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.”

University of Maryland Global Campus Cancels Winter Commencement Ceremonies Scheduled for December 18

Decision to Cancel In-Person Event Was Made as a Result of Fast-Spreading COVID-19 Variants and to Protect Health and Safety of Graduates, Guests, Faculty and Staff 

An Estimated 10,000 People Were Expected to Attend Ceremonies at Xfinity Center in College Park, Md. 

Adelphi, Md. (Dec. 16, 2021) — Due to the rapid spread of COVID-19 variants and out of an abundance of caution for the health and safety of graduates and guests, as well as that of faculty, staff and event personnel, University of Maryland Global Campus has cancelled its winter commencement ceremonies scheduled for Saturday, December 18, at Xfinity Center in College Park, Md. 

An estimated total of 10,000 people—including graduates, guests and staff—were expected to attend two separate ceremonies at Xfinity Center. 

In a message to the UMGC community, President Gregory W. Fowler said: “We recognize that many institutions are wrestling with decisions of this nature, balancing the desire to host in-person events with the larger responsibility of protecting our communities, and it is in that spirit that we have taken this step. 

“We celebrate the accomplishments of every graduate, and we are heartbroken that we cannot celebrate with them in person,” Fowler continued. “Rest assured that every graduate will be invited back to participate in an in-person ceremony in the future, when conditions allow.” 

Graduates have been invited to visit a virtual recognition gallery after 8 a.m. Eastern time on December 18 to view a special commencement message and to visit the personalized recognition slides honoring UMGC’s more than 7,000 graduates. 

In the state of Maryland there have been 1,866 new COVID cases reported in the past 24 hours, increasing the total number of cases in the state to 592,679, according to the Maryland Department of Health’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, positive cases of the Omicron variant will likely spread faster than the original strain of the virus and have now been detected in 36 states, including Maryland. The first case in the U.S. was identified on December 1.

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Maryland Del. Jazz M. Lewis, Entrepreneur, Veteran and Alumna Ginger Miller to Keynote University of Maryland Global Campus Commencement Ceremonies on December 18 at Xfinity Center in College Park

Some 2,000 Graduates, along with their Guests to Attend Two In-Person Ceremonies 

Ceremonies to be Livestreamed and Include Virtual Components 

Adelphi, Md. (Dec. 9, 2021)—University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) will host its winter commencement on Saturday, Dec. 18. UMGC will award more than 8,000 degrees this winter, with nearly 2,000 graduates, along with their guests, attending two in-person ceremonies at Xfinity Center in College Park, Md. 

NOTE: All graduates and their guests must show proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 to be admitted to the Xfinity Center. 

Keynoting the morning ceremony, which begins at 9:15 a.m., will be entrepreneur, veteran, and UMGC alumna Ginger Miller, who is founder, president, and CEO of Women Veterans Interactive Inc. She was recently appointed by President Biden to the USO Board of Governors.  

Addressing graduates in the afternoon ceremony, which begins at 3:45 p.m., will be the Honorable Jazz M. Lewis (District 24, Prince George’s County), who was appointed to the Maryland House of Delegates in February 2017. He serves on the Appropriations Committee and has worked tirelessly to focus on the issues important to everyday Marylanders. 

Both the morning and afternoon ceremonies will be livestreamed. A link to the livestream can be accessed on the UMGC Commencement website: Commencement | UMGC. In addition, a virtual recognition website will be available with personalized slides for more than 7,200 graduates​, which include photos and messages from graduates. 

Each ceremony features a graduate selected in a competitive process to address their classmates. Brittany Renfro (Bachelor of Science in Homeland Security) was chosen to speak at the morning ceremony, while Jayla Nowlin (Master of Science in Learning Design and Technology) will address the afternoon ceremony. 

Here is a snapshot of UMGG 2021 Winter Graduating Class:  

  • Number of graduates worldwide: 8,045  
  • Graduates come from all 50 states, 4 U.S. territories, and 26 countries 
  • Youngest graduate: 18 years old 
  • Oldest graduate: 78 years old 
  • Average age: 34 years old 

About University of Maryland Global Campus  

Celebrating its 75th Anniversary in 2022, University of Maryland Global Campus is a world leader in innovative educational models with award-winning online programs in biotechnology, cybersecurity, data analytics, information technology, and other high-demand disciplines in today’s increasingly technical, global workplace. With an enrollment of some 90,000 students, UMGC offers open access with a global footprint and a specific mission—to meet the learning needs of students whose responsibilities may include jobs, family, and military service. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs, including doctoral programs. A pioneer in distance education since 1947, UMGC today strives to bring the right experience to the right student at the right time and in the right way. 

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