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President Stresses Importance of Multicultural Community, Striving for Excellence
Photo by John T. Consoli
From faculty and staff honors to student achievements to the promise of new educational technology, University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines heralded recent Terp excellence while focusing on UMD’s problem-solving determination during his State of the Campus address today.
“Universities can—and must—leverage our resources to take on the great issues of our time,” Pines told the University Senate and other faculty, staff and students in the Colony Ballroom at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union.
He touted UMD faculty members’ growing presence in elite honorary societies: The university now boasts a record 67 members of national academies, including eight new inductees last year and three in 2023, as well as 49 members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Five faculty and staff members were also recently named inaugural Aspen Index Impact Fellows, who will work to advance the future of youth leadership development. Additionally, Pines highlighted two University System of Maryland Regents’ Staff Award winners: one who supports student nutrition and another who boosts diversity in computing on campus.
The university even has an Oscar nominee on its faculty to root for during this weekend’s 95th Academy Awards: Distinguished University Professor of Biology Sean B. Carroll was an executive producer of “All That Breathes,” a film about two brothers who nurse injured birds back to health in New Delhi, which is nominated for best documentary feature.
The record of success extends to UMD students and recent grads, Pines said. Terps recently earned prestigious Churchill and George J. Mitchell scholarships, while four alums landed on the 2023 Forbes 30 Under 30 lists. Undergraduates also excelled at the prestigious—and notoriously difficult—annual William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition, where they placed fourth out of 456 schools and first among public institutions. And just last weekend, UMD Fencing Club member Noah Hanssen ‘23 won three medals at USA Fencing’s 2023 March North American Cup and Parafencing National Championships.
Graduates from Summer and Winter 2022 and Spring 2023 will celebrate their achievements in May at commencement, with Gayle King ’76, broadcast journalist for CBS News, delivering remarks as speaker, Pines also announced.
With Terps continually building on UMD’s excellence and cutting-edge research, the university “is not only advancing our understanding of the world,” Pines said, “but also has a direct impact on society, creating new technologies, discovering new cures and addressing some of the most pressing grand challenges of our time.”
He then surprised the audience by revealing those words were written by ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot that recently rocketed to prominence for its ability to answer prompts with detailed responses that are hard to discern from something a human might write. While the technology presents an educational challenge, he said, it also opens learning opportunities.
“ChatGPT is the newest of our tools,” Pines said, and like the calculator and Zoom, we should explore its potential rather than being scared of it.
Another grand challenge UMD is facing squarely is gun violence, with the recent fatal shooting at Michigan State providing a “stark reminder” of its costs, Pines said. In 2022, he and George Mason University President Gregory Washington, along with colleagues from other Washington, D.C.-area universities, launched the 120 Initiative, named for the number of people who die on average each day from gun violence in the U.S. Last week, he gathered with experts at the initiative’s first regional conference.
“It was an exciting moment to have that many thoughtful, dedicated individuals focused on an issue of such importance in our country,” Pines said. “This is where we can make a difference.”
Pines also outlined UMD’s signature initiative for tackling society’s most pressing issues: the Grand Challenges Grants program, which recently awarded $30 million to fund research into pandemics, racism, threats to democracy and more. The winning projects in the institutional award category are “Addressing Climate Change for a Sustainable Earth,” led by Distinguished University Professor of Physics Ellen Williams; “Maryland Initiative or Literacy and Equity (MILE),” led by Associate Professor of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology Donald Bolger; and “Global FEWture Alliance: Food-Energy-Water Solutions for a Changing Climate,” led by MPower Professor of Environmental Health Amy Sapkota. Each will receive $3 million over three years with the goal of establishing a new center, institute or college or school, and 47 other projects received smaller funding amounts as well to bring UMD research to bear on a range of problems.
A multicultural community with diverse perspectives is one of the keys to solving a host of challenges, Pines said. The university recently honored that commitment by naming the new School of Public Policy building after late civil rights lawyer and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who played a central role in desegregating the university. Inclusion efforts on campus must continue, Pines stressed.
“We need to make sure we keep working at this—all the time,” he said. “We need to model diversity, we need to champion diversity, and we need to reflect on all of our history.”
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