Minding his own business pays off for UMBC student

Freshman operates computer firm while making perfect grades

January 21, 1999|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

With a grade point average of 2.96 at Bel Air's C. Milton Wright High School and a combined SAT score of about 1,100, Andrew Lufburrow was clearly college material, but not the type of student who usually attracts the interest of Freeman A. Hrabowski III.

The president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County likes to talk about his students with 1,400 SAT scores and 4.0 averages who publish research papers as undergraduates or win chess championships. But Hrabowski was intrigued when he met the prospective freshman last year.

That's because Lufburrow was running a computer consulting business that grossed $150,000 during his senior year in high school.

"He was obviously very bright," Hrabowski says. "But he was focusing a great deal of his energies on his business."

Hrabowski admitted Lufburrow to UMBC and encouraged him to keep the business going but said it was time for good grades. Lufburrow's first semester ended in December. His grade point average was a perfect 4.0.

"Having the president of the university looking over your shoulder gets your attention," Lufburrow says.

His business, AAL Technology, hasn't suffered. Lufburrow has a goal of $250,000 in business this year and is about to create a subsidiary that will have its headquarters in the UMBC Technology Center as part of its incubator program for high-tech businesses.

"We had hoped to get student businesses in the incubator program," says Ellen Wiggins, who runs the center. "Andy's will be the first."

This from a student who got a D in his high school senior year computer class.

"That was just from a lack of interest," Lufburrow says of that grade. "I was looking to learn something I could apply, and they were about 10 years behind. They were teaching stuff that was being developed when I was 5 years old."

This semester, he aced Computer Science 201, introductory psychology, English composition and a math class.

Calculus coming up

"It wasn't even pre-calculus," he says, lamenting the low level of his math skills. "I don't think Harford County schools served me very well in that respect. But I'm taking calculus next semester."

That's when he will begin the subsidiary, focusing on Web page design and maintenance. He plans to hire fellow students to work on that as he continues to expand his main business, consulting on the design of computer systems and installing and selling them.

"He has always been a very determined person," says his mother, Charlene Lufburrow.

His family dates the start of Lufburrow's interest in computers to about eight years ago, when he asked his father, Dr. John Lufburrow, to bring a broken computer home from his Havre de Grace dental practice.

Ten-year-old Andrew took off the back and got the thing running.

"I don't know if he actually fixed it, but he did something that made it better than it was," his mother says. "That was the start. Since then, the computers in our house always have the backs off. They're always works in progress."

An intense interest in ham radio got him further into the world of electronics. He started picking up pocket money getting family friends' home computers running. Then, when he heard that Heritage Savings Bank -- his grandfather is chairman of the board -- was installing a new computer system, he decided to bid on the job.

Winning bid

He won the job over NCR Corp., which was providing the software, and hired his older brother to help him install the system.

"My grandfather had nothing to do with it," Lufburrow says of the winning bid. "If he had, I probably wouldn't have gotten it. He's pretty tough on me."

That was a year ago. AAL Technology was on its way. Since then, through word-of-mouth, Lufburrow has advised a variety of people on computer systems.

A friendship with the son of Orioles trainer Richie Bancells got him work in the team's training room. That has led to jobs with sports medicine doctors. Now he is hoping that his Web page business will bring in accounts that will become customers of his computer consulting business.

Hrabowski has the same kind of pride in students such as Lufburrow that some presidents have in their student-athletes who get good grades.

"We encourage students to connect their work in class to work in industry and business," he says. "It allows them to see their classroom work as an important part of their eventual career in business, not just as obstacles in their way to getting a degree."

Hrabowski says many students in the computer and information technology fields could leave after their sophomore or junior years for jobs paying $40,000 or more a year.

`Well-rounded individuals'

"We encourage them to take part-time jobs," Hrabowski says. "They might be earning $20,000 or $30,000. Maybe it will take them an extra year or two to get their degree, but they will get it. And they won't just get a technological education, they will take the English and history and philosophy classes, too. They will be well-rounded individuals."

Lufburrow is a believer. He says the computer business is changing so fast that it's clear he should get all the education he can.

"I'd like to keep going for my master's and Ph.D.," he says.

But he thinks he has an advantage over people who are interested only in computers.

"They don't know how to talk to people. They only know how to talk to computers," he says. "If you are going to sell someone a computer system, you have to be able to talk to them in a way they can understand."

That's where his his noncomputer classes, such as English and psychology, come in handy.

"I call them my conversation starters," he says. "Like I'm doing some work for a psychiatrist and I can say to him, `You know what I learned in psychology class the other day?' And we can start talking. Then we can do some business."

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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