World Teachers Day: A UMGC Classroom Can Be Anywhere

John Barbato has an uncommon claim to fame: He has taught for University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) on three continents.

“I’ve been all over Europe, the Middle East and South America for a year when UMGC had a program in Montevideo, Uruguay, in the early 1990s,” he said. “I’ve also had the privilege of being deployed to many remote sites like Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Bahrain. The list is long.”

Barbato is one of approximately 565 UMGC overseas faculty members for whom a classroom may be any place in the world. These educators usually teach in education centers on military bases—except when COVID-19 drove them to online education platforms—but they also have moments where a class might unfold in a tent, in a building stairwell, in a bunker.

They are drawn to the experience because of their links to the military, by their interest in nontraditional students, by their love of travel or, sometimes, by all three.

On Oct. 5, World Teachers’ Day, the experiences of these UMGC teachers especially resonate.

UMGC Psychology Professor Mindy Otis said teaching in a global classroom has been her best job. She enjoys her students and she gets to indulge her lifelong love of travel. Before joining UMGC as a full-time faculty member, she had multiple positions in the education field, including as a special education administrator and a school principal.

“I was living in Connecticut and I didn’t like the job I had. It was very stressful. I was looking for a change,” she said. She spotted a UMGC advertisement for overseas teachers and applied.

That was seven years ago, and she hasn’t looked back.

For Renaldo Walker, teaching at UMGC has an intensely personal significance. Walker is both a former servicemember and a former UMGC student. Deployed to Germany to support Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, he began studying German through the university. Today he is a full-time faculty member teaching graduate and undergraduate business, human resources and project management classes in Germany.

“The experience of being away from the United States and still having the possibility to pursue a valuable education with a respectable institution was influential in paving the way to where I am now,” Walker said. “I always valued what it meant to me as a member of the military to be academically supported away from home.”

Walker, even while teaching, continues his own education at UMGC. He is pursuing a doctorate in business administration.

Walker noted the irony of his current career, given that he was interested in sports—not education—when he was young. He described himself as an “at times below average” student when he joined the Air Force in 1987.

Several years into his military service, he felt “it would be an honor to travel abroad and pay service to our military members, Department of Defense employees and contractors, and their families in their pursuit of academic accomplishment.”

Gretchen Koenig, meanwhile, had always wanted to teach outside the United States. A professor of English, speech and writing since 2016, she said her position with UMGC in Europe “was a perfect fit.”

The theme for World Teachers’ Day in 2021 is “teachers at the heart of education recovery.” When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most stateside UMGC classes were already online or hybrid, which is a combination of online and in-classroom. At military education centers overseas, however, in-person classes were the norm.

The pandemic was a game changer. Walker described it as “the biggest challenge that I have experienced” in teaching.

John Nolan, a UMGC professor of history, leads field study courses in which students do online work and reading then meet for guided travel marked by lectures, museum visits, meetings with local experts and other on-the-ground experiences. Nolan was in London with a field study group when he got word that countries were locking down because of the novel coronavirus. His students managed to finish their trip, but a field study program in Spain was derailed mid-week.

Despite needing to shift gears for COVID-19, Nolan said he enjoyed the challenges that came with teaching online. “Though the classes have been small, the students have responded well and produced some of the best work I have seen from undergraduates so that, too, is rewarding,” he said.

Otis, meanwhile, was teaching in Korea when the global lockdowns started. “I’ve been in quarantine four-and-a-half times,” she said, “but being in Germany or Korea, compared with the United States, was much more restrictive. We were shut down and the only thing you could do was go to the grocery store or pharmacy or pick up takeout.”

She said the isolation of lockdown was hard, and her students in Italy and Germany seemed to arrive at the Zoom classes seeking both academic and social engagement.

“My students would stay online after class and we would all chat. It was our social exposure,” she explained.

Indeed, the interaction with students—and the opportunity to unleash their potential—is one of the things that drives Walker passion for teaching. He recalled the time when an MBA student was in touch to say a job would prevent her from attending the first cohort weekend in his class. Shortly afterward, Walker learned that the student was taking steps to drop the course.

