This week, UMBC President Valerie Sheares Ashby underscored the importance of higher education and how UMBC and the broader University System of Maryland (USM) are working to make education accessible for all at the inaugural iMPACT Maryland event.
“We know what education does to change families, generations, and economic prosperity in communities,” Sheares Ashby said during the event’s “Empowering Dreams: Advancing Education for All in Maryland” panel discussion. “We need to think about access and affordability. We need to work with our schools to think about what the pathways are for students who cannot even imagine this is for them or cannot imagine that they can afford [college].”
The day-long event, hosted by the Baltimore Banner at the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, featured numerous discussions detailing the various challenges that are affecting Maryland residents and how industry leaders across many sectors are identifying opportunities for growth and innovation.
Sheares Ashby was joined by fellow panelists Kurt Schmoke, president of the University of Baltimore; Melanie Perreault, interim president of Towson University; David Wilson, president of Morgan State University; Sonja Brookins Santelises, chief executive officer of Baltimore City Schools; and Tierra Dorsey, president of the Central Scholarship Bureau. The discussion highlighted the obstacles students encounter at all levels and how Maryland’s education leaders are working to prepare students to thrive in and out of the classroom.
“If you look at the mission statement for the USM, it uses words like equity, justice, and doing research and scholarship to improve lives. That’s the same vision and mission we have at UMBC,” Sheares Ashby said.
The event also included conversations with keynote speakers Governor Wes Moore and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. Gov. Moore discussed the statewide initiatives his office is working to achieve. He made note of his investment into the Baltimore region, saying “in order for it to be Maryland’s decade, it’s got to be Baltimore’s time.”
Sec. Buttigieg spoke at length about the Biden Administration’s plans to reduce the impacts of climate change, which was temporarily interrupted by a protest organized by a local climate activist group.
Diversity concerns in higher education
When asked about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that ended race-conscious admission programs at colleges and universities, Sheares Ashby shared that the “devastating decision” will not stop the ongoing work that UMBC is doing to create an environment of inclusive excellence for all students.
“UMBC has not had race-based admissions for decades, and we have an incredibly diverse student body. We have done that because we actually believe that excellence without diversity does not exist,” said Sheares Ashby. “We are trying to deliver a world-class education, and it is impossible to deliver a world-class education without different perspectives, different experiences, and being from different backgrounds. You cannot solve the world’s problems without a diverse group of people at the table.”
Advancing AI scholarship
iMPACT Maryland also included discussions with leaders in the Baltimore region working in areas such as healthcare, entertainment, youth gun violence prevention, and technology. Throughout several of the discussions, presenters and audience participants alike mentioned the rising worries associated with artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
“AI is scary…but the science is beautiful. At UMBC, we are taking a scholarly approach of getting in front of this and thinking about the unintended consequences. We have more students who want to study computing, information systems, and all those disciplines where AI and all of these new technologies are growing,” explains Sheares Ashby. “As scholars and researchers, we see this as pure opportunity, but we also see it as a responsibility to get in front of some of those unintended consequences.”
Read the Baltimore Banner’s key takeaways from iMPACT Maryland 2023 here.