PRINCESS ANNE – Dr. Thelma B. Thompson announced today she will retire on Aug. 15 as president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
“I’ve reached a point in my career here at UMES where I am comfortably saying that I have accomplished what I set out to do,” Dr. Thompson said. “The time is right for me to move on to the next stage of my life professionally and personally.”
Her decision ends a nine-year tenure at the state’s lone 1890 land-grant university.
Dr. Thompson came to Princess Anne in the summer of 2002 from Norfolk State University in Virginia, where she had been that institution’s top academic policymaker. She immediately became a visible and forceful voice for change and unprecedented growth.
At that time, UMES was declared a low-performing institution by the Maryland Higher Education Commission. The university was in grave danger of losing its ability to receive federal funding. Because over 90 percent of UMES students receive financial aid, the school was threatened with closure.
Four degree programs met rigorous standards for instruction in their respective disciplines when Dr. Thompson arrived. She made pursuit of accreditation a priority and today 25 of UMES’ academic programs have that coveted peer endorsement.
Stressing academic quality did not go unnoticed by the University System of Maryland’s top leaders.
“As president of UMES, Dr. Thompson focused relentlessly on excellence,” USM Chancellor William E. Kirwan said. “Under her guidance, the university introduced new and unique programs that have both widened opportunities for students and enhanced the region’s and the state’s growth and economic development. UMES has earned and maintained critical academic program accreditations and has consistently earned U.S. News & World Report’s ranking as one of the country’s best historically black institutions.
“President Thompson also has instilled a culture of entrepreneurship, enabling the institution to innovate and enhance its excellence and impact. I know the entire USM community joins me in thanking President Thompson for her visionary leadership and wishing her success as she embarks on the next phase of her life,” Kirwan said.
Clifford M. Kendall, chair of USM’s Board of Regents, said the state and UMES have benefitted from Dr. Thompson’s leadership.
“On behalf of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, I thank President Thompson for her outstanding service to UMES, USM, and the state of Maryland,” Kendall said.
“Without a doubt, UMES has thrived under her nine years of leadership, earning national recognition for its wide array of programs, including engineering and aviation science, construction-management technology, hotel and restaurant management, professional golf management, and its new doctoral program in pharmacy.” Kendall said.
Just 13 people have led UMES, an historically black institution, and Dr. Thompson’s time in the leadership role ranks as fifth longest. She is the second woman to be president.
Jesse T. Williams Sr., UMES’ Board of Visitors chair, said Dr. Thompson approached the job with a “laser-like focus on academic excellence. That and her insistence on academic integrity are hallmarks of her tenure.”
“Her emphasis on securing accreditation for nearly two dozen academic programs, the globalization of the curriculum; unprecedented fund-raising and securing grants and sponsored research cement her legacy,” Williams said.
Since Dr. Thomson assumed the presidency, UMES has enjoyed unprecedented popularity. Student enrollment grew at a record pace, increasing by 25 percent during her time as the university’s top administrator. Colleagues at peer institutions have consistently ranked UMES in the upper tier of Historically Black Colleges and Universities in an annual magazine survey conducted by U.S. News & World Report.
Dr. Thompson’s decision to step down this summer coincides with the successful conclusion of a seven-year campaign to raise a record $14 million, with endowed scholarships accounting for a large portion of that total.
That campaign got a major infusion in early March with the university’s 12th annual gala which, again this year, featured the participation of guests from the world of entertainment. Dr. Thompson called it the most successful she has been involved with during her time at UMES.
Among the hallmarks of the Thompson era:
· More than $150 million in external grants and sponsored research funding came to the university to support its land-grant mission.
· UMES became more visible on the national and international stage; the university has some two dozen international linkages that provide faculty and students an opportunity to travel to and interact with educators in other countries. Much of the international work is capacity building, where UMES special employees work within countries, such as the Sudan, to teach and enhance peaceful transitions.
· Introduction of the concept of commercialization and formation of the Hawk Corp., a 501C-3 corporation owned by UMES. This venture enables UMES to conduct entrepreneurial initiatives with collaborative agreements; the university had a hand in developing a satellite launched from a nearby NASA facility and later this month the university will formally announce that its new 17-acre solar-power generating facility on campus is fully operational.
· A long struggle to start a three-year doctor of pharmacy program finally materialized in the fall 2010, when the university admitted its first class of 63 students. When this program is fully implemented in three years, it will sustain itself financially.
· UMES became the nation’s first HBCU to establish an undergraduate degree program in collaboration with the PGA of America to produce graduates with the playing and business skills to work at golf resorts and related venues. The first class will graduate in 2012.
· A new building for engineering and related disciplines is on the drawing board and is expected to move to the formal planning and construction phases.
Dr. Thompson, a naturalized American citizen from Jamaica, is a life-long educator who graduated with honors from Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she earned all three of her degrees. She is a published author and recognized in education circles as a leading proponent of accreditation and accountability, and setting high academic expectations for college students. UMES raises its entrance requirements during her tenure.