La Sharn Newbill: Staying the Course through Widowhood  

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LaSharn Newbill took the End of Life: Issues and Perspectives course at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) as one of her electives en route to a bachelor’s degree. Little did she realize how quickly she would use its lessons. 

“The most challenging aspect of my journey to my degree was not the classes. It was dealing with life’s obstacles,” said Newbill, who is celebrating her new Bachelor of Science while acknowledging the gut-splitting loss that accompanied it. 

Newbill was in her second semester at UMGC in early 2019 when her husband died suddenly, a trauma that threw her own health into turmoil and eventually prompted her to sell their home and move, another upheaval. His death was not the first daunting hurdle of her academic journey. Nor the last. 

Newbill had returned to school at age 50 so that she could advance her career at ExamOne, a company of Quest Diagnostics, a national medical laboratory.  

“There was position I wanted and I had all the qualifications for it and I had worked hard for it. All of a sudden I learned I couldn’t get the job without a degree in research science, laboratory science or biology ,” Newbill said. “They told me to go and get a degree and they would consider me when the job opened again.”  

A TV commercial for UMGC persuaded her that the university’s online classes—including forensic biology—and flexible scheduling would be a fit for her. She also liked that she could receive credit for past courses taken at another academic institution.   

Even a medical diagnosis that required Newbill to undergo brain surgery did not derail her plans. Newbill was still recovering when she began her first semester of classes. Among other things, the recovery included bouts of memory loss.  

She said her professors were not only accommodating and patient, but they also encouraged her, something she credits for building her drive to continue her studies. She mustered that same resolve when diabetes, depression and an auto-immune disease surfaced after her husband’s death. And again when she put the couple’s home up for sale and moved. 

Newbill’s husband, James, had juggled serious medical concerns before she decided to enroll at UMGC. But he had beaten a health scare, was recovering from a kidney transplant and was on the road to recovery by the time she started classes.  

Then things changed midway through Newbill’s first semester. 

“In October of 2018, my husband lost a lot of weight. By December he was very sick and in and out of the hospital. But then they released him in December and we thought he was doing better,” Newbill recalled.  

At that point, she jumped into her second semester of classes, which included the End of Life course recommended by her professors and adviser.   

“Suddenly I realized that I was taking the class while living through all the steps in it—the trips to the doctors, the tests, the in-and-out of the hospital and then the news he was dying,” she said. “That course carried me through his death.” 

The couple had been together 33 years, since Newbill was 18 years old, and James’ death devastated her. Still, she took only a short time off from school before pushing forward, one class at a time.   

As much as he was in her thoughts, the couple’s “big house and all its memories” left her unsettled. So, she put the home up for sale and made plans to move, still keeping on track for her degree. 

“I moved in September 2020, during the pandemic, during school,” she said. The move was not a smooth one. COVID-19 has caused upheaval in the housing market and she ended up living in a hotel for more than a month while she waited for the closing on her new home.   

The move, a grueling work schedule and Newbill’s health challenges took their toll.  

“I was about to quit UMGC. And then that UMGC commercial came on TV again,” she said. “I told myself, ‘You’ve only got one more year to go. Don’t be a quitter, don’t be a quitter.’” 

Newbill completed the program. She has advanced at ExamOne. Her health is back on track. And she’s planning a post-commencement vacation in Dubai, a trip that she and her husband talked about but never were able to take. 

“I’m moving forward. I’m striving for a new beginning when I cross that stage for my diploma,” she said.   

Daniel Lewis and Claudia Palacios “Master” UMGC Together as Husband and Wife 

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. 

Candace Orsetti Fulfills Life-Long Dream, Is Contestant on March 30 Episode of Jeopardy!   

Candace Orsetti was 11 years old when Alex Trebek made his debut as host of TV game show Jeopardy!. Watching the program turned Orsetti into a diehard fan of the program and an unrepentant trivia nerd. It also put her on the path to what she calls “a dream come true.” 

On March 30, the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) course development writer and editor will appear as a Jeopardy! contestant. 

Last week, Orsetti’s bio on Twitter read: “Wife, dog lover, word nerd, Llama, baker. Hoping someday to have a profile pic w/a vivid blue background.” This week it has a photo with a vivid blue background. 

“All the Jeopardy! followers know what that background means,” said Orsetti, referring to the color of the program’s stage set. 

Orsetti taped the show in California in January and has waited two months to go public about her TV fame. Did she win big prize money? Will she appear in more than one episode? She is not allowed to say before the show airs, the secrecy being one of the many components of Jeopardy! mystique. She was, however, permitted to note that actor Mayim Bialik was the show’s host. And she revealed that she went for a true Daily Double, meaning that she wagered everything she had on one answer that could double her winnings.   

It is hard to overstate Orsetti’s fervor for the show—and the persistence of her ambition to appear on it. Her first chance came when she was 15. In those days, contestant searches were announced at the end of the show via a note that flashed on the screen to announce tryouts in specific cities. Contestant wannabes responded by sending in postcards that were randomly drawn. Orsetti’s postcard to a local Baltimore TV affiliate resulted in an invitation to take an in-studio test.

“I missed the qualification by one question. That’s been my story for 35 years, but that’s also an inside joke at Jeopardy!” she said. “Everybody that didn’t make the cut was told they missed it by one question.” 

The postcards continued and Orsetti came close to qualifying again in the 1990s. By the 2000s, postcards were replaced with online tests. In 2018, she made the cut—but then languished in the contestant pool for 18 months without being called to a taping. 

“That 18-month period ended on March 13, 2020, the day when everything happened with COVID-19,” Orsetti said. “That was UMGC’s first 100 percent telework day.”

Orsetti persevered, and a June 21, 2020, test put her in the running again. A year after taking that 15-minute online quiz, she was invited to take a Zoom version of the test where she was watched online to confirm her identity and ensure there was no cheating. She had a stroke of luck when one of the questions on the proctored test focused on the ingredients in a Black Russian cocktail. She credited her father, who had died five months earlier, for her knowledge of that answer. It had been his favorite drink.

