UMBC names its first female president, Valerie Sheares Ashby, as replacement for long-serving Freeman A. Hrabowski III

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County announced Valerie Sheares Ashby will serve as its new president starting Aug. 1, becoming the first female to fill this role at the university.

Ashby, who currently serves as the dean of Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, received her appointment as UMBC’s sixth chief executive from the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. She will take over for Freeman A. Hrabowski III, who is retiring from the university after 30 years as president.

Dr. Valerie Sheares Ashby currently serves as the dean of Duke University’s Trinity College of Arts & Sciences and will start at UMBC Aug. 1.

“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.”

Prior to arriving at Duke, Ashby worked at the University of North Carolina, where she served on the university’s Arts & Sciences Foundation Board of Directors and Research Advisory Council as well as chaired the College of Arts & Sciences Faculty Diversity Task Force. Additionally, she directed the UNC National Science Foundation Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, which works to help underrepresented students in STEM achieve doctoral degrees.


In her present role, Ashby works to increase investment in Duke’s humanities and social science departments.

“Dr. Ashby is clearly the impressive scholar and dynamic leader we need to build on the strong foundation of inclusive excellence at UMBC,” said Linda R. Gooden, the university’s board chair. “UMBC is a jewel — nationally and internationally recognized for its innovative teaching and pathbreaking research. 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.”

Ashby, 55, said her work as president will be not to import her own vision for the university but to further the actions already taking place at UMBC.

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She said the institution has been “redefining excellence in higher education through an inclusive culture,” a testament to how UMBC has helped students achieve success in fields where they may be underrepresented.

Under the university’s new status as an R1 research institution — a classification developed by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education that recognizes ”very high research activity” — and the continuance of Hrabowski’s legacy, Ashby said she hopes to bolster research efforts across all disciplines in both undergraduate and graduate levels.

“We don’t need to redefine their vision; we need to live fully into it,” Ashby said. “And if we do, oh my goodness, [UMBC] will be even even further down this road of redefining excellence in higher education.”

Despite Hrabowski’s upcoming retirement, Ashby said he will continue to be one of her main mentors and role models. Following his longtime stint as president, she said, is a humbling privilege and a responsibility. There’s no room to ponder the pressure of filling his shoes.

The same goes for being both the first female president as well as the first woman of color president, Ashby said, especially as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the creation of Title IX, a U.S. civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in schools.


For her, this is an opportunity to be a role model to her students, faculty and staff.

“The mentor piece is an important part of my life, and so that’s another thing that is attractive to me about UMBC — this really committed mentorship of the students where we really think about how do we maximize their success,” Ashby said. “If I can sit in that place and be that person for somebody else, that is thrilling to me.”