“A program coordinator … was instrumental in advising her that she should first speak with me before doing anything further. She agreed, we eventually spoke and during our telephone conversation, she began to cry and explain to me that the office where she worked was understaffed so she was working most weekends, and that she was trying her hardest to establish work-life balance while also being a wife and mother of three,” Walker said.

The student was ashamed that she wasn’t keeping pace with the rest of her cohort.

“I went on to make a deal with her that she should suspend all efforts to catch up on her classwork until she had the opportunity to meet with her cohort. If she still felt ashamed after that point, then I would fully respect her wishes to withdraw from the course,” Walker said.

She went to class, met the other students and explained her situation.

“Needless to say, she fell in love with the cohort, caught up with her classwork, confronted her [work] manager about the importance of her pursuing her education and became one of the best students that I ever had,” Walker said. The woman completed her MBA, becoming the first woman in her family with a graduate degree.

Otis, too, finds it gratifying to see her students achieve.

“My students are the best part of the job. They never cease to amaze me,” she said. “Some of them come out of less-than-stellar K-12 education and they think they aren’t college material, that they can’t learn. Then they come to UMGC and realize, ‘Hey, I can do this!’”

Koenig noted that teaching servicemembers overseas often feels exactly like teaching students stateside—and then she is reminded of “the different stressors that our students have to content with.

“Many of these students are away from home for the first time, living in a foreign country, and many are facing deployments or training to additional countries. They are trying to maintain a stable life at home while everything around them is different,” she explained. “That potential loss of equilibrium can make classes more challenging.

“The actual classes and classroom interactions aren’t different, but the concerns or distractions weighing on our student’s minds certainly are,” she added.

Barbato said it’s not only the unexpected experience of teaching against a backdrop of different countries, cultures and challenges but, sometimes, the unusual form the classrooms themselves take.

On the first night of a teaching assignment in Kandahar, Afghanistan, his class was interrupted by sirens signaling a rocket attack. He was instructed to crawl under a table in the classroom until the group moved to a bunker.

“Once in the bunker, which was pitch black, I asked, “Can I still talk?’” Barbato recalled. “I was told I could, so I continued on with the class as I would have anywhere, going over the syllabus, the assignments, forming groups and talking about human resource management.

“We had been in the bunker for almost two hours when a student said, ‘Professor, it’s nine o’clock,’ pointing to his watch. The class was scheduled to go from 6 to 9 p.m.

“I said, ‘Do you have somewhere to go?’ We all laughed a bit and then we kept discussing human resource management until we were given the all-clear sign,” he said.

Not surprisingly, many of the UMGC faculty overseas love being on the road, and they take advantage of the opportunity to travel when they can.

Otis is an old hat at off-the-beaten-track experiences. On one trip she visited an amusement park in the bottom of a salt mine in Turda, Romania. On another, she tried out a multi-level trampoline in a coal mine in northern Wales. A 5,000-miles road trip took her through several countries.

“Before I came to UMGC, I was a normal suburban soccer mom. I went to work, I came home, I did potluck,” she said. “I love the life I have now. Next weekend I’m going hiking by myself in the Canary Islands.”

In Nolan’s 23 years with UMGC, he has taught in nine locations in Germany, six in the UK, four in Italy, three in Belgium and two in Bosnia. He has also had multiple postings in Kuwait, Bahrain, Afghanistan and Diego Garcia. His field study courses, notably in Ireland and France, give him an extra opportunity to travel when he’s not at his home, a small farm in rural

Cornwall where, as he puts it, “I wear bib overalls a lot.”

For all his postings with UMGC, Barbato’s link to the university came through his father who retired from the military, served as dean of the European operations of a U.S. college that no longer exists and then taught at UMGC for 17 years.

Just out of college and ready to begin a job as an investment banker in New York, Barbato found his father trying to lure him back to Europe, where Barbato had attended school on military bases.

