This month's meeting of the Southwest Baltimore Economic Forum offered an opportunity for neighbors to get to know each other better as the group hosted a talk by UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski.
"I want you to think about UMBC as your institution," Hrabowski said at the 7:30 a.m. event held on Oct. 27 at the Overhills Mansion on South Rolling Road in Catonsville.
With a budget around $450 million and an estimated 1,500 students, staff and faculty living in southwest Baltimore County, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the community both have the ability to greatly influence each other for the better, he said.
"We are really focused on a good education, the idea of giving back and being a good neighbor," he said. "It's your money, quite frankly, that built us."
Hrabowski, who has been president of the university that straddles the border between Catonsville and Arbutus since 1992, told the group to be in communication with school officials about opportunities available for students to get involved in the local community.
Along with a slew of faculty and staff from the school, Hrabowski introduced three UMBC students who accompanied him to the morning meeting.
The trio, a senior mechanical engineering student, a sophomore English literature and global studies major and an adult part-time student studying psychology, represent the spectrum of students at UMBC, Hrabowski said.
Most of the questions asked by attendees centered on UMBC's goals for the next few years. The school was recently ranked fourth in U.S. News and World Report's list of the country's most innovative universities and is in the midst of a number of improvement projects aimed at improving the college's facilities.
The goal, Hrabowski said in response to a question from developer Steve Whalen about his plan for the next 10 years at the school, is to continue the work of changing American students' perception of science, technology, engineering and math.
In a nod to the success of the school's life sciences programs, which provide students with the education they need to go on to medical school after graduation, the school is in the process of building a new life sciences building, he said.
Sports facilities are also being updated in an effort to bring them up to par with other NCAA Division I schools, including a new arena.
But Hrabowski said residents can expect his stance on some sports-related issues to stay the same.
Despite regular questions about why he won't endorse the creation of a football program at the school, Hrabowski said he is proud of the school's "nerdy" reputation and has no plans to endorse a football team any time soon.
The reason the school has no football team, he said, is because of him. Having seen firsthand the kinds of resources that must be funneled into a football program in order for it to succeed, Hrabowski said he doesn't want to introduce a program that would disrupt the balance of academics and athletics on the campus, or the school's focus on success in the classroom.
The school's academics are rigorous, he said, but it's that challenge that builds the successful graduates UMBC produces.
"It is hard because life is hard," he said. "We are like a public Carnegie Mellon and we make no apologies."
The economic forum is organized by Catonsville real estate businessman George Brookhart and comprises business and community leaders from around the Catonsville and Arbutus area.
It hosts monthly meetings throughout most of the year. Each meeting features a talk by a significant figure in the community who spends about an hour discussing issues of relevance to southwest Baltimore County's economy and answering questions from attendees.
In September, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz addressed the forum. Future speakers on the group's schedule include local developer Kevin Glover, president of the University of Baltimore and former mayor of Baltimore Kurt Schmoke, former delegate and current adviser to Gov. Larry Hogan Keiffer Mitchell and Del. Dana Stein.