Twenty-five Years and Seven Children Later, Determined Mother Celebrates Her Bachelor’s Degree

Kelly Beech put her college education on a l-o-o-o-o-n-g hiatus. 

Unmotivated by her studies, she dropped out of a community college after a year and married her high school sweetheart just as he enlisted in the Army nearly 25 years ago. 

What followed were seven children – a boy and six girls – born as the expanding family traveled from military base to military base in the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Dissatisfied with the education available, she home-schooled them all for years, including a daughter with learning disabilities – dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. 

Then Beech started thinking about going back to college. As the first in her family to attempt to go to college, she really didn’t know how to navigate higher education.  But then another military spouse, who was a good friend, talked to her about the classes she had taken at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). At the same time another friend, also a prior military spouse, was just finishing up her degree.  

Could Beech afford it? Could she do it and still help her children go to college? 

“My friend told me the UMGC classes were good quality. They weren’t just handing out pieces of paper,” she said. “There is enough rigor, but it’s manageable enough. I thought if they could do it, I could do it, and that’s how I started.” 

Beech knew she loved graphic design and she would take some classes and see how it went. 

Enrolling in the fall of 2018, Beech didn’t lollygag.  She took a full set of four classes every semester working toward a bachelor’s degree in digital media and web technology with a minor in human resources. One semester led to another and soon she had an associate degree, then an undergrad certificate in Human Resource Management, and was going full steam toward graduation for a bachelor’s degree. 

After years of doing all of the work for the family, she said she realized she couldn’t keep that up and still complete the classes. 

“At Christmas of 2018, I went on strike,” she said. “I stopped cooking dinner. I realized that school was hard. There’s a lot of writing. It was a bit of a shock to them, but my husband and my oldest daughter learned to cook.” 

She said she learned how to determine exactly what had to be done to get an A for each course. She also learned how to take advantage of the “tons of resources” UMGC offers students.  

She ended up with a 3.968 GPA. That was one B in a Spanish course.  As a bit of an overachiever, she thought about taking the class over to earn an A and end up with a perfect 4.0-grade point average, but her friends convinced her it wasn’t necessary.  

Her experience at UMGC was so rewarding, she said, that she has encouraged her children and husband to attend. She taught her two oldest daughters and husband her techniques of learning and managing online coursework.  

And what Beech learned, especially in her human resources classes, already has paid off in her work as a store administrator for a Safeway supermarket, where she handles recruiting, hiring, employee orientation, and training. 

“A lot of the things I learned have been helpful in my current role in understanding the way people think and process things,” she said. 

When her commencement regalia arrived with all of the attachments for honor societies, she told her son, “This is for graduating in the top 10 percent.” 

“That’s so cool,” he replied. 

Her children being able to witness her accomplishments is one of the great rewards. 

But the journey to get her degree had its own rewards, she said. 

“I waited until I was in my 40s to finish,” she said. “But you can do it. It doesn’t matter how old you are, and it doesn’t matter if you didn’t know what you wanted to do when you were 21. My degree is in a subject that is nowhere near what I thought it would be when I started at community college, and that’s OK.” 

UMGC’s Hoch and Aker Recognized for Outstanding Service at Aberdeen Proving Ground

One of UMGC’s great challenges is to create an environment that makes a diverse student body, made up of thousands of students of a wide range of ages, educational backgrounds, military service, and career stages feel connected to the institution, no matter where they are located.

UMGC’s military student population particularly is in a state of flux, living and serving on different bases around the world.  When factoring in the effects of the global pandemic, the feeling of disconnectedness that some servicemembers are feeling can be acute.

That is why the efforts of UMGC advisors and education coordinators have grown in importance as a catalyst to keep students on track with their educational goals.

And it is why Amy Hoch and Cherie Aker were humbled and honored to receive a special commendation from the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) Army installation in northern Maryland for going the extra mile to guide a soldier along his educational journey.

Hoch is a team associate and Aker is the assistant director in the region. Both of them work directly with students on APG.  They are part of a global team of representatives who foster success throughout the student’s journey in achieving their academic goals.

“They both have been so inspirational,” said Sgt. 1st Class Reginald M. Ross, senior religious affairs NCO at the Army Test and Evaluation Command. “Any time I needed anything, or I would come into the office or call, they are always helpful.”

Ross filed what’s known as an Interactive Customer Evaluation (ICE), which is a formal comment about services to the Army.  More often than not, ICE filings are complaints, so when a positive report was filed and reached all the way to the garrison commander, it was noticed as a breath of fresh air.

