May 2024

State of University Address Reveals Campus Vibrancy Plan

May 7, 2024    |  

During his State of the University address May 1 at the M&T Bank Exchange, University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) President Bruce E. Jarrell, MD, FACS, led the audience on a “tour” around West Baltimore and laid out his vision for a vibrant University and city.

First stop: the Hippodrome Theatre that adjoins the “jewel” of a building the 525 attendees were sitting in and was in a state of disrepair 40 years ago, now restored with the help of UMB. Jarrell took the audience members down a few blocks to the remodeled CFG Bank Arena, where he recently attended a sold-out concert on a Tuesday night.

President Jarrell speaks with an AI avatar during the State of the University Address.

President Jarrell speaks with an AI avatar during the State of the University Address.

“It ended at 10:30 and let out about the same time as the Hippodrome. You couldn’t walk, the streets were crowded, people were excited,” he said. “Maybe something good is happening around here.”

(See photo gallery below.)

Jarrell envisions this same vibrancy — a place with culture, activity, and engagement — for the Lexington Street area of UMB’s campus, which sits near the remodeled Lexington Market. He announced that UMB is engaging private developers to convert the Lexington Street area into housing, stores, and research space for UMB students, faculty, staff, and others. UMB has created a development plan with consultants.

“We’d like to see this develop into an area that resembles a ‘College Town USA’ kind of atmosphere, an exciting place to be,” he said. “And we think we will be successful.”

Nearby sits Metro West, a building on Saratoga Street that has been vacant for 10 years.

“We’re very pleased that the Maryland Department of Health just next year is going to be moving into the Metro West building. That’s 1,200 people working there,” Jarrell said. “You can imagine how all of the people working there will flood Lexington Market, will give vibrancy to our campus.”

Behind Lexington Market, he said, UMB is making safety a priority on Eutaw Street and working to help people in need there through the EMBRACE initiative.

“The purpose is to get resources to people on the street to give them hope for their future,” he said.

School of Social Work Building

UMB will be constructing a new School of Social Work building, expected to open in 2027, in this area of campus at West Lexington and North Greene streets. Emphasizing the University’s commitment to sustainability, the building will include solar panels, geothermal energy, and green space.

“The important part about this area of development is that not only the School of Social Work but all of our schools will be immediately adjoining the Maryland Department of Health. There will be opportunity there and we will be able to influence them in positive ways and will become much closer to them,” he said. “This will add to UMB’s vibrancy.”

Next stop: the UMB BioPark and the nearly completed 4MLK building that will house the largest cluster of bioscience companies in the Greater Baltimore region.

“This building changes the landscape in a very dramatic way,” Jarrell said of 4MLK, adding that life sciences programs and a new joint bioengineering program with the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) are expected to be housed there.

He said the BioPark has given the University an anchor in West Baltimore that allows UMB to help the community and highlighted three programs: the UMB Community Engagement Center; the Live Near Your Work Program, a homebuying assistance program for employees; and a new population health initiative with the University of Maryland Medical Center that extends north of the BioPark to a clinical site at Mondawmin Mall.

He acknowledged that some people may be doubtful that the Lexington and Saratoga street areas can be transformed, but he pointed out that this type of vision has already come to fruition at the BioPark. Then-UMB President David Ramsay, DM, DPhil, envisioned the BioPark 20 years ago and faced doubters, too.

“There were a lot of people who said that nobody or no business would move across MLK Boulevard into the BioPark,” Jarrell said. “And now just look around. It’s become an essential part of this University, a West Campus, if you will. And it has been the enabler, the anchor for other programs that have enriched the local community. One advance has led to another and another in the BioPark. That’s what the BioPark has done: advance the community along with the buildings and other technology that’s developed there.

“Now I know there will be doubters that we can do this. They’ll say nobody will invest in this location. I disagree with them. I’m betting that people will. I’m sure that they will see the potential of this and the connection to our University and the vibrancy as a result of that.”

Face to Face with AI

Before the “tour,” Jarrell opened his speech with an often-humorous conversation with “Aisha,” a Chatbot GPT, highlighting the work that UMB is doing but showing some of the limitations of artificial intelligence (AI). Aisha brought up UMB’s “dogtorate” degree ceremony last year in which the University honored service and therapy dogs and their handlers.

“That story garnered 1.8 billion impressions. That’s billion with a B. That means many people saw the story. You got $25 million in free publicity,” she said, adding to laughter, “UMB should continue to give degrees to dogs.”

Jarrell, of course, said the University is not motivated by “likes” or the desire to be “trending” but by its impact on people’s health and well-being. He recalled hearing a speech by science fiction author Isaac Asimov and a quote that stuck with him that is applicable today to AI: “Science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

“We should not be afraid of technology, of new discoveries,” Jarrell said. “Instead, we should embrace them and make sure that we control them, not they control us. She made me think, ‘Are we evolving fast enough as a university? Are we keeping up with Aisha and her kind? What is our strategy? How does she fit into our mission to improve the human condition?’ ”

UMB has started using AI in several programs including the University of Maryland Institute for Health Computing, a collaboration among the School of Medicine, the University of Maryland Medical System, and UMCP that uses AI to analyze clinical data to improve human health care.

He pointed out that two UMB schools — the Francis King Carey School of Law and the School of Social Work — have deep expertise in protecting people’s rights and privacy and social scientists to help develop wisdom in using AI.  

“Who better to help us guide our use of AI to benefit society, especially underserved communities, especially Baltimore? That makes UMB a perfect location, a perfect University to ask important social and legal questions as it applies to AI, how to responsibly use it. We just have to be strategic about it.”

‘Beehive of Activity’

During the conversation with Aisha, she asked Jarrell about the recent Supreme Court decision on affirmative action. Jarrell responded that it’s been a focus of leadership meetings as recently as that day.

“But just as we at UMB have persisted in our mission, we will persist in our commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion,” he said. “That work is more important now than it ever has been.”

Jarrell highlighted numerous achievements throughout the schools: the two xenotransplantations done by School of Medicine faculty; the School of Social Work’s B’more for Healthy Babies program; the School of Nursing’s program to boost social inclusion and combat isolation in West Baltimore; and the School of Pharmacy’s first-of-its-kind medical cannabis program. He also talked about students such as the School of Dentistry’s Brian Garner, who is working with underserved patients at the Universities at Shady Grove, and educators such as Larry Gibson, Morton & Sophia Macht Professor of Law, who is retiring this year after educating three generations of law students. The law school recently launched the Gibson-Banks Center for Race and the Law.

Jarrell began his speech by asking Aisha what makes UMB great. She recited statistics such as how many students and employees the University has and told him she would not do his job for him, bringing laughter from the audience. Jarrell interjected with his perspective.

“UMB is great because of the people,” he said. “Everywhere I look at this University, I see a beehive of activity. People are committed to excellence in clinical care, in client care, in scholarly activity, teaching, service. It’s a phenomenal place, and they’re here all hours of the day and night. It’s a way of life here. We’re very fortunate to be at a place like this.”