Chief Judge Wanda Keyes Heard ’79, political science, was drawn to UMBC by the intimate class sizes and impressive credentials of the political science faculty, but quickly grew to love the campus and remained an on-campus student throughout her undergraduate days.
Today, she is the first female Chief Judge in the history of the 8th Judicial Circuit, appointed to the position after serving the citizens of Baltimore City as a Circuit Court Judge in Baltimore for 19 years. Though 40 years have passed since her time at UMBC, she credits her time as an undergraduate student for her professional successes today.
Former UMBC professor and advisor Philip Brenner encouraged her as a student, leading her to an internship during her junior year for the Honorable Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. It was her internship with Congresswoman Chisholm that provided the confidence she would need to pursue a career in a field then dominated by white men.
“I refused to let anyone say ‘no’ or ‘it’s not possible,’” she said. “There was no glass ceiling I could not break.”
Over her 36-year career, she has received numerous awards and accolades, though she cites receiving the Thurgood Marshall Award for Judicial Excellence by the Baltimore Chapter of the NAACP in 2013 as one of her greatest professional successes.
“My greatest challenges occurred during the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s when faced with and overcoming
the false limitations being placed on me merely because of my race and gender.”
– Baltimore City Circuit Court Chief Judge Wanda Heard ’79
Well known for mentoring law students, interns, and new attorneys, she has mentored more than 25 students from UMBC. She volunteers her time advising and judging mock trial teams for area students, including a now-famous trial program for elementary and middle school students designed to develop critical thinking and civic engagement.
An active UMBC alumna, she is a member of UMBC’s 1966 Society, supporting fundraising efforts for the Second Generation Scholarship, which provides support to outstanding UMBC undergraduates who have demonstrated a commitment to the advancement of minorities. She also remains an active member of the Beta Alpha Tau Zeta Chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.
Chief Judge Heard, who resides in West Baltimore with her aptly-named dog Justice, said she considers watching her daughter Whitney grow into an independent, vibrant, and successful young woman her proudest personal achievement and greatest joy.
– Amy Dalrymple