The state of Maryland places great value on public higher education. This tradition is among the many factors that drove my decision to return to Maryland as chancellor of the University System of Maryland. 

The general public embraces the notion of a university system in Maryland that is proactive and responsive to state needs.

These beliefs were confirmed earlier this fall as I embarked upon a “listening tour” across Maryland, one that entailed 900 miles in four days. By asking a number of key questions, I gained insights that will help direct my actions as chancellor going forward as we arrive at the end of this first academic semester.

In Western Maryland, home to Frostburg State University, I had an opportunity to meet with community and business leaders interested in seeing the USM enhance its role as an economic engine in the region. The potential for leadership in the energy sector was actively discussed, with traditional sources such as coal and natural gas highlighted alongside renewable sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, biofuel, and others. With FSU being home to the Sustainable Energy Research Facility, a 6,300-square-foot, off-the-grid facility, Western Maryland has the potential to be at the epicenter of the next energy revolution.

In a meeting with the External Advisory Board of the University System of Maryland Hagerstown, we talked about how to expand the role of that higher education center as both an educational and economic engine. It was suggested that adding to the stable of programs already offered there, perhaps with an emphasis on the STEM disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, would simultaneously attract more students, elevate the USMH “brand,” and help add to the revitalization of Hagerstown overall.

I also had the opportunity to meet with representatives from Maryland’s budding wine industry who see a more robust cooperative extension system as key to the industry’s success. We discussed the need for cooperative extension filed personnel to work in consort with Maryland wineries to help them succeed and for relevant university-based research programs — plant pathology, soil sciences, etc. — to support the industry. Cooperative extension, a key part of the land-grant mission since 1914, has suffered cutbacks in recent years. In the wake of my conversations, I see this as an issue we need to revisit.

I thank the men and women of Western Maryland who took the time to meet with me, share their thoughts, and help me better understand the future envisioned for the region. Virtually everyone I spoke with expressed admiration for the USM and a desire to see our impact intensified going forward.

Of course, the USM’s ability to meet the specific needs of Western Maryland, as well as broader statewide needs, will largely be dictated by our funding level. With state support accounting for approximately 25 percent of the USM’s budget, we will not be able to meet these expectations without a firm commitment from our partners in Annapolis. The USM’s commitment is strong, but we need funding to build the capacity to meet expectations.

It is quite apparent to me that Maryland wouldn’t be the state it is today without the USM. Moreover, Maryland will never be the state it wants to be without the USM. We are an investment in this state’s future.

Robert Caret, chancellor

University System of Maryland

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