PRINCESS ANNE — Juliette B. Bell made rounds on the campus of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore on Wednesday, greeting an assembly of hundreds of supporters, taking accolades at a luncheon in her honor and mingling at an evening reception on campus.
Bell was named last week as the 15th president at the historically black university on Maryland’s Lower Shore emerging as a leading institution of training in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The current provost and vice president at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, takes the helm as UMES president on July 1, but there was no better day than Wednesday to showcase the renowned biochemist and scholar before UMES and Lower Shore communities.
“Happy Pi Day,” Paul S. Trotter, president of the UMES National Alumni Association, told an assembly of several hundred university officials, faculty and students as well as community leaders. He was referring to the March 14 holiday that commemorates the mathematical constant pi, a date reflecting 3/14 in month/day date format since 3, 1 and 4 are the most significant digits of the decimal form. Trotter, a mathematics major and retired meteorologist, said he was confident that Bell would “want solutions.”
“This is an important day in mathematics,” he said.
Bell commended contributions by former UMES President Thelma Thompson, who stepped down in August after more than nine years. “There’s much here to build upon and to grow with,” said Bell, flanked by her husband, Willie Jr., a son, daughter-in-law and two young grandchildren.
Jesse Williams Sr., an alumnus and president of the UMES Board of Visitors, likened Bell’s launch from humble beginnings to prominence to his own growth through the years.
“What I loved about Dr. Bell is that she did it the old-fashioned way — she earned it,” said Williams, a retired vice president at the Goodyear Co. “She paid her dues and she believes in hard work.”
Williams also called on the total community to support the new president, saying that her success is UMES’ success. “Let’s embrace and support Dr. Bell,” he told the audience. “Let’s show Dr. Bell some love. If Dr. Bell is successful, the university is successful.”
Bell grew up on a farm in Talladega, Ala., where she earned a bachelor of arts degree in chemistry at Talladega College. Her doctorate in chemistry with a concentration in biochemistry came from Atlanta University, and postdoctoral studies were completed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
At UMES, Bell intends to reach out to the campus and surrounding communities for ideas and solutions as well as continue the legacy of research of the 1890 land grant institution that celebrates its 125th anniversary this year.
“Not only do I want to hear about the challenges from the perspective of the individuals who are a part of that, but I want to hear what their solutions are, what their ideas are,” Bell said. “We’re about solving whatever issues are, so we can move forward.”
William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said he was “thrilled” that an academic leader and biochemist regarded as a “giant in science” is president at the 3,800-student university, and cited a school of pharmacy about to graduate its first class and a recently introduced four-year degree in engineering. Kirwan also noted plans at UMES to build a new instructional facility to house science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines — or STEM — disciplines.
“I am thrilled with the outcome of (the presidential search) process,” Kirwan said. “We found the right person. She has a distinguished record of accomplishments and awards in teaching, research, throughout her career.”
Kirwan also said Bell will focus on growing the number of student achievers and providing benefits to the community at large.
“She’s exactly the right person to lead with emphasis on improving the graduation rate and increasing the number of STEM graduates, and bringing the research capacity to bear on the larger community on the Eastern Shore,” he said.
In an interview, Bell said she also is committed to the tradition and mission of historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, while embracing diverse cultures.
“I am very honored for the opportunity to use my expertise and become engaged with one of the best HBCUs in the country,” she said. “Diversity is a very valuable asset at this institution, and the HBCU culture and tradition (also) is ingrained here and I expect it will continue to be so. It is important as a leader and as a scientist to help students of color and the underrepresented students to see there are role models and mentors.”
Embracing the local community is a goal, and Bell said she planned a “listening tour” both on and off campus.
Bell has not been approached about the controversial topic of returning collegiate football to UMES. She did say that football was a favorite sport, and her current school, Central State, has a collegiate football team.
“A group (at UMES) will be looking at the feasibility, but I have not been briefed on that yet,” she said. “I am a fan of football.”