Entrepreneur Will Use Health Administration Degree to Expand Her Hair Business

Kathryn Akinmuyisan’s Bachelor of Science in Health Administration puts her a step closer to her goal: to augment a thriving hair business with health and wellness offerings, including group fitness and nutrition.  

“I have my own hair business, Bundled Up Beauties, and now I plan to use my degree to support my fitness business,” she said. “Health care and nutrition are what I’m really into.” 

Akinmuyisan comes from a family that values education and hard work. Her Nigerian father and Kenyan mother met in, of all places, India, where they were attending university.  

“My family had a church in Nigeria, which they wanted to expand, and so they sought to do this in America,” Akinmuyisan said. They won a visa to the United States through the lottery program. 

Through sponsorship from an aunt already in the United States, the family initially moved to Prince George’s County, Maryland, and shortly after settled in Columbia, Maryland, where Akinmuyisan’s mother became a first-time homeowner.  

Akinmuyisan had the example of her mother. When Akinmuyisan was 9, her mother became a single parent who put herself through nursing school and supported the family. Knowing that her mother didn’t have the money to put four children through school, Akinmuyisan joined the Air Force to gain access to higher education and see the world.  

In the military, she began studying for a criminal justice degree, which was not easy.  

“When I initially started school in 2017, I was working from deployed locations in Europe and Africa,” she said. “Often, I didn’t have Wi-Fi, so I just got my time in whenever I could go to a hotel.” 

It was during her time in the Air Force that Akinmuyisan saw an opportunity to start a hair business. “There were a lot of women around me in the military who were having trouble finding hair extensions and products they needed,” she said.  

When she was honorably discharged in 2019, she decided to pursue a health administration degree at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) to build out her expanding hair business with health and fitness. “People kept asking me questions about fitness since I was in the military so I decided to pursue my all-around interest in wellness and just helping people be the best they can be,” she said.  

At 26, Akinmuyisan is looking forward to a bright future. She and her partner are thinking about starting a family, and she aims to establish herself firmly in the health care and wellness space, eventually pursuing a master’s degree in a health-related area. “Whatever I do, I want to incorporate nutrition because what you put into your body is so important,” she said. 

Coming from a supportive family that values higher education, Akinmuyisan never thought twice about pursuing her degree and her dreams. To others who might be having doubts about education or their career path, she advises, “Just make a plan and do it, because if you don’t, you’re going to have regrets.”  

Military Career and Growing Family Nudged Julius Downing to Psychology Studies

Julius Downing has long been interested in psychology. It gained greater importance when he began looking to it for guidance in balancing the demands of a career in the Navy and the responsibilities of a growing family. 

“I had a lot on my plate. I was dealing with a lot in the military, training to be a Navy Seal, going to school and I was a father. We didn’t have cell phones in the early years and sometimes weeks or months would go by when I was on deployments and couldn’t talk to my wife,” Downing said. “It was hard juggling all that.” 

Downing said the psychology courses he took through University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) were “like therapy,” but the time constraints that came with his job and family life  meant he could only enroll sporadically. 

This month, after more than two decades of off-and-on classes, Downing was awarded a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from UMGC. His five children—accustomed to years of seeing their father studying at night—didn’t realize he had completed the degree program until he invited them to his commencement and put on his graduation regalia. 

Downing, who grew up in Chesapeake, Virginia, was in high school when he became interested in a military career and joined the ROTC. Although his school’s ROTC was affiliated with the Air Force, he had his eye on the Navy. He worked for a couple of years after graduation and then enlisted. 

While on his first Navy ship in 1998, Downing was introduced to UMGC by way of a course taught by faculty deployed aboard the vessel. 

The years that followed were marked by career advancements and life’s ups and downs. The most stressful of the challenging times included a house fire in England that displaced Downing’s wife, 4-year-old son Keshawn, and 1-year-old daughter Latoya while he was deployed to Iraq. 

“We lost the house, we lost everything,” Downing said. “No one was injured and the military got me on a plane and home within 24 hours. But it was very stressful, and it’s when I got really interested in mental health and psychology.” 

Later, during a deployment to Bahrain, he learned that one of his sons had diabetes added to the strain, and the psychology courses began to feel like a lifeline.   

In 2018—after 20 years of service—Downing retired from the Navy and moved his family to Virginia. He took a job as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense, managing many of the same duties as he did as a servicemember. It was then that he decided to springboard his interest in psychology into a bachelor’s degree and the termination of an associate degree in arts that he had left founder years earlier. 

“I decided that I wanted to study the psychology of gender and cognitive behavior therapy,” Downing explained. He was able to test out of some UMGC course requirements and received credit for military leadership classes he had taken.  

“They gave me credit for military schooling. I was preparing to be a military analyst and that preparation went into my transcript. That was huge,” he said.  

