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Black women are changing the narrative surrounding diversity in higher education and making history in the process. Amongst those breaking barriers in academia is Dr. Valerie Sheares Ashby. She has been selected by the University System of Maryland Board of Regents to serve as the next president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

The appointment is historic as it marks the first time in the institution’s history that a woman will be at its helm. Ashby—who currently serves as the dean of Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences—has been a fierce advocate for diversity and inclusion. The North Carolina native—who earned her B.A. and Ph.D. degrees in chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and led her postdoctoral research in Germany—has dedicated her work to increasing underrepresented groups within the STEM space.

Before her tenure at Duke, she was the chair of the University of North Carolina’s chemistry department. Ashby was also part of the institution’s Research Advisory Council and Arts & Sciences Foundation Board of Directors. She also served as the chair of the university’s College of Arts & Sciences Faculty Diversity Task Force and led the UNC National Science Foundation Alliance for Graduate Education.

Jay A. Perman, USM Chancellor, said Ashby “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.” She is slated to officially take on the position on August 1. Ashby succeeds Freeman Hrabowski, who has been president of the institution for three decades. Her appointment comes as there is a need for greater racial and gender representation amongst leaders in higher education.

Ashby says she’s honored to step into the new role, having received several prestigious accolades and awards for her chemistry-centered research.

“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,” she shared in a statement. “I have tremendous respect for all the members of the UMBC community and am looking forward to working in partnership with the students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends who are the heart of this institution.”


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