Regents appoint first Black woman to lead University of Maryland-Baltimore County

Valerie Sheares Ashby is set to become the sixth president following the retirement of current UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski.

Valerie Sheares Ashby is set to make history as the next president of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC). 

Ashby will be the first woman to serve in this role after being appointed by the University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents. She’ll become the sixth president following the retirement of current UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski.

Since 2015, Ashby has served as dean of Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences. She will leave Duke on June 30 and take office at UMBC on Aug. 1. 

“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,” said USM Board Chair Linda R. Gooden, per the university’s announcement.

Ashby has been at Duke since joining the faculty in 2003. She chaired the university’s chemistry department from 2012 to 2015. Ashby received her B.A. and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and completed postdoctoral research at Universität Mainz in Germany, according to her bio on UMBC’s website.

Valerie Ashby
Valerie Ashby (University of Maryland-Baltimore Cty.)

“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, according to the UMBC statement.

“Dr. Ashby is clearly the impressive scholar and dynamic leader we need to build on the strong foundation of inclusive excellence at UMBC,” the statement quotes Gooden. USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman said he is excited to “see how Dr. Ashby’s vision will shape the next chapter for UMBC.”

“Without question, she has the experience and the attributes needed to grow UMBC’s academic and research prominence, and she’s steeped in the culture of inclusive excellence that has made the university a national exemplar of access, equity, and achievement,” Perman added, per the school’s press release.

“To follow President Freeman Hrabowski is a distinct privilege, as he has been a role model for so many in higher education over the last 30 years, including myself,” Ashby said, as reported by the Baltimore Sun. His extraordinary leadership and dedication to UMBC ensure 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.”

“I think that it’ll be a great transition between her and Hrabowski. She is like a mom figure, kind of,” said UMBC student Simone Wiseman of the incoming president, WBLATV reports. 

As the first woman to fill this role Ashby told the news station, “I’ve been the first and only many times woman, the first person of color, the first woman person of color. I am accustomed to only and first, so it’s the nature of the world is in which I live in.”

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