Maryland Parks Association Recognizes Student Projects Focused on Environmental Management

The Maryland Recreation and Parks Association recently recognized two solution-driven projects undertaken by University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) students with public service awards.

Both of the initiatives, which were capstone projects for students in the Environmental Management Master’s Degree Program, made recommendations for nature areas in Calvert County.

“The partnership was really important to me because we were being able to use the skills of the people in the classes to look at some issues that we have and then be able to come up with the recommendations,” said Karyn Molines, chief of the Natural Resources Division for the Calvert County Department of Parks and Recreation. “They helped us eliminate a step in these projects, which saved us a lot of money. That money can be used for other work.” 

One project assessed storm water management at the Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary in Prince Frederick. The county is moving forward on the recommendations generated by the five-student team, noting that they could save the county more than $30,000.

Flag Ponds Nature Park

The second project offered an analysis on building a sustainable beach shelter for education programs and visitors at Flag Ponds Nature Park in Lusby. The students were praised for the creative ideas they presented, but the county found that state and federal regulations made the project infeasible.

Molines said she is working on new projects she hopes UMGC students will help to produce.

Like many UMGC masters programs, the environmental management program emphasizes practical projects to augment theoretical learning. In place of a master’s thesis, teams of students work together on capstone projects that require an analysis or examine a problem. They must complete the work within a 12-week course.

Many of the students already are working in environmental management, and they come with a wealth of experience, said Dan Grosse, who teaches the capstone classes. Students with expertise in the field are often paired with less experienced students.

“The amount these working adult students can teach one another is truly phenomenal,” Grosse said.

Nadean Carson, for example, had five years’ experience in civil engineering with the Air Force. She worked on environmental and construction projects after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She was assigned to the same UMGC team as Peter Holland, a Towson University graduate in sociology. Holland had decided to move into the environmental field and realized he needed a graduate degree to advance to the next level. Like many UMGC students, he is progressing slowly through the program as he dovetails the academic work with a schedule that also includes his paying job and family responsibilities.

Most of the students’ work was done virtually during the COVID-19 epidemic, although one member of Battle Creek Sanctuary team lived in the same town as the sanctuary and was able to visit the site. The use of topographical maps underpinned the project, the students said, but having Andrea Gibbons at the park during a rainstorm was a big plus.

“She was taking videos. She took pictures,” Holland said. “Seeing the water running down, Andrea was able to see firsthand the problem areas we were discussing and the heavy erosion.”

The project broke the work into phases so the county could advance on it as it got the money, Carson said. The project fit right into the type of work she does professionally.

“This was fantastic for me,” she said. “I did a little happy dance when we got the assignment.”

Natalie Oryshkewych was the team leader on the Flag Ponds Nature Park project. With 25 years of experience at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, she brought a wealth of knowledge to the team. Her team was located in two time zones and had to learn quickly to work together in order to meet the capstone deadline.

Even though the shelter will not be built, the team had the satisfaction of knowing that its work saved Calvert County from investing time and money into its own analysis.

Oryshkewych said the capstone project also gave her a new appreciation for her job with the Ohio EPA.

“It helped me see the agency that I work for in a more holistic manner, so it wasn’t just what I do from a day-to-day perspective,” she said. “It gave me a better understanding of what my agency does as a whole and how it contends with all of the regulatory programs.”

Largest Class of Pillars of Strength Scholarship Recipients to Attend University of Maryland Global Campus

Unique Scholarship Program Recognizes Volunteer Service of Family Members and Friends Who Care for Severely Wounded, Ill or Injured Military Servicemembers

Adelphi, Md. (June 30, 2021)—Twelve caregivers of wounded, ill, or injured military servicemembers were awarded full scholarships to attend University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). That is the largest number of scholarships the Pillars of Strength program has ever awarded in a single year. 

Of the 51 recipients of scholarships since the program began in the fall of 2013, 13 have now graduated and four more are expected to join them by December. 

“Pillars of Strength is truly a marquee program for UMGC,” said President Gregory Fowler. “It continues our long tradition of service to the military and aligns precisely with our goal of bringing education within reach for underserved populations, thus improving lives and strengthening communities around the world. We are so proud of this year’s recipients, so grateful for their service to injured and wounded military personnel, and so pleased to be able to support them as they work to overcome the challenges ahead and improve their own lives and the lives of those they love.” 

