Freeman Hrabowski III

President of UMBC, Freeman A. Hrabowski, III addresses the crowd during UMBC's 40th birthday celebration event. (Sun photo by Monica Lapossay / September 19, 2006)

The Heinz Family Foundation has awarded University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Freeman A. Hrabowski III one of its five annual medals for his work encouraging minorities to study science, engineering and math at college.

"I'm really honored," Hrabowski said in an interview. "I know that I'm getting this award because of the work of my colleagues and students. It's much less about me and really about UMBC."

Hrabowski, who is celebrating his 20th year as president of UMBC, has attracted national recognition for his work at the university. He was recently named one of the world's most influential people by Time magazine and was chosen by President Barack Obama to chair a newly created advisory council on excellence in African-American education.

Teresa Heinz, who founded the awards in 1993 in honor of her late husband, U.S. Sen. John Heinz, praised Hrabowski for refusing to accept typically low participation by minorities in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math.

"At a time when our country is desperate to attract more students into the sciences, mathematics, and engineering, Dr. Hrabowski is lighting the way," said Heinz, the president of the foundation.

"His methods for engaging students while at the same time setting even higher standards are being copied elsewhere, and deservedly so, as his example shows what can happen when we stop lamenting our educational challenges and really get serious about unlocking the potential in every student."

Each year, the Heinz foundation awards five medals, which come with a $250,000 prize. Hrabowski said he will donate the money to UMBC's innovation fund, where it will join $500,000 he received from the Carnegie award.

Hrabowski will be presented with the medal at a ceremony in Pittsburgh on Oct. 11.

iduncan@baltsun.com