With Three Big Goals Accomplished, Luis Arriaza-Kibby is Reaching New Heights of Career Success

Luis Arriaza-Kibby came to the United States from El Salvador as a teenager. Settling in Damascus, Maryland, just shy of his 16th birthday, he had three goals: to learn English, to get his driver’s license and to continue his education.  

With his new Bachelor of Science in Human Resources in hand from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), he has hit that trifecta.  

“I remember telling my father that I wanted to go to school because I saw kids my age going and there was a high school near where we lived,” said Arriaza-Kibby. But his father had other plans, and the teenager gave up education and went to work at various jobs. A cousin encouraged him to take English classes in the Montgomery County school system, so he started a night program, attending sessions two to three times a week. Although his erratic work schedule prevented him from finishing the class, he learned enough English to start meeting people and making connections.  

His expanding network led to a job with a heating and air conditioning company, which immersed Arriaza-Kibby in the English language. It didn’t take long before he had gained enough vocabulary and fluency to achieve his first goal.  

Then he followed by securing his driver’s license, accomplishing goal No. 2. But the third aspiration, education, proved a more arduous task.  

“I wanted to go to high school and college, but no one in my family had ever gone, so I did not have that support system,” he said. “I fell into the restaurant and retail businesses after the heating and air conditioning job, which made it even harder.”  

While in his 20s, a news report about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program caught Arriaza-Kibby’s attention.  

“I met most of the requirements for DACA, except you had to have a high school diploma or GED to qualify,” he said. Because of his age and since work permitted no time to get into the school system, a GED was Arriaza-Kibby’s only option.  

His erratic work schedule allowed him only enough time to study on his own. After a few attempts, he passed the required test sections and earned his diploma. With the encouragement of teachers he met during the GED process, Arriaza-Kibby enrolled in Montgomery College and, after three and a half years of hard work, earned an associate degree in business.  

In 2013, Arriaza-Kibby met his future husband, William. They married in 2016. With William’s encouragement, Arriaza-Kibby continued his higher education journey, now as a permanent resident of the United States.  

“[William] has been the biggest support throughout all of this,” said Arriaza-Kibby.  

By 2018 he was settled into a more manageable work schedule as a grievance representative with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32 BJ. That’s when Arriaza-Kibby enrolled at UMGC in pursuit of his bachelor’s degree. It took an exhausting two years, but he finally did it, fully realizing the third goal he set for himself as a teenager.  

Arriaza-Kibby runs through a range of emotions as he reflects on his educational journey. “I still can’t believe it,” he said. “I thought to myself so many times that I was so close, yet so far.”  

With his degree in hand, Arriaza-Kibby hopes to advance his career with the SEIU and push to improve the workplace.  

“I believe that it is important for any job to understand how human resources works because working with people involves development, training and so much more,” he said. “Whatever I decide to do moving forward, I can now check this [education] box, which demonstrates my hard work and commitment.”  

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.”

Caitlyn Burroughs Followed Unexpected Path from Marketing to Nursing 

“Nursing was not my first degree,” said Caitlyn Burroughs, explaining that a job working on research studies convinced her that health care was really where she belonged. 

Burroughs graduated recently from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Curiously, it was her first degree, a bachelor’s in business marketing, that put her on a path to nursing. 

After getting her marketing degree from Towson University, Burroughs was hired by the Maryland Stroke Center to work on research studies. “There, I discovered that what I really wanted to do was nursing, and so I went back and got my associate degree in nursing,” she said. 

While studying, Burroughs obtained a student nurse position at a busy Baltimore hospital emergency room. She stayed on as a nurse in the ER, where she has now worked for six years. In 2020, a scholarship through the hospital allowed her to begin working toward her BSN. 

And then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.  

“It was scary because we knew nothing about this virus,” she said. “We were in N95 masks all the time and because face shields were scarce, I had to buy a welder shield at a Tractor Supply store.”  

At the outset of the pandemic, Burroughs found herself juggling school, a job as an emergency room nurse and the demands of raising two small children with her husband. Since she worked in a high-volume emergency room with high-acuity patients, her main concern was making sure she didn’t bring the virus back to her family. 

Fortunately, with a garage where she could change out of her hospital clothes and two cars, one for her and one for her husband and children, Burroughs could self-isolate enough to protect her family. 

“The hardest thing at the end of the day was watching my kids, age 2 and 4, run toward me and then telling them they need to get away,” she said. 

Given the stress of her job and other responsibilities, Burroughs found UMGC provided the perfect fit, particularly with a Wednesday-to-Tuesday class schedule. That timetable allows working parents to complete assignments over the weekend. Also critical to her success was the personal attention of her advisers. 

“My adviser called me to ask if I was ready to enroll and if we needed to meet,” she said. “I’ve never in a four-year college received a call from an adviser.”  

Burroughs said her heart remains in the emergency room right now, but the BSN will open doors. 

“It is a really good stepping-stone to the next area, whether it’s nurse management, a master’s in leadership, a nurse practitioner path or a doctorate,” she said.  

