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

Quick Pivot to Remote Learning Spurs Opportunity to Reimagine Academic Integrity Standards

Two transformative forces―the influx of non-traditional students in higher education and the rapid shift to online learning during the coronavirus pandemic―have come together to expose significant shortfalls in outmoded academic integrity standards as well as to highlight the opportunity universities have to reimagine those standards.Continue Reading

Freedman Leads National Press Club Through Pandemic, Protests, and Politics

For more than 112 years, the National Press Club has been the center of news in Washington as the nation endured two world wars, the Great Depression, the Cold War, civil unrest and terrorist attacks. Its doors were always open to journalists and news sources.

And that is how Mike Freedman expected it to be when he assumed his one-year term as National Press Club president in January 2020. Freedman, the senior vice president and journalist in residence at University of Maryland Global Campus, was looking forward to capping his journalism career with UPI and CBS Radio News with an active year similar to those of his 112 predecessors.Continue Reading

MLK Scholar Inspires Next Generation of Civil Rights and Social Justice Activists

The Black Lives Matter Movement is allowing a new generation to define the struggle for equality and to learn who their allies are, Dr. Clayborne Carson told a University of Maryland Global Campus audience gathered virtually on Jan. 21 to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Every generation must determine who we are—and answer the question, “Where are we heading?” he said. Continue Reading

On Her First Try: UMGC Alumna Scores Better Than 95 Percent on CPA Exam, Proves Practice Makes Near Perfect

Renee Cordero could be an excellent source for accounting advice.

The University of Maryland Global Campus 2018 graduate was named a winner of the 2019 Elijah Watt Sells Award given by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants for those who excel at taking the CPA Exam.

Of the 75,000 people who took the exam, Cordero was one of only 133 who scored a 95.5 on all four of the exam sections, all on the first try of taking them.Continue Reading

Pillars of Strength Scholar Finds Silver Linings in the Pandemic

For Lauren Warner, the agony of the Coronavirus pandemic has had at least a couple of silver linings.

Warner, who cares for her wounded Army veteran husband, completed a UMGC Master of Science degree in management this semester with the financial help of a Pillars of Strength scholarship aimed at caregivers like her.Continue Reading

UMGC’s Simonsen Tells Maryland House Panel of Ways to Combat “COVID Slide” in Schools

Closing schools during the coronavirus pandemic has exposed inequities in the education system that need to be fixed even after students return to the classrooms, University of Maryland Global Campus Education Program Director Monica Simonsen, Ph.D., told Maryland House Ways and Means subcommittee members at a Nov. 19 hearing.Continue Reading