In his ICE comment about Aker, Ross commended her for her help and positive attitude, even as she was battling cancer.  “While going through treatment, she was still assisting me in my college preparation,” Ross wrote.  “Her optimism and cheerful attitude are enough motivation to push anyone to excel and go forward. I am personally grateful that UMGC and the Aberdeen Proving Ground community has an exceptional leader that goes over and above to support students.”

In his comments about Hoch, Ross said she was able to understand what he called his “complex” educational background that included five college transcripts and his service in two military branches to come up with a plan that worked for him.

“Her countless e-mails and reminders really express that she genuinely cared for my future education,” he wrote. “Her excitement of education is infectious and motivating. Her professionalism as a counselor has motivated me to be a lifelong learner.”

In making a presentation to Hoch and Aker at the base’s Education Center, the APG Garrison Commander, Col. Johnny Casiano, praised them for, “their unwavering support of the soldiers.”

“Your expertise has proven invaluable and has garnered numerous praiseworthy, interactive customer evaluation comments,” he said. “Additionally, your contributions directly honor and support our servicemembers who seek to increase their education.”

Casiano said he strongly supports soldiers’ commitment to their formal education. “The combination of experience in the military and education is a valuable asset that can serve a soldier well as they move up the ranks or transition to a career outside the military.”

“The UMGC Aberdeen team is a clear example of the personal connection the university makes with each and every student,” said Nora Graves, UMGC’s regional director for Stateside Military Operations. “Military students, especially, need to feel connected, valued, motivated; Amy and Cherie are consummate, caring professionals who understand how personal this journey is and they are eager to provide a connection and motivate their students throughout their academic journey.”

In an interview, Aker said how rewarding her UMGC job has been both at Aberdeen and throughout her career, to include her work with Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital.

“I’ve had some students walk in here and they’re so lost, they don’t know what exactly they want to do,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to see the growth of a student.”

Aker explains that the personal, face-to-face relationship promotes a more distinctive, empathetic connection to her students allowing her to help guide and mentor.  Aker’s personal journey with curative cancer treatments has added an even more layered connection with her students.   

Hoch said, “Students all have their unique story about their educational goals or where they are on their life’s journey or their history in the military.

“They may have limited time left in the military, and they often want to complete a degree before getting out and facing new challenges in the civilian world,” she added.

Hoch goes through their records to see how many college credits they already have earned from their military training and other educational institutions.  She may recommend advanced placement tests to help save time toward earning a degree. She works with students to find ways to pay for their out-of-pocket education expenses which may include other sources beyond tuition assistance, to include financial aid and scholarship options.

She said she is currently working with an entire family — husband, wife and daughter – seeking her help and using her as their collective resource.

“It’s just being able to find that unique way to help students based on their situation,” she said. “We want to do what’s best for the student and help them with their goals.”

Gregory W. Fowler, PhD, Inaugurated as Seventh President of University of Maryland Global Campus  

Dr. Fowler pledges to meet students where they are, offer learning experiences that align with student and workforce needs, and transform lives, one student at a time

WATCH VIDEO OF INAUGURATION

Gregory W. Fowler, PhD, was inaugurated Thursday as the seventh president of University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) and the first African American to hold the title. During the investiture held at the College Park Marriott Hotel and Conference Center and live streamed to a global audience, University System of Maryland (USM) Chancellor Jay Perman called upon Fowler to “reframe who we serve, and how we serve them, and to reimagine what education and access look like in the 21st century.” 

In accepting the charge, Dr. Fowler said that “at the core of every surging river, every breaking wave, is a single drop of water. We will work to create those rivers of change and those waves of progress by transforming lives, one learner at a time.” 

Dr. Fowler went on to say that he will build on the university’s 75-year heritage to provide new ways to interact with students and offer them the education and training they need in these turbulent times. As the seventh president of UMGC, which has served adult students in the workforce and in the military since its founding, Dr. Fowler is working within an educational environment still adjusting to the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

 “We must have the courage to stop reinventing the wheel and, instead, build a launchpad for spaceships,” Dr. Fowler said. “We dare not rest on our laurels. Just as the higher education industry and landscape changes, just as the American military continues to evolve, so too must the ways we serve our various populations.”

READ DR. FOWLER’S INAUGURAL ADDRESS

“In the post-pandemic world, where many are rethinking their priorities, we will evaluate our assumptions and adjust our strategies,” Dr. Fowler said. “Those who are part of the Great Resignation will need new skills, and they will not be willing to drop everything to attend classes full time and face-to-face.” 

