Let’s kick this off at the prestigious Johns Hopkins University. Go ahead and drive through the campus and listen up while you take in the beauty of America’s oldest research university.
Nineteenth-century Baltimore entrepreneur, inventor, and philanthropist Johns Hopkins made the bulk of his fortune investing in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the first railroad in the United States.
A practicing Quaker instilled with a strong sense of social duty, and a life-long resident of Maryland’s largest city, Hopkins saw firsthand the impact of the American Civil War upon his hometown – scourges such as orphaned children, rampant cholera, and yellow fever. He then set aside seven million dollars of B&O Railroad stock for the construction of a free hospital and various training colleges.
A reoccurring April Fool’s Day prank is a formal announcement proclaiming that Johns Hopkins University has eliminated the confusing letter “s” at the end of “Johns.” The founder acquired this awkward moniker through a combination of his mother’s name, Margaret Johns, with that of his father, Gerard Hopkins.
Equally confounding, in some ways, is the magnitude of the University, organized, as it is, into 10 divisions, spread from Baltimore and Washington, D.C., to international centers in Italy and China. As the first research university in the United States, Johns Hopkins is also a leading school of advanced international studies, located on historic Massachusetts Avenue in our nation’s capital.
The Homewood Campus, where you find yourself today, is a 140-acre grounds of red-brick buildings and tree-lined pathways. There’s the iconic Gilman Hall Clock Tower that has served as the symbol of Johns Hopkins for nearly a century, two dozen research facilities, two libraries, residence halls, and expansive green quads.
Since 1876, students and staff here have churned out some pretty amazing discoveries that have improved the lives of people around the globe. Inventions such as water purification, CPR, and the supersonic ramjet engine owe their inception to Hopkins.
Johns Hopkins University has also developed life-changing surgical procedures to correct heart defects in infants. To date, the school has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners in Medicine, Physics, Chemistry, Economics, and Physiology. That’s more than some continents have received overall.
Johns Hopkins offers nine academic divisions with more than 400 programs in arts and music, the humanities, the social and natural sciences, international studies, engineering, education, business, and the health professions.
So how about campus life here at Johns Hopkins? Well with more than 400 student-led clubs and organizations, there is no shortage of things to do. If you are into kayaking, photography, discussing international relations, or even playing Quidditch, there’s a club for you.
Students and faculty come together once a year for Spring Fair, the largest student-run festival in the United States. This three-day celebration is NOT to be missed, with lawn games, food trucks, organized activities, and an art market.
Housing and dining? Well, you’ve got traditional residence halls suitable for two, suite-style living for one to three people, and off-campus houses and apartments. As far as on-campus food goes, Johns Hopkins’s menus are mouth-watering, ranked sixth in the nation for “Best Colleges for Food”.
Additionally, arts and culture abound here with the Peabody Institute, the United States’ first conservatory. And, let’s not forget Baltimore sports! Oriole Park at Camden Yards is Major League Baseball’s first “retro” ballpark, and M&T Bank Stadium is home to the Baltimore Ravens.
When you feel like you’ve seen enough, go ahead and follow the GPS directions to our next stop, Morgan State University.
Morgan State University is ahead on your right. Again, feel free to turn down any road into campus and explore as I talk.
Like many of the east coast’s major cities, Baltimore was settled on the Atlantic Seaboard Fall Line. This 900-mile ridge stretches from New Jersey to Alabama and separates the flat tidewater region from the rolling hills of the piedmont. Morgan State was built on two such slopes, giving a picturesque appeal to this historically black college founded two years after the end of the Civil War.
The campus buildings of MSU complement the rolling landscape. Each has a story to tell. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has deemed 20 structures within the MSU campus as being eligible for listing in its National Register.
These include buildings designed by noted African American architects such as MSU Professor Leon Bridges, a graduate of nearby Loyola University Maryland; Albert Cassell of Towson, Maryland, a creator of buildings on the Georgetown University campus in Washington, D.C., as well as those of many other academic institutions across the country; and Louis Fry, Jr., whose designs included buildings for Tuskegee University and other historically black schools.
In 1998, the National Trust for Historic Preservation listed Historically Black Colleges and Universities, such as MSU, on its 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list. From a joining of forces between the National Trust and MSU has sprung a campus heritage preservation plan, promoting the University’s rich historical and architectural standing.
Not all the noteworthy buildings adorning the sloping hills of MSU are relics of another era. At the northern end of the campus stands the striking, $54-million, Center for the Built Environment & Infrastructure Studies, an award-winning facility linking the urban landscape with the natural. Its 34 classrooms, 100 offices, atrium, and green roof systems rank among the most impressive environmentally friendly university buildings in the world.
Most iconic of all MSU buildings, however, is the classically designed Holmes Hall, constructed in 1949 at what was then the center of the campus. With its stately clock tower, a rendering of which features prominently in the MSU logo, the building honors the sixth president of the University, Dr. Dwight Oliver Wendell Holmes who led the University during its crucial post-WWII period.
