In 1999, the Public Affairs Scholars Program was created by then Provost, and current program Director, Dr. Arthur Johnson, to attract the very best students with interests in public affairs to UMBC, and to make them aware of the opportunities available in public service. Building on UMBC’s strengths in the humanities and social sciences, Public Affairs Scholars would learn about public policy, service, and gain experiences crucial to improving society. The first Director was Dr. Roy Meyers, UMBC Department of Political Science, who designed many aspects of the program, encouraging scholars towards internships, research, and leadership positions on and off campus.
Beginning in 2002, a successful multi-million dollar campaign was begun to endow the Public Affairs Scholars Program as the Walter Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars Program. In 2005, a statue of Sondheim was unveiled and the former social sciences building was re-named in honor of Walter Sondheim, Jr. and his late wife, Janet. "Walter Sondheim embodies the values that the UMBC community treasures most," said UMBC President Freeman A. Hrabowski, III. "He is a visionary leader who cares deeply about children, families and education in Baltimore. The statue and building we dedicate in his honor will stand for a long time. But a more fitting and lasting tribute will be the Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars who bear his name as they serve the public and make a difference to generations to come."
Over one hundred students have participated in the Sondheim Public Affairs Scholars Program, receiving scholarship and mentoring support. Alumni have gone on to top law and graduate schools across the U.S. and abroad, and serve the community as policy analysts, lawyers, social workers, justice activists, environmental experts, corporate leaders and teachers. Sondheim Scholars continue Janet and Walter Sondheim’s commitment to social justice and public service, embodying UMBC’s vision—to integrate research, teaching and learning, and civic engagement so that each advances the other for the benefit of society.