BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Visit the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and you'll likely find University President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski walking around campus and working a crowd of students like a rock star.
Astonishingly, Dr. Hrabowski is so familiar with the campus community, he knows personal details about many of the students who attend UMBC, such as how long they've gone to school there and when they'll graduate.
So, if you ask Hrabowski what he's most proud of, he readily volunteers that it's not the billions of dollars in new construction that has taken place during his tenure, but rather the university's students and staff.
Off the top of his head, he can recall some of UMBC's most well-known alumni, an impressive roster that includes former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams and Clemson University President James Clements.
It's not just the people who have stuck with himover the years, but what they have achieved, both at UMBC and after graduating and launching their careers.
"Everybody will always remember that we made NCAA history. We were the first No. 16 seed to beat the No. 1 seed. We beat UVA that year," Hrabowski said. "We beat Yale in mock trial. We're the national champions in mock trial and we've been the national champions in chess, the national champions in cybersecurity."
Hrabowski is particularly proud of the school's excellence in mock trials, chess and cybersecurity. Why?
"We are a nerdy campus," he said. "We are very nerdy. We're very proud of that."
But it's worth noting that things haven't always been easy for Hrabowski.
He led his school through major historical events that challenged the nation—from the 9/11 attacks that killed a UMBC graduate, to the unrest in Baltimore in the wake of Freddie Gray's death, to the racial divide that has only seemed to widen over the past six years. And then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
"If there were services we provided and there was supposed to be fees for them, we decided not to charge for those fees this year," he said. "We have a 20-plus-percent increase in the number of freshmen coming in. We have a 40 percent increase in the number of graduate students coming in. So, people want to be here at UMBC."
Based on how he's greeted on campus, it's clear that students like having Hrabowski around too.
After three decades at UMBC, the longtime president is set to retire at the end of the 2021-2022 academic year. But he'll always treasure the time and opportunity he had at the school whose identity he helped shape.
"This is a time for me to say thank you, to our country, to this state, to UMBC," Hrabowski said. "Because they took a chance on me, they believed in me, they allowed me to grow and to dream about the possibility."
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