Underlining this logo lies the MSU motto which reads: “Growing the Future, Leading the World.” It is a fitting description of the type of school envisioned by Dr. Holmes, and captures the sentiments of its current president, David Wilson, who deems MSU “one of the most consequential universities in the history of American higher education,” enrolling students and making them “competitive with anyone, anywhere, anyplace.”
Though viewed as a distinctively African American institution, MSU, via its Division of International Affairs, boasts a vigorous program of growing the University’s engagement with the continents of Africa and Asia. Of its 850+ international students, some 80% originate from Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, propelling forward not only the University but also a Biden White House initiative the advancement of educational excellence of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
From a school whose stated mission is preparing diverse graduates in helping to lead the world, we’ll make our way west to a school dedicated to “the pursuit of truth” – Loyola University Maryland.
We now come to the 81-acre wooded campus of Loyola University Maryland, a Jesuit school dedicated to the ideals of liberal education. The name Loyola is of Basque origin, with Saint Ignatius of Loyola founding the Society of Jesus in the 16th-century. Loyola University Maryland is but one of 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States, along with the considerably larger Loyola University Chicago and Georgetown University in nearby Washington, D.C.
The ninth oldest American Jesuit institution of higher learning, Loyola University Maryland was founded in 1851. After occupying several locations in downtown Baltimore, the University moved to its present location in the Evergreen residential neighborhood in the early 1920s.
The stated mission of Loyola University is to inspire its students to “learn, lead, and serve in a diverse and changing world”, and the school is lauded for its diversity, equity, inclusion, and devotion to social justice.
The late author Tom Clancy, whose political and national security-themed thrillers have sold over 100 million copies worldwide, received his BA in English Literature from Loyola. A central figure of Baltimore and partial owner of the Baltimore Orioles baseball team, Clancy and the characters he created will pop up again during this tour of Maryland colleges and universities.
A private university, Loyola offers 25 graduate programs, over 30 undergraduate majors, 40 minors, and study abroad programs in 24 countries. If you are looking for smaller class sizes, Loyola is where it’s at, with a faculty/student ratio of 1:12.
One unique attribute here at Loyola is that 81% of their undergraduate students live on campus for the duration of their studies. Students become full-fledged members of the Loyola community. The residence halls are less dorm-like… closer to being furnished apartments, with all the amenities of home.
So where does Loyola University Maryland sit with the rest of the nation? Well, how about #4 in “Best Regional Universities North” by the U.S. News and World Report; in the top 7% for the highest mid-career salary potential; and in the top 2% for long-term return on investment. Here are a few more fun stats:
Loyola residence halls are ranked in the top 20 according to Princeton Review. The average class size is 20 and there are 25 club sports available. Smarts and sports go hand in hand here at Loyola. The school mascot is the Greyhound, and the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams are highly ranked in the NCAA.
Coming up is Notre Dame of Maryland University, Maryland’s first women’s college. Although enrollees are typically from in-state, and only about 1% are international, graduates have gone on to live and work in all 50 U.S. states and in nearly 40 countries, according to NDMU alumnae statistics.
Featuring an all-women undergraduate program, this first-of-its-kind Catholic college for women in America provides a liberal arts education and encourages service to others. NDMU has three divisions offering bachelor’s programs, certificates, and graduate and doctoral degrees.
Whatever one’s educational needs may be, NDMU invites students to pursue their educational dreams, be it within the school of arts and sciences, business, school of education, or NDMU’s school of nursing, which is considered top-notch as is their school of pharmacy.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, America experienced a severe shortage of nurses. Today, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are far more registered nurse jobs available than any other profession, as the field has seen over a half-million retirements over a short period of time. With an aging U.S. population, including a health care sector that is advancing in years, the Bureau projects the need for 1.1 million new RNs for expansion over the next few years.
Hence, the nursing program at NDMA is as vital as ever in meeting not only the health care needs of Maryland but the United States as a whole. Former Dean of Nursing at Notre Dame of Maryland University, Kathleen Wisser references the University’s 15-month accelerated program as an important enticement in attracting recent high school graduates, or individuals looking to pivot their careers towards nursing.
Again…at NDMA…it’s all about service to others!
Like many of the other schools on our tour, this is an attractive campus, full of trees. But the 58 acres of NDMA feels especially cozy, like a scholastic warm blanket.
There’s no shortage of on-campus activities to make students and visitors feel right at home. NDMA’s annual Gator Fest, held in October, offers fun for young and old alike, with tattoo artists, caricaturists, pumpkin painting, live music, and fall foods such as pumpkin ice cream, and apple pie.
Now that we’ve made you hungry, grab a bite at one of the many restaurants surrounding the NDMA campus, from food-court offerings to ethnic options such as Indian, Chinese, and Italian. Then it’s time to head northbound as we pass through some of Baltimore County’s most charming neighborhoods, and visit the next in our string of colleges and universities.
The unincorporated community of Towson along with the campus of Towson University are situated just within the northern confines of the Baltimore Beltway. On the way there you may have noticed the many Tudor and Colonial Revival homes, such as in the historic Rogers Ford neighborhood where U.S. Olympic swimming sensation Michael Phelps was born.