Dr. Fowler began his tenure as president on Jan. 4, 2021. The inauguration formalizes his leadership. 

The ceremony began with presidents of other USM universities—in full academic regalia—entering the ceremony in the order of their institutions’ founding, followed by Chair of the USM Board of Regents Linda Gooden, who is a double graduate of UMGC, and Chancellor Perman. UMGC Chief Academic Officer Blakely Pomietto carried the university mace. 

“Greg Fowler is uniquely suited to build upon UMGC’s impressive 75-year legacy and lift this institution to even greater heights,” Gooden said. “He is a nationally recognized scholar. He is an acknowledged leader in developing innovative learning models.” 

Dr. Lawrence Leak, who served as interim president during the presidential search, praised Dr. Fowler as a “visionary leader.” 

“When I met Greg for the first time, almost 15 months ago, I was immediately impressed by his insight, his engagement and his eagerness to tackle the challenges at hand energetically,” Leak said. “He is a skilled administrator and distinguished scholar, and he possesses a keen sense of purpose and a passion for our mission.” 

As the first African American president of UMGC, Leak said, Dr. Fowler is leading a university “that boldly embraces diversity in all forms and touches the lives of so many individuals of color, both here and abroad.” 

A host of Maryland elected officials, led by Gov. Larry Hogan and members of the Maryland congressional delegation, including Sen. Chris Van Hollen, U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume, as well as Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, offered video tributes to the new president. 

Video greetings from UMGC alumni were also aired during the ceremony. They included Florent Groberg, who received the Medal of Honor from President Obama in 2015 for his act of valor while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. Groberg tackled a suicide bomber and saved the lives of several people he was escorting. As he recovered from his injuries, he earned a UMGC Master of Science in Management with a specialization in intelligence management. 

“I remember my time as a student here, and the people I met—my classmates, my peers, the teachers who spent so much time in my studies, in my learning but, most importantly, in the network I built,” Groberg said. “Today, I am proud to say that I am a member of this family. I am excited for the future of this university, its future students and its network.” 

Dr. Blair Hayes, UMGC’s ombudsman, vice president and chief diversity officer, who served as co-emcee along with Nikki Sandoval, associate vice president for Institutional Advancement at UMGC, read a letter from President Joe Biden congratulating the university on its 75th anniversary.  

“Education is the one field that makes all others possible,” Biden wrote. “We have all been shaped by educators who have sparked our curiosity, helped us find confidence, encouraged our creativity and inspired us to build a better world. Institutions like yours not only educate our students—they shape the future.” 

William R. Roberts, chair of the UMUC Ventures Board of Directors and honorary chair of the UMGC Presidential Inaugural Committee, highlighted the significance of Fowler’s arrival in a challenging time for the workforce: “Today, UMGC’s mission is more relevant than ever. The demand for skilled workers and principled leaders has never been greater, nor has the need for a visionary leader to guide the university in a time of dramatic change in higher education. We are fortunate to have that leader in Greg Fowler, whose experience and vision will enable this fine university to broaden its reach and change our world in positive ways for generations to come.” 

Dr. Fowler joined UMGC after serving as president of Southern New Hampshire University Global Campus. In his nearly nine years there, he led efforts to develop competency-based online and hybrid programs to meet the demands of workforce and global communities. His programs had reached disadvantaged students in Los Angeles, refugees in Africa and the Middle East, and learners in Mexico and Colombia. Earlier, Dr. Fowler held senior-level academic and administrative positions at Western Governors University.   

Dr. Fowler graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta; for two years, he was a Charles A. Dana Scholar at Duke University. Working as a teen at the Six Flags Over Georgia theme park, he said he “learned the power of a coordinated team, of considering user experience and of treating customers as guests in your home.” 

After graduation, he worked for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as an outreach specialist, where he strove to “bring new voices into our conversations and to empower underserved populations.”   

While at NEH in Washington, D.C., he earned a master’s degree in English from George Mason University and then taught literature and American studies at Penn State University, Erie while pursuing a doctorate in English/American Studies from the State University of New York at Buffalo. A two-time Fulbright Scholar, he also holds an MBA from Western Governors University and completed programs in higher education administration, executive leadership and negotiation at Harvard University.  

Dr. Fowler thanked donors who have helped raise more than $175,000 for an inauguration scholarship fund in his honor, saying he was “touched and deeply grateful.” The fund will support students facing hardship due to extenuating circumstances.  

“We must help those whose voices have been heard the least, who the status quo has too often left isolated or homebound, unseen or unheard,” Dr. Fowler said. “It may well be the single mother or father struggling to provide, or the soldier in a war zone who dreams of making a new life for her or his loved ones at home. These are the lives we can change.” 

