UMBC has the stupidest name of any university in America, since UMBC doesn't stand for anything anymore, and one of the ugliest campuses, but it is really on a roll. Their reputation has soared over the past few decades and their innovative programs for young scientists have gotten nationwide attention. The driving force behind all this is university president Freeman Hrabowski. Hrabowski created a program that matches incoming science and engineering majors with faculty research programs in the summer before their freshman year, so before classes start they are already involved in departmental research. If they wish they stay involved in the same research work all through college, culminating in a publishable project of their own as seniors. The people in this program are much more likely to complete degrees in science, and to go on to graduate school in science, than comparable students who are not in the program. The program is a stroke of genius and because it is so successful it has helped raise the whole tone of academic life at UMBC, making the campus more attractive to top students. Under Hrabowski, UMBC has gone from being an afterthought to being the best and toughest-to-get-into public university in Maryland. Hrabowski has just won one of the Top American Leader Awards given out by Harvard and the Washington Post.
Hrabowski is black in the same sense that Barack Obama is, as much by self-definition as genetics. He has made educating minority scientist his top goal. The Meyerhoff Scholars Program was initially just for black students, and about half the places in his science program are still set aside for minorities. The program works because everybody benefits; the President and his liberal donors get to promote young blacks scientists and engineers, and the whole campus benefits from drawing in those top science students and sending them on to top graduate schools. Hrabowski has also aggressively promoted research partnerships with top corporations, and the biological research park he created (with help from governor Parris Glendening) has brought several major firms to Catonsville and opened up many opportunities for UMBC faculty and students. He also set up a scholarship program for top graduates of Maryland's community college system and offers those in the sciences the same research opportunities as Meyerhoff scholars.
UMBC under Hrabowski shows the difference that leadership can make. His vision of a university is not everybody's; rather than a cozy nursery of young minds that grow through Socratic dialog with doting but demanding professors, he wants an MIT-style campus involved in the big scientific and engineering ventures of the age. Hrabowski has the kind of lifestyle that enrages populist professors, spending a lot more time hobnobbing with rich philanthropists and corporate Presidents that talking to students. He wears fabulous suits. But he gets results. More than a thousand graduates of the Meyeroff program have gone on to graduate school in science or engineering, and based on the numbers half of them would not have without his program.