Using Personal Tragedy from the Pandemic Inspires Mahawa Bundor to Reach Higher Goals

It would be an understatement to call the past two years “difficult” for Mahawa Bundor. The Sierra Leone, West Africa native—who moved to Maryland with her family at age 10—was studying full time in the master of science in cybersecurity technology program at University of Maryland Global Campus while raising her 12-year-old son as a single mom. Both of her parents contracted Covid. Her mother was hospitalized for two weeks and came home with oxygen, but her father tragically passed after fighting for his life, ventilated, at the hospital.

“I was completely heart-stricken after my father passed due to his complications from Covid, for I loved my father dearly. But I was not as sad as I was stressed and overwhelmed with responsibilities,” Bundor says. “I learned of true dedication to education when working on my master’s degree. I got a better handle on juggling school, work, and home life, and I learned that everything is earned.”

Somehow, Bundor summoned the energy and fortitude to complete her studies and to earn a 4.0 grade point average despite all of the hardships her family faced. “I was not going to disappoint myself by allowing my personal problems of my home life, global pandemonium, and bad health to get to me so much that I neglected my schoolwork. No!” she says. “The day after receiving the terrible and traumatizing news of my father’s passing, I studied harder and sacrificed my time to classes and dedicated myself to continue to focus on my son.”

She has never worked harder in her life than she has in the past two years, Bundor says. She kept telling herself that things were only going to get better and drew inspiration from the Frederick Douglass declaration, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” She also realized that with family support and her own self-motivation that she was not alone.

Being empathetic and deeply-loving are among Bundor’s greatest strengths, the self-declared extrovert and “friendly person in general” believes. She brings those attributes to the mental health field in which she works.

After earning a bachelor of social work from University of Maryland Baltimore County, she practiced as a student intern at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Initially, she aimed to pursue case management, but she then decided to study cybersecurity at UMGC to bring technological skills to her social work.

“Due to the high demand of technology these days and everything gradually transitioning into digital models, I realized that with a technology degree under my belt I would be able to grow further within my career into this emerging, crazy crypto world,” she says.

Bundor speaks highly of both the campuses and atmosphere at the University of Maryland systems, which she calls “exemplary” and motivating, and she particularly wanted to study cybersecurity at UMGC, because she knew it was so well regarded.

“UMGC gave me the platform to continue my educational goals by providing the proper tools to help reach my great accomplishments,” she says. “It provided the most patient professors, centers for research, labs, books, tutors, and workshops to improve the educational process.” And where one can feel alone in graduate school, UMGC offered Bundor a “gentle push” to keep striving and succeeding.

“The first day of graduate school was surreal,” she remembers. “It suddenly hit me that I was no longer a child. Every decision that I made henceforth could have the ability to dramatically change my life for the better or the worse. UMGC has made my future life better.” She wishes her father was here to congratulate her on her newly minted degree, but she also knows he is looking down, happy, and smiling upon her.

Down the road, she intends to advocate for women on health issues, including focusing on fighting human trafficking and domestic violence (of which she is a survivor). She also has her eye on a career in the federal government focused on cybersecurity. “Dreaming big is a scary thing,” she says. “The goals that I have set for myself to reach are high up in the sky, but they are not impossible.”