Edith Vinson-Maitlandt Completes Bachelor’s Degree to Support Work at FEMA 

Edith Vinson-Maitlandt, or “Edie” as she is known by her colleagues and professors, is closing 2021 by completing her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management, with a minor in business administration. The new credential will add value to her position at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“Even in the online asynchronous environment, one could see that Edie is a thoughtful person and a good listener,” said Sabrina Fu, program director and collegiate professor for UMGC’s Environmental Science and Management Program. “Often she integrated her life experiences and observations to deepen concepts and provided thoughtful perspectives.”

Fu most recently taught Vinson-Maitlandt in the Stewardship and Global Environmental Challenges course (EMT 365). The course provides a brief history of how we got to the present environmental crisis, the role of human behavior in that journey, especially as it relates to population growth, use of technology and affluence, and system changes needed to be stewards of our earth.

Since Fu and Vinson-Maitlandt’s first meeting in class, they have developed a friendship outside UMGC through Citizens Climate Lobby, an organization focused on national policies to address climate change. Fu invited Vinson-Maitlandt to attend a conference through the organization two years ago to speak as a representative of FEMA.

“One of the workshops talked about the impacts of climate change to the Mid-Atlantic and specifically New Jersey,” Vinson-Maitlandt said. “I did flood house-mapping when I worked for contractors of FEMA, so I understood the coastal impact and wanted to share how FEMA responds to all sorts of events, such as a hurricane like Sandy that devastated the coastline, and what the expectations are.”

Today, she still supports the Delaware chapters of Citizens Climate Lobby by identifying what is happening in that state regarding clean energy. She also keeps elected officials and other groups in Delaware informed.

In Vinson-Maitlandt’s current role as emergency management specialist with FEMA, she resides in Dover, Delaware, but travels 90 percent of the time to help with emergency recovery response in the United States and its territories. Vinson-Maitlandt’s team writes grants to assist communities seeking financial recovery. She recently was in Kentucky—the site of an early 2021 ice storm and flooding—to help the police, road and fire departments, and other public entities, with their financial recovery process.  

Vinson-Maitlandt’s experience with FEMA began in 2012 in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Without power for nine days, she felt the need to lend a hand. Even then, while working full-time, Vinson-Maitlandt continued her UMGC classes toward her bachelor’s degree.

“The journey Edie took to keep going with academics, amid serving communities one emergency after another, is inspirational,” Fu said.

Looking to the future, Vinson-Maitlandt plans to use her degree by applying in 2022 for a position on a FEMA strategic group created to focus on climate change.

“It would be really exciting for me if I could get this detail and contribute a little bit of what I learned and what I see happening with regards to climate change and helping our agency formulate a message,” Vinson-Maitlandt said. “By incorporating these concepts and policies into what FEMA does and how we respond, it will benefit people with a little more thought.”

Protecting the Capitol After the January 6 Riot Didn’t Deter Paul Cooper from Earning His MBA, Only Delayed It

On Jan. 6, 2021, Paul Cooper and his wife were celebrating their three-year anniversary over dinner at home when his phone lit up. He was to report the following morning for duty. The next evening, he and his unit stood guard at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., where he spent 30 days, including during the presidential inauguration.

“Fortunately, nothing major happened at the Capitol, and no one was hurt or injured after the 6th,” says Cooper, who recently earned an M.B.A. from University of Maryland Global Campus.

Cooper’s wife was pregnant at the time, which made it scarier to not know how long he would be gone, and the pandemic was a concern given the tight living conditions for him and his colleagues, who weren’t yet able to vaccinate.

Having just finished his first assignment in a course, Cooper was anxious to stay on track, but he contacted his professor at UMGC, who said the course was very intensive. He decided to drop out that semester, in part to maintain his 4.0 GPA. He knew he would re-enroll the following semester—which he did—but he was disappointed to part with his cohort, to which he had grown attached.

Cooper engaged in independent study and preparation after his activation ended, and he and his former cohort stayed in touch. Classmates would text and check in on him. He got back on track and having now finished his degree and with military benefits remaining, he is weighing future options, including a second master’s degree, a doctorate, or several graduate certificates.

“I feel so accomplished,” says the Cincinnati native, who helps manage a traumatic brain injury clinic as a health systems specialist for the Defense Health Agency. “I know that this has opened the door for me in my current position to advance and get me to those upper-level management positions. I would like to hopefully manage a clinic at a military treatment facility.”

After graduating from the College of Mount Saint Joseph, where he played football and majored in history, Cooper taught junior high school at a small charter school. He had recently married and had two young children, so he decided to join the military to support his family and to repay his student loans.

While stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Cooper was able to meet a UMGC advisor face-to-face, which was hard to do with other schools. The advisor was very helpful and explained the process, he recalls. He was weighing a second bachelor’s in education, but the advisor helped him get into the M.B.A. program.

He recommends UMGC to working adults who have been out of school for a while or want to study with other adults. “It helps to ease a lot of fears and tension about working in groups,” he says. “We all understood that we all had competing priorities and were willing to give each other grace. I think the teamwork and support were so important. We had so many different abilities that you could always find someone with experience in each of the subjects that we had.”

Using Personal Tragedy from the Pandemic Inspires Mahawa Bundor to Reach Higher Goals

It would be an understatement to call the past two years “difficult” for Mahawa Bundor. The Sierra Leone, West Africa native—who moved to Maryland with her family at age 10—was studying full time in the master of science in cybersecurity technology program at University of Maryland Global Campus while raising her 12-year-old son as a single mom. Both of her parents contracted Covid. Her mother was hospitalized for two weeks and came home with oxygen, but her father tragically passed after fighting for his life, ventilated, at the hospital.

