Welcoming the Sixth President of UMBC

University of Maryland, Baltimore County

2023 Inauguration Festivities for Dr. Valerie Sheares-Ashby

Event Design

Event Management

Experiential Production

Graphic Design

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) is a public research university located in the suburban community of Catonsville, just outside Baltimore, Maryland. Established in 1966, UMBC has grown into a leading institution renowned for its rigorous academic programs, innovative research, and commitment to inclusive excellence. With a diverse student body of over 13,000 students, UMBC has consistently ranked among the top universities for undergraduate teaching and innovation.

Throughout its history, UMBC has been guided by visionary leaders who have propelled the university to national prominence. The university’s fifth president, Freeman A. Hrabowski III, served from 1992 to 2022 and was instrumental in transforming UMBC into a powerhouse of STEM education and research, particularly known for the success of its Meyerhoff Scholars Program, which significantly increased the number of underrepresented minorities earning PhDs in science and engineering fields.

The Challenge

The primary challenge for 3 Pillars Co — tasked with organizing the inauguration of UMBC’s sixth president— lies in balancing tradition with innovation. The last inauguration that was produced for UMBC was in 1992 and many, if all, the planning details of this event were not available. Along with inaugurating a new president, the Office of Institutional Advancement was tasked with setting the stage for this tradition.

This entails crafting a series of events, an evening program and a campus celebtration, that honor the university’s rich history and established protocols while also reflecting the dynamic vision and diverse community that UMBC embodies. The evening program and the student festival must be seamlessly integrated into a cohesive celebration that appeals to a broad range of stakeholders, including faculty, students, alumni, and local community members.

Key challenges included:

1. Coordination and Logistics: Managing the logistics of two large-scale events in a way that ensures smooth execution, from venue management and event design to logistics and set up.
2. Audience Engagement: Designing events that cater to diverse audiences, from distinguished guests and donors at the gala to the vibrant student body at the festival.
3. Cultural Sensitivity: Incorporating elements that celebrate UMBC’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity while respecting the traditions of the academic community.
4. Budget Management: Ensuring that the events are financially feasible without compromising on quality and attendee experience.

The Opportunity

As UMBC looked towards the future, the appointment of its sixth president marked a significant milestone in the university’s journey. Dr. Valerie Sheares Ashby, a distinguished chemist and academic leader, was selected to succeed Hrabowski. Her inauguration represented not only a transition in leadership but also a reaffirmation of UMBC’s dedication to academic excellence, diversity, and innovation.

The PresidentIal Inauguration of Dr. Valerie Sheares Ashby presented a unique opportunity to showcase UMBC’s strengths and future direction. For our team, this was chance to create memorable and impactful event that will resonate with attendees long after the celebration. By designing a high-quality, innovative, and inclusive event, we could reinforce UMBC’s reputation as a leading institution. Additionally, the events provide a platform to foster a sense of unity and pride among UMBC’s stakeholders, from students to faculty to local community members. This included supporting alumni-run businesses in multiple aspects of the event from the non-alcoholic mocktail display to the DJ at the campus festival. The inauguration also offers a prime opportunity to highlight Dr. Ashby’s vision and the university’s strategic goals through creative programming and inspiring narratives.

Our team presented two distinct themes that could serve as the event direction for everything from florals to space layout. Within these themes, we wanted to highlight the identified focus areas that were important to the new president. 
We crafted a hopeful, approachable, and action-oriented tone. The imagery used throughout the campaign features lush landscapes—a nod toward the positive future state we’re working towards.
With the same energy of the evening event, we designed an After (Day) Party that served as the celebration bridging the institutional partners, students, alumni, and community. 
The After Party was a festival-like event that served to welcome UMBC’s newly, officially installed President with warm and vibrant experience that is unique to UMBC’S values. 

The Impact

The successful production of the inauguration events had a significant impact on UMBC and its community. The week of celebrations on April 26 -27, 2023, which included an evening gala and a student festival, elevated UMBC’s visibility and prestige in both academic and local circles. The events boosted the morale of students, faculty, and staff, celebrating their collective achievements and the promising future under Dr. Ashby’s leadership. Relationships with alumni, donors, and community partners were strengthened through shared, positive experiences. These successful events set a precedent for future university gatherings, demonstrating UMBC’s commitment to excellence and innovation in all its endeavors (UMBC:).

Project Credits

Client – University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Office of Institutional Advancement
Year of Completion – 2023
Focus – Celebratory Event + Installation of Institutional Leader
Services – Event Design, Graphic Design, Experiential Production, Event Management, Vendor Management
Project Team – 3 Pillars Co: Lois Sarfo-Mensah, Amanda Gallagher, Danell Key, Janet Martins, Dibe Laba
Vendor Team – Event Revolution, Tilled Studio, The Center Club, Something Vintage
Links – UMBC Inauguration Highlights

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A global, brand experience agency specializing in events, design, and business strategy.

3 Pillars Co. is Certified/Accredited by:

Baltimore City Certified Women-Owned and Minority-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE)

International Air Transport Association(IATA) Accredited

NAICS: 54143, 54161, 561920