He said that students often fail because “life happens,” not because they cannot comprehend or master the course content. Today, technology allows us to identify students who are struggling, and we can and must wrap them in a cocoon of support.   

Dr. Fowler also spoke of how his father and mother revered education and public service, encouraging him and his seven brothers and sisters as they advanced into higher education for the family’s first time and embraced successful careers that helped others. The new president’s parents and six of his seven siblings and their family members attended the inauguration. 

“My life is a testimony that in transforming lives, we transform families,” Dr. Fowler said. “And if we can transform families, we can transform communities. If we can transform communities, we can transform nations. And if we can transform nations, we can transform the world.” 

Work Took Precedence Over Mike Easley’s Studies—for a Crucial Reason 

There’s a year-long gap in Michael Easley’s march toward a master’s degree in project
management from the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). But he had a good
reason for the time out.

As a project manager working for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Easley was one of
only a handful of individuals assigned to execute personal protective equipment (PPE)
acquisitions at a national level during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The various types
of PPE were necessary to meet the high demand throughout VA medical facilities to protect
both caregivers and patients.


“We were executing $millions in PPE buys to support the effort,” Easley said. “I was working a
lot of overtime, and I couldn’t keep it up with my studies. So, I took almost a full year off while
supporting COVID requirements and picked it back up this past year.”
In November, he finished all his degree requirements.

“Unfortunately, some people tried to take advantage of the high demand for PPE,” he said.
“Businesses who had no prior experience in medical supplies were trying to offer products,
products offered at well above market rates, and in some cases, vendors tried to sell
counterfeit products. We had to do a lot of market research to scrutinize vendors promising the
moon. Would they be able to deliver as promised? Would the products be safe for veterans and
care providers? Each product had to go through a clinical review before issuing contracts.”

“Many of the things I learned about project acquisitions, quality management, and risk
assessment came into play,” he said.

Easley said that what he learned from his UMGC professors in the graduate program became
knowledge he immediately applied to his work, which aided in his selection as a deputy
program manager.

He said that his degree program’s last two capstone projects were highly beneficial. They
allowed him to take all he had learned from his professors and from the Program Management
Institute (PMI) to do a self-assessment of his own organization.

“What I learned, I could apply throughout my job,” he said. “Those [capstones] were a critical
part of tying up a master’s degree.”

Easley grew up in Macon, Illinois, a small town where everyone waved to each other because
they all knew one another. Seeing few opportunities after graduating from high school, he
enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1983, coming up through the enlisted ranks and serving
ashore and deployed around the world. His work provided financial and logistical support for
both garrison and deployed troops.

While serving in Okinawa, Japan, he retired in 2008 as a Chief Warrant Officer Four after 25
years of service. His wife Noriko was born in Okinawa, so he remained on the island and took a
position as the logistics chief for the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA)
Okinawa School District. He was responsible for all logistical and facility support for the 13
DoDEA schools in Okinawa.

No one in Easley’s family had gone to college, but he knew that he had to take college courses
and complete degrees to get ahead in the military.

“The first thing you do is get your associate [degree],” he said. “That makes me a little bit more
competitive than the next guy. Then you work on getting your bachelor’s, and then that makes
me a little bit more competitive.”

He completed a bachelor’s degree in management while still in the military, but he did not
begin the UMGC master’s program until returning to the United States in December 2016. In
Northern Virginia, he ended up working for DoDEA at the Marine Corps Base Quantico School
District, which ultimately led him to the VA as a project manager.

Easley is a published photographer with a passion for landscape and underwater photography.
He has traveled around the world with a group of underwater photographers. His last trip was
in the Bahamas, photographing hammerhead sharks. He is an avid golfer and was proud to have
completed the Marine Corps Marathon six times. His best time of 3hrs and 42 minutes was
when he flew from Okinawa to Washington, D.C., and back to Okinawa, all within a five-day trip
that included picking up his son in Illinois.

“I live by two simple rules,” he said. “You do not have to be perfect, just do the right thing,” and
a motto that has continued to serve me well for over 30 years, “Not everything that is faced can
be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.” If you follow these rules, you can
move forward in life and make a positive change.”

Duane Tyson Works on the Frontlines of the Pandemic and Follows His Passion to Serve the Needs of Others

Duane Tyson has been at the tip of the front line fighting Covid.  As a respiratory therapist, he is, as he says, the last person someone fighting the virus wants to see. He’s the guy in the emergency room who is prepping the patient to be put on a ventilator, a difficult last stage in treating the disease.  “During this whole pandemic, when they talk about the frontline person, I’m that guy,” he said. “I’m the vent man, and I’m the one who puts a tube down your throat and manages your breathing. I’m always trying to help people breathe easier.” 