Four days after the proctored test, she was called for an audition. Since the pandemic, Jeopardy! hopefuls take the audition through an online video platform. The audition featured a contestant interview and a series of mock games. 

“The players hold up a clicky pen as a buzzer. And you’re phrasing your responses in the form of a question,” Orsetti explained. “It wasn’t just about people giving correct responses, but about personality and keeping the game moving and having an interesting presence.”

In the time between the proctored test and the audition, during a dinner of Chinese takeout, Orsetti opened a fortune cookie and found this message: “You will pass a difficult test that will make you happier and financially better.”  

The message was prescient. For a second time, she was back in the contestant pool. 

“At that point, the smart thing to do was to hit the books and start studying. I did—for about a week,” she said with a laugh. Six months later, just as she was about to enter a UMGC work meeting, she received a phone call with a Los Angeles area code. It was the Jeopardy! contestant coordinator inviting her to a January 26, 2022, taping of the show.  

For the next three weeks, Orsetti went everywhere with her “Jeopardy! Go Bag,” a tote bag containing flashcards and study materials she put together.

Orsetti, who earned a B.A. in English from UMGC in 2003, is such a Jeopardy! enthusiast that she had read not only contestant—and, later, host—Ken Jennings’s book, Brainiac, but also the book by Fritz Holznagel titled Secrets of the Buzzer that explains the idiosyncrasies of the buzzers used for Jeopardy! and other game shows. She was aware that contestants pay their own hotel and airfare to appear on the program. And that her clothing would have to be able to support a hidden microphone. And that she wasn’t supposed to wear stripes or certain colors. 

What she hadn’t known is that she would have to go through COVID screening in the Jeopardy! studio’s garage and that the show’s staging area, where contestants had their hair and makeup done, was the set of Wheel of Fortune.  

On taping day, Orsetti worried about two knowledge categories she was weak in: sports and 2020s pop stars. That wasn’t the only thing. Because of the time gap between when the show is taped and when it airs, Orsetti said she and others in the contestant pool were unsure whether Amy Schneider—whose 40-game appearance became the second-longest winning streak in Jeopardy! history—was still a contestant.

“We were all looking around for Amy and asking if Amy was still there. We were scared of Amy,” Orsetti said. It turned out that the day of the taping was also the day that Schneider’s last episode with Jeopardy! aired.   

Orsetti’s Jeopardy! smarts owe something to her deep engagement with trivia. For nearly 10 years—until COVID ended in-person gatherings—she played on a weekly pub trivia team with her husband, parents and a shifting roster of friends. She also belongs to an online trivia league whose membership is capped at 20,000. “A good thousand of the members are Jeopardy! alumni,” she said.

On the day she makes her television debut with Jeopardy!, Orsetti is hosting a small watch party with close friends and family. Concurrently, she’ll host a Zoom gathering with far-flung friends and family.  

“For two months I’ve been living with this weird timeline. I’m both a future and past Jeopardy! player,” Orsetti said, referring to the gap between when the show was filmed and when it will air.  

Jeopardy! may be behind her, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Orsetti’s game show days are over.

“I’ve always been a game show fan, especially trivia-based game shows. I have also gotten to the point where I got a second callback for Wheel of Fortune, The Chase, and Weakest Link,” Orsetti said. There’s just one hitch: Her Jeopardy! contract bars her from appearing on other TV game shows for six months.

Making History at UMGC: Patricia Wallace and Her Role in Pioneering Online Learning

When schools and universities around the globe were quickly forced onto virtual teaching platforms by the COVID-19 outbreak, Patricia Wallace had one thought.

“I was thinking that this is going to be extremely difficult for most educators to do,” said Wallace, a technology pioneer who led University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) into large-scale virtual learning nearly three decades ago.

“If you’re talking about a fifth-grade teacher who is used to being hands on in the classroom with 20 or more kids, it would have been difficult moving all those kids to online learning,” Wallace continued. “At the university level, faculty at many institutions faced the same issues because they were not used to online teaching and a lot of their curricula was not designed for that.”

Wallace knows what she is talking about. As chief information officer in the 1990s at what was then known as University of Maryland University College, she ignored skeptics and spearheaded a move to online education before that concept even had a name. Because of her team’s foresight, UMGC seamlessly continued its courses in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered classrooms around the world.

Wallace recalled the intensive work, faculty training, technology acquisition and experimentation that preceded UMGC’s shift to virtual education in the 1990s. She said the desire to provide education to nontraditional students around the world, including in conflict zones, was the impetus.

“We knew our students needed pathways to education that didn’t require them to get babysitters and commute all the time,” she explained. “Another driver… is that we had students in remote places, like McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and a remote base had too few students to support more than a couple of faculty members. That meant only a small number of courses could be offered and the students couldn’t pursue a degree.”

The university constantly tested new distance learning options. In the 1970s, newspaper courses debuted in the European Division. Military newspaper Stars and Stripes carried reading assignments and faculty commentary; exams were administered in classrooms. In another approach, students earned credits through structured independent study. Participants did not attend classes but, rather, relied on tutors, television lectures, videotapes, texts and radio broadcasts. Then, in 1991, UMGC became the first university to offer a degree-completion program in which course materials were provided through cable and satellite television, boosted by telephone conferencing and voicemail. 

Those systems generally proved unwieldly, expensive or too hard to scale-up for a global student enrollment. A breakthrough came when students and faculty gained access to the internet.

“Some faculty in Europe and Asia started teaching via email and that was about the most successful,” Wallace said. “That’s how we started to think about how we were going to build this university online.”

In teaching via email, professors sent assignments and received homework assignments through their email accounts. But unstable internet connections, limits on file sizes and weather interference were challenges, and the approach still fell short of UMGC’s vision of a technology-based infrastructure capable of providing full-degree programs, students services, library resources and even financial aid information.