Towson, an upscale suburb of Charm City, is the birthplace of writer Tom Clancy’s fictional CIA analyst, Jack Ryan, as well as the character Elaine Bennes from 1990s NBC sitcom Seinfeld. However, the notable alumni of Towson University are decidedly non-fictional, such as comedian Amy Schumer and actor John Glover numbering among its graduates.
Founded in 1866 as a teacher’s college, Towson University is one of the fastest-growing universities in Maryland. U.S. News and World Report has ranked Towson University in its America’s Best Colleges guides ever since they began publication in 1985. Business administration, psychology, mass communications, and nursing number among its top programs in terms of enrollment.
When they’re not hard at work in classrooms or scouring the collections at the Albert S. Cook Library, students may stroll along tree-lined streets a few blocks north to nearby Towson Town Center. This commercial strip is well-regarded throughout the Baltimore area for its luxury shopping and dining.
Our route today will take us through the Town Center. On the way, you may notice a small, triangular-shaped space on the left known as Olympian Park. Its white brick pathways wind their way past monuments to Baltimore County Olympic medalists, both living and deceased, including the most decorated medal winner in Olympic history, area native Michael Phelps.
Directly across State Highway 146 from Towson Town Center is the serene beauty of historic Prospect Hill Cemetery where many of Baltimore’s most famous residents are interred. Its park-like grounds provide a respite from the hustle and bustle of the urban landscape.
Not all of its visitors are of the human variety, however. No, we’re not talking about ghosts and apparitions – numerous deer graze the cemetery grounds, and several species of birds, including orioles and red-shouldered hawks, nest here.
Further north is our next destination, Goucher College.
Continue straight down Goucher Road to explore the quiet open spaces of Goucher College’s Campus. Goucher is a private liberal arts school and former women’s college located just beyond the northern city limits of Baltimore proper. Founded by influential Methodist preacher John Franklin Goucher and his wife Mary, the school was located in downtown Baltimore before relocating to its present space.
Goucher College prides itself on innovation. The school is the very definition of what a liberal arts education is all about – empowering individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills. Liberal arts are considered more “a way of studying than a specific course or field of study,” according to the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
The centuries-old sport of fencing derives its name from the Latin defensa, meaning “protection.” Though modern Olympic fencing deals primarily with epee and saber combat, the Goucher Historic European Martial Arts Club is dedicated to preserving original methods, with students studying the use of broadswords, spears, rapiers, and other antique weapons.
When they’re not practicing medieval combat, Goucher students study in 33 major areas and six interdisciplinary programs. The most popular subjects are humanities and social sciences, languages, biological sciences, and performing arts. They’re especially well known for their dance, pre-med, and creative writing programs.
Though it went co-ed in 1986, the school remains majority-female, with women making up 68 percent of the undergraduate population. It also has a notably large jewish student body at 31 percent.
The campus’ central structure is a modern building known as the Athenaeum, a 100,000 square-foot structure containing the main library, gym, classrooms, lecture halls, and an auditorium where guest speakers and lecturers bring their unique perspectives to Goucher students.
The upper-middle-income neighborhood surrounding Goucher College is highly walkable, with the town center just steps from campus. Most of the real estate is in the form of small studio to two-bedroom apartments and single-family homes, providing a safe and high-quality area for students to reside.
A high percentage of residents here are active military. Additionally, a whopping 40% or more of residents are currently enrolled in college, changing the overall vibe and feel of the neighborhood depending upon the season.
The GPS directions will now take you on the longest leg of today’s journey, onto the Baltimore Beltway and then south along I-83 and back into the city.
You’re currently driving down Interstate 83, which connects Baltimore to Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. Before getting on I-83, you also spent a little time driving on Baltimore’s historic beltway, Interstate-695. There are over 320 three-digit numbered highways within the U.S. Interstate Highway System. Beltways or ring roads, like this one, begin with even numbers. Those beginning with an odd number, like I-195, which stretches 4.3 miles north from BWI Airport to Catonsville, are known as spur highways.
The Baltimore Beltway doesn't have quite the notoriety of its younger and longer cousin in Washington, but it is the oldest beltway in the entire interstate system. On today’s trip, you traveled counter-clockwise on the outer loop of the Beltway, which completes a 51-mile circuit around the outer edges of the city and crosses the Patapsco River on the 1.6 mile-long Francis Scott Key Bridge.
Beltways often act as geographic and cultural dividers between cities and their surrounding areas. In the case of Washington, DC, the beltway has become an idiom, with the phrase “inside the beltway” referring to the public- and private-sector business that makes up the federal political sphere. The Baltimore Beltway, on the other hand, though still a dividing line, is largely a symbolic delineation between Baltimore city and the suburban communities of Baltimore County.
Both city and county are on entirely different demographic paths.