That means Duane, who now lives in Glen Bernie, has worked long hours at Mercy Medical Center and University of Maryland Rehabilitation and Orthopedic Institute with little time off as the disease has surged and waned and surged again. 

With all that, Tyson has completed a UMGC Bachelor’s degree in psychology in time to graduate in December.  Even more amazing, he is almost finished with an MBA. 

He said his hospital job has been so intense that he never would have started this academic work during the pandemic.  But by the time Covid hit, he already had mastered the skills of online learning and was comfortable navigating courses. 

“The pandemic really didn’t leave any leeway for me doing anything else,” he said. “I was forced to do mandatory overtime. So, I was really challenged.” 

He said he has not asked any professor for special consideration in making course deadlines. In fact, he has downplayed his hospital work while communicating with teachers and fellow students. 

“I never wanted to make it my focus,” he said. “I was just hanging in there with everyone else. I never wanted to make it about me.” 

Growing up in Baltimore, Tyson started working in the mental health field right out of high school. 

“I was always that person who was listening to people, trying to solve other people’s problems,” he said.  

Working in hospitals, he started looking around at different positions.  Respiratory therapy caught his attention, and he earned an AA degree in it at Baltimore City Community College. That led to a career that has spanned more than 20 years. 

But he saw he didn’t want to do that forever. So, for his Bachelor’s, he returned to his first love of psychology. 

“It was my safe zone,” he said. “It was a place that always made me feel at peace. It felt like it was something I understood. I could work with somebody, and it was always a heartfelt type of expression. When I started doing the class, it just seemed natural.” 

So why now pivot to an MBA? 

Doing graduate work to qualify for psychology positions would take so long, he said, and the clock was ticking. Like so many people during this pandemic, he is weighing his options for the future. He believes the MBA will qualify him to get into health care administration.  

“I’m working 12-hour days, and I’m not the young person I used to be,” he said. “My job needs a lot of energy – working with the patients, flipping them, turning them, trying to do whatever I had to in order to maintain their breathing efforts is really challenging. It made me reflect on life.” 

Blending Psychology with Artificial Intelligence, Jacqueline Brogdon Hopes to Use Her UMGC Degree to Unlock the Mysteries of Mental Illness

Jacqueline Brogdon’s 11-year journey to earn a UMGC Bachelor’s degree this month has been shaped by a lifetime of her family’s tragedies and her own physical and mental health challenges that led to her study of both psychology and Information Systems Management.

Indeed, at the same time she was taking courses, she was caring for her 22-year-old son who had a heart transplant on Thanksgiving Day, 2019.

“My son was waiting for a heart, and most of my time I stayed with him at Johns Hopkins (University Medical Center),” she said. “After the transplant, Covid hit, and I spent four or five days during his recovery practically immobile as I recovered from a bout with the virus.”

Her educational journey had taken her to a number of colleges and universities. She started at UMGC at the beginning of 2020, taking five courses in the spring semester, five courses in the summer semester, and finishing this fall.

“It was difficult finishing my degree while my children are in college, and I’m working two jobs to make it happen. It was a difficult journey, but we made it.”

Beginning when she was 11 years old, Brogdon, who was raised by her great-grandmother, wanted to be a physical therapist. Two of her aunts were involved in a serious automobile accident–one died and the other suffered serious injuries including paraplegia and had to undergoe months of rehabilitation. Brogdon watched as a physical therapist worked with her aunt.

Right out of high school, she started on an associate’s degree in physical therapy.  But in 2010, she suffered a ruptured disc and lost feeling all down her legs. She could no longer lift patients.

If she could not help patients physically, perhaps she could help those with mental ailments.  Again, she had a number of family members with mental health issues throughout their lives.  Her mother had been hospitalized during most of Brogdon’s childhood. It was not until she was an adult that Brogdon learned her mother suffered from schizophrenia. Her brother also suffered from it.

One of her two daughters suffers from Tourette syndrome, and both have ADHD.

Brogdon lost three years in her pursuit of a college education as she dealt with these issues, and she worked multiple jobs simultaneously – from real estate to welding – to support her family on her own.