Wallace said the University of Illinois had been experimenting for many years with a computer-based instruction system called PLATO, short for Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations. It required a mainframe computer and special terminals. UMGC had a few of the terminals but students still had to report to a university lab room to take a course. Nonetheless, Wallace said, “the concept was there, so we looked into how we could do something like that.” 

By 1994, Wallace’s team had developed a learning management system called Tycho that students could install on their personal computers. The students then dialed into modems and logged in to see their course materials, interact with discussion forums, form study groups and contact their professors and other students. It caught on so quickly that it became difficult to keep up with enrollment.

“We had 54,000 percent growth over seven years,” Wallace said. “That’s even hard to imagine. Every semester, the classes filled up.”

She said faculty training was an ongoing challenge, especially as technology shifted and advanced. Over time, students were migrated into more sophisticated technology platforms and programs. 

Wallace, who left the CIO position in 1999 but remains an adjunct professor at UMGC, acknowledged that women in tech leadership positions might not have been common in the 1990s, but she said the university’s inclusive culture made it feel normal.

“I reported to a woman vice president. I had six units reporting to me and three of them were headed by women,” she said. “UMGC is a fairly egalitarian place. We didn’t have the same types of struggles that emerged in other organizations.”

Although Wallace carved out a career in technology, that’s not where she started. She earned her Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and in 1975, while on sabbatical from a tenured position as an associate professor of psychology at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, she taught as a short-term UMGC faculty member in South Korea and Japan. She left Clarion and returned to UMGC as a faculty member in 1980 when her husband, Julian Jones, was named director of the university’s Asian Division, based in Tokyo.

Soon after, Wallace added a master’s degree in computer systems management from UMGC to her resume and began to work in technology. Eventually, she was named head of IT for the Asian Division and then was elevated to CIO for overall university operations.

“At the time, there was certainly a lot of movement to attract more women to technology jobs,” she said. “In Asia, most of the people who worked for me were women.”  

Wallace said her pairing of psychology and technology may sound unusual, but the two disciplines go hand in hand.

“After all, we’re humans. We’re interacting with technology and with the humans on the other end of it,” she said. 

Wallace explored that interaction, examining how being online can change people’s behavior, in her book “The Psychology of the Internet,” published by Cambridge University Press in 1999. A revised and updated version of the book came out in 2016.

She is also the author of other books, including “The Internet in the Workplace” published in 2004.

Wallace credits UMGC for giving her the leeway to experiment. Her work helped open access to a university degree to generations of nontraditional students.

“The university took a lot of risks in many different areas,” Wallace said. “I’m quite proud of what we were able to accomplish on the technology side and the academic side.”

Seamless Pathway for Transfer Students Earns UMGC Top Spot on U.S. News Short List Ranking

By Mary A. Dempsey

When Nina Bridgers decided to pursue her longstanding dream of a job in the tech field, she pinpointed University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC)—the institution that U.S. News Short List ranks as No. 1 in the nation for transfer students—as the lynchpin of her plan.

Nina Bridgers

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Bridgers enrolled at Prince George’s Community College in Maryland to complete an associate degree that she sidelined to care for her sick mother years earlier. She then carried credit from that community college degree to UMGC, where she is working toward a Bachelor of Science in computer networks and cybersecurity. 

Bridgers liked UMGC because of its partnership with the community college and the cascade of support offered students, including academic coaches, easy transfer of past credits, flexible online classes, and access to financial aid. Bridgers said UMGC understands the special challenges faced by students who move from one educational institution to another.

The U.S. News Short List, which teases out individual data points in hopes, the magazine says, of “providing students and parents a way to find which undergraduate or graduate programs excel…,”, reached the same conclusion.

Kristophyre McCall

“The U.S. News rankings reiterate what is part of our DNA, that we are the destination school for transfer students,” said Kristophyre McCall, chief transformation officer at UMGC. “We are a great and flexible place for transfer students to bring their experiences. We are open to maximizing the acceptance of their credits, whether from prior learning or on-the-job experience.

“Unlike a lot of universities, we don’t require students to re-learn knowledge they already have,” he added.

Not all U.S. universities accept transfer students. One of the biggest distinguishers for UMGC is its willingness to accept transfer credits—up to 90 credits. UMGC enrolled more than 9,500 new transfers in fall 2020. Even more, it has a 100 percent acceptance rate, compared with 65 percent for higher education as a whole. The No. 2 transfer school in the U.S. News Short List analysis is California State University, Northridge, with 6,727 new transfer students in fall 2020 and a 67 percent acceptance rate. 

A 2017 report from the Government Accountability Office found that students who moved between public schools — the majority of transfer students — lost an average of 37 percent of their credits. Transfers from private for-profit schools were even more challenging. Those students lost an estimated 94 percent of their credits, stretching out their investment in time and money to get a degree.

“At UMGC we have the ability to assess and accept credits where other universities don’t,” McCall said. Beyond credits from other academic institutions, the university also accepts credits for prior learning obtained through certain workplace or military training. 

McCall said UMGC’s strength is that it promotes its transfer-friendly reputation and strategically builds systems and processes that enable students to know how many of their credits will transfer, the degree programs that best match their career aspirations, and the courses they need each semester. The university also helps students navigate the complexities of financial aid and other payments options.

The UMGC website carries an online tool that assesses credits acquired in previous college studies. Students also can contact the admissions office to learn how many of their credits will transfer. They usually can have their transcript evaluated within 48 hours of submitting it. 

“Our goal is to make the process as seamless as possible,” McCall said.

UMGC’s transfer-friendly reputation owes much to its expanding roster of partnerships with community colleges. The university currently has more than 100 such alliances, including one with the California Community Colleges System, which represents 116 schools. Students transferring to UMGC from partner schools are guaranteed admission and put on mapped out pathways toward their degrees. 

Transfer students have become important for the future of higher education, largely because the numbers of traditional students—those who start college right out of high school—are falling in tandem with a decline in U.S. population growth.

