Sharon Fries-Britt Named Distinguished University Professor


Sharon Fries-Britt, professor of higher education, has been appointed as Distinguished University Professor by the University of Maryland. The designation is the university’s highest faculty honor and is bestowed to those with an exceptional record in teaching, research and scholarly work in their field of study. Fries-Britt is one of seven faculty members from across campus to receive this significant honor  this year.

“I am so deeply honored and humbled by this recognition,” said Fries-Britt. “To receive this designation for research and service that I am passionate about is gratifying.”

Fries-Britt’s work examines the experiences of high-achieving Black students and underrepresented students in STEM fields, as well as issues of race, equity and diversity. She is a leading voice in higher education and widely known for shifting the national conversation about Black students. For decades, research that focused on Black students shed light on their limited access to resources, exposure to racism and other factors that contributed to lower levels of academic performance. Fries-Britt’s work, however, pushed against the “deficit perspective” of Black students. She highlighted the experiences of Black students who were performing well academically, unpacking their experiences across different types of institutions, their sources of support and motivation, and their aspirations for the future.

“Dr. Fries-Britt's work as a researcher, teacher and mentor is nothing short of outstanding. Her work is groundbreaking and has broadened the ways educators and leaders write and think about Black college students,” said Kimberly Griffin, dean of the College of Education. “I am so delighted that she's being recognized for her transformative work and impact."

Many organizations and agencies have sought Fries-Britt's expertise and assistance with their diversity and equity work. In collaboration with the American Council on Education and the University of Missouri, Fries-Britt was one of two faculty members who studied the impact of the racial justice protests at the University of Missouri following the murder of Michael Brown. The four-year case study resulted in two books: Speaking Truth and Acting with Integrity: Confronting Challenges of Campus Racial Climate, which examines the impact of the racial crisis at the university, and Leading After a Racial Crisis: Weaving a Campus Tapestry of Diversity and Inclusion, which provides important insights for how leaders can address campus tensions following a racial crisis.

She also worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, helping their Post-Secondary Measurement, Learning and Evaluation team examine its system framework as a tool for facilitating strategic learning with the goal of improving postsecondary outcomes for Black, Latinx and Indigenous students; students from low-income backgrounds; and the institutions that disproportionately serve them.

“My commitment to addressing issues of race, equity and diversity in all aspects of my work has made a difference in the arc of my career,” explained Fries-Britt. “These same commitments have led to important projects that have helped shape the field.”

Much of Fries-Britt’s research has been in the discipline of physics. She worked with the National Association of Black Physicists for over a decade and previously served on the American Institutes of Physics’ Elevate African American Representation in Undergraduate Physics & Astronomy task force.

Her groundbreaking work, which has garnered more than 3,000 citations, has earned her numerous accolades. The American Educational Research Association honored her with the Social Justice in Education Award in 2021, and she won the American Physical Society Excellence in Physics Education Award in 2022 for her efforts to increase Black representation in physics and astronomy. 

"Dr. Fries-Britt’s impact as a scholar goes far beyond her own research. Her careful guidance, high expectations and willingness to be authentic about her own journey has provided a blueprint for generations of scholars to follow,” said Griffin.

Fries-Britt received her bachelor’s and doctoral degrees from UMD and her master’s from Ohio State University. She joined Maryland’s faculty in 1995 and was the first African American woman to be promoted from assistant to associate to full professor in the College of Education. In that time, she developed a deep commitment to mentoring students, leaders and administrators.