UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III speaks during the Class of 2018’s convocation. Hrabowski announced on Wednesday that he will retire at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. Photo courtesy of UMBC.
UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III speaks during the Class of 2018’s convocation. Hrabowski announced on Wednesday that he will retire at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. Photo courtesy of UMBC.

Freeman A. Hrabowski III, the educational leader who helped shape University of Maryland, Baltimore County into a hub for students from underrepresented and marginalized backgrounds to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, has announced his retirement effective June 2022.

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Hrabowski joined UMBC as vice provost in 1987, when the university was just 21 years old. He became president in 1992.

Under his tenure, the school grew from a suburban institution sometimes mistaken for a community college into a best-in-class research powerhouse known for its mission and its inclusiveness.

But Hrabowski’s advocacy for marginalized students began long before he even stepped foot on UMBC’s campus.

In a 2013 TED Talk about the “4 pillars of college success in science,” Hrabowski reflected on  marching with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as part of the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham, Ala. at age 12.

Following the march, while Hrabowski was sitting in jail with his parents, King told them “What you children do this day will have an impact on children who have not been born.” That message stuck with him.

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In 1988, Hrabowski partnered with philanthropists Robert and Jane Meyerhoff to found the Meyerhoff Scholars Program in an effort to increase diversity among science, technology, engineering and math leaders. The program has graduated more than 1,400 scholars with STEM degrees, and more than 800 have gone on to earn graduate or professional degrees, UMBC officials said.

“Sometimes when people do things that are courageous, it doesn’t really mean that they’re that courageous,” Hrabowski said in his TED Talk. “It simply means that they believe it’s important to do it.”

UMBC has had more Black graduates go on to earn a doctorate in natural sciences and engineering than any other college in the United States, according to data from the National Science Foundation.

Hrabowski also chaired the National Academies’ committee that produced a report in 2011 about expanding underrepresented minority participation in STEM.

In 2012, then-U.S. President Barack Obama named Hrabowski to chair the President’s Advisory Commission on Education Excellence for African Americans.

In a video message on Wednesday, Hrabowski said he has been “priveleged” to serve as UMBC’s president but that “it is time” for him to retire at the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

Hrabowski thanked the university community and its partners throughout Maryland for upholding and advocating for the importance of education and higher learning.

“When you see the campus, when you come here, everybody marvels at the beauty of the campus, the grounds, billion dollars plus in the last few decades of buildings,” Hrabowski said. But more importantly than that, as is true with this state, as is true with UMBC, what matters? The people.”

Hrabowski called UMBC “the best place in the country to work.”

“We are determined to continue to seek the truth and to prepare leaders for the next generation,” he said. “I challenge all of us to take this moment and reflect on all of the brilliance of UMBC, and what we mean to this country and beyond. And as we always say: success is never final, and keep hope alive.”

The news of Hrabowski’s retirement, first reported by The Daily Record, came as a surprise to many across Maryland who have worked with Hrabowski.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said in a statement that Hrabowski’s retirement will leave “a gaping hole to fill and his presence in this role will be deeply missed.”

“Dr. Hrabowski is a true visionary, and his leadership has been transformative for so many students, for Baltimore County and for our entire state,” Olszewski said. “As County Executive, a proud UMBC alumnus, and a friend, I thank him for his decades of dedicated service devoted to expanding access to educational excellence, sparking innovation, and promoting equity – efforts that have transformed UMBC into the national leader it is today.

Thank you Dr. Hrabowski for your service! We are wishing you the best on all your future endeavors.

— County Executive Johnny Olszewski (@BaltCoExec) August 25, 2021

Maryland Speaker of the House Adrienne Jones, a UMBC graduate, tweeted that Hrabowski has been a “visionary, exciting, cutting-edge, motivating, and life-changing” leader in higher education.

“He has made UMBC into a national leader when many thought it couldn’t be done,” Jones said.

Dr. Freeman Hrabowski has embodied what we all want higher education to be in MD: visionary, exciting, cutting-edge, motivating, and life-changing. He has made @UMBC into a national leader when many thought it couldn’t be done.

— Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (@SpeakerAJones) August 25, 2021

Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello (District 11) called the UMBC president “an absolute legend.”

Today’s thought: @UMBC President Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski, III is an absolute legend. Several of the folks who I have had the opportunity to work with over the years like @jlane240 @ObieChinemere @SahandYazdanyar have continually sung his praises since I first met them.

— Eric Costello (@CouncilmanETC) August 25, 2021

Several people, including UMBC alumni and colleagues, praised Hrabowski for improving the pathway to careers in STEM and for shaping the university into the institution.

Wishing Dr. Hrabowski well.
He was so kind to spend time helping me envision the kind of engineer I want to be. ????

— Will (@willdesireemoyo) August 25, 2021

I often remind myself to focus ?? focus ?? focus ??. In fact, the most recent time was just this past Sunday. Grateful to have had the opportunity to attend UMBC under the leadership of Dr. Hrabowski

— sarah brown (@episebrown) August 25, 2021

When Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski II took over UMBC in 1992, it was a sleepy little campus dominated by commuters. Oh, how the landscape has changed under his watch. My alma mater has become an “it” school and Hrabowski has made alums very proud. Now to find the next visionary …

— Pete Kerzel (@masnPete) August 25, 2021

This will take some processing.

I met Dr. Hrabowski in my 1st job out of college, coordinating a faculty mentoring program for BIPOC undergrads in STEM. He was a star then, and a legend now. I am SO honored to call him a trusted advisor and friend, all these years later.

— Dr. Lorelle Espinosa (@lorelleespinosa) August 25, 2021

When I was at a GSA meeting, someone asked Dr. Hrabowski if he could be on their dissertation committee. He declined (too busy) but said to send him their dissertation and he would read it. He worked very hard to bring UMBC to where it is now, and he will be missed.

— Danielle ? (@schmittwitt_) August 25, 2021

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at