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In wake of riots, ‘we will be stronger,’ Hrabowski says

Against the backdrop of Monday’s riots in Baltimore and images of angry, frustrated teens in the city, the president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County told business leaders Wednesday about how important the idea of struggle can be to young people.

“The question is, what do we do in the struggle,” Freeman Hrabowski III told members of the BWI Business Partnership at the organization’s breakfast meeting.

Hrabowski, a native of Birmingham, Alabama, who participated in civil rights marches as a youth, said the unrest in the city was felt by the entire region.

“We will get through this, and we will be stronger, and we will learn more about how you work with children,” he said.  “I believe in this region, I believe in Baltimore … all of us are Baltimore.”

Hrabowski used his address to emphasize that business development and community development were “inextricably tied,” and to offer observations about how young people needed to be encouraged.

A key element, he said, was the idea of struggle, and that children must be taught to appreciate the joy that comes after a struggle.

Drawing on his own youthful passion for mathematics, Hrabowski described the excitement that came from looking at a problem and not knowing how to solve it.

“Math becomes a metaphor,” he said. “If you have the skills you need, and the confidence, and you’re willing to work hard enough, [then] whatever it is, you can solve it.”

When children are taught to read and think well, they are learning how to keep learning throughout their lives, he said.

Hrabowski also had advice for academic institutions looking to partner with the business community.

Universities tend to approach businesses looking for help, Hrabowski said. “Usually we come to companies and say, ‘Give me, give me, give me,'” he said. But universities should be asking how they can help businesses and how they can teach their students the skills companies are looking for, Hrabowski said.

UMBC’s partnership with the National Security Agency was one example of this, Hrabowski said.

The university offers a graduate program in cybersecurity and is the second-largest source of employees for the NSA, according to its website.

Hrabowski said there were now more than 1,000 UMBC graduates working for the agency.

U.S. Army Col. Brian P. Foley, garrison commander at Fort Meade, a major government cybersecurity hub, said he felt Hrabowski’s thoughts were “spot on.”

The young people clashing with police during Monday’s riots represented “the unrealized potential that every human being has when they are not afforded the opportunity to educate themselves,” Foley said.