After all, her grandmother, who had raised her, made clear when Brogdon was a young girl, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

One of those jobs with Freddie Mac led her to work with information technology and Artificial Intelligence, and she followed that work when she landed a position with the Federal Emergency Management Administration. With 11 years in that field, she began to see ways that perhaps Artificial Intelligence could be used to diagnose and cure chronic mental disorders like those that afflicted so many of her family members.

“I still had a love for psychology because I wanted to know how to help my family. My mom, my brother, my kids, everyone around me is suffering mental illness,” she said. “I was told my mother was a thriving person before the onset of schizophrenia. She had gone to college. She worked for the Social Security Administration. I want to figure out how schizophrenia is triggered. Is there some way to use AI to figure out how to reverse that trigger? I want to dive deeper.”

Finishing college, she says, has given her a purpose in life.

“I have a goal that I’m trying to achieve,” she said. “Nothing stands in my way of doing it. I’m showing my kids there is a better way to a bigger reward.”

Marathon Runner Goes the Distance in Earning UMGC Degree and a Career in Public Safety

Arriving from Guatemala at the age of 20 to join his mother in Maryland, Edwin Marroquin was at a loss on what to do next.  He enrolled in Montgomery College jumping from major to major while working two jobs. 

He finally gave up and took a job with New Wave Technologies, a distributor of imaging devices and software, where he remains more than two decades later as a logistics coordinator and warehouse manager. 

When the company moved him to Frederick, Md. shortly after he started, he looked around for a way to become involved in the community.  He found a welcome with the Frederick Volunteer Fire Department. He thought he would be doing administrative work for the department, but before he knew it, he was training to fight fires. 

Beginning in January 2013, this training took him through courses in Emergency Management at Frederick Community College, including training in swift-water rescues, and hazardous materials.  The more he did, the more excited he became about his volunteer work while still maintaining his regular day job. 

Then he learned the college had started an associate’s degree in Fire Service Administration. Beginning in 2017, he found a lot of his training had earned him college credits. Combined with the credits he earned at Montgomery College, he graduated with an AA degree in the spring of 2019. 

Still working for New Wave Tech, he decided to keep going with his education. That’s when he found UMGC’s Public Safety Administration degree. He hoped that would get allow him to jump from a volunteer firefighter to a full-time position in emergency management or public safety. 

“I found out that after years of trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I realized that Public Safety Administration was what really draws my attention,” he said.  

On the side, he started a minor in accounting. 

As he finishes up his last two courses in time for a December graduation, he looks back and sees what he has accomplished and how he accomplished it. His father had stopped his formal education in the second grade in Guatemala. His mother had made it just through the sixth grade. None of his three siblings got past high school.  

“It took a lot of discipline to finish, discipline that I didn’t have when I was younger,” he said. “I’ve I made the Dean’s List every semester. I could have just gotten by, but I committed to do a lot more, just going 100 percent. Get it. Get it done.” 

Even as he crosses the stage with his new degree, he knows he is not done with his education.  He’s jumping right back in to expand on his minor in accounting to complete a second bachelor’s degree. 

What is his advice to fellow immigrants trying to find their way in American higher education?  Many scholarships are out there, he said, and he has been able to use them to pay for most of his classes. But the important thing is determination. 

At age 46, he knows he no longer can apply to be a full-time firefighter. So, he is looking at a wide range of government public safety positions, including in the Federal Emergency Management Administration. 

“Once you start, just keep moving forward,” he said. “Your friends may be going out having fun, but you should put it all on the table. If you work hard, you have a higher reward. Never stop. Once you stop, you will never start again. Even if it takes 10 years, it’s never going to get any easier.”  

So how determined is Marroquin? 

Working full time and acing his college courses, he still found time to train to run marathons – five so far since 2018, including qualifying for the Boston Marathon, which was postponed due to Covid.  

With Experience and an Education, this Award-Winning Veteran Is Just Getting Started

Even though he was only in grade school, the 9-11 terrorist attacks focused Devon Nieve’s decision to devote his life to the defense of his country. Now, as a U.S. Marine Corps specialist in language cryptology, signal operations and intelligence, Staff Sgt. Nieve is finishing a University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) master’s program in intelligence management. 

This follows his undergraduate degree in accounting from UMGC summa cum laude, all while serving and assisting in missions in Latin America and the Middle East. His diligence during seven years of academic work also earned him UMGC’s General John W. Vessey Jr. Student Veteran of the Year, which was presented at the university’s Veterans Day ceremony in Adelphi, Maryland.

In announcing the award, UMGC noted that Devon was honored as Military Performer of the Year in 2020 while maintaining a 4.0 GPA in his master’s program. His commanding officer said Devon “is unequivocally one of the top performing Marines of any rank within my command.”