“We are once again pleased that we have been able to expand the Pillars program even further with 12 more full scholarships to our great recipients,” said Richard F. Blewitt, founder and CEO of The Blewitt Foundation, which established the Pillars of Strength program in association with UMGC. “We are proud to remain the only program of its type providing full scholarships to the caregivers of our military heroes.” 

The scholarships are designed to help volunteer caregivers, usually spouses of servicemembers. These scholarship recipients have had their worlds turned upside down as they take over day-to-day caregiving responsibilities while maintaining a household, earning income to make ends meet and, often, raising children. 

The restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic made those challenges much more difficult. Among other things, they complicated the caregivers’ ability to be present when their servicemembers and veterans, who often had memory problems, visited doctors. 

These caregivers receive few, if any, educational benefits from the federal government, yet academic degrees are often essential to their ability to support their families. UMGC’s fully online programs allow these students the flexibility they need to earn college credit on their own schedules. 

“Caregivers give and give and then give some more… often losing themselves in that cycle of care,” said Besa Pinchotti, executive director and CEO of the National Military Family Association, a partner organization in the scholarship program.  Providing scholarships to these 12 caregivers isn’t a gift, but an investment in the future of their families who gave so much to our country. It’s an honor to work with The Blewitt Foundation and UMGC who are making it all possible. 

Melissa Allen, one of this year’s Pillars of Strength recipients, said it felt like a weight had been lifted when she learned she had been chosen for a scholarship. “I let out a huge cry and sigh of relief because it finally was like those bricks that were on my shoulders? They fell off.” 

Although the specific circumstances surrounding each of this year’s recipients—all wives—were different, in many ways their experiences were the same. 

They talked about how the “invisible wounds” of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder often went unrecognized while the servicemembers were in the field. These injuries also were not obvious to the public, and the caregivers faced critics who wondered why their husbands were not working. What the public could not see were the sleepless nights, the psychotic spells and the struggles to manage the most basic needs. 

Caregivers married to men who were committed to their military careers said their husbands did not want to accept that they were wounded, ill, or injured, even as they were sent back into battle. 

These women had to come to grips with how to help relieve the pain and psychological suffering of their loved ones while still raising children, working to support their families and handling most of the household finances and decisions. They had to become quick studies in disorders with long, complicated names. And they had to learn how to take care of themselves so they could continue to have the strength for their work and their caregiving duties. 

The bureaucracy of the Veterans Administration often was overwhelming, many said. One recipient has gone to work for the VA with the express purpose of using her experience to make it easier for other injured veterans and their caregivers to get the attention they need. 

“I want to help the veterans and their families in this journey, especially the new ones who are coming into the system,” said scholarship recipient Karen Lopez. “I’ve heard a lot of horror stories—how patients would fall through the cracks, how family members struggled to get appointments for their spouses. I want to make sure the gaps in the system don’t happen to them, at least on my watch.” 

Here are the stories of 12 remarkable women who are setting off on a path to remake themselves and build the resiliency of their families.

Melissa Allen, Bloomingdale, GA

Elisabeth Baugess, Springfield, VA

Volha Butkouskaya, North Potomac, MD

Sasha Clarkin, Bayville, NJ

Lelia Cottner, Kissimmee, FL

Karen Lopez, Kissimmee, FL

Amanda Martin, Fort Bragg, NC

Connie Ozmer, Bonney Lake, WA

Lisa Shaw, Monroeville, PA

Anna Soler, Tacoma, WA

Alison Storemski , Bowie, MD

Elisa Zanni-James, Fort Mill, SC

Army Veteran Credits UMGC Professor for Post-Military Career Success

Andrew Eyerly is the outreach director for the Citizens Climate Lobby, an international grassroots nonprofit with more than 200,000 supporters. How the Army veteran got there is the story of a University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) professor who saw Eyerly’s potential and offered help at each step of his career.

Like many UMGC students, Eyerly—who goes by the first name Drew—joined the Army right out of high school. He came from a small Pennsylvania town and was only the second in his family to graduate from high school. No one talked about college.

“There was nobody really to help me with that process, and at 17 years old, it was just overwhelming to me,” he said. “It was just easier for me to sign on the line, put on a uniform and go off and do that stuff.”

