Mark O. Hatfield Lecture with Dr. Freeman Hrabowski

High expectations, community building, experiential learning and faculty engagement keys to attracting, retaining diverse students and scientists

April 11, 2018

Hatfield lecture

As president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Freeman Hrabowski, Ph.D., and his team have transformed their no-name commuter college into a world-renowned, powerhouse for preparing historically underserved minority students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Ranked the number one "Up and Coming" university for six consecutive years by U.S. News and World Report and among the nation's leading institutions for "Best Undergraduate Teaching," UMBC now produces the most black graduates who go on to earn M.D./Ph.D.s than any other college in the country, among many other metrics of success.

OHSU invited Dr. Hrabowski to give the Mark O. Hatfield Lecture April 9 to share his recipe for success and to build a relationship that OHSU hopes will lead to more UMBC students applying to OHSU's Ph.D., M.D. and P.A. programs. (View video)

Turning goals into reality

"I've talked about OHSU increasingly modeling the values that we all cherish and providing a refuge in turbulent times," said OHSU President Joe Robertson, welcoming OHSU's guest at the lecture. "Dr. Hrabowski's comments will help inform our ability to do that, particularly for students in science, technology, engineering and math."

Yet, as Dr. Hrabowski explained the formula is deceptively simple:

  • Set high expectations for all students: students' reach should exceed their grasp.
  • Build a community among students and faculty in the sciences that favors collaboration over competition: build trust not silos.
  • Recognize that researchers produce researchers: experiential learning trumps lectures.
  • Expect faculty to engage with students: faculty who care about students see to their success.

He calls it inclusive excellence: imbuing in students that, with hard work, they can become whatever they want to be and empowering faculty and staff to be part of the solution.

He also credits that strategy for contributing to the UMBC men's basketball team – ranked dead last in the N.C.A.A. tournament – for its 20-point victory March 16 over No. 1 University of Virginia: the biggest upset in the tournament's history.

Hatfield visit"The dream," he said to his OHSU audience, "has to do with people of all races trusting each other enough to come together to solve the problems of human kind."

With data, powerful stories, wit and warmth, Dr. Hrabowski spent his visit sharing UMBC's work and learning about the science and culture at OHSU in meetings with School of Medicine Dean Sharon Anderson, Provost Elena Andresen and Senior Vice President for Research Peter Barr-Gillespie, faculty, Ph.D., M.D. and P.A. program directors, and graduate students before giving his evening lecture.

Reframe the narrative of OHSU as an inclusive, innovative destination

He encouraged faculty to "reframe the narrative" about OHSU. Stop leading with how white OHSU and Oregon are, and what a barrier that is to attracting and retaining diverse faculty and students.

Instead, tell a story about the institution's amazing strengths. That includes OHSU's powerful research on topics from the intersection of race and violence, to the impact of stress and poor health during pregnancy on infant brain development that is relevant to diverse scholars and that he learned about from touring the Fair Neuroimaging Lab during his visit.

Dr. Hrabowski pointed out that the University of Iowa – situated in a state not known for its diversity – has developed a national reputation as a "go to" institution for diverse scholars by building a culture of inclusive excellence.

"What will OHSU do to have the country see it as a destination?" he asked. "It takes looking in the mirror and being honest with ourselves; creating a culture that stops you from pointing fingers at each other and instead builds respect and trust."

Hrabowski visit
He also talked about – and modeled – what it means to build a welcoming community, stopping to say hello to everyone from faculty, students and staff to custodians and food servers as he traversed the campus, drawing out students about their path to OHSU and their plans. It's about seeing people, he said, being kind, building relationships.

He said he had to fight, but prevailed, in featuring a white male UMBC faculty member with students of color on the cover of his book Holding Fast to Dreams: Empowering Youth from the Civil Rights Crusade to STEM Achievement, because he wants white faculty to know that their role as allies who invest in and advocate for all students is as important as that of faculty mentors of color.

A note of hope and encouragement

"Dr. Hrabowski not only provided inspiration and clear, practical strategies for realizing our aspirations as an institution diverse in people and ideas, he provided encouragement and hope. Encouragement that we have the tools to be a place where diverse faculty and students come and thrive and hope about how much more amazing work we can all do together," said Allison Fryer, Ph.D., associate dean for Graduate Studies, OHSU School of Medicine.

Dr. Fryer collaborated with Brian Gibbs, Ph.D., OHSU Chief Diversity Officer to bring Dr. Hrabowski, a longtime associate of Dr. Gibbs, to Portland. Drs. Fryer, Gibbs and Mary Heinricher, associate dean for Basic Science, OHSU School of Medicine, traveled to UMBC over spring break for a preliminary visit to build on relationships with program directors and faculty at UMBC that Dr. Fryer began to foster several years ago.

Binyam Nardos, Ph.D., postdoc researcher in Behavioral Neuroscience and a member of the Fair Neuroimaging Lab, said he was encouraged that OHSU has recognized UMBC's accomplishments and "is demonstrating the will and urgency" to learn from its success. He also appreciated Dr. Hrabowski's realism that underrepresented minority faculty remain the exception in institutions across the country and that there is still much work to be done, even as he encouraged such faculty to embrace their roles as pioneers.

Antoinette Foster, a Ph.D. student in Neuroscience Graduate Program and co-founder of the Alliance for Visible Diversity in Science (AVDS), organized a group of about 20 students who met privately with Dr. Hrabowski. Foster and AVDS have also engaged in a productive dialogue with Dean Anderson, Dr. Barr-Gillespie and Provost Andresen about ways to support and improve retention of diverse students.

Foster expressed gratitude about a core aspect of Dr. Hrabowski's message: "the key to fostering diversity is building community and listening to the needs of your students."

She said she is optimistic that students, faculty and senior leadership can work toward a shared idea articulated in the 2013 OHSU Diversity Action Plan: Creating a community of diversity and inclusion does not just happen, and it cannot be achieved by a single department or council. It is a transformation that occurs only when each of us embraces diversity and leads by example. 

Dr. Hrabowski amplified her optimism during his lecture, noting how welcomed he felt at OHSU and how, from the students to the faculty, everyone was leaning in with questions about how to improve.

"You only get that level of questioning when people really care," he said. "That, coupled with strong leadership at the top, will make it possible to bring more diverse people to OHSU."

Hrabowski - Hatfield widow


First: Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, got the audience to its feet during his Mark O. Hatfield Lecture at the Robertson Life Sciences Center (formerly CLSB) April 9 to join in a chant demonstrating how human behavior and outcomes progress from thoughts, words, actions, habits and character to manifest as destiny. Photo by Aaron Bieleck.

Second: OHSU School of Medicine Dean Sharon Anderson confers with Dr. Hrabowski after a luncheon meeting April 9. Led by Allison Fryer, Ph.D., associate dean for Graduate Studies (background), OHSU School of Medicine, the meeting included faculty leaders who donated to Dr. Hrabowski's visit including Brian Druker, M.D., director of the Knight Cancer Institute (back left), and Ph.D., P.A. and M.D. program directors including Ben Schneider, M.D., assistant dean for Undergraduate Medical Education, who waits to talk with Dr. Hrabowski.

Third: Dr. Hrabowski engaged students in an hour-long dialogue during a private meeting organized by the OHSU Alliance for Visible Diversity in Science, posing for a group photo afterward in which he invited the students to shout out the word "science!"

Fourth: Dr. Hrabowski greets Antoinette Hatfield, widow of the late U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield, at the lecture endowed in his name. Mrs. Hatfield called his lecture "so inspiring." Photo by Aaron Bieleck.