In a surprise announcement as he finished his remarks during the Veterans Day ceremony, Devon said he would give the $3,000 scholarship award to the university’s fund to help veterans still seeking an education after their VA benefits run out.

 “My father has been big on teaching me that money is not everything in life,” he said. “When you have things that can be given to others, maybe that’s the spark required on their end to push them to that next level. It’s going to make an impact on our country.”

Assigned to Company H of the Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion and a section leader supporting a national security mission, Devon supervises a joint-service team performing technical analysis and target development for the ongoing operations to a variety of federal agencies and major combatant commands. 

Growing up in Modesto, California, Devon was only 8 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. But he recalls the day vividly.  

“I remember talking to my friends at school and asking them, ‘Are terrorists gonna take over the United States?’” he said in an interview. “And I just remember that feeling that I kind of carried around after that, that someone’s got to stop that.”

His father was an Army veteran. “The things he taught me were directly related to the training he had received—that the military was the best option to make myself proud and to show my younger brothers the right path,” Devon said. “I felt like the military was where I could make an impact.”

After graduating with an associate degree and honors from Modesto Community College, Devon decided to join the Marine Corps in July 2013 rather than pursue a bachelor’s degree right away. His path in the military changed dramatically after he took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

The recruiters looked at his score and told him he had a choice to make. He could go ahead with a regular Marine Corps career or he could opt for language cryptology, which would open a lot of doors when he finished his military service.

“When they told me that, of course, I went with it,” he said. “I had no idea what I was going to do. I thought it was going to be learning Arabic.”

Instead, he found himself immersed in studying Spanish and Portuguese for a year. After that, he was assigned to a Radio Battalion in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Exactly what a cryptological linguist does is classified, he said, but he has been deployed to Latin America and supported operations in the Middle East.

Throughout his military service, Devon has pursued education. If he wanted meaningful work after he left the military, he believed he had to have at least a bachelor’s degree—and maybe more.

He looked at all the universities with programs for active service personnel and decided that UMGC offered the best overall opportunities. It also provided the flexibility necessary to work around his military assignments.

“I was in and out of the field constantly,” he said. “I was supporting last-minute operations for forward-deployed tactical units. I was deploying, and I needed something that was flexible with that,” Devon said. “When I talked to the counseling department at UMGC, it just felt right. It’s veterans being led by veterans, that’s the difference.”

After finishing his bachelor’s degree, he took only a three-month break before starting the master’s program.

“I realized I’m not done,” he said. “I enjoyed that structure. I enjoyed constantly progressing in the educational realm, and I wanted to do more.”

The majority of his professors are professionals in their field, Devon said, with first-hand information on what they are teaching. He described them as “absolutely incredible.”

“I’m convinced they’re up 24 hours,” he said, explaining that he could post something late at night and find a lengthy response in the morning.  “They want the students to learn and actually comprehend the information so they can apply it in real life. They take it seriously, and because they take it seriously, the students take it seriously.”

Devon will finish his graduate degree in July, just about the same time his enlistment is up. He will take everything he has learned to a civilian position in the Department of Defense.

MILITARY TIMES RANKS UMGC #1 AMONG EDUCATIONAL INSITUTIONS IN ITS 2021 LIST OF BEST EMPLOYERS FOR VETERANS 

University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) was ranked #1 among universities in the Military Times’ latest survey of the best employers for veterans, the most comprehensive annual ranking of organizations with military-connected employment programs, benefits and support efforts. 

Military Times’ 2021 Best for Vets: Employers ranked 161 companies, non-profits and educational organizations across the country. In addition to UMGC’s top ranking in the Education-Teaching- Administration category, the university was fourth among organizations ranked in the state of Maryland and #7 in the Non-profit category. 

“We are proud of our commitment to recruit, support, and retain those who have served our country,” said UMGC President Gregory Fowler. “Whether establishing relationships with veteran service organizations, working with government agencies on hiring initiatives for veterans with disabilities, expanding access to career development and health and wellness programs for veterans and their families, or our outreach to veterans at military job fairs, we are engaged in a variety of activities to both support our veterans who may be transitioning to civilian lives and helping them succeed in their careers.” 

Each year Military Times ranks organizations according to criteria related to recruitment, retention and career advancement. This year, it said it placed more emphasis on the practices that veterans say make civilian workplaces attractive to their talents and needs. 

“We had conducted focus groups with subject matter experts and with subscribers of Military Times,” said Tina Kurian, senior researcher for the Fors Marsh Group, a research firm that specializes in the veterans and military community that conducted the sessions. “They ordered which topics were most relevant for organizations to be the best for veterans.” 

