Blakely R. Pomietto looked back over the influences of her life and made a decision: She would donate $50,000 to the Pillars of Strength Scholarship fund with the hope that it would be matched to double the amount.
Pomietto, the deputy chief academic officer at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), said the Pillars of Strength Program accomplishes a goal that she holds dear: It provides volunteer caregivers of wounded military veterans full scholarships to UMGC. The caregivers are often a family member, friend or significant other who must drop everything in their lives to help their loved ones recover.
That mission draws on two experiences that shaped Pomietto’s life. She said she received a full scholarship to complete her undergraduate degree at George Mason University, allowing her to launch her career free of debt and without financially burdening her family. And, she said, she saw the sacrifices her mother and family made to care for her aging grandparents.
“This was an opportunity for me to marry those two experiences in my life in a way that I could pay it forward and help someone else to not have to sacrifice,” she said. “This is helping people who did the same kinds of things my mother—and thus the rest of my family—did. [They] put their own priorities and desires on hold and put others before themselves because of deep love and respect and compassion.”
The Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program works with the university to provide full scholarships to caregivers of wounded veterans to honor their years of sacrifice tending to the veterans who had paid such a high price for defending the nation.
Since its inception in 2012, the Pillars program, conceived by Richard Blewitt, CEO of the Blewitt Foundation, an alumnus who is a former chair of the university’s Board of Visitors and a veteran himself, has given 29 caregivers the opportunity to advance their education. Already, four scholarship recipients have earned degrees, and Blewitt is working to get additional contributions like Pomietto’s.
“Blakely, stepping up with this gift and challenge, shows not only her support for Pillars,” Blewitt said, “but she has done it in an unprecedented way for all of us to admire.”
Pomietto said that attending the Pillars of Strength event in July where this year’s scholarship recipients were honored inspired her to make the contribution. She said she was especially moved when the program’s emcee, Phil Zachary, spoke of “that precise moment of truth when these men and women unconditionally confronted the need to act, the need to help, the need to heal … The type of person who sees another person suffering and says to themselves, ‘I think I would like to commit every waking hour to making that person better.’”
Said Pomietto, “That spurred me to action after a lot of contemplation.”
Knowing that a full four-year-scholarship can cost $25,000, Pomietto approached the university’s development office about trying to find her a partner to go in with her by matching her contribution, which would enable the funding of four scholarships.
“Can I go in on the buddy system?” she asked the development office. “I could sponsor a scholarship with one other person or organization, and I will put up half and they can put up half.”
After earning a master’s degree in public health at the University of Maryland College Park, Pomietto worked with non-profit organizations in public health and health education. She returned to College Park when the College of Health and Human Performance began to expand to become the School of Public Health.
While there, Pomietto became head of Student Services, developing a specialty in helping students in distress, and then served as the dean’s chief of staff for more than four years before coming to UMGC in October 2015 as assistant vice provost for policies and reporting. In her time at UMGC since, she has filled a rising succession of posts from associate vice provost for accreditation, compliance and reporting, to acting provost and senior vice president for academic affairs and was appointed in April 2018 to the newly created position of deputy chief academic officer.
She says she sees her job as “fascia,” the connective tissue in the body that attaches and stabilizes muscles and internal organs and keeps the whole intact. “I help to keep everyone who needs to be working together, working together,” she said. “And I make sure those connections happen when they aren’t.”
That type of service extends beyond her working life.
“I try every day to be the person in the world that I want the world to be back to me. That is characterized by compassion and empathy and generosity and putting others before self. It can’t just be rhetoric. You have to live it,” Pomietto said.