UMBC was born amid the turbulent swirl of the 1960s, and we had to cut our
own path in a field of older, established institutions.
From the beginning, we believed that a university could be innovative, interdisciplinary,
inclusive – and great. We believed that ground-breaking research and a relentless
focus on undergraduate success could go hand-in-hand.
We still do. To this day, our faculty, staff and students work and create
outside traditional structures. We re-imagine and build. It’s no coincidence
that UMBC had the first university research park in Maryland, dedicated to
growing ideas into thriving businesses. And it’s no coincidence that we are
consistently cited most recently, by U.S. News & World Report
as one of the best universities for undergraduate teaching and a leading
innovator in higher education.
But don’t take it from other people. Make your own call.
Photo credit: Imaging Research Center Director Dan Bailey
A big idea.
UMBC took its own path from the beginning but it hit its stride almost
25 years ago with one big idea. The university dared to dream that it could
find a radically better way to educate African-American men in science, technology,
engineering and math.
With support from the philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff, the now-renowned
Meyerhoff Scholars Program was born.
Today, more African-American bachelor’s degree recipients go on from UMBC
to earn Ph.D.’s in the STEM fields than from any other predominantly white
university in the country. The Meyerhoff Program has a lot of other impressive
numbers to its name. But, more importantly, its changing the culture.
Take it from Isaac Matthews, a Meyerhoff alum now pursuing a Ph.D. at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology: "There are more black doctors than
there are basketball players, but you don't see the image. As the numbers
increase, as you have more black engineers, professors, that image can be
defeated by the numbers."
Over the years, the Meyerhoff program has grown to include women and students
of all races who are dedicated to promoting the success of underrepresented
groups in the sciences. The program has also grown into a leading model for
diversifying America’s scientific and engineering workforce.
Or as The New York Times put it: “The upstart campus in the pasture
is rocking the house when it comes to the increasingly critical mission of
turning American college students into scientists.”
The ambition and success of the Meyerhoff program ensured
UMBC would never settle for the norm when it comes to our students’ educations.
The Meyerhoff program taught us the value of tough love. But that doesn’t
mean a sink or swim mentality. Across the university, UMBC faculty combine
high expectations for all students with unflagging support that empowers them
to reach their potential.
At the beginning of the year, faculty introduce students to their scholarly
passions and the rigor of a research university through small-group, first-year
Student success depends not just on intelligence and perseverance, but also
on engagement and affiliation with the campus community. UMBC offers first-year
success courses and transfer student seminars that connect students with campus
groups and services. And unlike many student success courses, UMBC’s are directly
tied to students’ course of study.
UMBC is also committed to steadfast support for graduate students. PROMISE
is an NSF-funded, UMBC-led alliance dedicated to increasing the number and
diversity of Ph.D. graduates in STEM fields who go on to academic careers,
modeled off the Meyerhoff Scholars Program.
The UMBC experience: We ask a lot, and we help students find their intellectual
and social home.
When you bring together spectacular students, sometimes they learn as much
from each other as they do in a lecture. Today, that’s the theory behind all
of UMBC’s active learning spaces.
It started in 2005 with the Chemistry Discovery Center. Frustrated with
low participation and low grades in lecture-based classes, two chemistry professors
had an idea: what if students had a problem-based, high-tech learning lab
focused on cooperative learning? The Chemistry Discovery Center was born.
Five years later grades were up dramatically, as was the number of students
majoring in chemistry. Kuntal Patel ’11, chemistry and psychology, describes
it best: “You’re not going to understand something until you actually apply
Following this triumph, we had just one question: Why not try it in other
courses? Enter CASTLE, the brand-new active learning space for the College
of Natural and Mathematical Sciences. CASTLE is multidisciplinary in a given
semester students studying math, biology and physics will all use it.
And don’t think this model is limited to the sciences. Active learning has
long been part of the arts and humanities, but we’re still finding ways to
push it further. When our new Performing Arts & Humanities building opens
next fall, it will feature writing centers that push students of all disciplines
to engage with each other around the written word.
Learning by doing. It’s a cornerstone of the UMBC experience.
Every day, our students reimagine what their community can become.
Undergraduates are empowered to shape UMBC’s future through Prove-IT, an
annual competition that offers teams up to $10,000 to design and implement
an innovative project that improves the UMBC community. In 2010 the winner
was UMBC Biodiesel, a group that found a way to convert UMBC’s cooking oil
waste into eco-friendly fuel for campus transit.