At its peak, in 1950, Baltimore’s population was just shy of a million residents, making it the sixth-largest city in America. Since its inception, Baltimore was always larger than the nation’s capital, 40 miles to the southwest. Around 2012, Washington tied, then rapidly surpassed Charm City in its overall population.
As of the 2020 census, Baltimore has slipped below the 600,000-person threshold and now ranks as around the 30th largest city in America.
Baltimore County, however, has experienced steady growth for decades. Existing as a separately-incorporated entity from the city it surrounds, it’s now home to over 800,000 residents.
Unlike many suburban areas that have experienced recent growth, Baltimore County is not filled with cookie-cutter developments and fractured inorganic design elements. Instead, these suburbs are known for their highly rated schools, historic neighborhoods, easy access to major transportation hubs, and, increasingly, walkable downtowns with a variety of shops, services, and entertainment options.
At the 12:00 position on the Baltimore Beltway, where you began this leg of the trip, lie the Lutherville and Timonium neighborhoods, which are known as great places to live if one enjoys a fashionable lifestyle.
Lutherville takes its name from reformationist Martin Luther and was founded in 1852 as a planned village centered around a Lutheran church and seminary. It was the home of many Baltimore sports personalities such as Johnny Unitas, Brooks Robinson, Raymond Berry, and Jim Palmer.
To understand the name origin of Timonium, one must go even further back in history, to famed Roman general Mark Antony. Timonium was the name of a grand palace that Antony was building in the harbor of Alexandria, Egypt until the falsely reported death of his beloved queen Cleopatra moved him to take his own life.
Traveling farther south on I-83, we plunge back into Baltimore city, speeding past single-family homes, detached cottages, and colonials, as well as golf courses, running trails, and retail centers in neighborhoods such as Mt. Washington, Hampden, and Woodbury.
Hampden, in particular, is an alluring neighborhood, transformed in the 1990s as it grew into a center for local artists. The neighborhood’s main drag, 36th Street, known simply as “The Avenue” contains hip boutiques, vintage shops, and numerous bars and restaurants.
As we near our destination, and exit the freeways in favor of city streets, we pass by Jones Fall Trail, a segment of the East Coast Greenway established in the 1990s. The Greenway is a 3,000-mile network of interconnected walking and biking routes that runs from Key West to the Canadian border in Maine. The Greenway is maintained by a non-profit organization that encourages active and healthy lifestyles and offers safe surroundings to bicyclists, hikers, walkers, and runners across 15 states.
You’ll also pass Druid Hill Park, Baltimore’s oldest large-scale public recreation area. Built as part of the same architectural movement that created New York’s Central Park and San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, Druid Hill covers 745 acres and is home to a lake, golf course, baseball fields, and the Maryland Zoo. In fact, our next destination is located a short walk from the zoo in the Liberty Heights neighborhood. Keep following the GPS navigation to reach the main campus of Baltimore City Community College.
Baltimore City Community College has five campuses. Today, we’re visiting the Liberty Heights location, just west of the Baltimore Zoo. This is the main campus of the college, and is home to the college’s general studies departments. The satellite campuses, which we’ll discuss in a bit, focus on more specific areas of study.
BCCC Liberty Heights is situated in a neighborhood of large, historic homes, with sunrooms and balconies. The 100-acre Hanlon Park abuts the campus. It originally served as a reservoir for the city of Baltimore. Its winding paths and natural stream offer serenity for neighborhood residents and students alike.
In 2020 BCCC students joined Chef Jose Andres' World Central Kitchen effort to provide free meals for anyone needing extra support.
The community college only accepts applicants who are Baltimore city residents. Students must apply with a GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4-point scale, and a combined writing/math score of 1000 on the SAT or 21 on the ACT. Heading back to Liberty Heights Avenue, hang a right toward our next destination. On the way, I’ll talk about BCCC’s satellite campuses.
The Downtown Harbor Campus holds the business and Continuing Education divisions. It’s situated within a short walking distance of the famed Inner Harbor, and its many nightspots, as well as proximity to the pubs, taverns, and live music venues of illustrious Fells Point.
The Life Sciences Institute, started in 1987, is one of the nation’s oldest community college biotech training programs. In 2009 it was moved to the University of Maryland’s Bio Park.
The National Weatherization Training Center, in East Baltimore is one of 26 U.S. Department of Energy National Weatherization Centers, providing certifications for home energy professionals.
Reisterstown Plaza Campus along Liberty Heights Avenue houses additional general studies classrooms. It’s conveniently located close to a large shopping center called “The Plaza.”
Humanities is the largest department at Coppin State, the second Historically Black College and University on our tour. Looking left as you drive down Bloomsbury road, you’ll pass the athletic center, administration building, and central quad.
The humanities, it is said, belong to everyone. It asks big questions: What is the value and purpose of life? What is freedom? How might a just society function? How do people best work together? How do individuals relate to the state and society? Since the school’s inception, CSU have sought to answer these questions through activism, serving at the forefront of 1960s lunch counter sit-ins and establishing community service programs in the 70s. The University later heightened its focus on issues such as prison reform, community recreation, aging, and drug abuse programs.
