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UMBC announces Hrabowski’s successor and first woman president

Incoming UMBC President Valerie Sheares Ashby. (Duke University/Shaun King)

Valerie Sheares Ashby will be the next president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the university announced Monday morning, succeeding Freeman A. Hrabowski III, who has led the school for the past three decades.  

Ashby, who comes to the school from Duke University, where she was the dean of the school’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences since 2015, was selected through a national search process that was launched last fall and was chaired by University System of Maryland Regent Michelle Gourdine. She will be the first woman to lead UMBC and the university’s sixth president.  

“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 in UMBC’s announcement of her appointment. 

Ashby’s background is in chemistry, and she worked in the chemistry department at her alma mater, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, first as a faculty member and later as the department’s chair, prior to her position at Duke.  

At UNC, she directed the school’s National Science Foundation Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, advocating for minority students to achieve doctoral degrees and become professors in the sciences. She also served on the university’s Arts & Sciences Foundation Board of Directors and Research Advisory Council and chaired the College of Arts & Sciences Faculty Diversity Task Force.  

Later, at Duke, she helped raise $435 million for Trinity College. She has also won several teaching and research awards. According to the Duke Chronicle, the university’s student newspaper, her priorities as dean have included reforming the college’s undergraduate curriculum, promoting the arts, social sciences and humanities and fostering faculty diversity. 

UMBC and USM leaders lauded Ashby’s experience and qualifications. 

“I’m excited to see how Dr. Ashby’s vision will shape the next chapter for UMBC,” USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman said in the announcement. “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. It’s hard to imagine finding a better fit for a school whose future is as bright as UMBC’s.” 

Ashby will begin her term on Aug. 1. Hrabowski, who led the university for more than half of its 55-year history and transformed it into a leading research institution, announced his retirement last August at the start of his last academic year with the university.

As president, he pushed the school to achieve an R1 Carnegie Classification for research, launched the school’s iconic Meyerhoff Program that encourages minority students to pursue higher degrees in science and engineering, and led the development of UMBC’s research park, bwtech@UMBC, among other accomplishments. 

“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 in the announcement. “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.”