UMBC’s NCAA Tournament Upset Shines Light on Academic Black Excellence

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The University of Maryland, Baltimore County, pulled off the biggest upset in NCAA basketball tournament history when it defeated top-seeded Virginia 74-54 Friday night. But as the New York Times points out, the school is known for producing the most black students who go on to complete combined M.D.-Ph.D. programs.

“When I think about who we are as an institution and what happened [Friday] night, it represents what we tell our students: If you work hard, there can be these special moments where you’re moving toward greatness,” UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III told the Times.


Forty percent of UMBC’s students go on to graduate school, and two of its basketball players have 4.0 GPAs.

Here’s more on how Hrabowski built UMBC into a top academic institution and a solid sports school, from the Times:

Dr. Hrabowski, who has led the institution for 26 years, was born in Birmingham, Ala., at the start of the civil rights movement, and grew up in the same segregated neighborhood as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He spent five days in jail at age 12 for participating in a civil rights protest. He obtained his undergraduate degree, from Hampton University, at 19, and his doctorate, from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, at 24.

His efforts have helped drive U.M.B.C.’s acclaimed Meyerhoff Scholars Program to the forefront of the push to increase diversity in science, technology, engineering and related fields, and the program has been replicated across the country. Dr. Hrabowski said he was most proud that it had been able to flourish over the years at a predominantly white institution.

“The reason we do well with minorities is because we do so well with everybody else,” he said.

Academics and athletes make for a great four-year experience—especially if you can do so while pulling off the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history.

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About the author

Terrell Jermaine Starr

Terrell Jermaine Starr is a senior reporter at The Root. He is currently writing a book proposal that analyzes US-Russia relations from a black perspective.

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