The result, said group Director of Customer Experience Research Nicole Tongo, is a list of firms “that care about things that veterans care about, and good companies for them to explore if they are looking for a job.” 

About University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC)

Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2022, UMGC is the state of Maryland’s open-admissions university. With an enrollment of some 90,000 students, the university offers high-quality, affordable, accessible undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs as well as non-degree certificate programs in online and hybrid formats.

From its inception in 1947, UMGC has been guided by its historic mission to bring education within reach for adult students in the workforce and the U.S. military in Maryland and around the world—students for whom a traditional education is impractical or impossible.

In 1949, UMGC became the first institution to send faculty overseas to teach active-duty military personnel at installations in Europe. The university expanded overseas operations to Asia in 1956 and to the Middle East in 2005. UMGC faculty have taught in the war zones of Vietnam, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.

UMGC now offers classes and education support services to military personnel and their families at 175-plus locations in more than 20 countries. Over half of the university’s current students are active-duty military personnel and their families, reservists, members of the National Guard and veterans.

Honor, Service, Sacrifice: UMGC Salutes Veterans

In a ceremony marking Veterans Day, U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Devon D. Nieve was awarded UMGC’s Gen. John W. Vessey Student Veteran of the Year while Army Gen. Lloyd Milo Miles (Ret.), the university’s senior vice president for Global Military Operations, and Maryland State Sen. William C. Smith vividly reflected on the meaning of the War in Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal.

In his eight years in the Corps, Nieve balanced his military career while at the same time completing a bachelor’s degree in accounting summa cum laude and jumping right into a master’s program in Intelligence Management that he expects to finish next year.

Nieve talked about the rigor as well as the opportunities to working toward degrees while serving in demanding military assignments and deployments.  UMGC, he said, made that possible.

UMGC’s Gen. John W. Vessey Jr. Student Veteran of the Year, Staff Sergeant Devon Nieve, U.S. Marine Corps

Advanced education is essential for up-and-coming military personnel, Nieve said, “to provide the innovation, the ingenuity, the new approach to the problems that we face today. “t’s absolutely necessary in future wars.”

Not only will that education help him in his military career, but it will be essential as he makes the transition to civilian life.

He donated his $3000 in scholarship money that came with the award to a UMGC fund that helps veterans who have exhausted their VA benefits to extend their education.

In opening the ceremony, UMGC President Gregory W. Fowler spoke of the importance of the university’s relationship with the U.S. military.

“Today, as we honor the students, alumni, faculty and staff who have won the uniform of our country, and say thank you to all of our nation’s veterans, we are grateful for the many ways our relationship with the military has shaped our institution, clarified our mission and inspired us every day to live lives of service of honor, and have courage,” he said.

The Veterans Day ceremony was the first since the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, allowing the Taliban to take over control of the government after 20 years of fighting.  A subtext for this year’s event centered on whether the fighting, bloodshed and cost were worth it.

Army Gen. Lloyd Milo Miles (Ret.), UMGC’s senior vice president for Global Military Operations, said he wrestled with this, but concluded the struggle and sacrifice were worth it.

“I hope that someday when you take the long view of your life, you will remember the good you tried to do in that land of terrible beauty,” he said.  “The roads you constructed, and the wells you dug and the schools you built. And you will remember the excitement of the children as you handed out candy and the tear-filled eyes of a mother as you gave her something to eat.”

The historians and politicians will debate the ultimate worth of the struggle, he said.

“During your time in the crucible, you did your duty, to care for one another, to help the oppressed and defended the weak,” he said. “You fought for your friends and you helped people. From my perspective, that would be a good epitaph on any tombstone.”

In his keynote address, Sen. William C. Smith, who served in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army and is now an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve, agreed that those who served in Afghanistan should be proud of their accomplishments. 

“Today, despite the current state of the country, every service member can hold their head high, knowing that we kept the United States safe for over two decades, and we unleashed unparalleled opportunity for millions of Afghans that they’d never seen before. Those ideas and that energy have taken root and will not die off quickly. Our service has made a difference.”

The ceremony featured a poignant video honoring the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, which included historical and personal perspective from Lillian Pfluke (U.S. Army, Ret.), a UMGC faculty member and founder of the American War Memorials Overseas, and Timothy French, a UMGC alum and sergeant in the U.S. Army’s Old Guard Caisson Platoon, which helps perform funerals at Arlington National Cemetery.

To view the entire UMGC Veterans Day Ceremony, click HERE.