High-tech link lifting UMBC to star status College's president honored tonight with GBC technology award

Hrabowski 'a dynamo'

'Advocate supreme' encourages study, work partnerships

September 28, 1998|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

When he assumed the president's seat at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County campus in 1992, Freeman A. Hrabowski III faced a double-barreled challenge sure to have given lesser souls the shakes.

For one, legislators were in the midst of a series of deep state budget cuts brought on by the recession of the early 1990s. The result: Hrabowski and other presidents in the state system had to stir up ideas for new revenue to make up for a 20 percent reduction in state funding. The other quandary facing Hrabowski was a student body that seemed to him largely ill-prepared for the challenges of the emerging global economy.

Today, the 10,000-student campus, thanks largely to Hrabowski's infectious brand of enthusiasm and his unabashed chutzpah for striking up relationships with high-technology businesses in the area, is seen as a "rising star" on the educational radar screen, said John Lippincott, associate vice chancellor for the University of Maryland System.

Today's UMBC students are just as likely on a Friday night to be found in the library or in one of the many bioscience and engineering labs as they are to be seen at a keg bash.

And the university now boasts a gaggle of study and job-placement relationships with regional industries, from leading toolmakers to innovative biotechnology and communications outfits.

"What's been so unusual about Freeman has been how aggressively and successfully he's managed to build business partnerships. He's extremely highly regarded by the regents, chancellor and other university presidents. The guy is just a dynamo," Lippincott said.

As a result of Hrabowski's record of building links to the business community during his six-year tenure, the Greater Baltimore Committee's Technology Council has selected him to receive its "Baltimore's Extraordinary Technology Advocate" award this year.

He'll get the award tonight at GBC's annual TechNite dinner and technology showcase at the Baltimore Convention Center.

"Freeman really has taken on a role of advocate supreme for technology development in our region," said Jane Shaab, executive director of the GBC Technology Council. "When we look around to see who is helping us push technology as an economic growth force in Maryland, Freeman is right there in the lead."

Among the technology-related initiatives that Hrabowski, 48, is credited with helping establish:

Boosting patent protection and commercialization efforts of university-based research. During Hrabowski's tenure, UMBC technology licensing deals jumped to 10 from zero and patent applications jumped to 19 from one.

Broadening internship, faculty research and business training alliances with technology-based firms and agencies in the region. These alliances range from telecommunications giant Bell Atlantic Corp. and toolmaker Danaher Corp. to computer industry innovators Silicon Graphics and Computer Sciences Corp.

The Meyerhoff scholarship program. Originally intended to lure and support talented black students pursuing math or science study, it now is open to all promising math and science students. About 144 program students have graduated from UMBC since it was started in 1988 while Hrabowski was vice provost.

The $12 million purchase and conversion of a former Lockheed Martin Corp. research building near campus into the UMBC Technology Center, an incubator facility for small, emerging high-technology outfits. The project generates needed revenue to help finance UMBC's $179 million budget -- to which the state contributes 28 percent. Student and faculty research and work opportunities also have been created at the center.

A $40 million research park that would lease state-of-the-art R&D space to young high-technology companies. This risky venture still needs to attract a developer willing to put up the first building, but Freeman says that it eventually will be home to several emerging biotechnology and information technology companies. A part of the plan: establish educational and research relationships with companies locating in the park.

Hrabowski, a former math and statistics professor, says his zeal for striking relationships with corporate America has two key motivations: UMBC's need to generate revenue for its annual budget and Hrabowski's deep belief that his students must be armed with much more than a bookish feel for the needs of industry if they are to successfully compete for top technology jobs.

"If you want financial support from the business community, you need to provide them with something that's perceived as valuable," Hrabowski said.

"Every major research university has partnerships with major businesses. The reason is that the businesses see a benefit in the relationship," Hrabowski said. "We realized that if we wanted the same type of support, we had to provide the business community with well-prepared workers in our students and a skilled faculty willing to collaborate on solving problems. Once we'd done that, businesses began to see us as a partner."

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