“My father had financed my studies in the form of a loan. He told me, that if I came over to Europe and taught with him for one year, he would erase the loan,” Barbato said. “That one year turned into 32 years and going.”

Barbato teaches business courses, including management and marketing. He is assigned to Germany’s Ramstein Air Base, the same base where his father served. At the Commencement ceremony marking the last year his father taught, the father and son—both UMGC faculty members—walked across the stage together.

Cyberbullying: Five Common Misconceptions 

Guest author Richard White, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of cybersecurity information assurance at UMGC. He is also the author of the books “Cyberbullying: The Silent Sickness of America’s Youth,” and “Cybercrime: The Madness Behind the Methods.” 

In the last 15 years or so, a new menace has emerged that threatens to erode trust and destroy young lives. Before children had access to mobile phones, social media accounts and online gaming forums, bullying occurred mainly in schoolyards and on playgrounds. There, at least you knew who the bullies were and that you would be safe at home. Sadly, today we live in a world where “cyberbullies,” perpetrators who use electronic communication to intimidate or threaten, follow their victims right into their homes and even the safety of their bedrooms.  

Cyberbullying occurs out of public view and away from the sightline of mindful parents, teachers, friends and bystanders. Victims of cyberbullying have nowhere to hide. 

Many people do not take the cyberbullying epidemic seriously, mainly because they do not see it or understand its implications. But the consequences can be devastating. According to the Journal of Health Economics, statistics collected as far back as 2017 indicate that internet bullying increases suicidal thinking among its victims by 14.5 percent and suicide attempts by 8.7 percent. In recent research published in the Journal of School Violence, Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin, co-directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center, found that students who experienced bullying or cyberbullying are nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide.   

Social media, an integral part of how teens, especially, communicate and interact with friends, has made it particularly difficult for parents to identify the signs cyberbullying and even more difficult for them to prevent it. The social aspect of social media—namely retweets, “likes” and comments—opens a world of opportunity for nefarious behavior. An original message can be distorted, private photos can be shared, and a perfectly innocent communication can be misused to victimize and torment its originator. 

Cyberbullies remain anonymous or masquerade as someone else. They attack at any time of day or night and from any place in the world. Victims often find themselves alone in the fight as others steer clear to avoid becoming targets, too. This gives the advantage to the cyberbully and makes it harder to stop the malicious activity. 

To better understand and combat online abuse and hate, it is helpful to dispel common misconceptions about cyberbullying.   

  1. Cyberbullying is less harmful than traditional bullying. 

False. Traditional bullying can be damaging and lead to physical altercations. But the  persistent and pervasive nature of cyberbullying can fuel deep emotional and physical problems that even lead, in some cases, to suicide. The real problem with cyberbullying is the persistent relationship between the victim and the digital media source of the abuse. A cyberbully take advantage of this relationship. 

  1. Victims of cyberbullying show signs of emotional abuse early. 

False. With younger victims, often there are no obvious signs of abuse until the bullying problem becomes overwhelming and dangerous. Victims, embarrassed by the content a cyberbully focuses on or spreads, may make every effort to hide it from those who care about them.  

  1. A parent can tell if a child is being cyberbullied.  

False. Not only is this not true, but a parent may be the last to know. Children and young adults are experts when it comes to hiding emotional distress. They go great lengths to hide their pain from parents and other authority figures, particularly in the early stages of the abuse.  

  1. Cyberbullying usually unfolds in one form. 

False. Cyberbullying takes many shapes, including the following: 

