Valerie Sheares Ashby, named first female African-American president of UMBC

By Nicole D. Batey,
Special to the AFRO

The University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents has named Valerie Sheares Ashby, as the next president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). She is the first woman and woman of color to hold this position.

“Dr. Ashby is clearly the impressive scholar and dynamic leader we need to build on the strong foundation of inclusive excellence at UMBC,” said Board Chair Linda R. Gooden. “UMBC is a jewel—nationally and internationally recognized for its innovative teaching and path-breaking research.  All of this success is due to the dedication and hard work of President Hrabowski and his outstanding team.  The Board of Regents knows this legacy will be in good hands with Dr. Ashby.  I am grateful to the UMBC presidential search committee, chaired by Regent Michelle Gourdine, for finding such a distinguished leader among so many great candidates.”

Ashby, currently dean of Trinity College of Arts & Sciences at Duke University since 2015, received her B.A. and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC). She elevated the national and international prominence of the humanities and social science departments across the college by investing in faculty- and student-driven strategic areas. 

Previously, Ashby served on UNC’s Arts & Sciences Foundation Board of Directors and Research Advisory Council, chaired the College of Arts & Sciences Faculty Diversity Task Force, and  directed the UNC National Science Foundation Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, a foundation aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented students completing doctoral degrees and continuing into the professoriate in science, technology, engineering and math and social, behavioral and economics fields.

On August 1, Ashby will succeed UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski III, who is retiring after three decades of leading the public university. Hrabowski is a nationally recognized educational leader, celebrated for his results-driven commitment to inclusive excellence, collaborative approach to leadership, and mentorship that pairs high expectations with strong support. He is considered by Ashby herself as a “president’s president”.

Valerie Sheares Ashby will be the first Black woman to lead the University of Maryland, Baltimore County since its inception in 1966.

Ashby, who counts Hrabowski as a mentor, said she is committed to continue the pursuit of “inclusive excellence” that has been a hallmark of his tenure.

“To follow President Freeman Hrabowski is a distinct privilege,” Ashby said, “as he has been a role model for so many in higher education over the last 30 years, including myself. His extraordinary leadership and dedication to UMBC ensures that I am arriving at a university that is already performing at a very high level. There is no ceiling on what we can achieve from here.”

UMBC has about 10,900 undergraduates, nearly 90 percent from Maryland. About 37 percent identify as White, according to federal data, while 22 percent identify as Asian American, 20 percent as Black or African American, 9 percent as Hispanic or Latino and 5 percent as multiracial. Others are international students or of unknown racial background.

“It is an incredible honor to be asked to lead a university that has excelled in so many ways that are essential both nationally and to me personally – particularly in regards to foregrounding inclusive excellence,” Ashby said. “I have tremendous respect for all the members of the UMBC community and am looking forward to working in partnership with the students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends who are the heart of this institution.”

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