The Army was good to Eyerly. During the first two years of his service, he became a preventive medicine specialist trained in environmental and occupational health. His job was to limit soldiers’ exposure to hazards in their environment. He saw the effect on soldiers’ respiratory systems when that didn’t happen. After seven years in the service, he became a combat medic.

During his tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, he found himself increasingly focused on how fuel convoys were linked to servicemember casualties. He could see that petroleum is needed in every aspect of overseas military operations. That sparked his interest in how a more sustainable U.S. energy infrastructure could lessen dependence on other countries.

As he expanded his understanding of the energy infrastructure, Eyerly was also deepening his conservative political views and questioning the role of government regulation and taxation. He wasn’t worried about climate change. He saw it as a problem for the far future that did not affect him.

Until his daughter was born.

“It took the birth of a 10-pound baby girl—with cheeks so big, she couldn’t open her eyes—to get me to open my eyes,” he said.

Leaving the Army, Eyerly wanted to continue his education. One college told him he would have to start from scratch to earn credits for graduation. Then he found UMGC and its environmental management degree. He enrolled after a counselor informed him that his military training would translate into 45 to 55 credits, shaving about a year and a half off the time it typically took to earn a bachelor’s degree.

As part of his program, Eyerly ended up in the virtual classroom of Professor Sabrina Fu, who now directs UMGC’s Environmental Science and Management Program. Fu noticed that Eyerly was not active in discussions in her classes. She didn’t realize he was biting his tongue because he believed his classmates did not share his political philosophy regarding government regulation and taxation. She encouraged him to speak up, and he took her advice to heart.

“Everyone was just tax, tax, tax,” he said. “I guess I lost my cool a little bit. I put my real thoughts all over the discussion board.”

A day or so later, Fu sent him an email. Eyerly replied with an apology for his rants in class, but his professor encouraged him to speak out, telling him that conservative voices were needed in the climate change arena. Fu was working with Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), which trains volunteers to build relationships with elected representatives to influence climate policy. The organization supports carbon fee-and-dividend legislation through which carbon fees would be collected and returned to taxpayers as direct payments.

Fu invited Eyerly to check out the organization’s website and arranged a scholarship so he could attend his first “lobby day” in Washington. He found he could talk with ease to people there about his conservative ideas on how to fight climate change—something he could not do in his conservative social circle in Evans, Georgia.

He said CCL “helped me with my advocacy and how to speak on this topic without being adversarial.”

As soon as he completed his B.S. degree in Environmental Management at UMGC, Eyerly immediately enrolled in a second bachelor’s degree program—in occupational health and safety—at another university while working with the Environmental Protection Division in the George Department of Natural Resources taking air samples.

That’s when Fu contacted him again. Citizens Climate Lobby was looking for someone to head its outreach to conservatives. She thought he would be a perfect fit. Was he interested?

Fu said consensus on climate change requires taking the case beyond a one-sided viewpoint, something she believed Eyerly capable of. When the lobby’s president asked if she would recommend Eyerly, Fu was quick to endorse her former student.

“All I know is we can’t keep doing things the way we have been doing it,” she said. “Drew comes from a very different background than most CCL members, and he offers a perspective not often heard there.”

Because of his military service and background, he is able to talk to staunch Republicans, she said. Since he’s only 33, he brings a youthful perspective. She noted that Eyerly has done a lot with veterans and with habitat conservation. She told the CCL president that he was just what the organization needed.

“I never thought in a million years I would get that job,” Eyerly said. “But [Fu] always had better ideas for me than I did, and here I am.”

Many conservatives oppose what they view as overburdening environmental regulation. A large percentage even doubt that climate change is a man-made existential threat. How does Eyerly open their minds?

“I begin by listening,” he said. “I find out where they’re at.”

He said many conservatives like him enjoy outdoor activities and hunting. He starts by noting the changes in their surroundings caused by pollution and climate shifts. “As a sportsman, you get to see firsthand how it’s impacting your lifestyle,” he said. “But a lot of people don’t make that connection.”

He also talks about the economic impact caused by pollution and its damage to the environment. He points out that those costs have to be borne by someone. Then he refers to conservative economists and the lens they use to evaluate the costs of climate change. Many of those economists argue that raising the carbon fee can strengthen the nation’s economy, reduce regulation, help working-class Americans, shrink the size of government and promote national security.