Coppin is the only Historically Black College or University in the nation to offer graduate-level vocational rehabilitation counseling.
Through urban arts, history, English, philosophy, or interpretive dance programs at CSU, students preserve valued traditions transmitted from generation to generation while exploring their context in modern society. The school’s activist humanities department has fostered an organic relationship with the local Baltimore community, the State of Maryland, and the world-at-large.
The University was named in honor of Fanny Jackson Coppin, an African American educator who was dedicated to the ideals of teaching. Appropriately, CSU shares access to its facilities and expertise with local citizens. This creates a dual advantage in offering students off-campus learning opportunities. Studies have shown that such off-campus interactions aid in achieving higher graduation rates among college enrollees.
Coppin also has a reputation for connecting with the local community through its artistic presentations, educating young and old alike about the relevant role that artistic expression plays within culture. Special performances given by the CSU Dance Program are outstanding in their quality and neighborhood outreach, presenting a cross-section of ballet, modern, jazz, and African-based dance forms.
In keeping with the philosophy of the school’s founder, this focus on education encourages students to share the art of dance through teaching. Dance is, of course, ever-evolving, reflecting the changes taking place in society, and bringing modern dance technologies to the forefront. The CSU Dance Program holds concerts and exhibitions at its state-of-the-art practice and performance facilities and, when the weather is right, outdoor locations.
There’s no need to do a pirouette, but it is time to get moving yet again. Sticking with inspirational creative themes, we head east to visit one of the oldest art schools in America – the Maryland Institute College of Art.
Turning onto Mosher Street, you’ll find yourself on the campus of the Maryland Institute College of Art. At our previous stop, Coppin State University, we reflected upon a school’s constitutive relationship with its surrounding community. Political tension is always just beneath the surface in Baltimore, particularly when it comes to the city’s racial affairs. This history, these conditions, lead to an ever changing social conversation and fuel the creativity and originality of the Baltimore art scene along the way.
That brings us to MICA, the Maryland Institute College of Art, located in Bolton, the heart of Baltimore’s cultural district.
Founded in 1826 as the Maryland Institute of the Mechanic Arts, MICA is one of the oldest art colleges in the United States, and its history reflects the ongoing racial conversation in Baltimore. Though 1891 marked the first admission of an African American student, Harry T. Pratt, 130-plus years later the school is still a focus for critics, disappointed with a student body that fails to reflect the demographics of Baltimore.
In 2019 a MICA photography student created an extraordinary database and exhibition called Blackives: A Celebration of Black History at MICA. The exhibition tells the story of promising Black artists who were denied access by the school through historical documentation, found artifacts, and visual art. The popularity of the exhibition was so great that it prompted the MICA president to at last acknowledge the segregationist history of his institution and term the Blackives exhibition “essential viewing by everyone at MICA.”
Unlike other major art centers across America, Baltimore has the advantage of offering relatively inexpensive and plentiful space. MICA, boasts over a million square feet of academic, residential, and exhibition rooms for artists. This includes multi-use performance theaters, cafes, green sanctuaries, and independent studios.
The award-winning new construction found on the campus, along with repurposed historic buildings, make for a holistic and creative environment for original pursuits. Because MICA welcomes art enthusiasts as well as students and families, there is ample visitor parking. You may want to find a spot and spend a few minutes exploring the school on foot.
Of the more than 20 buildings that make up MICA, there are a few standouts. Named after a Baltimore philanthropist, the Brown Center is certainly hard to miss, looming over campus in all its gleaming crystalline glory. Built specifically for digital arts programs, the Brown Center was called “the finest modern building erected in Baltimore or Washington in a quarter-century” when it was completed in 2004. The structure contains a wide atrium, auditorium, and several galleries, and is meant to stimulate a dialog between contemporary and traditional forms, technologies, and materials.
Formerly the Cannon Shoe Factory, the Fox Building contains two galleries, and houses classrooms for ceramics, painting, drawing, and illustration. The building also includes Café Doris, on its first floor, serving light fare for students and visitors.
As the hub of graduate student life at MICA, the Lazarus IV Center offers publicly accessible galleries and a restaurant. Over the course of a year, MICA students and faculty present over 80 exhibitions in 11 galleries across the campus, three prominent ones of which are in this former sewing factory.
Constructed in 1908, the Main Building is the stone structure beside the church, across Royal Avenue. It includes expansive studio classrooms, as well as a student-run gallery and darkrooms for photography processing. The white limestone of this Renaissance Revival building is a provocative counterpoint to the translucent white glass and angular geometries of the nearby Brown Center.
Inside the front entrance of the Main Building are a large marble staircase, a stained-glass skylight, and the names of various Renaissance masters surrounding the entrance to the second floor. Throughout the building, plaster replicas of Greek and Roman statues stand ready for students to examine.
For the second time on today’s tour, we’ll reference Seinfeld actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who shot part of the pilot of her HBO series Veep in the Main Building’s grand foyer.
