When I arrived at UMBC last summer, one of the first things I did as president was set up weekly office hours so students could come talk with me about anything that was on their minds. It has been a wonderful way to get to know our students. I’ve heard from them about their homework and their home lives, about the passions that drive their studies and about how UMBC can support them in achieving their goals.
UMBC is a national model for inclusive excellence. Our Meyerhoff Scholars Program set the standard decades ago with its approach to increasing diversity among future leaders in science, technology, engineering and related fields. It has graduated more than 1,400 students since 1993 and has been replicated many times over. Its alumni are pathbreaking scientists, engineers, physicians and scholars in diverse fields, including Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who graduated from UMBC in 2008 and went on to develop the mRNA technology for COVID-19 vaccines.
The Meyerhoff Scholars Program is just one example of our success, and part of why UMBC ranks among the top 10 nationally for undergraduate teaching and has long been named as one of the most innovative universities in the country. In providing research opportunities, mentoring and support for underrepresented students in STEM fields; increasing faculty diversity; and welcoming and inspiring inquiring minds from all backgrounds, we are intentional and insistent upon making changes that we know make a difference.
Moving the needle matters. Inclusive excellence is a deeply held value for me and for UMBC. It’s also a practical matter. Fundamentally, we know that the best solutions come from diverse perspectives, and solving complex human problems demands a diversity of thinkers, expertise and experiences that is fully representative of our society. This isn’t a moral imperative. It’s an excellence imperative.
As I meet more and more alumni of UMBC, I am inspired to see them living our shared values in the workforce and beyond, as graduates who have broken boundaries themselves and are now purposefully opening doors for the next generation. This means jobs, yes, but it’s deeper than that. It’s about creating inclusive environments that value diverse lived experiences, lifting others up and building opportunities for students to succeed. The impact is transformational.
From where I stand, it can begin with a single student feeling welcomed, valued and empowered to start the conversation. Believe me, when they knock on my door, I’m going to answer.
By Dr. Valerie Sheares Ashby, president, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
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