Eyerly said a carbon fee can generate three jobs for every one the fossil fuel industry creates without it. Still, he acknowledged, it can be difficult to bring conservative legislators onboard when their supporter base is suspicious of anything that addresses climate change.

“They need cover,” he said. “They need something that they can move behind while addressing the issue without saying that they’re addressing this issue. There are a lot of Republicans that are active in the discussion up on … [Capitol] Hill.”

Not only does Eyerly credit his UMGC professor for guiding him to his job with Citizens Climate Lobby, but he said Fu’s influence on his career continues.

“She doesn’t take no for an answer,” he said. “She is so passionate, she’s so energetic about things. You can’t help but fall in line with her perspective. It doesn’t matter if you are uncomfortable with the topic or not. You’re going to address it because you want to work with her. “She’s someone I know I can call and talk to and get honest feedback.”

Juneteenth Forum Highlights Contributions of Black Women Leaders from Civil War Era Onward

UMGC Europe celebrated the Juneteenth holiday with a special online forum that focused on the role of Black women in the fight for civil rights. The presentation was designed, in part, to address what one speaker characterized as the invisibility of the significant work Black women did to further the cause of civil rights both before and after the Civil War. 

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when a Union general in Texas read the proclamation freeing enslaved people. Black Americans have celebrated the holiday for years, and a number of states have observed it as well. UMGC’s celebration came just as the U.S. Congress voted overwhelmingly to make Juneteenth a national holiday. 

As part of the hour-long program, Juneteenth: Women, Contribution, Evolution, Dr. LaShawn Thompson pointed out how, in American history, the role of Black people has often been obscured, and the contributions of Black women abolitionists in particular were practically invisible. 

“We must ask ourselves why the accomplishments of Black women in the march towards freedom have been hidden away,” said Thompson. “The little-known facts about African Americans in America become no facts at all. African American women are the most invisible of all.” 

And yet, before the Civil War, she said, they worked to keep families together when possible and to provide guidance for resistance, and after the war they became community organizers, despite starting with no formal experience. 

Thompson quotes Anne Scott (1990) author of the journal article Most Invisible of All: Black Women’s Voluntary Association, “How was it that women who had grown up in slavery were able to so quickly organize themselves after emancipation? But move, they did. In one way or another, organized black women touched every area of life, from home to politics.” 

That invisibility has been damaging for Black women, Thompson explained, even as they live with the myth of the strong Black woman who cares for everyone else. 

“It is the root of both physical and mental health disparities in her current existence,” she said and quotes Ward & Heidrich (2009) authors of the journal article African American women’s beliefs about mental illness, stigma, and preferred coping behaviors, “Additionally, negative social and political experiences including racism, discrimination and sexism have put African American women at risk for low-income jobs, multiple roles strain and health problems, all of which are associated with the onset of mental illness.” 

These challenges only underscore the significance of the work being done, and the program celebrated the lives of Black women who emerged to lead the fight against slavery and discrimination, to help educate African Americans and to establish businesses. 

  • Harriet Tubman, who grew up in slavery in Maryland and escaped north to freedom, returned repeatedly to lead slaves to freedom on the Underground Railroad. 
  • Sojourner Truth, who escaped slavery and was the first African American to successfully sue her former owner to win the freedom for her son, went on to become a leading abolitionist and women’s rights activist. 
  • Nannie Helen Burroughs—an educator, orator, religious leader, civil rights activist, feminist and businesswoman—helped establish the National Association of Colored Women in 1896.  In 1909, she founded the National Training School for Women and Girls in Washington, D.C., to help provide opportunities beyond domestic work.
  • Mary McLoud Bethune, who founded Bethune-Cookman College in Florida—which became the standard for other Black colleges and universities—became president of the National Council of Negro Women and fought for Black voter rights. 
  • Dorothy Height, who worked against lynching in the South and worked for voter registration. 
  • Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to win a seat in the U.S. Congress, was also the first to run for the Democratic nomination for president in 1972. 
  • Madam C.J. Walker, who became the first female Black millionaire by creating a haircare system for Black women, employed hundreds of Black women through her business, which eventually included hair culture colleges. 
  • Ida B. Wells, who as a journalist attacked Jim Crow policies, fought to expose and combat the practice of lynching after a close friend was killed because he tried to break up a fight between a white boy and a black boy outside his grocery store. Her writings chronicled the struggles of Black people whose stories might have been lost to history without her work. 