  • Using text messaging to harass a victim: Bullies often work as a gang to identify a target and then send hundreds of messages filled with vulgarities and personal insults. The goal is to overwhelm a victim by the sheer number of attacks. These bullies may magnify this by posting rumors—meant to cause as much emotional distress as possible—on social media platforms.  
  • Falsely reporting a victim as a cyberbully: Many websites and chatrooms feature a button to notify moderators of a user who is causing harm to other people on the platforms. If they receive multiple reports over a short period of time, the systems are designed to automatically remove someone from their service. Bullies use this feature to kick innocent victims off social media networks. 
  • Identity theft: Bullies will steal the password to a social media account and then post inappropriate material in full view of parents, relatives and friends. Some cyberbullies post racist or sexual information specifically to embarrass. 
  • Trolling: Trolling is a term that has received widespread notoriety over the last few years. This practice involves sending a message aimed at eliciting an emotional response from the victim. These messages target ethnic, religious or social background. Most of these offenders, or Trolls, seek to overwhelm their victims and make them feel vulnerable and humiliated. This leads to feelings of hopelessness. It also leaves victims powerless to control emotional and social situations in their lives.  
  • Cyberstalking: An especially dangerous type of bullying, cyberstalking occurs when a perpetrator monitors a victim’s digital media presence to gather information on their personal life, whereabouts and behavior patterns. The information is used to blackmail, harass or solicit sex from a victim. This is additionally dangerous due to the close link between stalking and violence.  
  • Ostracism: A large group of friends can decide to purposefully ignore one member by failing to acknowledge phone calls, texts or online posts. This makes the victim feel isolated and embarrassed. 
  • Trickery: Trickery can take several forms. For example, someone can create a fake social media account to trick a victim into believing someone is romantically interested in them or to get the victim to trust them. Once the connection is achieved, victims might be lured into revealing personal information that could be used to blackmail or embarrass them.  
  1. Cyberbullies are evil and misguided. 

False. Cyberbullies, in most cases, appear well adjusted and socialize with others in a seemingly acceptable manner. This includes their interactions with parents, teachers, authority figures and even the parents of their victims. Who, then, becomes a cyberbully? The disconcerting answer is anyone. Context and situation, home environment, poor coping skills, past victimhood or a lack of supervision can all contribute to the emergence of a cyberbully. 

Cyberbullying is on a rapid rise, and we must take a stand now to prevent and eradicate this social disease. Tougher laws are needed to document and punish first-time and repeat offenders. More responsibility needs to reside with social media platforms. They must block and permanently remove offenders, both automatically and when reported. We also need to extend more authority to law enforcement agencies responsible for investigating and prosecuting offenders.  

Lastly, everyone must be involved: parents, teachers, friends, other family members. The cost of inaction will be the loss of those most vulnerable. If you know or suspect someone is being cyberbullied, act now. Tomorrow might be too late.  

Education, Experiences through the Lens of Hispanic Americans

Higher education can be a complex experience for Hispanic American students who do not have friends and families to help them navigate enrollment, financial aid or the time-management challenges of taking classes, often while also working.

That’s why universities, including University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), need to be intentional about providing services and programs that support first-generation students, according to panelists at The Road to Higher Ed for Latinx Women, an online forum sponsored by the university in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month. 

The Sept. 17 discussion was among the events unfolding at UMGC in the United States and at its overseas locations during Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. The goal of the month is to recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans—past and present—in shaping the United States. 

An estimated 60 million Hispanic Americans live in the United States.

Nationwide, Latin American food tastings, author readings, film festivals and theater and music events  remained among the mainstays in celebrating the month. UMGC was involved in cultural activities, but it also brought thoughtful discussion into the mix.

“Universities need to consciously work to attract and retain Latinx students in higher education,” said Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, director of community engagement at University of Maryland College Park and a panelist at the event sponsored by the UMGC Diversity and Equity Office. “We need to think outside of the box.

“We are full of talent and we are looking for opportunities,” added Aparicio Blackwell, who grew up in Venezuela.  

The higher education panel also included Annie Foster Ahmed, the director of the Macklin Center for Academic Success at The Universities at Shady Grove in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and New Futures DC Program Director Griselda Macias. Natasha Rodriguez, director of multicultural training and diversity programs in the UMGC Diversity and Equity Office, served as moderator.

The speakers were unanimous in calling for more guidance, resources and financial aid so that educational pathways held fewer obstacles for traditionally disadvantaged students. They also said higher education institutions need more Latinx administrators, faculty and staff in visible positions.

“We have to recognize that we have students experiencing racism and … struggling with identity if they don’t find [an academic] community that is open and understanding and that values and welcomes their identity,” said Foster Ahmed, who is Afro-Latina.

