WASHINGTON — The National Academy of Sciences is presenting its 2023 Public Welfare Medal to mathematician, educator, and higher education advocate Freeman A. Hrabowski, III for his outstanding leadership in transforming U.S. science education and increasing cultural diversity within the science workforce. The medal is the Academy’s most prestigious award, established in 1914 and presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good.

As president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) — a position he held for 30 years before his retirement in 2022 — Hrabowski recast the institution from a regional commuter institution into a top-tier research university and STEM education center. Hundreds of UMBC graduates have gone on to obtain professorships and other positions at some of the most prestigious institutions in the U.S., and for more than 15 years, UMBC has been the top U.S. producer of Black undergraduates who continue on to receive Ph.D.s in the natural sciences and engineering.

Hrabowski joined UMBC as provost in 1987, and before taking the helm as president, he co-founded UMBC’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program with philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff to support and encourage diverse students seeking science and engineering degrees and to prepare them for postgraduate studies and leadership positions. Alumni of the program include many prominent scientists and engineers, and it has since been emulated by other universities and colleges across the country — including the University of North Carolina, Pennsylvania State University, Howard University, and the University of California at Berkeley and San Diego. Hrabowski has also served as a mentor to many researchers and academic leaders.

“Freeman Hrabowski’s visionary leadership in broadening diversity and inclusiveness in American science is simply unmatched within higher education,” said Susan Wessler, home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the selection committee for the award. “As an educator and mentor, he has inspired hundreds to follow in his footsteps and become much-needed forces of change in the U.S. research enterprise.”

“Freeman Hrabowski has revolutionized science and engineering education, dedicating his career to ensuring that working- and middle-class Americans of all races have the opportunity to become world-class scientists, engineers, and leaders,” said National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt. “Our entire science ecosystem is stronger because of his efforts, and our nation is reaping the benefits. I am thrilled to present him with our highest honor.”

Since his retirement from UMBC, Hrabowski has remained engaged in advancing diversity in science and engineering. As the inaugural American Council on Education Centennial Fellow, he is focusing on how colleges and universities can ensure that all types of learners — from first-generation college students to adults restarting their careers — can access higher education and earn a degree. In addition, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute named in his honor its recently launched Freeman Hrabowski Scholars Program — a $1.5 billion initiative that aims to advance diversity in the sciences.

Hrabowski will also continue developing the next generation of college leaders through his ongoing work with the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents leadership program. In addition, Hrabowski is a consultant to the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, as well as to universities and school systems nationally. He also serves on the boards of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, France-Merrick Foundation, T. Rowe Price Group, McCormick & Company, and the Baltimore Equitable Society.

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1950, Hrabowski joined the historic Children’s March at age 12 inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. and was among hundreds of children who were arrested as they marched for equal rights. When he was just 19, Hrabowski earned his undergraduate degree with highest honors in mathematics from Hampton Institute. He went on to receive his master’s degree in mathematics and Ph.D. in higher education administration and statistics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The author of numerous articles and co-author of four books, Hrabowski is the recipient of many awards and honors. In 2012, President Obama named him chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans. Hrabowski has also received the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Academic Leadership Award; the Heinz Award for his contributions “to improving the human condition;” the Clark Kerr Award from the University of California, Berkeley; and the Yale Legend in Leadership Award. Other awards and honors include the McGraw Prize in Education; the U.S. Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring; the Columbia University Teachers College Medal for Distinguished Service; the GE African American Forum ICON Lifetime Achievement Award; the American Educational Research Association’s Distinguished Public Service Award; Black Engineer of the Year (BEYA) by the BEYA STEM Global Competitiveness Conference; Educator of the Year by the World Affairs Council of Washington, D.C.; Marylander of the Year by the editors of the Baltimore Sun; and the Technology Council of Maryland’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

Hrabowski has chaired or served on several National Academies study committees and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the National Academy of Public Administration, and the American Philosophical Society. He also holds honorary degrees from more than 45 institutions — including Harvard, Princeton, Duke, University of Michigan, University of North Carolina, Johns Hopkins University, and Georgetown University.

The Public Welfare Medal will be presented to Hrabowski on April 30 during the Academy’s 160th annual meeting. More information, including a list of past recipients, is available at www.nasonline.org/programs/awards/public-welfare-medal.html.

The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and — with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine — provides science, technology, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.

Molly Galvin, Director, Executive Communications
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