“The population of traditional students, starting in 2024 and 2025, will decrease about 15 percent,” McCall explained. “As the market for traditional-aged college students gets tighter, universities and educational organizations are going to be focusing on adult learners, transfer students and different types of credentials that might be the focus of those students.”

There is another element that distinguishes transfer students and makes UMGC a great destination. Transfer students know how to achieve in higher education.

“As a group, transfer students … have proven to be especially successful, in large part because they already have had experience in an academic environment before they reach UMGC,” said Chris Motz, vice president for academic outreach and corporate alliances. “They understand the landscape and have experience navigating a college-level course.”

Chris Motz

That doesn’t mean the pursuit of a degree is easy. Transfer students often juggle jobs and family responsibilities while studying.

“A lot of transfer students haven’t been to school for quite some time, so it is about building a support mechanism around them to get them comfortable being back in the classroom. It’s about getting students on track or keeping them on track for graduation,” Motz said. “We have a student-success coach model that wraps all our services and helps our students be successful.”

Bridgers said she enrolled at UMGC because it works hard “to ensure students don’t feel lost coming into a new environment.” The university accepted almost all her community college credits as well as 10 credits from other studies. That gave her a strong jumpstart on her bachelor’s degree.

“What I like about UMGC is that they invest … in their students’ lives,” Bridgers said. “For instance, when I was first admitted to the university, I was set up immediately with a career coach and adviser. They checked in with me weekly, sometimes daily. 

“They wanted to discuss my options. They wanted to make sure I felt confident about the degree program. They were always on point to say, ‘You’re a good fit for this. You look like you’re heading on a good path,’” she continued. “They anticipated my questions and needs, and they thought out a calculated approach to apply to me as a transfer student.”

She said they also provided information that secured a scholarship for her and they connected her with UMGC resources that would help her academic journey. The university’s use of open resource educational materials for courses, rather than expensive textbooks, saved her money.

“I’m a working professional with little time to explore every strategic angle. UMGC takes the hard work, the guesswork, out of it. They put me on a direct path, and my studies are going great,” Bridgers said.

Bridgers has worked for the D.C. government in an administrative job since 2008. With a tech degree under her belt, she will look for a position as a government systems administrator or systems engineer.

Career changers and students returning to higher education after an interruption make up a significant part of UMGC’s enrollment. But there are many other reasons why students transfer schools. They may be unhappy with their college experience and seek a better fit. They may be changing majors and want a school with a more prominent degree program. Rising tuitions or fees may push them toward more affordable educational institutions. 

Many UMGC transfer students also come from the U.S. military, the original population that the university was created to serve 75 years ago.

Vice President for Academic Quality Christopher Davis said it was satisfying to be spotlighted by U.S. News & World Report, but the university is not resting on its laurels.  

Christopher Davis

“The recognition shows we’re doing a good job, but there’s so much more that we can do to create an even better experience for the students,” he said. “One thing we’re working at is increasing the number of agreements we have, whether with other universities or academic institutions.”

Davis said more credit for on-the-job training, including for military students, also fits into UMGC’s strategy for helping students complete their degrees in the shortest time possible. He noted that the Bachelor of General Studies program has proven a useful path for students who have lots of elective credits they want to transfer.

“It’s all about asking how we can maximize using students’ credits toward a degree,” he said.

Davis, who also teaches, underscored UMGC’s agility in helping nontraditional students meet their career goals.

“I had a student at UMGC who was 60. She worked in digital forensics for a government contractor, and she wanted to get hired by the government—but she needed a bachelor’s degree,” Davis said. “She already had expertise but she needed that degree. There was a real economic incentive and a career advantage.”

Unlike more traditional universities, Davis noted, UMGC is focused on workforce opportunities. “It’s core to our mission to be career-oriented,” he explained.

He also noted that UMGC works hard to ensure students are the right fit. 

“We talk to students about their purpose and goals, their motivation and their values, and we connect all those things,” Davis said. “If a student doesn’t know those, it’s too expensive in time and money for them to be here. The consequences if they don’t finish their degree are more significant.”   

Bridgers is looking forward to completing her bachelor’s program at the end of 2023—some 25 years after she left high school. At that time, both Bridgers, who was at a community college, and her sister, who was enrolled at UMGC, had to leave their studies to care for their mother. By the time their mother recovered, Bridgers was entrenched in a full-time job.

Bridgers powered through her studies during COVID-19 lockdowns while continuing to work 40 hours a week. She even squeezed out time to keep up her freelance business, iHeart Jesus Creative Designs, focusing on illustrations, logos, publications, and graphic design.

As she works on her bachelor’s degree, she’s added a new goal: to obtain a master’s degree. “I would like to pursue that so I can one day become an adjunct professor,” she said. 

Six UMGC Students Make the Cut for Prestigious Presidential Management Fellows Program

Matthew Sinclair is watching his email to see what job opportunities open in this year’s Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program, a high-profile gateway to government employment. Sinclair is one of six University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) students selected as finalists in the highly competitive program that identifies talented individuals and invites them to apply for positions within the federal workforce.

Matthew Sinclair

“I have lots of friends who work in the federal government, and they told me the PMF is a great way to get your foot in the door,” said Sinclair, assistant director of the Mechanical Engineering Program for University of Maryland College Park. “They said it is prestigious and an honor.”

Sinclair is among only 1,100 people, out of more than 8,000 applicants from 299 academic institutions worldwide, who survived the rigorous multi-step selection process to be named a finalist. PMF finalists are invited to government career fairs—held virtually last year—and receive regular notices of federal job openings for which they may compete. Once matched with a job, a finalist is officially a fellow and has access to training, mentoring and other career-advancing opportunities.

“The Presidential Management Fellows Program is a training and leadership development program, specifically for graduate students. It is extremely competitive and it ends with a two-year fellowship in a federal agency,” said Career Advising Specialist Isa Martinez, who oversees UMGC’s involvement in the program. “This carries a regular salary and benefits and training and access to professional development programs.”

PMF job openings surface across the country, and finalists may have to compete with other fellows for the locations, government agencies, and positions they seek. Martinez said being a finalist doesn’t guarantee a job but 80 to 85 percent of finalists generally find positions.

Isa Martinez

“You can apply for as many openings as you want,” Sinclair explained. “Or, if there’s a specific department or agency that interests you, you can wait for those.”

Sinclair completed his MBA from UMGC last year as part of a career move, and he sees the PMF as a way to propel that aspiration. He also holds undergraduate degrees in education and history, as well as a master’s degree in reading and language arts.

Many of the agencies have webinars explaining their goals and mission. Sinclair said he found the webinar for the Department of Veteran Affairs especially compelling, adding that his maternal grandfather had been a veteran.

When the finalists for the 2022 cohort were announced in December, the selection of six students from UMGC was unprecedented. A year earlier, there were no finalists from the university. In the 2020 cohort, there were two. Both were placed in jobs with the Department of Homeland Security.

“For us to go from zero to six, competing with students from Yale and Georgetown, means that the program is starting to see the wonderful potential of UMGC students,” Martinez said.

Martinez said students from all disciplines are eligible for the PMF but the jobs tend to dovetail with the government’s needs at the time. In 2020, the focus was on IT and cybersecurity. In 2022, it seems to be business administration and health care.

In addition to Sinclair, three other UMGC finalists have degrees in business management or administration: Caren Clift, Clair Curtain and Thuy An Truong. Finalist Elena Candu is completing a degree in emergency management and Xia Lao’s degree is focused on health administration.

Candu, a mother of two who was born in Moldova, is slated to graduate from UMGC in August. She already is a federal employee, but she hopes the PMF will put her on track to a leadership position in emergency management or humanitarian assistance.

“I heard of the program from alumni PMFs who found the program an excellent opportunity for professional development,” she said.

Candu enrolled at UMGC in 2020, two months after her family relocated to Northern Virginia following six years in Africa while her husband was on Foreign Service assignment in Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea. She was getting a haircut when she received an email telling her that she had been selected as a PMF finalist.

Caren Clift

“I was glad that I was wearing a mask covering the big grin on my face when seeing the email,” she said. “I wonder what the stylist was thinking about me grinning, without any explanations, for a good part of the time I was there.”

Martinez said finalists like Candu who are already working for the government can use the PMF to “get a boost in their salary grade level or switch agencies.”

She said she heard about a PMF finalist who worked as a program analyst during her two years as a fellow. “Now she’s a director,” Martinez added.

When it comes to the PMF, three’s the charm for Clift, who had eyed the fellowship on three occasions before becoming a finalist.

When she first learned about PMF, she was “thrilled” about applying but discovered that her UMGC graduation date fell just outside the window for eligibility. Later, her return to school to pursue a dual graduate degree program in health care administration and business administration enabled her to apply, but she was not selected as a finalist.

But she had another chance. The 2020 completion date of her MBA enabled her to jump on the complex Presidential Management Fellowship application process in 2021.

“At the time I applied, I was thinking I could find an opportunity within Health and Human Services or the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” she said. “I wanted to utilize the education I have, focused on wellness and translate that … into a steady income.”

Before she learned that she was a finalist, she had added a project management certificate to her professional credentials and accepted a job with the George Washington Medical Faculty Associates. She likes the job and, especially, her work team but she is also keeping an eye on PMF opportunities.

Whether she ends up working for the federal government or not, Clift said to be selected as a finalist was impressive on its own.

UMGC Event Looks at Martin Luther King Jr. through a Personal Lens

A University of Maryland Global Campus event to honor the civil rights legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. spotlighted the rich personal recollections of Juandalynn Abernathy, the daughter of one of King’s closest friends and partners in the civil rights movement.

Abernathy is the oldest daughter of civil rights leader Ralph David Abernathy, who was one of the strategists of the yearlong Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was also King’s successor as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which organized some of the civil rights movement’s most iconic nonviolent protests.

Juandalynn Abernathy

During Wednesday’s webinar, which was part of the university’s Martin King Luther Jr. Day activities, Abernathy talked about the man she called “Uncle Martin” and detailed the deep friendship between the Abernathy and King families. She noted that her father was an early driver of the effort to name a national holiday in King’s honor.

Abernathy also discussed what she described as the “very scary” complacency and current backsliding on voting rights in the United States. 

“If people do not come together to fight this, we’re going to have a similar situation that we had in the ’50s,” she said. She encouraged both activism and education.

“There is hope, there is really hope, but we have to begin … with children. They are the future. We, as parents, have to talk to [young people], to open their minds to history so that history does not repeat itself,” Abernathy told the nearly sixty people in Europe, Asia and the United States who joined the UMGC discussion.

The event was hosted in Germany, where Abernathy lives and works as a singer and vocal coach.

UMGC Europe Vice President and Director Tony Cho said presentations like Abernathy’s not only offer a rare look at the personal experiences that mark moments in history, but they also underscore an essential responsibility of education.

“As an educational institution, we have a role in keeping history relevant,” he explained.  

Abernathy, born in 1954, described herself as the first child of the civil rights movement. She lived in a house where the changemakers of the era held meetings. King’s year-younger daughter Yolanda was her friend and playmate.

Abernathy’s childhood edged up against some of the country’s most transformative—and tragic—moments, including King’s 1968 assassination. Her father was with King in Memphis to provide support to striking sanitation workers at the time of the shooting.   

“I do remember my father taking me to school before he got on the plane to go to Memphis and I asked him when he was coming back,” Abernathy recalled. “He had a strange look on his face. ‘I don’t know. This is a really tough fight. And I don’t know when we’ll be back.’

“And a couple of days later Uncle Martin was shot,” she said.

Abernathy was on a phone call with Yolanda King when she learned about the shooting. Another friend had called in on one of other phone lines in the Abernathy house and told her to turn on the television.

Immediately the Abernathy house became a hub of action, with people at the door and the telephones ringing.

“I kept praying that he would survive the shooting,” she said. She called King’s death “devastating” for her family.

During her presentation, Abernathy reminded the audience that the civil rights movement was started by “energy generated from women,” referring to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the women who refused to ride the buses to their jobs. She said her mother typed letters—and paid young boys to distribute them—to let people know of the boycott.

She also discussed her father’s arrests, the bombing of the Abernathy home and her father’s calling as a pastor, like King. Unlike King, however, she said her father insisted that his children be present at important marches—except in Birmingham. “We used to say as children that it was ‘Bombingham’ because so many bombings were taking place,” she noted.

Tucked in with the serious memories were happy ones. She recalled the first time she took a plane with her family. They traveled to Los Angeles where they went to the world’s fair and saw the opening of the movie, A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sidney Poitier. She also mentioned two summer vacations at Coney Island with the King family.

UMGC Collegiate Associate Professor of History Michael Mulvey kicked off the virtual presentation by detailing King’s connection to Europe, starting with King’s father’s 1934 trip to Germany where he learned of the religious reformer Martin Luther. At that time, owing to King’s father’s admiration of Luther’s story, the child who had been christened Michael, had his name changed to Martin Luther.

As an adult and religious leader, King returned to Europe and Germany multiple times, Mulvey said. The civil rights leader visited both East Berlin and West Berlin to spread messages of reconciliation, democracy, and nonviolent resistance. Mulvey said King was surprised by how much Europeans knew about the civil rights movement. He was also interested in understanding the shifting social concerns of European Christians and how they tied their religious beliefs into other social movements including environmentalism.

Patricia Jameson, UMGC director of Overseas Diversity and Equity Programs, organized the event with Abernathy to advance the public conversation focused on diversity and the role the community can play. She echoed the speaker’s message that “education is key” to social progress.

After the Great Resignation: The Great Hiring?

Upheaval in the labor market continues, changing the way people view the jobs they have and the careers they want. University of Maryland Global Campus experts looked ahead to the job market in 2022, including where opportunities will be found, how salary and benefits are being reshaped, and the toolkit job seekers will need.  

The U.S. Department of Labor opened 2022 by releasing its latest job market data, which showed that 4.5 million people changed or left jobs in the month of November. The quitting rates continue to outpace hiring. UMGC Associate Professor of Economics Matthew Salomon said the so-called Great Resignation is the sign of a strong economy.

“If people are scared about jobs they don’t resign,” he said. “Even though inflation is high right now we’ve recovered ahead of what was anticipated with the pandemic.” 

Salomon noted that a COVID-19 halt in visas for foreign workers and a crackdown on undocumented workers has also contributed to the labor force shortage. “And of course, there are the mothers and fathers who left the workforce because child care was not available and their children had to go to school remotely,” he said. “That is an unfortunate loss of talent.”

What do job seekers want?

“That’s a loaded question with multiple layers,” said Darren Cox, UMGC senior director of employer relations and student affairs.  “To a large degree, it’s about quality of life. During the pandemic, people have had more time for retrospection.” 

Workers are shifting careers—and career fields—in a quest for greater opportunities, higher salaries and work conditions that better dovetail with their lives. Cox said some UMGC students and alumni have told him that flexible work hours are important. People want to escape long work commutes. Entrepreneurship is also experiencing an uptick.

As they seek out safer working conditions and wages that allow them and their families to progress, Cox said UMGC students seem especially interested in jobs that are remote. “Our students are accustomed to being virtual, so they’re able to adapt to that type of environment,” he said.

A guarantee of job security has also gained new traction. The onset of COVID-19 pandemic left many people unsure whether they would have a job from one day to the next.

Francine Blume, assistant vice president of career development at UMGC, said the trends may reflect the fact that for some workers “their values simply changed.”

“After getting a taste of a healthier work-life balance, many workers are moving on to jobs that offer greater flexibility so they can spend more time with their families or enjoying other personal pursuits,” Blume explained.

What jobs are in demand?

IT and cybersecurity jobs remain hot. These are career fields with opportunities to advance. Even more, employees can often work remotely, making these safe positions during the pandemic, and the hours may be flexible. But job applicants should be aware that the skill sets sought by tech employers are changing. 

“From an employer’s perspective, they’re looking for people skilled in data aggregation and data analysis. They need people who understand cloud infrastructure,” said Cox. “This is a huge shift from just knowing a basic language like JAVA.”

Tech job opportunities are especially rich for professionals in automation, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Shuruq Alfawair, UMGC job development and placement specialist, said tech leaders maintain that they are not trying to take away human jobs but, rather, to make people more productive.

“How will that disrupt how we hire? We don’t know yet,” Alfawair asked. “Some people may feel like it’s an Armageddon, but it is not. It’s just the reality of the future of technology.”

There are extraordinary job opportunities this year for nurses, health care administrators, technicians and other medical professionals. Increased numbers of workers are needed to manage the COVID-19 crisis, at the same time that burnout and illness at the front line have brought waves of resignations—in a field that faced worker shortages and high turnover even before the pandemic.

The health care labor deficit has been exacerbated by the growing need for care for the large Baby Boomer population and ongoing worker shortfalls in rural areas. At the same time, the ongoing push toward robotics has shaken health care, requiring workers to have more technology finesse.

Within the business arena, Cox said, project managers are in demand. Business analytics, too, remains a strong field for job applicants in 2022.

Increasing numbers of CEOs say they want employees who thrive as part of a team. Salomon said job applicants with military backgrounds are especially well-suited for that workplace culture. Companies across the country are also working more conscientiously to diversify their workforces.

The mass exodus from the service industry, including the hospitality sector, has left a surfeit of jobs there. Low wages and a fear of COVID-19 spurred many of those departures. 

“There was also the great rudeness of people,” Salomon noted, a disturbing trend that may have roots in the stressfulness surrounding the pandemic. “And there are workers who have decided to go back to school.”  

What about job training?

Degrees continue to open doors, and certifications in particular skill areas add oomph.  Employer-offered training and education are also on the rise, but they are starting to look different.

“Employers are offering apprenticeship programs that are done remotely. These are surfacing because employers are finding skill gaps,” Cox said. “Prior to the pandemic, most of these were in person because the thought was that someone early in their careers needed hands-on learning. The pandemic has taught employers that they can do this training remotely.”

TEKsystems, a UMGC employer, is one of many companies moving toward training boot camps. TEKsystems has reshaped itself as an all-remote IT staffing firm and its employee training is also now virtual. 

“They’re offering interesting training opportunities. They have a boot camp that pays the participants a stipend. It is full time and remote,” Cox said. “Because it is full-time, participants can’t balance a full-time job with the boot camp, but it is a great training opportunity.”

For its part, UMGC participates in SkillBridge , which collaborates with several organizations—including government agencies—to provide skilled training, internships and other workforce experience to individuals transitioning from the military. 

Where’s the money?

Some workers are shifting careers to boost their salaries, but Cox said job candidates might want to think about compensation beyond the dollar signs, particularly if training programs are part of the job offer.

“Sometimes our students aren’t willing to take a pay cut for an apprenticeship program, for example. They are older, often with families, and for someone who has been in the workforce for 15 years, the idea of taking an apprenticeship that means transitioning to a salary that is less than they currently make is not appealing,” Cox said. “But they need to look at this long term.”

He said jobseekers who sign on to lower-salary cybersecurity apprenticeships, for example, could earn back lost income within a couple of years—and their future ability to earn would be much greater.

“There are people who will get entry-level jobs in the $60,000 a year range,” Cox said, “but with expertise in AI or automation, they’ll be able to command a salary at or well over $100,000.”

Better pay is also one of the drivers of the growing trend toward entrepreneurship.  

“If you’re underpaid or underemployed, then you tend to look at other avenues for income. Also, many people want to work for themselves,” Cox explained. “And there is the idea of legacy building. The older you get, the more purpose you want. The average age of our students is 32. As someone gets into their 30 s and 40s, they start to think more intentionally about their career and where they see themselves long term. 

“They’re ready to take what they’ve learned from their workplace and make it their own.”

And job benefits?

The desperation to fill job vacancies in some career areas has sparked new benefits, including big hiring bonuses—even for hourly workers—as well as more flexible work schedules, wage increases and educational or professional training benefits.

“Money is very attractive, but time has become a draw. Maybe the work hours are not so exhausting. Maybe the schedules are better,” said Blume. “Or maybe the work allows people to make decisions on their own without micromanagement.”  

Education remains a coveted benefit in 2022, with employers looking at that perk in new ways. Amazon, which had been helping hourly employees at its fulfillment centers obtain associate degrees while still working, has now upped the ante. It is paying for bachelor’s degrees. UMGC has been education partner with Amazon since 2019.

“Even more interesting is that Amazon’s previous position had been “we’ll pay for you to get an associate degree while you work for us because, after a while, we want you to leave us for a better job,” Blume said. “Now they’ve changed the model to ‘we are a great place to work and we’ll pay for your education—even a bachelor’s degree—so you stay with us.’”  

There are also signs that workers will move to or remain at lower-salary companies if the benefits include childcare, paid leave and remote or hybrid work.

Salomon said federal and local governments need policies that makes the workplace more attractive. He cited childcare as an increasingly important benefit, especially in attracting and retaining female workers. Also urgently needed, he said, is immigration policy designed to fill job gaps and education reform that dovetails with labor market needs. 

Building a Job Search Toolkit for 2022  

UMGC job development and placement specialist Alfawair keeps an eye on what’s ahead. What she’s seeing for 2022 and beyond is “dynamic, fast-changing, and exciting.” 

On the employer side, companies are thinking about ways to disrupt hiring practices so they can better evaluate job candidates. In an unusual move, a few employers in fall 2021 bypassed resumes in favor of social media platforms, including TikTok.

“These were warehouse-worker companies or restaurants seeking line cooks, including Chipotle,” Alfawair said. “They were looking to see if TikTok would be a feasible tool for hiring individuals into the food industry as marketers or product managers or even chefs.  

“One idea was for a chef to go on TikTok to ‘show us your best meal,’” she explained.

She said the verdict is still out on alternative resumes, but younger job-seekers—particularly the Gen Z demographic—seem especially responsive to these unusual approaches. Instagram stories and chat features on other social media platforms are joining videos as ways job candidates can promote themselves. 

“Whether traditional resumes remain depends on the industry,” Alfawair said. “[Tesla and SpaceX CEO] Elon Musk wants to do away with resumes completely and look at alternative ways to hire.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know how this is going to look down the line, but I do think the hiring process can be made easier for the employer and the employee,” Alfawair said.

Another trend is that gaps in employment—once a red flag for employers—are losing their stigma. Employers are no longer skipping over applicants whose resumes show periods of unemployment, a pattern that had disproportionately affected the careers of women, many of whom leave the workforce to raise families.  

Even though jobs abound, Alfawair said job applicants will need to be agile about their career strategies in a labor market that is shifting at lightning speed. For example, she said many people do not use LinkedIn as effectively as they could to make new contacts in their fields and stay aware of trends.

“People will have to be ahead of the game,” she said. “Because UMGC already had career services online, we didn’t have to make a big transition on that front when the pandemic hit, but now we have to make sure we stay ahead.

“I’ve told students that they should use all the UMGC career tools, as well as talk one-on-one with an adviser. People need to keep up their resumes and their interviewing skills, even if they aren’t actively looking for new jobs,” Alfawair added.

In the past, she said, people had time to get used to new changes in a field. But now, “by the time you figure out something, a new tool has already appeared. For some people, it feels like a constant catch-up game,” she said.

Blume said the strong job market has not changed all the rules. She said job applicants still have to be thoughtful about how they ask questions about job benefits or working conditions.  

“I still advise people not to be difficult in an interview. They should get the job and then negotiate on smaller points,” Blume said. “It’s not all about what the employer can do for them. Job candidates still need to have good interview skills, a good resume and to think about what value they offer the company.”  

