Claudia Palacios and her husband, Daniel Lewis, have completed master’s degrees from the School of Business at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). They will claim their diplomas together on the same day.
“The most challenging aspect of this journey was the work-life balance. The most unique aspect was that my wife and I are obtaining degrees from same school at the same time,” Lewis said. “It has been our aspiration to accomplish our goals together.”
For more than two years, school was the center of attention in the couple’s Fairfax, Virginia home. Palacios, Lewis and their daughter Natalie, 16, often converged in the evenings over homework. That togetherness amped up when COVID-19 took the couple’s jobs and Natalie’s classes onto virtual platforms.
“There were days that were easier than others. It was definitely some good and bad but I’m glad we did it,” Lewis said. “One thing I’ll say, there was never a dull moment.”
Education was what brought Lewis and Palacios together 13 years ago. They met in a student lounge at Northern Virginia Community College, where they were both enrolled. They later celebrated Palacios’s first degree by taking a trip to Paris. On that trip, Lewis proposed marriage.
Each already had two bachelor’s degrees before they enrolled at UMGC for graduate studies. Lewis has bachelor’s degrees in business management and in criminology, law and society. Palacios has degrees in business management and accounting.
Lewis will use his new Master of Management—with a concentration in project management—to advance in his career with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), where he is a contracting officer with the procurement management office in the Rural Development Division. Even though he works in procurement, he decided to learn more about project management.
“I thought it would help me become a project manager or procurement manager,” he explained.
Palacios also works at the USDA, as a government information specialist in the Freedom of Information Act office in the Rural Development Division. Her new Master of Science in Accounting Information Systems promises to open career doors. She said the UMGC program was especially attractive because it let her take courses in two areas of interest: accounting and cybersecurity.
“Some assignments that I had were really interesting. And I got to work on different software, including some programs I’d heard of but hadn’t used before,” Palacios said. “I also became more aware of not only protecting yourself from spam but the different forms of spam and how to look for them.”
Lewis and Palacios may have completed their degrees together, but they did so via vastly different study habits, sometimes staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning to work on assignments.
Lewis jumped into his studies immediately after work each day, tackling readings and assignments methodically, piece by piece. Palacios, meanwhile, waited until deeper into the evening. She was less riled by deadline pressure.
“She liked to decompress and get her thoughts together before she started in,” Lewis said. “Sometimes she would come up with her best ideas in her sleep!”
Palacios said that turning their home into an informal study hall probably made the journey to a degree easier for both of them.
“We were motivating each other. Checking in to ask, ‘Hey, how’s your paper going?’ Or ‘Hey, can you proofread my paper while I proofread yours?’” she explained. “And since we were in two different majors, I could see his work from an outside perspective.”
That did not mean there weren’t uphill moments. Palacios laughed when she explained that she announced on more than one occasion that she was quitting her program. “But then I’d mention that I had a project due in a few days, so I was only really quitting for one day.”
Lewis cited “three solid reasons” why he and Palacios chose UMGC for their master’s degrees. “It was an online institution, it was nationally known and accredited, and it offered discounted tuition for federal employees,” he said. “There was also the factor that there was no GMAT or GRE requirement.”
They coordinated to make sure they were on the UMGC commencement schedule to walk on the same day during the same time slot. They noted that one benefit of graduating together is that they could jointly invite more family members to the ceremony.
After an immediate celebration with family, they will have a party with friends. “And in the summer we plan a trip to Los Angeles to celebrate,” Palacios said.