The Surprising Story Behind that College Basketball Miracle
March Madness is always full of surprising twists and turns, but few games have been as shocking as the recent upset of the No. 16 seed University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), defeating the No. 1 seed, Virginia.
But this is more than a basketball Cinderella story, it’s a story of a university that has defied the odds in more ways than one.
More than 30 years ago, with the help of philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff, UMBC made a solid commitment to bridge the achievement gap between white and underrepresented minority students.
At the time, many were skeptical that students who came from lower incomes with less preparation could achieve academic parity with their more advantageous peers. But as UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski writes in The Atlantic, the Meyerhoff Scholars Program set out to do just that. The program was designed to challenge, mentor and support these students in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
The results were just as dramatic as that upset on the court. Today, the school is a top producer of African-American graduates who go on to earn PhDs in the sciences, and it tops the number of African-Americans who go on to earn MD-PhDs.
The school is trying to spread the lessons beyond STEM fields and across disciplines. As Hrabowski writes, “Perhaps the reason UMBC is considered one of the most innovative institutions is that we encourage difficult conversations and ask challenging questions, and we welcome different points of view with the understanding that we can agree to disagree with civility. We tell students to ‘get beyond your comfort zone, to get to know people different from yourselves.’ It’s in that space beyond comfort that true education occurs.”