Other participants in the program included faculty member Dr. Steven Carter, who provided an introduction;  Genesis Neely, senior traveling academic advisor, who presented “Black Women Through History”; faculty member Janique Parnell, who presented “Hidden in Plain Sight: A Legacy of Greatness”; faculty member Renaldo Walker, who performed a W.E.B Du Bois Reenactment; Pamela Frank, a member of the Diversity Council and a National Test Center coordinator, who presented on Ida B. Wells; Emerald Smith, a member of the Diversity Council and National Test Center coordinator, who read from a poem by Frances E. Harper; and Patricia Jameson, director of Overseas Diversity and Equity Programs, who led the organization of the event and provided closing remarks. 

Protecting Financial Assets: Cybersecurity and Accounting Are Coming Together to Create a Hot New Field

Want to know where the next great opportunities in accounting will be? Check the headlines about cyberattacks that are costing business untold millions while exposing their customers to fraud. 

Cybersecurity and IT experts are doing their best to stop these hacks. And working alongside them is a new breed of accountant with the technological and financial training to assess costs and risks. 

“Public accountants have a huge volume of financial data that belongs to their clients,” said Dr. Sharon L. Levin, professor of accounting at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). “If you are a management accountant, working for an individual company such as Apple, IBM or Target, you are responsible for implementing internal controls to protect corporate assets.”  

“Cyber criminals aren’t hacking systems for self-satisfaction,” said Levin. “It’s all about the money. They are looking for assets they can convert to cash, sell on the dark web or sell to foreign countries.” 

The skill set that accountants possess is a natural fit for cyber audits. “Accountants are good at auditing security policies and privacy controls, and they can integrate cyber risks into the audit plan,” said Bruce deGrazia, professor of Cybersecurity Management and Policy at UMGC.  

Often, accountants are the first to become aware of system vulnerabilities and data breaches. “If it’s corporate assets cyber criminals are after, it’s accountants who are responsible for protecting those assets with internal controls,” said Levin.  

Cyber accountants work closely with cybersecurity professionals to mitigate the risks of cyberattacks. Working jointly, they identify system vulnerabilities, develop and implement strategic plans to protect assets and continuously evaluate the need to implement new internal controls to close data security gaps. 

“CyberAccounting is a new field opening up for accountants,” said Levin. “This is really where the industry is going, so we need to prepare accounting students for mitigating these types of risks.” 

In response, UMGC has infused cybersecurity courses into its master’s program in Accounting, offering coursework in CyberAccounting management and compliance, CyberAccounting risk management, and CyberForensics in accounting. To reflect these adjustments, UMGC will change the name of its Master of Science in Accounting and Information Systems to Master of Science in CyberAccounting

“These courses are just one way UMGC, known as an innovative leader in higher education, is adapting its accounting programs to prepare our students to meet the needs of today’s employers,” said Levin.  

“Accounting is a career with endless possibilities to follow your passion,” Levin continued. “Every organization in every industry hires accountants, so if you like sports, every sports team needs accountants, if you like to travel, every hotel chain needs them, every cruise line, every airline, every convention center, every arena,” she added.  

Traditionally, accounting has been regarded as one of the most conservative industries, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, many firms are now adapting to change, allowing auditors to work remotely in a freelance contractual relationship, and so on. 

“Like UMGC, the accounting industry has proven itself to be innovative, adapting to change at a much faster rate than the stereotypical accountant with pocket protectors from the 20th century,” said Levin. 

University of Maryland Global Campus’s Institutional Advancement Team Sweeps Hermes Creative Awards for Quick Transition to Holding Highly Successful Virtual Events

University of Maryland Global Campus swept the international 2021 Hermes Creative Awards for creative communication, winning platinum, gold and honorable mention for work the Institutional Advancement team did to reconfigure  events online to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions.

The annual Hermes Awards are granted to universities, Fortune 500 corporations, nonprofit organizations and advertising and public relations agencies in recognition of innovative communication work.

“You are being judged by your peers, by marketing communication professionals who identify work that’s above and beyond the scope of the standard for the industry,” said Nikki Sandoval, UMGC’s associate vice president for Alumni Relations.