“I was completely heart-stricken after my father passed due to his complications from Covid, for I loved my father dearly. But I was not as sad as I was stressed and overwhelmed with responsibilities,” Bundor says. “I learned of true dedication to education when working on my master’s degree. I got a better handle on juggling school, work, and home life, and I learned that everything is earned.”

Somehow, Bundor summoned the energy and fortitude to complete her studies and to earn a 4.0 grade point average despite all of the hardships her family faced. “I was not going to disappoint myself by allowing my personal problems of my home life, global pandemonium, and bad health to get to me so much that I neglected my schoolwork. No!” she says. “The day after receiving the terrible and traumatizing news of my father’s passing, I studied harder and sacrificed my time to classes and dedicated myself to continue to focus on my son.”

She has never worked harder in her life than she has in the past two years, Bundor says. She kept telling herself that things were only going to get better and drew inspiration from the Frederick Douglass declaration, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” She also realized that with family support and her own self-motivation that she was not alone.

Being empathetic and deeply-loving are among Bundor’s greatest strengths, the self-declared extrovert and “friendly person in general” believes. She brings those attributes to the mental health field in which she works.

After earning a bachelor of social work from University of Maryland Baltimore County, she practiced as a student intern at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Initially, she aimed to pursue case management, but she then decided to study cybersecurity at UMGC to bring technological skills to her social work.

“Due to the high demand of technology these days and everything gradually transitioning into digital models, I realized that with a technology degree under my belt I would be able to grow further within my career into this emerging, crazy crypto world,” she says.

Bundor speaks highly of both the campuses and atmosphere at the University of Maryland systems, which she calls “exemplary” and motivating, and she particularly wanted to study cybersecurity at UMGC, because she knew it was so well regarded.

“UMGC gave me the platform to continue my educational goals by providing the proper tools to help reach my great accomplishments,” she says. “It provided the most patient professors, centers for research, labs, books, tutors, and workshops to improve the educational process.” And where one can feel alone in graduate school, UMGC offered Bundor a “gentle push” to keep striving and succeeding.

“The first day of graduate school was surreal,” she remembers. “It suddenly hit me that I was no longer a child. Every decision that I made henceforth could have the ability to dramatically change my life for the better or the worse. UMGC has made my future life better.” She wishes her father was here to congratulate her on her newly minted degree, but she also knows he is looking down, happy, and smiling upon her.

Down the road, she intends to advocate for women on health issues, including focusing on fighting human trafficking and domestic violence (of which she is a survivor). She also has her eye on a career in the federal government focused on cybersecurity. “Dreaming big is a scary thing,” she says. “The goals that I have set for myself to reach are high up in the sky, but they are not impossible.”

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.” 

Ramon Perea Uses His UMGC Degree as Springboard to a Master’s in Security Studies at Georgetown University

Ramon Perea embarked on a new adventure with the U.S. Air Force when he was just 21 years old and left his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Today, he calls Hyattsville, Maryland, home.

He is still on active-duty status with the Air Force—but something important has changed.

Perea officially completed his Bachelor of Science in Computer Networking and Cybersecurity and Political Science this month. Thanks to the flexibility and virtual learning offered by University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), he was able to maintain his full-time job as a network analyst in the Air Force while expanding his knowledge of the cybersecurity field and exploring political science and computer networks.

“The first few years while I was studying at UMGC, I was working shift work and I wanted to continue my higher education. An in-person program would not have been feasible,” Perea said. “Recently, with COVID, most programs had to shift toward online. We already had a model set [with UMGC] and I felt like I just kept going as I was.

“I think for what UMGC does, they do it very well,” he added.

Since Perea enrolled at UMGC five years ago, he has joined Pi Gamma Mu, an international honor society for the social sciences, as well as two other honor societies. He is a member of SALUTE, a nationally recognized organization for military and veteran students, and he belongs to Alpha Sigma Lamba, which celebrates the scholarship and leadership of adult students in higher education in the United States.

“From Day One, Ramon was fully engaged in my American Foreign Policy class. He interacted constantly with his colleagues in the course and showed in-depth understanding of the readings and discussions and solid insights into relevant areas, enriching the class for everyone,” said Mary Frances Lebamoff, PhD, collegiate professor and program director of the Department of Political Science and Government. “His two papers were among the best in terms of research, outstanding thesis statements and mature, well-considered conclusions.”

Perea first heard about UMGC at the education office on his base, Fort Meade. The rest is history.

“I initially started at UMGC with the intent to study cybersecurity to gain more knowledge for my current job, but along the way I discovered how much I like political science, so I added another major,” Perea said.

While in the Air Force, he has lived in California, Texas, Florida and now Maryland. His first role was as a linguist. Eventually he shifted to become a network analyst.

In January 2022, Perea will pursue a new opportunity by beginning a master’s degree in the security studies at Georgetown University.  That multidisciplinary program is designed to prepare graduates for positions within the defense and security fields.

“I want to take the technical side of what I learned through UMGC and through my experience in the military and then apply it to a broader picture. I’m very excited,” Perea said. “I hope to find a job in the foreign policy field where I’m working with other nations or policies with a cybersecurity focus.”

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.”