Just a short drive from here, we’ll visit the University of Baltimore, where we transition from the world of artistic creation back to the domains of business, law, and applied sciences.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, attending college was seen as either unnecessary or prohibitively expensive by the merchant and working classes. While certain professions required advanced study, higher learning was rarely useful in the day-to-day lives of most Americans.
Over time, however, America’s cities grew, its economy and workforce began to change rapidly. Educated citizens were needed by the millions to fill roles in government, commerce, and development. The value of a college education came to be understood as a means by which working men and women could advance into the professional ranks.
Understanding this need, a group of Baltimore businessmen came together to found the University of Baltimore in 1925. The University of Baltimore came to serve the demand of an exploding rate of college enrollment that followed the first World War.
Called UBalt for short, this urban campus is enmeshed in Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon neighborhood, and close to downtown Baltimore and its Inner Harbor attractions. The red-bricked Gordon Plaza and a statue of Edgar Allen Poe occupy the center of the compact 47-acre campus. The school isn’t just small in area – its undergraduate population of around 1800 ensures strong individual attention for its students.
The Poe statue has an interesting history. It was the last work produced by renowned American sculptor and former Confederate soldier Moses Jacob Ezekiel of Richmond, Virginia. The statue underwent a history almost as tragic as Mr. Poe himself.
Intended to mark the centennial of Poe’s birth in 1909, a lack of funds and mishaps delayed the arrival of the statue until 1921. Ezekiel’s first model of the statue burned in a fire. His second model was destroyed by an earthquake. The third model, to have been shipped across the Atlantic in 1916, was delayed by the war. By the time it arrived in Baltimore, Ezekiel had already been dead for four years.
Placed in a Baltimore park, the inscription from The Raven contained several typos, one of which so annoyed a local resident that he took a chisel to its plaque. Over the decades the statue was subjected to continual vandalism, and so it was eventually placed in Gordon Plaza in the early 1980s. These days, UBalt students dress Mr. Poe in purple in advance of Baltimore Ravens NFL games.
As stated earlier, the University of Baltimore is grounded in law and business. Having ended its varsity sports programs in the early 1980s, the list of prominent UBalt graduates show celebrated business leaders, lawyers, and top government officials rather than star athletes.
This is reflected in a message from the current dean of UBalt who recounts being told upon his arrival in this city that the University “forms the backbone of Baltimore business.”
Next up – the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Follow your navigation toward the heart of downtown. Along the way you’ll pass Baltimore’s Cultural Center. With the most notable building being the large oval Symphony Center, this artistic campus at the eastern edge of Mount Vernon contains the Lyric Theater, home of opera and ballet, and the Military History Museum.
Of the five campuses in the University of Maryland System, the University of Maryland, Baltimore is the oldest, founded in 1807. Of the five, the College Park campus in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, is far and away from the largest and best known, while UMB is often confused with its partner school, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
The University of Maryland system, as a whole, is the 22nd largest in the United States, ranking just behind Ohio State, and ahead of the University of Minnesota. UMB itself, a nationally ranked medical, dental, pharmacy, and nursing school, has the smallest enrollment of the five U of M campuses.
UMB is located a matter of blocks from Baltimore’s lively and historic Inner Harbor, now a leading tourist attraction. Towering over Inner Harbor is an iconic, neon red Domino Sugar sign, atop what is the second-largest sugar refinery in America, and the last major manufacturer still operating along this waterfront.
Baltimore was once home to six different sugar refineries, of which Domino is the lone survivor. A few times a month a giant tanker ship docks at the Domino plant where it unloads, amid a swarm of hungry bees, into a storage bay capable of holding 100 million pounds of the prized sweetener.
But let’s not sugarcoat things. This city, including the neighborhoods to the west of UMB, confront numerous challenges, including the persistent systemic racism that we mentioned earlier. There are issues of high unemployment, low median income, scant access to healthcare, all of which lead to higher crime and lower property value.
Rather than becoming a walled fortress, UMB has dedicated itself to connecting with and improving local neighborhoods. In 2019 UMB’s newly renovated Community Engagement Center commenced to great fanfare. The late Congressman Elijah Cummings, a fervent supporter of community outreach, told of his profound hope that the Center becomes a model for the nation.
Viewed as the cornerstone of the UMB campus, the Center is now better equipped to partner with the local community in reaching common goals in such areas as health care, security, and individual well-being.
At first, many in the Poppleton neighborhood, where nearly 43 percent of households live below the poverty line, were unsure of the University and its intentions with the Center. The remodeled and retrofitted historic 20,000 square foot building from 1917 had stood vacant for many years, and residents wondered if it was a university property grab that would eventually expand and push them out.
Instead, the Center is living up to Elijah Cummings’ goal of partnering with the community on matters such as job development, safe spaces for children, health, and fitness programs. “We know that each time a neighbor visits, it’s a symbolic act of trust,” said former UMB President Jay Perman, adding that UMB views the community to the west of the campus as its “community campus.”
Perman, now chancellor of the University of Maryland, termed the Center as a place where the University and the community come together in addressing complex challenges, strengthening community development, and promoting external development.
