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UMBC president honored for his legacy of getting more minorities in research labs

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John Lee
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Outgoing UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski and incoming President Valerie Sheares Ashby talk to a student on campus. Credit: John Lee

A $1.5 billion scholars program designed to increase the number of scientists of color in the U.S. has been named for Freeman Hrabowski, who is stepping down as president of the University of Maryland Baltimore County after 30 years.

It’s to honor Hrabowski’s legacy of creating a pipeline for minorities to become scientists. Officials at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in Chevy Chase announced Thursday they are creating the Freeman Hrabowski Scholars Program.

University of Baltimore President Kurt Schmoke, who is a trustee at the institute, said the idea is to fund researchers so they don’t have to go after time-consuming grants. They instead will use that time to mentor up-and-coming scientists from diverse backgrounds.

“Try to keep them in sciences while making sure that the mentoring activity doesn’t take away from the scientists doing their basic research,” Schmoke said. “I couldn’t think of a better person to name it for than a person who over the last 30 years of his life has made this their life’s work.”

UMBC leads the nation in Black undergraduates who complete PhDs in science and engineering.

“I’m certainly honored,” Hrabowski said. “The way I accept it is this is a wonderful statement about what the campus has done in producing scientists of color.”

Over the next 20 years, HHMI plans to choose up to 150 people for the program. Each will receive up to $8.6 million for 10 years. That money is for their salary, equipment, and a research budget. They will also receive mentorship training.

In a written statement, HHMI President Erin O’Shea said, “For academic science to thrive in an increasingly diverse world, we need to attract and support scientists from a wide variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.”

“We want to see people of color going to the top of their fields in science,” Hrabowski said.

Applications for the Freeman Hrabowski Scholars Program will be accepted through September 28. Details can be found on the HHMI Website.

The announcement comes on the day Hrabowski will attend his last UMBC commencement as its president.

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