Carnegie Mellon University
January 28, 2015

The Dream of Education

Freeman Hrabowski

Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, recently challenged Carnegie Mellon University to focus its goodwill, brainpower and expertise in the science of learning to understand the intricacies of race, poverty and academic excellence.

"You can become a leader in the world in producing students from underrepresented groups who will then transform the world," Hrabowski said.

He spoke as part of the Simon Initiative Distinguished Lecture Series and ongoing activities to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.

"Dr. King's vision of equal social opportunity for all is profoundly linked to the goals of many things we do," said CMU President Subra Suresh. "It's a national need. And equally, it's one of the things that we aspire to achieve through initiatives such as the Simon Initiative at Carnegie Mellon where you have access to information, access to technology that amplifies your outcome for learning no matter where you reside and no matter how underprivileged a background you come from."

Hrabowski and his colleagues have received national acclaim for dramatically improving learning outcomes in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields for many underrepresented minority students at UMBC.

UMBC, part of the University System of Maryland, has been a key partner of CMU's Open Learning Initiative (OLI) for more than five years. UMBC offers OLI courses in statistics, biology, psychology and computing, and its faculty work with CMU researchers to develop and improve courses and conduct research on technology-enhanced learning.

The connections between the two schools go beyond OLI. Many of UMBC's faculty members are CMU alumni, including Manil Suri (S'80, '83) and Michele Osherow (DC'88), who recently collaborated on a one-act play called "The Mathematics of Being Human."

The play echoes a sentiment shared by President Suresh that the 21st century is going to be a century that defines the intersection between technology and the human condition.

"That's going to mean that we have a critical mass of citizens in every country, who are technologically and scientifically savvy," he said. "But who also have an appreciation for the bigger picture and the human condition."

In the 22 years Hrabowski has led UMBC, the university has been transformed into a research institution recognized nationally for its culture of innovation and inclusive excellence.

UMBC graduates more African-Americans who go on to earn Ph.D.s and joint M.D.-Ph.D.s in the STEM fields than any other predominantly white university in the country.

By increasing a student's drive to achieve through innovations in both education technology and active learning, and by creating an engaged community of students and research faculty, Hrabowski and his colleagues have established a powerful and influential model for universities everywhere.

As a 12-year-old child who loved math, Hrabowski marched with King in Birmingham, Ala.

"Of all of the things I learned during the Civil Rights movement, developing a sense of self, and being taught to believe in self, and to understand I could not afford anyone else to define who I am, those things were more important than any others," he said.

The Simon Initiative at Carnegie Mellon coalesces the university's decades of interdisciplinary research into technology-enhanced learning with the goal of continuously improving learning outcomes, both for CMU students, and for millions of people throughout the world. The Simon Initiative convenes experts in cognitive psychology, computer science and human-computer interaction who together are working to unlock the potential of human learning. It also features the Simon DataLab, the world's largest open repository of learning data, where researchers and course developers anywhere can both contribute to and use a catalog of thousands of data sets and analytical tools.

Hrabowski said that any progress requires struggle, but CMU was a place that could make a difference.

"Whether we are talking about a strength in STEM or the humanities or social sciences, the real question for the American university is: How do we reach out to students who are different?" he said. "How do we create a culture in the spirit and dream of Dr. King that welcomes those students, embraces their differences and expects the most - both from them and from ourselves?"


The Simon Initiative

Pres. Hrabowski reflects on Dr. King's vision in Simon Initiative distinguished lecture at Carnegie Mellon University

Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration