The Obstacle Course: One Student’s Life Journey to an MBA

Ida Halliburton has extra reasons to be proud of her new MBA from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). Like many UMGC students, she took a full course load while also juggling a career. Unlike other students, however, the 52-year-old grandmother did it—posting excellent grades along the way—while in transitional housing, learning the ins and outs of a new high-pressure job, and coming to terms with the physical after-effects of brain surgery.

Oh yes, and there was a pandemic underway.

“I compete against myself—I don’t compete against other people—and I know what I’m capable of doing,” Halliburton said. “Sometimes I set a standard for myself that people perceive as unrealistic or too much, but I just keep pushing.

“For me, giving up is not an option.”  

Halliburton’s UMGC degree continued a journey that was interrupted more than three decades earlier. She had enrolled at Southeastern Louisiana University after high school but, just two semesters in, she joined the military. She spent the next seven years in the U.S. Marines, mostly based in California, working in aviation supply, inventory and logistics.

Halliburton was a sergeant when she left the service and resumed her studies, earning an associate degree in general studies with a concentration in English at Irvine Valley College and then a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication with a minor in journalism from Southeastern Louisiana University.

“I was going to start a master’s degree program right after I got my undergraduate degree, but I was a single mom with two children at that point, and I put my dreams and aspirations on hold to focus on my kids,” she said. “Then I found myself working with no time left to attend school. It was years and years before I was able to get back to school again.”

It was her job in the Office of the Provost at Chapman College, now Chapman University, that indirectly led her to UMGC. At the time, Chapman College was seeking accreditation as a university and planning to create a university college focused on servicemembers, working adults and other non-traditional students. Halliburton said Chapman’s provost and executive vice president looked to what was then University of Maryland University College as a model.

“That stuck with me for a long time, even after I left California. I knew and trusted the provost and if he held the school in high esteem, I knew it must be a good school,” she said.

The years passed. When her daughter neared her senior year of college, Halliburton decided to return to school. In the fall of 2019, she enrolled at UMGC.

“I had aspirations for my career but I kept getting rejected for jobs because I didn’t have a master’s degree,” she said. “When I knew I wanted to do an MBA, I remembered the University of Maryland Global Campus from my experience with the provost at Chapman.”

Just a month after she started UMGC classes from her home in Florida, Halliburton was hired to work in the nation’s capital as the invitation coordinator for U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Her new job included managing requests for public appearances and speeches by the surgeon general.


“He traveled a lot and he could receive 2,000 to 3,000 requests in a month. My job was vetting the requests, briefing him on them, making sure the appearances were appropriate and aligned with his priorities and just really managing that whole process,” she said.

That high pressure job amped up even more when the coronavirus hit the news.

“All hell was breaking loose,” she said. “The deputy surgeon general was temporarily reassigned and detailed with overseeing COVID-19 testing, so she was gone. My direct supervisor was from the Centers for Disease Control, and I was surrounded by physicians talking about COVID-19 all the time, getting the information firsthand.”

Her daughter graduated from college during the pandemic, right into a tight job market. Even more, they were living in temporary housing with most of their possessions in storage in Florida. Halliburton had just arrived in the D.C. area when the lockdown was declared; it took 10 months before she could move into a permanent home in Virginia.

In addition to the housing upheaval, a new job, the pandemic and a full-time course load, Halliburton also had health problems to manage. Two years earlier, she underwent brain surgery—twice—for serious conditions and now has intermittent periods where it is difficult to focus. While acknowledging that it was a challenge at times to study and meet her course deadlines, she powered through.

Halliburton said an MBA is not necessarily the end of her education. For years, she has carried around an entrepreneurial idea she’d like to launch one day. She keeps the details confidential but said she may need more education to ensure the project’s success.

For now, she is focusing her energy on her current job as executive administrator for the deputy assistant secretary of the Army and on her family—her daughter, son, daughter-in-law and her six grandchildren “who bring me so much joy.”

Descendant of Slavery’s Compelling Life Journey Includes Military Service, a Musical Gift–And Now a UMGC Degree

Editor’s Note: Raymond Fisher recently was featured in WJLA-TV ABC 7’s Spotlight on Education series. Click HERE to watch.

Raymond Fisher is a father and grandfather, a technology professional, a musician, a military veteran and the descendent of an enslaved woman on George Washington’s farm. He now is adding another descriptor to his life: college graduate.

After a 25-year interruption in his education, Fisher earned a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Management from University of Maryland Global Campus. Even more, he was selected as student speaker for the virtual commencement on May 15.

Ray Fisher will address his fellow graduates as the student speaker at the UMGC virtual commencement ceremony on May 15.

Fisher, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in the Gulf War, said the degree may not be his last engagement with UMGC. He wants to use his military benefits to enroll in a master’s program “and then look into getting a Ph.D.”  

In the late 1990s, Fisher was enrolled at Purdue University, pursing a degree in mechanical engineering, when he withdrew from his studies to raise a family.

“I was working and studying at the same time, and I made a decision that was in the best interest of my family,” he said. In the years that followed, he made a good income. The lack of a college degree wasn’t an obstacle in the fields where he worked: engineering, construction, project management and, eventually, Internet technology.

“Then, about four years ago, I was caught up in a cycle of layoffs at Freddie Mac. I looked for job opportunities and found a match with Booz Allen,” Fisher said. The IT consulting company was keen on him until it learned he had no college degree.

“That’s when I made a decision that I would never be turned away from a job because I didn’t have a degree. I enrolled at UMGC and picked up where I left off—a bachelor’s degree I had abandoned 25 years earlier,” he said.

Fisher was raised in a family where education, music and church were valued. His mother was a nurse and his father a teacher. In the District of Columbia neighborhood where he grew up in the 1970s, there was a lot of political activism; it was the stomping ground of Marion Barry and others who would become political players in the nation’s capital. Barry, who later served four terms as D.C. mayor, lived only two doors away.

“It was a very progressive time and we were exposed to a lot. I was enrolled at the first D.C. public school program for talented students,” he said. But his life was thrown off kilter when his mother died. He was 9. Two years later, his father died. 

The youngest of six children and the only boy in his family, Fisher was cared for by family members in Dallas, Texas, and spent summers in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He lived in Maryland for his sophomore, junior and senior years of high school, attending Forestville High School in Prince George’s County. There, he entered the ROTC program “and joined a Go-Go band called Players Choice, which was managed by our shop teacher.” As a member of the band, he performed at a concert with Public Enemy, which he describes as his “15 minutes of fame.”

Fisher said his lifelong love of music started in his church. Later, during eight years of military service that began when he was 19, he was exposed to both music in other countries and the global influence of American jazz and R&B. Today, he jams with his son, an aspiring hip hop musician, in a basement music studio. Percussion and rhythm are Fisher’s passion.

“I’m a helluva beat maker,” he explained with a laugh.

Like many UMGC students, Fisher juggled a job while studying. Even after a car accident left him with a concussion, he pushed through with his coursework. He attributed his drive and resilience to his roots, including enslaved ancestors and his father’s Native American background.

“I am an African descendent of slaves. An ancestor on my mother’s side was a slave of George Washington. A grandmother was a runaway slave in Texas,” he explained. “I don’t look at my family’s link to slavery as a prideful thing. It was an atrocity. But that’s who we were and we take pride in who we are.”

Fisher said getting his bachelor’s degree was made more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he credited his UMGC professors for being compassionate and working with students—including some on a class project team—who contracted the coronavirus.

“It was a long journey to get me to this point. There have been a lot of trials and tribulations,” Fisher said. “But one thing that helped is that at UMGC, I felt like we had a community.”   

Curiosity and UMCG Courses Open Doors for Former Servicemember

In 2018, when a University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) professor mentioned in class that Student Anthropologist magazine had issued a call for papers, Ashley Mize took note.

A career with the U.S. Air Force had brought Mize to Europe from the Texas town where she grew up. It also unleashed her curiosity about different countries and cultures, encouraged her natural talent for foreign languages and led her to enroll at UMGC.    

Her experiences converged recently when she published an academic paper in Student Anthropologist magazine, looking at the Italian town of Solferino, a bloody 1859 battle and the tradition that brings a wave of International Red Cross and International Red Crescent volunteers to the community of 1,100 residents every June.

Mize was among 10,000 Red Cross volunteers from 76 countries who took part in the 2018 gathering in Solferino.

“Solferino was an amazing experience,” said Mize, who has a Bachelor of Science in social science from UMGC. “Everything was breathtaking—so much political history and unity and cultural diversity. I was exposed to cultures from all over the world, from the Middle East to Asia to different parts of Africa and South America and Europe.”

Her paper, which she drafted later, was entitled “Anthropology and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies: A 2018 Interdisciplinary Observance in Solferino, Italy,” and appeared in the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of Student Anthropologist magazine.   

Solferino was the site of the last military engagement in the Second Italian War of Independence. The armies of Austria, Sardinia, Hungary and the Second French Empire came together in a battle that left 6,000 dead and 40,000 wounded. The bloodshed inspired Jean-Henri Dunant of Switzerland to found the Red Cross as an independent organization to help victims’ families and bring nations together in both war and peace.

For the past 29 years, Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers have traveled to Solferino each year to reaffirm their commitment to unity and neutrality. Mize’s social science degree focused on anthropology, and she brought that perspective to her observations of the event.

Mize served six years in the U.S. Air Force, most of it stationed in Germany as a personnel journeyman. When her husband, also an Air Force member, was assigned to Italy, she moved along with him. It was there, in 2015, that she enrolled at UMGC.

“Her passion for languages brought her to UMGC as she pursued certificates in German and Italian Studies,” said Ricky Lucas, who was Mize’s academic adviser at the Aviano Air Base in northeastern Italy. “Her enjoyment of learning about culture and languages while taking UMGC Europe classes was not confined to Aviano Air Base only. Ashley traveled to Naples, Italy, to take the Italian Life and Culture course, to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany for the German Society and Culture course, and U.S. Army Garrison in Vicenza, Italy, to take an Intermediate Italian course.”

Mize said she booked low-cost flights on Ryanair to attend those UMGC classes at other military bases so she could finish her degree early. These were typically eight-week hybrid courses that met primarily online and for three weekends in person. She also traveled to Spain to attend an academic conference.

“I was taking 12 credits per semester—more than full time—and I had a rigorous system for studying.” She joked that more coffee and less sleep were part of the formula that enabled her to graduate from UMGC in December 2018.

Mize said the Italian language courses enabled the Solferino trip. Lucas said they also entrenched her in the local community.

“Her experiences with UMGC Europe gave her the confidence to join the Italian Red Cross—the Croce Rossa—as the only American member in the local organization,” Lucas said. “Ashley was able to use her language and cultural knowledge learned from UMGC in the most positive way possible.”

When Mize’s husband was subsequently transferred to Texas, she enrolled in a graduate program at Texas State University where she expects to complete a master’s degree in elementary education with ESL certification next year.

Her education plans don’t end there. She also intends to pursue a Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA) through a dual-accreditation program between the University of Texas and Cambridge University. And she wants to get an online teaching certificate. “UMGC definitely has a place in my heart,” said Mize, who served for more than a year and a half on the UMGC Student Advisory Council. “The travel and studying abroad that I did, including to other UMGC campuses for classes, really opened my understanding and experiences.”

UMGC and USO Launch Partnership in Europe

University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) and the USO have much in common. They both serve members of the military and their families. They were “born” around the same time and sometimes share an overlapping volunteer base. Most importantly, in many locations where the USO has centers, UMGC also has an on-site presence.

The two organizations have now harnessed those similarities in a formal partnership that expands UMGC’s ability to put its faculty, courses and career services in front of servicemembers and their families in Europe.

“We wanted this to be a partnership with a lot of activities at the field level,” said Tony Cho, vice president and director of UMGC Europe. “The USO is an organization that serves servicemembers, as we are. This is the USO’s 80th year, and UMGC will be celebrating its 75th anniversary next year. And our missions match closely.”

In addition to collaborating on events, Cho said the partnership will give UMGC access to USO centers, including in Germany at Ramstein Air Base and at some Landstuhl Regional Medical Center facilities. Ramstein has the biggest USO center outside the United States. During peak periods, as many as 20,000 people pass through it daily. The medical center, meanwhile, is the largest U.S. hospital outside the United States.

For its part, the USO will be able to use UMGC’s educational resources for events. The two organizations may also share marketing materials.

“Unlike stateside … there is not a lot of media we have access to in Europe for outreach. What we focus on is physical outreach—we go to the base exchange or to the commissary and set up tables with course fliers and swag items,” Cho said. He said the ability to also set up at USO venues will dramatically boost UMGC’s ability to connect with servicemembers and their families.

Grant McCormick, regional vice president for USO Europe, said the partnership builds on a longstanding record of cooperation. “University of Maryland Global Campus has been part of our events for some time. Faculty and staff already volunteer for USO events and support our staff in other ways,” McCormick said. “We’ll take more of the things we’re doing now and include UMGC in those events.”

McCormick cited the USO Coffee Connections program for military spouses as one area of collaboration. “We thought it would be wonderful to have UMGC faculty give briefings or presentations at Coffee Connections,” he said. “They could speak about educational opportunities. They could speak about financial counseling.” McCormick said the university also could be part of big USO barbecues featuring music and fireworks, and the USO could bring its mobile canteen to UMGC events.

Cho noted that USO employees receive their own tuition assistance that could be used toward UMGC degrees, while USO volunteers could be a potential talent pool for the university in Europe. “These are military friendly and service-oriented volunteers, sometimes the spouses on military bases,” Cho explained. “We may want to hire some of them as full-time employees.”

The partnership launched on March 29 with a photo opportunity—the presentation by UMGC of an oversized check to the USO for $25,000 and a spontaneous dance by McCormick and Cho. The good-natured dance sparked the idea for a dance challenge between the two organizations at a joint event around Halloween.

The new partnership is modeled on a similar collaboration the university has with the USO in Asia and Hawaii.

McCormick called it “humbling” to partner with an organization with a similar mission and historic timeline then revealed that he has a personal connection to UMGC. The U.S. Air Force veteran took classes through the university 35 years ago when he was stationed at the Misawa Air Base in Japan. “I was about 22 at the time. I took Algebra I, English literature and a language class,” he said.

UMGC Europe was established in Germany in 1949 as the first university to send faculty overseas to educate active-duty U.S. military personnel after WWII. The division provides services to approximately 14,000 students annually in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (europe.umgc.edu).

Meeting the Teacher Shortage: An Accelerated Pathway at UMGC

If more than 100,000 certified teachers joined the labor force tomorrow, it still would not be enough to meet the shortfall in schools across the country. University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) is addressing that workplace gap through an accelerated online program that not only carries participants through to a master’s degree but saves them time and money along the way.Continue Reading

New Collaboration with Amazon Web Services Preps Service Members for Post-military IT Careers

Under a new corporate collaboration with University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) and Amazon Web Services (AWS), a group of service members has been going through the Amazon Apprenticeship program since early November. The apprenticeship is a U.S. Department of Labor-certified program that offers a combination of paid immersive learning and on-the-job training with Amazon.Continue Reading

Student Commencement Speaker Advocates Lifelong Learning

Susana Hernandez brought good grades home from her Maryland high school, but school officials never nudged her toward college. Her immigrant parents wanted her to continue studying, but they didn’t know how the U.S. higher education system worked. Hernandez, a teenager at the time, was daunted by scholarship and financial aid applications.

It took Hernandez 15 years after her high school graduation to return to a classroom—at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC)—pursuing a Bachelor of Science in business management, with a minor in small business entrepreneurship. At UMGC’s 2020 Virtual Winter Commencement, not only will Hernandez graduate cum laude and as a member of the Alpha Sigma Lambda Tau Chapter Honor Society, but she will give the student commencement speech.  Continue Reading

Remembering Louis Carter: A Master at Forging Relationships

Louis Carter was a terrific conversationalist, an unofficial life coach, a solid singer who showed his range during a solo at his daughter’s wedding and a daily morale-booster for University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) staff in Largo. He accomplished all this while also performing his official duties as a security coordinator at the university.Continue Reading

UMGC Alumna Takes Leadership Role in NYC Pandemic Response

While powering through 17 hours of labor leading up to the birth of her daughter, Syra Madad was also on her cell phone, sending email messages, monitoring incoming public health reports, and keeping in touch with the leadership team at her workplace.

That is what happens when you are managing COVID-19 strategy at the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic.Continue Reading

Teaching in a Pandemic: Mentor Circles Connect Educators

Dwayne Burbridge always knew what he would do when he retired from the military: teach high school chemistry and physics. To put himself on the path to that goal, he enrolled in the graduate program in teaching at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC).

Burbridge, now ready to leave the U.S. Navy after serving 31 years, is only one requirement away from completing his Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. But that last task—a semester in a teaching internship—has been complicated by COVID-19.Continue Reading