In the years that psychology classes fed Downing’s intellect, sports had fueled his body. He was on the track team in high school then, in the Navy, he coached children in the schools on military bases. He also boxed and played football, rugby, and basketball for the military while stationed in the U.K. and Germany, coached football and basketball at Fort Belvoir and was involved with physical readiness training for Navy Seals. At one point, he even taught aerobic classes to military wives.  

As he headed toward his degree, he saw a way to combine psychology and sports. 

“After years of taking classes, I realized counseling and coaching were my passion,” he said. “Today I’m a high school coach, the creator of a nonprofit to mentor youth and I now aim to become a business owner and use my degrees in psychology and art.” 

Downing—the kids he trains call him “Coach JD”—plans to use his degree in a youth basketball training and sports therapy program he is launching. He has already been training boys and girls and is especially interested in kids who may not realize the role sports can play in keeping them strong, physically and mentally.   

In thinking about getting a degree in his 50s, Downing said he had a good role model. His father received his master’s degree at age 55. Downing now hopes he’s paying it forward as an example for his own children, the oldest 23 and the youngest 2. 

An Educational Journey: From Segregated Schools to UMGC Degree

Aaron Burr’s Bachelor of Science in Management Studies from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) was long in coming. He received it in May—in tandem with an Associate of Arts with a focus on business management—37 years after taking his initial college course at a military base in Germany, his first active station with the U.S. Army.  

In the years between, Burr deployed to Albania, Hungary, Iraq, Kuwait and Bosnia and Herzegovina. He took leadership training courses in various locations. But most of his time in the military was spent in Germany and that is where he remained as a civilian employee of the Department of Defense when he retired in 2005 following 21 years of military service.  

Burr was born in central Louisiana in 1965 to a hard-working Black and Native American family. His father worked at a Holsum Bread factory and his mother was a nursing assistant, but money was always tight.   

“Growing up during the civil rights movement was quite interesting. I went to a segregated school all the way up to fourth grade,” Burr said. “I knew back then that I wasn’t getting the full blast of education and I felt deprived, even as a young child. 

“My parents were seeking ways of getting me and my sister out of that environment and to expand our opportunities,” he continued. “In my fifth-grade year, my sister and I broke some barriers when we were bused across our city to a school that was not segregated.”    

At 17, two other life-changing things happened. Burr and his high school sweetheart became parents to a son, Jonathan, and Burr enrolled in the junior ROTC program at his high school.  

“Our school’s program was with the Marine Corps and it was through it that I became interested in military service. The job opportunities where I was were not so good otherwise, and I wanted to be able to provide for my son and set him up for success,” Burr said. “As much as I enjoyed the Marine Corps program, I had more interest in the U.S. Army. So, at age 19, my senior year, I contacted the Army recruiter.” 

He took a year off after graduation to spend time with his young son then began his Army service in May 1984. He began training as a tactical communications specialist at Fort Sill in Oklahoma. From there, he joined an Army unit in Nuremberg, Germany.  

“In December of 1984, when I arrived in Germany, my platoon sergeant was talking to me about education. They were correspondence courses then. You went to the education center, signed up for the course, read the materials, took the exam and then went to the education counselor to have your records updated,” Burr said. “I knew education would help me get promoted in the Army, develop me as a leader, and make me more marketable.” 

Over time, Burr decided to pursue an associate degree in business management. The correspondence courses evolved to include in-class and virtual learning, as well as hybrid classes that combined a bit of both. At some point, Burr expanded his ambition to a bachelor’s degree at UMGC. Many of his previous course credits transferred to the degree program. He was also pleased to receive credit for his military certifications. 

In 2018, Burr accepted a stateside position as a logistics management specialist and item manager with the U.S. Army TACOM Integrated Logistics Support Center, in part so he could spend more time with his son, who has homes in Texas and Florida, and his 9-year-old granddaughter and 1-year-old son. By the time he relocated to Natick, Massachusetts, for the new assignment, Burr had been in Germany for 28 years, more time than he had ever lived in the United States.   

TACOM’s Integrated Logistics Support Center supports warfighting readiness for U.S. forces by handling repair-parts planning repair and supply chain management for more than 3,500 weapons systems. Burr writes and processes procurement contracts, does budget analysis, and oversees the readiness of a multitude of systems that are positioned and used around the globe.  

He said the business management degree “equips me with tools to better manage human capital and personnel readiness and accountability.”   

Burr’s mother, Gloria Vinson, traveled from Louisiana to the UMGC graduation ceremony to watch her son become the first member of the family to receive a college diploma.  

“I thought the ceremony was awesome,” Vinson said. “It was an experience I had prayed for, to see him walk down the aisle and hear him called up on stage.” 

Burr, 57, said there is power in accomplishing something you’ve wanted for a long time. 

“It doesn’t matter how long ago I started. The important thing is that I was able to complete what I started 37 years later,” he said. 