The university was “able to adapt and move quickly” when the pandemic struck, said Cathy Sweet, UMGC vice president for Institutional Advancement. She credited support from other university units for allowing her team to take risks—and ultimately, succeed—and the awards recognize the university’s commitment to supporting students and alumni.

The Platinum Award went for the work done for the “Giving Day 2020: One Day of Giving, A Lifetime of Impact” campaign.

Giving Days are 24-hour fundraising challenges that rally groups of people around a particular cause through digital communication, targeting alumni, students, staff and supporters.

UMGC held its first Giving Day in 2018; it has since become an annual event. In 2020, Giving Day was scheduled for May 27, but once the pandemic struck, plans were adjusted quickly. The university realized the greatest immediate need was to establish a student emergency fund, later named the Student Aid Fund for Emergency Relief (SAFER), and the date was moved up to raise urgently needed money.

Even with employees in the midst of an abrupt transition to remote work, Institutional Advancement staff were able to meet an 18-day deadline to create a strategy for messaging, images, social media, email templates, data segmentation and website, and the campaign launched more than a month early, on April 20. The multi-channeled campaign raised $41,433, a 205 percent increase over Giving Day 2019, with almost all of the gifts were aimed at the SAFER fund, surpassing the goal set for that aspect of the effort.

The Hermes Gold award was presented for the UMGC Ehrensberger Legacy Society Induction Celebration that was held virtually on June 16, 2020, in lieu of the annual in-person luncheon.  The Society recognizes the university’s major financial supporters, inducting new members and seeking prospects for future members.

In the past, the event attracted about 25 local Maryland residents. But on just 40-days’ notice, the Institutional Advancement team converted the event to a virtual format, while accommodating many attendees who were elderly and sometimes not as technology-savvy as younger demographics. The event drew 87 attendees from seven states and Washington, D.C., greatly expanding its reach.

“What was originally an obstacle that we were a little nervous about turned into a great win,” Sandoval said.  “All of those who wanted to participate could. They don’t always have the ability to do that if the event is in-person.”  

The Honorable Mention award was granted for the “Alumni Homecoming and 30th Annual Awards: Together We Are UMGC” campaign.

As a worldwide campus, the university put on three events in one day focused on its three divisions: Europe, Asia and the United States. In 2019, the event attracted 375 attendees. By shifting to a virtual format, the university was able to accommodate  673 participants from 31 states and five countries.

Even more important, Sandoval said, UMGC was able to use Whova mobile and a web app that allowed the participants to customize their experience, seeking out fellow alumni with similar interests.

Four networking “lounges” allowed alumni to congregate with people who shared their interests, and by the time the event was over, the alumni participants had created another 20 lounges of their own. More than 250 discussion boards were also set up along with 144 meet-ups during the event.

“This put the power in their hands for how they wanted to network,” Sandoval said, “how they wanted to communicate with each other, and they have continued access to that.”

It was groundbreaking, Sweet said. “I believe we got this award because we developed something that no one else was doing. The team came together in the time of global crisis and found an alternative way to execute our plans.”  

She is “proud of the team,” said Sweet, and grateful for “the trust and support of leadership to make changes quickly to support the global UMGC student and alumni community.” The awards program is administered by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals.

Pierceall’s Education Journey Includes Four UMGC Degrees

Like many teenagers who did not excel in high school, Tanner Pierceall looked to the military for a career path. Admitting that he almost did not earn his diploma, he left his home in Bloomington, Ca., and enlisted in the Marines four months after graduation.

Yet now, 10 years later, Pierceall has finished his fourth University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) degree, counting on his newly minted MBA to help propel him higher in his work for the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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SAFER Option Assists UMGC Students in Financial Need

Five hundred dollars may not seem like a significant amount of money, but to the UMGC students struggling with expenses during the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be a lifesaver and a morale boost that helps them get through a difficult period.

That’s why the university created SAFER – Student Aid Fund for Emergency Relief – and encouraged students who are in need of immediate financial assistance to apply.

“The students are vulnerable and they are clear about their struggles,” said Kristen Staten, UMGC’s Assistant Vice President of Financial Aid, Scholarships and State Grants.  “They are super committed to keeping up with their education, and they just need a little bit of help. It’s great to be able to provide that help.”