All UMGC students, alumni and staff have access to CareerQuest, a suite of tools and resources to help improve their resumes, upgrade their LinkedIn profiles, practice interview skills, research companies and find contacts in their industries. CareerQuest, available around the clock, includes a database of resumes available to national hiring managers. 

On Jan. 11, UMGC Career Services hosts a webinar on resumes for career changers. For information on this and other upcoming webinars, click here

Army Veteran Andre Washington Survived the Challenges of Military Service—Even a Mortar Attack During a Class—to Earn his UMGC Degree   

When Andre Washington looks back on his academic career, which stretched over two decades as he moved around the world as an IT specialist with the U.S. Army, there is a particular day that stands out. 

It was 2013 and he was among a group of 20 servicemembers taking a University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) course that would lead to an in-demand computer science certification. Their classroom was a building on an airfield base in Afghanistan. It was during Ramadan and mortar attacks on the base stepped up in the evenings, so the servicemembers were required to wear combat gear around the clock.  

“We were in class in full gear—Kevlar, helmets, anything else that was considered protective gear. The instructor had his gear on, too,” Washington recalled. “On this particular day, we heard the whistle you get when a real rocket is incoming. When you hear that, you know that a rocket is close enough to hit you.” 

The entire class hit the floor as mortar fire slammed the buildings nearby and set off shockwaves. 

And then? 

“We all got up and resumed the class,” Washington said. 

Washington took his first UMGC courses in 1998, right after he joined the Army and was sent to a base in Korea. 

“A captain in my unit, my supervisor, suggested that I take classes on the base. They were held in the base high school,” he said. “Then, periodically over the next 20 years, I took more classes.” 

He started his studies with an eye on a degree in computer science but, in later years, he switched his focus to cybersecurity. “I thought cybersecurity could be big and my job in the army was IT so I already had a lot of experience, so it made better sense to switch.” 

Over the years, the military sent him to California, to Kuwait, back to Korea. He spent time at Fort Drum in New York and Fort Belvoir in Virginia. And, of course, there was the duty station in Afghanistan, where he spent nine months assigned to a helicopter unit. 

 “It was hard taking classes with some of these assignments. Sometimes I was in training with no time. Sometimes the motivation just wasn’t there or there was anxiety related to what I had witnessed overseas and I wasn’t coping enough to take classes,” Washington said. “But I always saw a degree as a personal accomplishment.” 

When he retired from the military in 2018, Washington put himself on a steady path to a bachelor’s degree in computer networks and cybersecurity. 

Washington works as an IT contractor at Marine Corps Base Quantico. He said the new degree opens doors, especially with the certifications and job experience he already acquired. He may even be able to switch from being a contractor to being a government employee. 

After earning his degree, he, his wife and his children—aged 16, 13 and 4—are celebrating by going out to eat. “I’m going to be happy. And relieved. It’s a big accomplishment and I did it with no help,” he said. 

Washington also offered advice to others. 

“I’ve been trying to get this degree for over 20 years. I never gave up. It didn’t matter if I lived to be 80 years old, I wanted to finish it,” he said. “Having a degree shows that you can complete a task. If it’s a personal goal of yours, don’t give up. You’ll reach the finish line.” 

Despite Busy Job and Major Surgeries, Rachel Weiszer Fulfilled Her Goal of Earning a Degree 

Rachel Weiszer knew that she would continue to hit roadblocks with her career at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) unless she obtained a bachelor’s degree. After a few false starts, she made a commitment to her studies—and stuck hard to it—despite a ramped-up workload during the pandemic and two brain surgeries to alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease. 

Weiszer, among the students earning a University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) in December, said her new Bachelor of Science in Management Studies earns her an immediate promotion at the National Cancer Institute where she is a contracting officer. 

“I went to a small college after I finished high school and then to a community college, but school was not easy for me back then,” Weiszer said.  

She found work at NIH, at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. She later moved within NIH to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and then to the National Cancer Institute. 

“For someone in my position without a degree, you can only go up to a certain grade at NIH. Every year over 20-something years, when I had my performance rating, my supervisor would always say the same thing, ‘I would promote you if I could, but I can’t because you don’t have a degree,’” Weiszer said.  

Over those same years, she married, had two children, divorced, underwent chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s disease and then was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. She continued working, each year butting her head up against the academic degree requirement she didn’t have.  

Then one day she decided to get her hands on her old college transcripts. 

“I got my transcripts, looked at the credits and figured out that I was already halfway to a degree. So, I said, ‘I’m going to do it!’ and I got my credits transferred and I enrolled at UMGC,” she said. Her classes began in 2018. 

“For the last three years, getting this degree has pretty much been my life,” Weiszer said.  

She studied while working full time at NIH, even when the workload rose during the pandemic. But she said the COVID-19 lockdown offered an unexpected benefit: Because she was forced to work virtually, she gained back the time she normally spent driving from her home in Frederick, Maryland, to her job in Rockville, Maryland.  

“Without the commute, it got back a couple of hours of my time. That helped me keep up with my classes,” said Weiszer. 

She took some time away from UMGC for surgeries in July and September. “I didn’t know what to expect from my recovery,” she said, referring to the deep brain stimulation surgery that stopped the Parkinson’s tremors she had experienced.      

She credited the support of coworkers and family, which now includes three grandchildren, in reaching her degree goal. She chose UMGC because the online coursework fit with her work schedule and because her mother graduated from the University of Maryland. 

 “It’s a good school,” she said. “And the online program is user friendly.” 

Despite her worries about particular courses, including statistics and a biology lab class, Weiszer had impressive grades throughout her academic career. She said she also learned to be a better time manager and more organized.   

What will she do with all the free time once she’s no longer a student? She’ll continue volunteering one night a week at a local hospital and she’ll remain committed to physical exercise and activity, including a boxing class she takes that is specifically geared for Parkinson’s patients.