Foster Ahmed talked about the culture shock she experienced at college. She also noted the excitement of being able to take courses in Latin American history and Black history.

Ten days after the panel presentation, on the other side of the world, another UMGC-sponsored event unfolded on an Air Force base in southwest Asia. That round table discussion, A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Serving our Nation, included servicemembers detailing what it means to be a Hispanic American member of the military.  

“At my location, we have a lot of Hispanic military members,” said Chantell Simmons, the UMGC program coordinator at the base. “The panelists include a UMGC student and members of a Hispanic Heritage Committee on the base. We want to talk about real-life issues.”

Simmons, who is also a UMGC adjunct instructor, said topics for the roundtable included how having a second language affects identity. The panelists at the Latinx education event also discussed language, with one whose mother was born in Guatemala and her father in Jamaica, saying the pressure to advance her English-language skills eroded her ability to speak Spanish. Other panelists noted that bilingual college students often have unusual language barriers that universities do not take into account.

Both discussions also touched on the diversity that lies within the label “Hispanic.” Simmons talked of students on the base who were Puerto Rican and students who were Mexican American, and how their cultural identities widely differed.

“It is important to have events like this because it honors Hispanic American people and their legacy. It helps us to discover and rediscover their—and our—history,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Chelsie Gross, who manages the education office on the base. 

Simmons and Gross partnered to organize the online roundtable and ensure that access to the event was available to everyone on the base. Gross said the discussion was the serious spot amid a month of Hispanic heritage activities on the base, including a cookout with a Hispanic menu, salsa dancing and trivia competitions. 

“Sometimes we focus on the fun, but it’s nice to have the educational piece, to acknowledge … that men and women from all cultural backgrounds continue to influence where we are today,” Gross said. “Whether at UMGC or the military or wherever we may be, diversity and inclusion make us better and stronger—as an Air Force and as a country.  

“In unity there is strength,” she added.

UMGC Names Sharon Fross as Vice President and Dean of School of Arts and Sciences

Adelphi, Md. (Sept. 30, 2021)—Sharon L. Fross, PhD, has been appointed the new vice president and dean of the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) School of Arts and Sciences. Fross has served for nearly 3o years in leadership roles across higher education, dedicating her career to making colleges and universities accessible to adult and first-generation learners.

“UMGC is one of the few national institutions that has been committed to adult and military learners since its founding. I am thrilled to join such a preeminent institution−especially, at this critical time as the pandemic continues to change the needs of adult learners,” Fross said. 

The School of Arts and Sciences at UMGC offers degree programs that can be easily customized with a variety of minors. Students and alumni stay connected through lifetime career services and a strong global community that can greatly aid professional networking. 

“The nature of work is changing right before our eyes, along with the expectations of employees and employers,” said Fross. “Adult learners and employers know they can rely on UMGC to put learners first and to respond quickly and thoughtfully to these changing needs. I am excited to join the UMGC community of faculty and staff who do everything possible to foster the continued success of our learners.”

Fross holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master of Public Administration from the College of Charleston in South Carolina. She earned her doctorate in educational administration from the University of South Carolina.  

“Sharon brings extensive experience developing online, credit and competency-based curricula, stackable credentials, and student pathways to meet workforce needs,” said UMGC Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer, Blakely Pomietto, when announcing Fross’ appointment. “She is adept in creating collaborative teams to revise and develop new programs.”

About University of Maryland Global Campus

University of Maryland Global Campus is a world leader in innovative educational models with award-winning online programs in biotechnology, cybersecurity, data analytics, information technology, and other high-demand disciplines in today’s increasingly technical, global workplace. With an enrollment of some 90,000 students, UMGC offers open access with a global footprint and a specific mission—to meet the learning needs of students whose responsibilities may include jobs, family, and military service. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs, including doctoral programs. A pioneer in distance education since 1947, UMGC is harnessing the power of learning science and technology to deliver accessible high quality, low-cost higher education.