Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Education: Graduate School

BOND: How’d you feel when you got your Ph.D.?

HRABOWSKI: You know what, it’s amazing -- when you’ve worked on something for so long -- you’re numb. Honestly. I really was. It was just great to be finished. I mean, that’s the part about a Ph.D. Everybody who goes through it, you know, you’re just grateful to be finished. It takes years to reflect and it’s been over thirty years, thirty-three years, so 1975, and I did have the challenge of people holding me back because they said I was too young and just one of the really smart people said, “Give him a chance to go ahead and defend,” and they let me out. But --

BOND: How old were you?

HRABOWSKI: I was twenty-four when I got it or I could’ve been twenty-three. Somebody was bothered that I was so young and just said I needed to reflect more. It was interesting, but what I will tell you is that it was the journey that was much more significant than getting there. It was like a -- because it did teach me to think critically at another level and to work on a problem and look at it from different angles. The same in many ways, the same problem I’ve been looking at now for almost four decades and that is -- how do you get more people of color to excel in math and science and engineering? And how do you get a society to believe they can do it?

BOND: Is that how -- focusing on this idea for four decades, is that how you choose the career path that you’ve chosen?

HRABOWSKI: Oh, very much so. Very much so.

BOND: That the idea drove you to say, “Here’s one way I can solve this problem.”

HRABOWSKI: Oh, yes. In undergrad school, very few of us were majoring in math and my -- the best prepared students in math and science at Hampton were from other countries, were blacks from other countries. They were far superior in their -- the rigor of the education they received, unless they’d come from a prep school in New England or some place or really good place, and so it was clear to me that even then we needed more people and then when I got to Illinois and we’d seen a few at Hampton and it was great and everybody knew if you majored in math and science you were smart and serious, that was great. But then I got to Illinois and you just didn’t see people. There were no professors of color in any of these disciplines and nobody in the classroom and faculty were surprised to see me in there and in different ways -- well, nobody was mean-spirited. They just were surprised and weren’t accustomed to it and made comments.