Launched last July, the grants are financed entirely by donations to the university. Students can apply for awards in amounts ranging from $100 to $300 to $500, depending on their need. As of the end of March, the SAFER program has supported 935 students, with grants totaling $465,100.

“The most common issue is housing insecurity, and when you have a housing problem, they typically need the maximum amount,” she said.

Since UMGC’s mission is to serve adult learners, many of whom are completing their education while maintaining jobs and family commitments, the sudden evaporation of their employment when the economy shut down last spring was a major blow.

Darby Fallon, a 28-year-old finance major who is working simultaneously on a certificate in Human Resources Management had been working in the restaurant business since dropping out of the University of Maryland in her junior year.  She already had decided there was no future for her in that industry, so she had turned to UMGC to finish her education.

And then the restaurant business disappeared with the pandemic.

Her unemployment benefits ran out in September and she was burning through her savings, leaving her home in Maryland to move in with her parents on the Mississippi coast. But she didn’t see how she could keep up with her tuition payments.

She reached out to professors and searched UMGC webpages to see what aid was available, she said. When she saw the SAFER program, she applied immediately and got a response in 24 hours for the full $500, which she used to make her tuition payments.

“This program is vital to keep students enrolled and help them succeed,” she said. “It’s very encouraging for students who in times of distress can feel the school has their back.” 

Lucene Simon, who had come to Washington D.C. in 2012 from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, lost his job with the George Washington University facilities department when students no longer came to campus.

His plan is to complete two UMGC degrees at once–Legal Studies and Human Resources Management–with the goal of going to law school and a career in employment law. 

But his unemployment benefits didn’t show up for five months and food stamp assistance was late too because of a backlog in applications, he said. His savings were about gone when he learned of the SAFER program.

“Lucky for me UMGC had that fund available, and it came at the right time,” he said.  “It helped me get by until the unemployment checks arrived.”

For Brittany Watkins, the pandemic has been a triple whammy.

The mother of three children – a daughter in high school, one in middle school and a four-year old son – she is a patient care technician, assisting nurses at a hospital in Maryland’s Calvert County, During the pandemic she is putting in 12-shifts, rarely with a day off.

Her husband’s job as a construction inspector requires him to work away from home for most of the day. 

At the time of her interview for this story, Watkins was only three weeks away from completing her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology – something that she has been working toward off and on since 2013. She was supposed to finish it at the end of the last term, but a family emergency in the final weeks caused her to momentarily break from her studies.

When the pandemic caused the schools to close, her daughters had to do their schooling virtually with no one at home to supervise them.  At the same time, she said, dealing with the pandemic caused the family expenses to jump for basics like food and utilities.  What had been financially manageable suddenly became unmanageable. She fell behind in daycare payments, making it hard for her to drop off her son.

“When I got the SAFER grant, I gave it all to the daycare center,” she said.  “It was like a weight was lifted off our shoulders.”

Still, she had to withdraw her son from daycare, which requires her daughters now to care for him while doing their own virtual schooling. Her older daughter began to suffer mental problems because of the pandemic stress, which is what caused Watkins to not do as well as she expected in her last class.

With her daughters heading back to in-person school March 8, she is calling on her mother to tend to the son–as soon as she recovers from the corona virus.

Yet all of these hardships have not deterred Watkins from wanting to pursue a master’s degree as soon as she wraps up her undergraduate program.  One of the outcomes of the pandemic is that she decided she does not want to stay in health care. She is aiming to jump right into UMGC’s Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigation program.

“For the people who donated to the SAFER fund, I am extremely grateful,” Watkins said.  “These are trying times for everyone. It shows that people have good hearts.”

The SAFER fund will not end when the pandemic becomes history, UMGC’s Staten said.

“When Corona is over, there will still be emergencies,” she said. “Students will still face struggles and unforeseen circumstances that will arise.  As an institution, we want to make sure we are here to help students stay on track through those emergencies toward meeting their educational goals.”

To learn more about SAFER and make a gift, visit impact.umgc.edu/safer.

In Journal of Literacy and Technology Article, 10 UMGC Administrators, Faculty Members, Show How to Help Students Successfully Transition to Online Learning

As the Covid-19 pandemic has forced colleges and universities to shift face-to-face instruction to online and hybrid classes, University of Maryland Global Campus is offering ways to help institutions unaccustomed to online teaching support students and faculty transitioning to a virtual learning environment.Continue Reading