Others come to UMBC with the drive to build connections off campus. They find
a home in the Orser Center for the Study of Place, Community, and Culture, a
new center for the research and preservation of Baltimore communities. “Baltimore
is a city that’s in so much need of love and understanding,” says Ed Orser,
professor emeritus of American studies and the center’s namesake.
A number of graduate students come to UMBC with an already well-developed
passion for service and engagement, seeking new directions and opportunities.
Why UMBC? Our Shriver Peaceworker Felllows Program offers a select graduate
school experience for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers working to tackle the
challenges facing our central cities.
Retrievers aren’t simply active in community life, they create community
life and they graduate with the confidence and skills to lead meaningful
When we say we offer space to create, we don’t just mean it metaphorically.
UMBC built Maryland’s first university research and technology park, bwtech@UMBC,
on 71 acres on and near campus. It’s now home to more than 100 companies, and still others have thrived and moved off campus. Companies benefit from the park’s collegial
environment, shared facilities and collaborations with faculty at UMBC.
The Maryland economy and UMBC students benefit too. After all, companies
in the park frequently hire UMBC students as interns, and graduates as full-time
employees. A few alums have even started their own companies there. And more
than a few got the spark to build a business while at UMBC.
The Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship encourages that kind of thinking.
The center opened six years ago, with the aim of becoming the Baltimore region’s
leading university entrepreneurship program. It’s well on its way.
The center recently received a gift from the Kauffman Foundation to infuse
entrepreneurship throughout UMBC’s curriculum. Three faculty fellows, one
from each college, lead the way. They serve as idea keepers, champions and
mentors to the campus community.
To get inspired, we need look no further than our professors.
We take student research as seriously as the Army takes basic training.
Take chemistry professor Mike Summers. If students in his lab don’t ask enough
questions, he makes them drop and give him 20.
That rigor is a big reason why undergraduates working with Summers, a Howard
Hughes Medical Institute investigator, have been published in prestigious
journals like Science. Rigorous research isn’t just for Summers’ students.
It spans all disciplines, majors, schools and interests.
From dance to math to political science, our students share a passion for
knowledge that leads them to research, scholarship and creative work throughout
their undergraduate careers. Students strive to win Undergraduate Research
Awards, which provide up to $1,500 for an original project.
But that’s just the beginning. Students transform their discoveries and
creations into fully-developed and professional presentations, performances,
exhibitions, demonstrations and film screenings. They present their research
at the annual Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Day, which featured
230 undergraduate students last year. Still others publish in the UMBC Review,
the university’s journal of undergraduate research.
Such endeavors are more than one-time experiences. They’re springboards
into graduate school and rewarding careers.
UMBC’s unofficial motto: “Success is never final.” We always keep working
at it. As part of that work, we leverage our strengths to expand opportunities.
Our Department of Theatre, for example, is a perennial star in the Kennedy
Center American College Theater Festival. Seven UMBC productions have been
invited to the stage of the Kennedy Center, most recently in 2011 with a performance
of Las Meninas by Lynn Nottage.
In 2006, the department decided to use its powerhouse position to develop
new stage roles for women. The result: GRRL PARTS, an annual festival that
asks playwrights to create dramas featuring women as the leads. Those roles
provide female students the opportunity to act as complex characters in a
field still often dominated by male roles.
Similarly, UMBC’s Center for Women In Technology provides substantial, four-year
undergraduate scholarships to talented men and women who support women's full
involvement in information technology. UMBC’s ACTiVATE program takes that
work off campus, helping women develop companies in the technology field.
More than 30 new companies have been created through the year-long program,
and more than 100 women have been trained to date.
From theatre to IT, we don’t just exploit opportunities. We create them.
By now, you know that the Meyerhoff Scholars Program can claim more than
a few success stories. And it’s led to some far-reaching changes on our campus.
But we thought, why stop there?
President Obama has challenged the country to regain its position as the
mostly highly-educated country in the world. The United States now ranks 16th
among members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
for the percentage of young adults with college degrees. And the problem is
particularly acute in science, technology, engineering and math.
Could UMBC build a recipe for success that others could adapt? The Meyerhoff
program is successful, but costly limiting the number of students that similar
programs could reach. So, researchers at UMBC are working to identify the
most crucial and cost-effective aspects of the program. The National Science
Foundation has gotten behind the work, giving UMBC a grant to examine four
different types of student supports. The study will run through 2012.
And we’re soon to launch other exciting national initiatives. So stay tuned