Juliette Bell, provost of Central State University in Ohio, was named Wednesday as president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Bell, a biochemist, replaces Thelma Thompson, who is retiring after nine years at the historically black university. Bell, appointed by regents of the University System of Maryland, starts work July 1.
Thompson steered UMES out of a regulatory crisis. The university had been deemed “a low-performing institution” by state regulators when she arrived, according to a university release, and it was threatened with closure. Thompson led an overhaul of academic programs, raising their standards; during her tenure, the number of degree programs accredited in their respective disciplines rose from four to 26, according to UMES.
Bell has worked to raise the number of minority scientists, at the Ohio institution and in her previous post as interim provost at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina. At Central State, Bell is credited with creating the university’s first College of Science and Engineering, and with developing the University College with a mission of improving retention of freshmen and transfer students. She also led the introduction of the university’s first online courses.
In a telephone interview, Bell said she would strive to be a president “who is willing to listen, and to work with the faculty, the staff, the community, to make the institution better and to continue on the path to excellence it has already embarked upon.”
Bell is an African American woman in a field with comparatively few African American scholars.
“They need to see students like themselves who are successes,” she said. Part of the challenge, she said, is “getting students into classes, and into labs, and summer experiences, where they get to experience science and to understand that you don’t have to be a genius to understand science.”
Bell was born in Talladega, Ala., and was the first in her family to attend college. She earned a doctorate in chemistry at Atlanta University, now Clark-Atlanta University, and a post-doctorate in biochemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She taught at Fayetteville State University and rose to provost there before taking the interim post at Winston-Salem State.
She was featured — along with astronaut Mae Jameson and former surgeon general Jocelyn Elders — in a Chicago museum exhibit on African American women in science and technology.
UMES has about 4,500 students, of whom roughly three-quarters are African American, according to federal data. The six-year graduation rate has ranged from 32 percent to 38 percent in recent years.
In a recent analysis of graduation rates for historically black institutions, aided by data from the Education Trust, I found that UMES outperformed demographically similar schools in its completion rate. The Eastern Shore campus had an average completion rate of 36 percent for a three-year period studied, while similar colleges had an average graduation rate of 31 percent.
This story has been updated.