USM Dedicates Rita Rossi Colwell Center in Baltimore

Jun 23, 2023

(From left) University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines, Distinguished University Professor Rita R. Colwell, and Mihai Pop, director of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, where Colwell is active as a computational biologist.

A Baltimore building housing the University System of Maryland (USM) headquarters and an institute focused on marine and environmental technology now bears the name of a University of Maryland pioneering microbiologist.

The Rita Rossi Colwell Center honors the distinguished university professor renowned for her work combatting waterborne diseases and her advocacy for increasing the number of women in science and technology.

“It is truly an honor to be able to come to work in the Rita Rossi Colwell Center,” USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman, M.D., said at a naming celebration on June 22. “We had a unique opportunity to name a building after one of our own—a pioneering woman scientist and scholar who’s dedicated her life and career to improving human and environmental health, which we all know are inextricably linked.”

University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines told an audience of more than 200 academic and regional leaders that as a young scientist he received his National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award when Colwell was its director. Other speakers at the ceremony included University of Maryland, Baltimore County President Valerie Sheares Ashby and current NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan.

In December, the USM Board of Regents voted to rename the facility for Colwell, who was instrumental in founding the Columbus Center—as the building was originally known—with the goal of expanding environmental science education and research in Baltimore.

Colwell joined UMD in 1972 as a tenured professor and later assumed—sometimes concurrently—academic administrative appointments at UMD and within the university system, including at the University of Maryland Sea Grant College, Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies, UMD’s Division of Academic Affairs, and the Center of Marine Biotechnology and the Maryland Biotechnology Institute.

Cowell was the 11th director and first woman to lead the NSF, and during her tenure (1998–2004), she oversaw its most significant period of growth. She also championed and secured NSF funding for innovative science and engineering education programs and initiatives to advance women in academic engineering and science careers.

Still active in research through her appointment in the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies, Colwell tracks and predicts outbreaks of cholera by combining bioinformatics with satellite imaging.

Notable awards and recognition that Colwell has received include the National Medal of Science; the Stockholm Water Prize; membership into the National Academy of Sciences, Royal Society of Canada, Swedish Royal Academy of Science, Irish Royal Academy of Science, and the Bangladesh and Indian academies of science; and the “The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star” from the emperor of Japan.