Her children are a priority and the in-demand nature of nursing means Burroughs can focus on her family for the next couple years and then take her career to the next level when she’s ready. 

“There are so many opportunities and career paths,” she said. “I could go to critical care, anesthesiology, esthetics. It just depends on what piques your interest.”  

With her studies behind her, Burroughs now also has time to reflect on her accomplishment.  

“It was worth for my kids to see their parents working hard together and supporting each other,” she said. “Without my husband’s support, pushing me to do my homework and taking the kids out so I can carve out time, and the support of my emergency room family, I never could have done it.” 

A Woman of Many Hats, Lauren Sterner Finally Puts on a Mortar Board 

At 17, Lauren Sterner set off for college. It was 1998 and she planned to study business administration at Salisbury University. But she struggled to find her footing. 

“Like many teenagers going off to college, I was not really sure what I wanted to do with my life,” she said. “By 1999, still unsure about a major, I took a few classes that interested me and switched my major to secondary education and English. 

“But I also knew I did not want to be a teacher, so I switched my major to communications.” 

The more she was unable to settle on an area that held her interest, the less of a priority college became. Sterner started working full time, which led to taking classes part time. Eventually, like many young adults, she put her education on hold. 

Fast forward to 2009. Sterner, a single mother of two small children, works at Northrop Grumman Corp. Her supervisor encourages her to take advantage of the company’s education assistance benefits. And that’s how her path to University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) began.    

“Had this benefit not been made available to me, I would not be here today—a graduate of UMGC with a bachelor’s degree in business management,” she said. 

Over the past several years, Sterner has worked full time, bought a house, watched her children grow and continued to chip away at her degree requirements. Through COVID-19 quarantine, she, like many others, wore the hats of mom, teacher, employee and student as she worked from home with her children in virtual school. 

“Over the seven years it took to complete my degree, I lost many weekends and fun activities with family and friends,” she said. “But I knew that having my children see that hard work and dedication can help you to achieve anything you want was the most important part of my journey.” 

Sterner sees her degree as essential to advancing in her career.  

“I have now taken over the role of principal logistics management analyst at Northrop Grumman and I plan to work my way up within my company,” she said. “But right now, I’m just looking forward to spending the holidays with my family and friends and just enjoying our time together.”  

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

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

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

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

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

And then? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington also offered advice to others. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Shaw Closes the Circle on a New Family Tradition Focused on Education 

Brian Shaw’s mother had to drop out school in the eighth grade. Although she never had an opportunity to return to complete her education, she encouraged her children to study. 

When Shaw graduates from the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) in December, he becomes the last of his siblings to earn a college degree. 

“A degree has always been my goal,” Shaw said. “My mother had to drop out of school and then she married young. But now all four of us—I have three sisters—will have our degrees. My sisters all have bachelor’s degrees and some also have master’s degrees.” 

Shaw obtained a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. A master’s degree in cybersecurity may also be in his future, but not for at least a year. For now, he’s going to relish his free time after the intensity of three years of studying while simultaneously managing his own company, KB Squared Technologies in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. 

Shaw launched the company in 2013 to offer fiber optic cable installation and removal, computerized equipment installation, security systems and related electrical work. His clients include commercial entities, residents and governments—local and federal—in the metropolitan D.C. area and Delaware. 

In many ways, the degree is sweeter for Shaw because it was so long in coming. His studies began 28 years ago in a UMGC class on the Mannheim Army base in Germany.  

“I graduated from high school on a Saturday, and three days later I joined the military. Right away, I was sent to Germany,” said the Biloxi, Mississippi, native. “So, in 1993, I took my first class. It was a math class. There were four students in the class—me and three military wives. They were struggling with the math but, since I had taken calculus in high school, I whizzed through it.” 

By then Shaw, a military mechanic, left Germany for a base in Washington state, he had three UMGC courses under his belt. In Washington, he enrolled in a junior college. After he left the military, he studied at a technical school in Florida, moved to Maryland, married and had a son. His time was consumed by work and travel, by coaching and mentoring. He started taking UMGC classes again in 2016, but it proved too much of a struggle with work and home life. 

“Finally, I got my son out of high school and into college, and I went back to studying again,” he said. That was 2018.  

“It was hard – being a parent, running a business and going to school. At some points, I was taking up to 18 credits. But I was never going to give up on my goal,” he said. 

Shaw said he sometimes found himself with simultaneous deadlines for UMGC projects and work proposals he had to submit for companies. “When you’ve got a business and you’ve got to submit for a 300-page RFP [request for proposal] at the same time you have a class paper due, it isn’t easy,” he said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic walloped his business. “Before the pandemic, we had 20 employees. Now we’re down to one,” he said. “But I see 2022 as a better year.”  

Overcoming Her Own Health Issues, Regina Cain Makes Helping Others Her Passion  

A lifetime of mental health challenges derailed Regina Cain’s education several times, but she held fast to her goal of a college degree. Now she is getting ready to carry what she learned forward—by helping others like she was helped. 