Another UMB structure that recently underwent renovation was Davidge Hall, said to be the oldest building in the entire Western Hemisphere continuously used for medical education. Designed in the neoclassical style, it evokes Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia with its domed, three-story edifice and massive brick walls. Listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. It is also the founding building of the University of Maryland System, and its likeness can be seen on the UMB logo.
We are off next to Catonsville, one of the first commuter suburbs in the United States. The city of Baltimore has tried unsuccessfully to annex this town of 41,000 several times over the past two centuries. If it had been triumphant, the next school on our list might have an even harder time standing out. That’s right, we’re heading next to the similarly-named University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Although our route today doesn’t take us through the iconic Inner Harbor, no tour of the area is complete without mentioning the tourism center that helped save the city.
Baltimore needed the Inner Harbor development. Unlike its closest neighbors – the shining Washington, D.C., with its iconic government buildings, marble monuments, museums, and historic neighborhoods, and Philadelphia with Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and abundant U.S. Colonial and Revolutionary history – Baltimore once had little to attract visitors aside from those with an interest in Edgar Allan Poe or Babe Ruth.
The advent of the Inner Harbor, however, marked Baltimore’s tangible transformation from an industrial port town to that of a genuine tourist destination.
Though redevelopment of the Inner Harbor dates back to the 1960s, it really wasn’t until the 1990s that the area became what we know it as today… housing a vast array of chain restaurants, museums, historic ships, boat tours, and concert arenas.
One of the most enjoyable things to do at the Harbor is to take the elevator to the 27th floor Top of the World observation deck in the Baltimore World Trade Center building. In addition to providing an outstanding 360-degree view of the harbor and city, there’s also a really cool museum on the history of Baltimore, as well as rotating art exhibits.
Two hard-to-miss features of the area are the Camden Yards baseball park, home of the Orioles, and M&T Bank Stadium, which the NFL Ravens call home.
Completed in 1992, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was the first of the popular “retro” major league ballparks that went on to be constructed nationally through the early 2000s. Owing to Camden Yards’ success, Major League Baseball has seen the development of 10 other retro parks, and now all MLB teams play in dedicated baseball-only arenas.
Neither the ballpark nor the stadium is situated within Inner Harbor, but they fall into the same category of downtown redevelopment, which the Urban Land Institute termed as “the model for post-industrial waterfront redevelopment around the world.”
The road you’re currently driving is Interstate-95, the 1900-plus mile ribbon of asphalt that stretches from Maine to Miami, defining a region that produces 40 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. Looking over your shoulder to the right, one can catch a glimpse of the city skyline as it appears to the 120,000 vehicles that pass the area each day.
While the Charm City skyline isn’t the East Coast’s most impressive – the tallest of its towers barely top out above the 500- foot mark – its postmodern buildings are unique in style, and give the visual impression of rising out of the harbor below. The most iconic structures of Downtown include the octagonal Baltimore World Trade Center, the gilded roof of 10 Light Street, and the jagged lines of the National Aquarium. The buildings’ names change with some frequency as many emblematic Baltimore companies, such as the investment firm Legg Mason, have been bought by or merged with larger conglomerates. Today, the city is known as an industry leader in healthcare, biotech, and finance.
From here it’s an Interstate Highway dash out of Baltimore proper and into southern Baltimore County and our last two destinations. The neighborhoods fly by at highway speed, but a few attractive communities stand out along the way. One such neighborhood is Violetville, located just before the I-695 interchange, which takes its name from the beautiful flowers that grow here each spring. Its architecture is emblematic of Baltimore’s mid-century style, composed of well-kept 1950s era row houses.
Located just minutes from the city center and Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Violeteville and adjoining communities are cherished for their commutability, outdoor Christmas lights, and celebration of Little League baseball.
The University of Maryland, Baltimore County is relatively new, having been established in 1966 as a public research university. Today it ranks among the fastest-growing research universities in the country.
Benefitting from its location in the greater Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan Area, research conducted at UMBC has become ever more important as a foundation for major advances in areas such as cybersecurity, space, the environment, and national defense.
Its programs deliver benefits that are two-fold as they enable low to middle-income students to become scientific leaders and innovators. Given the importance of university research in fueling national growth and prosperity, this inclusiveness is all-important.
The long-serving president of UMBC, Freeman Hrabowski III, tells of his good fortune in having grown up in a middle-class home to parents who enjoyed reading and mathematics. Throughout his 30-year transformative tenure at UMBC, the celebrated and high profile Hrabowski has come to understand the challenges faced by first-generation college students, and students of color.
UMBC is remarkable in that it graduates the most African American students who go on to receive their Ph.Ds. in the natural sciences and engineering than any other American institution. UMBC thus challenges the narrative that only prestigious, wealthy institutions can deliver high-quality, cutting-edge research.
UMBC ranks third nationally among NASA-funded universities. UMBC is partnered with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, located a few miles south just off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. In 2021 Goddard committed $178 million to support the Center for Research and Exploration in Space Science & Technology II program. UMBC was one of four universities to engage in NASA research on subjects from the composition of neutron stars to the atmosphere on Mars.
