It’s Black History Month! Celebrate Science and African-American Achievements
And part of the way that we are celebrating Black History Month is with a new carnival. DNLee over at Urban Science Adventure is the mother and first host of the Diversity in Science Carnival. She has given us the task of posting about a person who is a pioneer and/or innovator in STEM.
Since my background is in mathematics and my passion is increasing diversity, especially in STEM, I just have to post about Freeman Hrabowski. It is such an understatement to say that Freeman is amazing. Of course he is smart. He graduated at 19 from Hampton Institute with highest honors in mathematics. At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he received his M.A. (mathematics) and four years later his Ph.D. (higher education administration/statistics) at age 24.
Well yes there are lots of smart people our there. What impresses me about Freeman is that, as the President of the predominately white, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), he has been the point person in creating an environment where successful minority science students are the rule not the exception. Indeed UMBC's Meyerhoff Scholars Program “has become one of the leading sources of minority students who pursue graduate degrees in the sciences and engineering—and it soon promises to become the leading source.” According to the website, at every gathering of Meyerhoff Scholars, he reminds students of the importance of persistence, asking them to recite the Langston Hughes poem expressing that sentiment:
“Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.”
Freeman quotes statistics and also tells stories (like all effective change agents, he is a great story teller). One of my favorites is when students challenged him because he tried to talk a student into being a scientist rather than being a science teacher. Those students, he explains, made him reexamine his ideas about what was important vs what was valued. He speaks about the power of listening and of bringing people together, believing that listening to the voice of people effected by the issue and creating a culture that encourages honest robust dialog can lead to a healthier environment.
Freeman Hrabowski is making a difference. And while I am glad that lots of people are hearing him; I just wish more were listening to him and doing what needs to be done.
PS One thing that I didn't know about Freeman before I started writing this was that he "was prominently featured in Spike Lee’s 1997 documentary, Four Little Girls, on the racially motivated bombing in 1963 of Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church." I didn't know this, but somehow I'm not surprised.