Bell takes UMES reins
New UMES President Juliette Bell answers questions from high school students from the Upward Bound program from Somerset and Wicomico counties on her first day as president Tuesday. / Todd Dudek/the daily times
Written by Deborah Gates
PRINCESS ANNE (July 3, 2012) — Juliette Bell hit the ground, well, talking, on her first day at the office as the 15th president at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Her morning was punctilious: two hours of conference calls with her boss and counterparts at other universities in the University System of Maryland, signing documents, greeting supporters in her second-floor office of J.T. Williams Hall, then accommodating media interviews and photographers.
Her pace picked up in the afternoon, crossing a section of the sprawling campus in stifling heat for a firsthand look at a group of high school students the university is grooming for college.
Her message underscored a priority already set for her administration.
“One of my priorities is to ensure that students are successful,” Bell told students from area high schools enrolled in the summer Upward Bound educational enrichment program. “I want to increase the graduation and retention rate; I hope (students) stay and graduate on time.”
All disciplines of higher education matter, but the biochemist and educator who counts DNA-genetic research among her scientific undertakings took the opportunity to remind students of promising career paths tied to program offerings at the 4,500-student university in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM.
“I am pleased to have the opportunity to be here at UMES, where there is a strong set of STEM programs,” she said. “I hope you will consider UMES when coming to college.”
Bell, 57, joins UMES as its fourth female leader after three years at Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio, where she was provost and chief academic officer. At Central State, she is credited with restructuring academic colleges that created the first College of Science and Engineering, develop an academic unit to support the retention rate for freshmen and transfer students and overseeing the university’s first online courses.
In an interview, she underscored the national emphasis on STEM disciplines in higher education. But Bell also wants to maintain a necessary balance between science and technology and the arts and professionals.
“Everybody recognizes that with rapidly advancing technology, we need training in STEM background,” Bell said. “My background will help support the entire university, but I know the value of the arts, humanities and social sciences.”
She comes as UMES launches searches for two cabinet positions: vice president for academic affairs to replace Charles Williams, who recently resigned to become a UMES professor; and vice president for institutional advancement, replacing Gains Hawkins, who is retiring in August.
Della Dameron-Johnson, an assistant professor in English and modern language at UMES, was impressed that Bell took the time to visit and encourage Upward Bound students in her drama class.
“I’ve been here 36 years and worked under five presidents, and it was a privilege that she would come and visit students and me,” Dameron-Johnson said. “We were delighted to hear about her history and upbringing in Alabama. These students may be from Princess Anne or Salisbury, but with hard work and a good education, they can go as far as she has gone. As a scientist, she realizes that STEM is important. But I’m sure the arts is as important.”
Even from the humblest of backgrounds, success is attainable, Bell told the students.
“I chopped cotton — I grew up on a farm,” said Bell, a wife, mother and grandmother who grew up on a farm in Talladega, Ala. “I was the first in my family to go to college. I earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and was one of two African-American women in the country (at the time) to get a Ph.D. in chemistry.”
Terrance Hopkins, a senior at James M. Bennett High School in Salisbury, liked Bell’s up-close and personal, user-friendly style. He had selected another college to start at this fall, but after hearing Bell, is rethinking the decision.
“UMES was my second choice,” Hopkins said after the talk. “The new president is real easy to talk to. I want to study sports medicine, I’m thinking.”
This article appeared in The (Salisbury, MD) Daily Times and is reproduced with the newspaper's permission.