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Dr. Sheares Ashby talks with WJZ about being inaugurated as UMBC's first female president

Dr. Sheares Ashby on being inaugurated as UMBC's first female president
Dr. Sheares Ashby on being inaugurated as UMBC's first female president 04:11

BALTIMORE - University of Maryland, Baltimore County is less than 60 years old. But in that time, it has become an R1 ranked- research powerhouse; among the top four percent of universities worldwide.

Since 1966, there have been five presidents at UMBC.

The last president, Freeman Hrabowski, served for 30 years before his retirement. 

UMBC is about to inaugurate its sixth president – Dr. Valerie Sheares Ashby, who will be the first woman to lead the institution.

She's a chemist, a teacher and is already right at home on campus.

Dr. Sheares Ashby told WJZ there are still disciplines where the numbers are very low for women and people of color, including the science of computing and climate. She's determined to do something about that.

She will be inaugurated April 27.

If you walk the campus with Dr. Ashby, it feels like she knows personally each of UMBC's near 14,000.

She doesn't, of course, but she's determined to try.

"I am people-driven," Dr. Sheares Ashby said. "I care deeply about every single one of those individuals out there, one at a time."

Dr. Sheares Ashby came from Duke where she was Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Before that, she was the chair of the chemistry department at North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Sheares Ashby said she was drawn to UMBC's inclusive culture of excellence.

"We have a vision here that is extraordinary," Dr. Sheares Ashby said. "The moment I read it for the very first time, I felt it in my being, like, this is what I want to be a part of doing."

Dr. Sheares Ashby said what she really liked was that the university was going to "redefine excellence in higher education."

"It says we're going to advance knowledge and it says words like economic prosperity will be advanced and social justice will be advanced," Dr. Sheares Ashby said. "We're going to do this through welcoming and inspiring inquisitive minds of all backgrounds."

On UMBC's campus, you will find students from 100 nations whose flags fly in the student union.

UMBC is 51 percent minority with more male students than female.

It is the home of the nationally-recognized Meyerhoff Program, which aims to increase diversity among future leaders in STEM. 

"The diversity, I've never had that experience before," Dr. Sheares Ashby said. "I mean you walk out on the campus and it is stunning."

If you look at the tables on campus, students engage with other cultures.

Dr. Sheares Ashby's office is open for students on Thursdays, which is unusual for presidents to have office hours.

"Oh see, that's the thing, I know that I'm president but I'm a faculty member," Dr. Sheares Ashby said. "I'm a member of this community. I'm a teacher.

So how does Dr. Sheares Ashby describe her leadership style?

"My job is to help every single one of our faculty, student, staff, community members maximize their experience and become who they want to become to make this world a better place," Dr. Sheares Ashby said.

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