UMBC names ‘visionary’ leader and first woman as president to replace Hrabowski

Dr. Valerie Sheares Ashby brings innovative approach and record of success at Duke's Trinity College to new position.
Dr. Valerie Sheares Ashby

Retiring President Freeman Hrabowski III called her a “visionary” and a “brilliant and wonderful human being.” That is high praise coming from one of the most respected leaders in higher education for the past three decades.

Perhaps it is only fitting then that Dr. Valerie Sheares Ashby, the dean at Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, will replace him on Aug. 1. Becoming yet another trailblazer in the top position the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Ashby will be the first woman to be installed as its president after she was appointed Monday by UMBC’s Board of Regents.

“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. “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.”

Under Hrabowski’s leadership, UMBC has risen to become one of only three R1 institutions in the state, joining Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland. It is one of the nation’s top universities for innovation, so keeping the momentum going was key to her selection by the Board after a long national search. Ashby not only has a track record of advanced scientific creation in biomedicine but also has been instrumental in boosting interest in humanities and other academic fields as well as leading Duke’s transformational fundraising efforts, which eclipsed their targets by $45 million.

“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,” USM Chancellor Jay Perman said. “It’s hard to imagine finding a better fit for a school whose future is as bright as UMBC’s.”

Hrabowski applauded the choice of Ashby, a University of North Carolina grad who became its chemistry department chair before arriving at Duke. Among her other accolades and service there on several councils, she helped to promote students of color and those from low-income backgrounds to consider pursuing doctorates and faculty positions in STEM fields.

“My colleagues and I are thrilled to learn of this great news,” Hrabowski said. “Dr. Ashby is nationally known as a chemist and as a proven academic leader across the liberal arts and sciences. We are very fortunate to have attracted such a talented visionary executive.”

Hrabowski will depart with a mountain of accolades, including being named one of the Top 100 most influential people of the world by TIME magazine in 2012, as well as turning UMBC from a little-known university into a national power in STEM and teaching. Now it will be up to Ashby to continue that tradition.

“UMBC is a jewel—nationally and internationally recognized for its innovative teaching and pathbreaking research,” Board Chair Linda Gooden said. “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.”

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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