“I never gave up,” said Cain, who graduates in December with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). “I’ve always been good at school, and so school was the one thing I could hold on to.” 

Mental health struggles threw obstacles onto Cain’s academic path, but she would not be defeated.  

“The first time I was in therapy was around third grade when I was diagnosed with depression,” she said. “Later, as a young adult, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” Through perseverance and the support of family, friends and mentors, she fought through a number of setbacks to bring purpose to her life and achieve her academic dreams.  

Cain’s path to a UMGC degree was circuitous, and it did not start with a focus on business. After graduating from high school, the self-professed “science geek” began her college career studying forensics at Stevenson University outside of Baltimore.  

“I excelled at science in high school, so I wanted to do the whole CSI thing,” she explained. Unfortunately, after the fall 2011, Cain had to leave Stevenson to seek mental health treatment. Later, after stabilizing her life, she transferred to Towson University in the fall of 2012 and changed her major to biology. Then came another setback. 

“One night, I was walking across campus, coming from the library, and I stumbled on a ‘take back the night’ event where sexual assault survivors were talking about their experiences,” she said. That event triggered memories of Cain’s own childhood trauma and, eventually, a PTSD diagnosis. She left Towson in 2013 to seek additional treatment. After two additional departures and re-enrollments at Towson, she left in 2017 for the final time.  

Years later, at age 26 with her life steadied again and a job at the University of Maryland payroll office, Cain discovered UMGC. She enrolled as a business administration major, partly because the COVID-19 pandemic limited lab work opportunities for science classes, but also because she knew that a business degree would allow her to positively impact her community.  

“A lot of people, especially in the Black community, lack financial literacy, and so I thought that if I can learn this, I can bring this to them,” said Cain. UMGC’s commitment to accessibility and accommodation was also critical to her success.  

Cain, now thriving in her job as an acquisition management specialist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is happy—and ready to give back.  

“I’ve created a working group dedicated to diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility,” she said. “In this group, we created a strategic plan to embed these ideals and practices within our office.” She also helped launch a work-life balance program in her office, as well as a “gift back” program in which she and her colleagues pick and donate to two or three organizations each year.  

Cain is aiming high with her new business skills. She is putting together a proposal for a community health center pilot program she hopes to eventually expand nationwide.  

“Everything I’ve taken from school, even biology and chemistry, will go into the program because we will provide resources to address diabetes, heart problems, high blood pressure and other issues that affect the Black and brown communities disproportionately,” she said.  

Having benefited from the help of her mother and stepfather, Gail and Niles Haynie, friends and mentors, Cain is playing it forward by working to improve the well-being of others around her.  

Losing One of Her Six Sons to Gun Violence, Diana Johnson Overcomes Tragedy and Completes a Nearly 20-Year Journey to a UMGC Degree

Diana Johnson pushed herself to a successful career, but it didn’t come without struggle, including an unimaginable loss for a parent.

Johnson had started, stopped and restarted her education at intervals while raising six boys as a single mother in Washington, D.C., so she knew how to work around challenges. But nothing prepared her for the tragedy of losing her 23-year-old son, Devon, to gun violence in September, just a few months before she was to complete her final class and earn a bachelor’s degree in social science from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC).

Devon had a radiant smile, a big heart, and was intelligent, said Diana. Although he didn’t finish high school, he was a music lover who had a plan to establish himself as a skilled rap artist. Devon also was a member of Great Grace Church in Landover, Md., once serving as the church’s drummer.  

The death of her son “turned the world upside down,” Johnson said. Her pain was constant. She described finishing her last class as “the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.”

“But I wanted to finish strong for my family and was determined to receive my diploma in December,” she said.

Diana Johnson

Education has always been important to Johnson. After graduating from high school, she started taking classes at the University of the District of Columbia but had to drop out to support herself. Several years went by and she tried again. She was accepted at the George Washington University but never attended because she had just given birth to her first child. Instead, she got an entry-level job in customer service at electric power company PEPCO.

Although juggling her commitments to her job and to her family made going back to school extremely challenging, she began taking classes at UMGC in 2002.

Johnson chipped away at her education as she rose through the ranks at PEPCO. Now a senior supervisor in customer care, she said she was often exhausted as she kept up the household, helped her children with homework and stayed up late to finish work she had brought home with her.

“There were many times when I would cry at night, struggling to keep up. My job was challenging, but so was raising my boys, who needed more guidance as they got older. As Black children, especially Black males in this world, I knew that it would be difficult to keep them safe and out of harm’s way.”

Her eldest, who is now 25, attended Delaware State University but faced challenges adjusting to his new environment and, after a year in school, returned home. Another son, who is 18 years old, received an academic scholarship and is now enrolled at Wingate College in North Carolina, studying communications. Her other sons are 21, 11 and 9.

Johnson has set an example for her children by staying the course and earning her degree after a more than 20-year journey. “I want all my sons to know that even if you struggle, you can still achieve your goals,” Johnson said. “I try to be strong for them and show them that hard work and perseverance pays off.”

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

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

Oh yes, and there was a pandemic underway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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