hrabowski: And Freeman, I am the third, Freeman Hrabowski the third. And my grandfather was the first one born a free man as opposed to having to be freed.

Freeman Hrabowski was an only child. His parents were both educators.

He grew up in Birmingham, Alabama when segregation was law and the civil rights movement was growing.

[CBS News file footage: This is Birmingham, the South's mightiest industrial city as the world knew it this week.]

In May 1963, Hrabowski was in the "Children's March," organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. - a march made infamous when Sheriff Eugene "Bull" Connor unleashed dogs and fire hoses on the demonstrators. In the midst of it was twelve-year-old Freeman Hrabowski, who had his own encounter with Bull Connor.

Hrabowski: He asked me, 'What do you want, little Negro?' I was so scared. And-- big guy. And I said, 'We want to kneel and pray.' All we wanted to do was to kneel and pray for our freedom. And he picked me up, he spat in my face and threw me into the paddy wagon.

Pitts: He spit on you?

Hrabowski: He did, indeed. He did, indeed. It was an awful experience and it took years for me to get over that. It taught me that even kids can make decisions that can have an impact on the rest of their lives. And it also taught me the importance of getting support from each other in that experience. It was frightening. I was there five days.

Pitts: In jail for five days?

Hrabowski: In jail for five days. It was awful. And yet, it was rich.

Hrabowski excelled in school. At age 12, he was in the ninth grade. At 15, he went to college, where he studied math and began a career devoted to higher education. Since 1992, he's been president of UMBC - a state university on the outskirts of Baltimore.

[Hrabowski: We want people to take ownership at UMBC.]

He uses the lessons from that Birmingham jail...of the importance of commitment and support from others...as he leads the university today.

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