The Meyerhoff scholars at the University of Maryland, Baltimore
County, are usually the ones looking through the microscope. But
this time, they are under scrutiny.
What everyone wants to know about these successful African-
American science students is how they've achieved their
The answer has a lot to do with family, says UMBC President
Freeman Hrabowski, co-author of "Overcoming the Odds: Raising
Academically Successful African American Young Women" (Oxford
University Press). A follow-up to a similar study of men, the book,
written with Kenneth Maton, Monica Greene, and Geoffrey Greif, is
based on surveys of 100 female Meyerhoff scholars and interviews
with two-thirds of them and 73 parents.
The Meyerhoff Scholars Program was launched in 1989 to increase
the number of African-American research scientists and engineers.
Each year, 40 to 60 students with high SAT scores, good grades, and
a commitment to science and community service are selected from
across the United States to receive support ranging from
scholarships to mentoring.
It has become one of the largest producers of African-American
science PhDs and MDs in the US. Originally set up for black males,
it expanded to include women, other racial minorities, and white
students interested in the issues minority scientists face.
Dr. Hrabowski spoke to the Monitor recently about some of what he
Why did you focus on African-American women interested in
If you look at the data on degrees in science and technology in
our country, you'll see that a very small percent of those degrees
are awarded to African-American women.... The country will need
increasing numbers of citizens prepared in science and technology,
and an increasing percentage ... will consist of people from these
Do you expect a readership beyond the African-American community?
Yes. What is significant about the book is that many of the
lessons learned are applicable in raising children in general, and
in raising girls in particular, regardless of race.... There are
challenges that we face in our country - having to do with ... our
view of who scientists are. If I said to you, a scientist walked
into the room, most likely you're going to think of a male, usually
white, with a white coat on.
What characteristics do the families that you interviewed have in
These parents ... tend to be old-fashioned. In many cases, the
young women have grown up in religious families.... These women will
talk about the power of prayer ... and how having a ... conservative
upbringing helped to prepare them for a world filled with
temptations. Many have been leaders in churches....
The parents have been very careful in raising these daughters, in
thinking about critical issues, whether ... dating, or sex, or the
self-esteem of the young woman.
[T]he parents have become experts on their children, to know
their strengths and weaknesses. In many cases, the daughters did
feel the parents were too strict in high school.... What's
interesting is that the young women, currently in college or
graduate school, say they understand now why their parents did what
On issues of sexual intimacy, parents handled the matter very
differently. Some talked frequently about those issues. And some of
the daughters reported that they chose to abstain from sex because
of their values. In several cases, daughters talked about making a
conscious decision to break the family legacy of teen pregnancy.
There were other things [parents] did, from promoting reading to
restricting television to ... supporting ... extracurricular
activities. They understood that just having the girls sitting
around home in the afternoon was not a good thing.
Were there specific ways adults fostered girls' interest in