Talent development is a key component of the NASA contract, as the UMBC academic departments of physics, computer science, electrical engineering, geography, and environmental systems are all a part of the collaboration on CRESST II.
This 530- acre suburban campus, whose land was purchased by the state of Maryland in 1840, offers over 92 graduate programs, 25 of which are doctoral. In 1991 a proposed merger between UMBC and our previous stop on this tour, the University of Maryland, Baltimore, was rejected by the Maryland State Senate. At the very least, such a merger could have alleviated some of the confusion brought on by the two similarly named schools.
UMBC is not a party school. Its sedated setting in residential Catonsville, Maryland, has given it a reputation as being “geeked out,” and a place where even players in its NCAA Division I basketball team extoll the glories of the University chess club.
Catonsville is known as a commuter town. Its 14 square miles were once ranked by Money magazine as the 49th best place to live in America and the third-best in Maryland. Aside from the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival homes dotting Catonsville’s historic district, the town is known for its former residents of note, such as Kathleen Turner, David Hasselhoff, and Ric Ocasek of The Cars. It’s also the place where John Wilkes Booth attended boarding school.
The campus itself is comprised of contemporary buildings. It's attractive enough though perhaps lacking the wow factor of MICA or the stately splendor of Davidge Hall at UMB.
Before its demolition in 2007, the Hillcrest building was the oldest structure on campus, opened in 1922 as an extension of the former Spring Grove State Hospital. UMBC lore holds that the infamous Silence of the Lambs character Hannibal Lecter was based on an individual confined to the barred isolation cells of the Hillcrest basement.
Be it the Lincoln assassin, Hannibal the Cannibal, its reputation as a geek haven, or even its awkward name, UMBC emits an affable vibe of tremendous confidence, intrepid resilience, and leading-edge ingenuity. Plus, what’s not to like about a school whose mascot is the friendly and loveable Chesapeake Bay Retriever?
The last stop on our tour, the Community College of Baltimore County, is located just a stone’s throw away.
Providing a sense of direction to its students is a key part of the Community College of Baltimore County’s mission statement. This guidance helps find the resources students need to plot their academic careers and offers lifelong direction based on the philosophy of 17-century Rationalist Spinoza, who wrote of discovering freedom through the guiding light of reason.
Appropriately, the CCBC logo suggests a compass or navigational wheel. Formerly, each of the six individual CCBC locations had their own separate logos, but the combined symbol reinforces the career orientation, future guidance, and sure, steady course provided by this public institution that offers more than 100 associate degrees and certificates.
As with other colleges and universities on this tour, the campuses of Community College of Baltimore County offer a mix of both the old and the new. Built on what was once a large dairy farm, one of the most noteworthy structures at CCBC Catonsville is a Georgian Revival-style mansion known as Hilton, overlooking the Patapsco River. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, Hilton sits on property that was surveyed way back in 1678.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that Maryland lies south of the Mason-Dixon Line. At its height, the Hilton plantation was home to over two dozen enslaved people, and its landowners were openly sympathetic to the Southern cause. Following their defeat at Gettysburg, the property was a stopping point for Southerners fleeing Union Soldiers.
Likewise, the CCBC Essex campus, to the east of Baltimore, contains a historic cemetery holding the Mace family – plantation owners who farmed on that land for 140 years. The plot, it was later discovered, is surrounded by the burial sites of 27 enslaved individuals, whose remains were identified with ground-penetrating radar.
Throughout this tour, we have attempted to honor the message of inclusivity that underscores Baltimore area colleges and universities in their approach to enrollment. Inclusiveness also weighs heavily in how these schools conduct their community outreach, especially those located in economically distressed neighborhoods.
Another important constituency is that of the local veteran community. As one of the largest educational systems in greater Baltimore from an enrollment standpoint, CCBC takes pride in its designation as a “Military Friendly” institution by Military Times Magazine. This means the institution has made the recruitment of veterans a strategic priority through the enrollment of students and the hiring of staff and school faculty.
Again, location comes into play given the number of military facilities in the greater Washington-Baltimore Metropolitan Area, such as Fort Meade, Fort Detrick, the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, and Joint Base Andrews. CCBC has embraced the Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program, designed to help veterans enroll in short-term credentials programs.
Nationwide, roughly half of all students who completed a bachelor’s degree previously attended a community college. These institutions are especially important in communities such as Baltimore, where numerous CCBC alumni have gone on to serve in the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates, and as CEOs and on-air TV personalities.
That just about does it for our tour through some of Maryland’s most important academic institutions. Remember, if any of the neighborhoods you saw today have inspired you to find a new home, or if you’re looking to sell your current spot, Kimberly Jones at the GPS group is on-call to take the stress out of purchasing and selling real estate. She can be reached at (443) 622-0902 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time, I’m Stephen and I hope you’ve enjoyed this UCPlaces tour of Baltimore’s colleges and universities.