Former Teacher Receives Graduate Degree and Plans to Make a Career Change

After losing two former students to gun violence, a heartbroken Teneisha Holder decided to walk away from her job as an English Language Arts (ELA) teacher at Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C.

“These were students whose dreams and goals resonated with me because they … believed they were the game changers in their families and they also had a large sense of community,” Holder said.

Holder, a 2016 graduate of Howard University, was frustrated with the public school system and wanted to make a change in her life. Determined and motivated, she enrolled at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) in 2020. She has just graduated with her Master of Science in Management with a focus on nonprofit and association management.

“As uncanny as it sounds, enrolling and having the support from my professors were extremely influential in rescuing me from severe depression,” Holder said.

As a child, Holder discovered she had dyscalculia, a learning disability that affects her ability to do mathematics. While at UMGC, Holder’s professor recommended that she use the university’s tutoring services to help her further understand equations and statistics.

During her time at UMGC, Holder became interested in working in the nonprofit world and became involved in educational advocacy with EmpowerEd. EmpowerEd is committed to creating a more just and equitable education system for students in D.C.

“Teneisha brought passion and enthusiasm to the nonprofit management program. Her dedication to the nonprofit sector was evident in all her coursework and in her supportive interactions with others,” said Jennifer Wood, Ph.D., adjunct professor of management foundations and non-profit and association management. 

Wood said a statement from Holder during the final weeks of our class captured her student’s eagerness to learn while providing “a window into the kindness and compassion she will carry into the world after graduation.”

What Holder wrote was: “We may quarrel, disagree or dislike each other but what can we learn from each other and how can that benefit the next generation.”  

Currently, Holder teaches at a nonprofit school for students with autism and emotional challenges. With her new degree, she aspires to find a position as a program manager at a nonprofit.

“I think it would be cool to work for an organization that’s teaching high schoolers to pursue their ideas and entrepreneurship, [sparking them to say] ‘Let me see how I can make this marketable and scale it,’” Holder said. 

The oldest of five children, Holder left some family behind in Miami when she moved to attend Howard University. She stayed in the Washington metro area to begin her career and then found it convenient for graduate school at UMGC. 

Holder hopes to use her master’s degree to make a difference in the city she now calls home. She is dedicating her master’s degree to the memory of students Ahkii Washington-Scruggs and Richard Allen Bandura, who she says, “kept me motivated and focused.”

Motivated to Help Young Daughter Overcome Developmental Challenges, Tamea Ellis-Armstrong Completes Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology

Tamea Ellis-Armstrong’s youngest daughter didn’t start talking when expected—which eventually led to a diagnosis of autism. Ellis-Armstrong’s determination to help her in any way that she could ultimately lead to a psychology degree program at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). 

Ellis-Armstrong just completed her Bachelor of Psychology, graduating cum laude, and now plans to pursue a master’s degree to deepen her capacity to support others with special needs. 

“Now my daughter is talking in full sentences, and I want to learn how to assist people who are disabled,” she said. 

Ellis-Armstrong said the degree program helped her discover how to help her daughter. “So that’s what really inspired me to further my education and attend graduate school in psychology in the future,” she explained.   

Ellis-Armstrong has five daughters ranging in age from 5 to 19 and is serving as a role model to them by completing her degree. 

“This will be my first bachelor’s degree which I’m very excited for—it feels like I’ve been working on this degree since I graduated from high school—and this has always been my No. 1 goal,” Ellis-Armstrong explained. 

In addition to being a mom and full-time college student, Ellis-Armstrong has worked as a development officer at the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development for four years. She processes funding for tenants and owners of Section 8 housing based on a contract with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

“Tamea was a pleasure to work within my sociology courses. She brought many insights and much enthusiasm to her study of sociology and showed a strong capacity to analyze social issues,” said Collegiate Professor of Social Sciences Donna Maurer, Ph.D. “For example, she wrote an excellent analysis and policy suggestion on how to address rising childcare costs, an important issue affecting many families. 

“Psychology majors like Tamea often find that studying sociology is very helpful, in that it can help them better understand the broader social conditions that influence individual problems,” she added. 

Upon graduation, Ellis-Armstrong will be applying for graduate positions in federal agencies and is looking forward to graduate school sometime next year. 

“UMGC has given me the greatest opportunity. With the flexibility of class schedules, I had the ability to attend school, and still work full time and be a full-time mom,” Ellis-Armstrong said. “I loved the professors, and they were easy to work with. If you ran into hurdles, when you were trying to get papers written and stuff like that, they were easy to work with.”    

Christine Hillsgrove’s “Transformational” Experience at UMGC Includes Earning Three Degrees

Christine Hillsgrove has always been fascinated by the inner workings of NASA and it was her dream to work for one of the space agency’s centers. 

Fast forward to 2015.  Hillsgrove has landed her dream job in cybersecurity at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. JPL is a research and development lab that is managed by the California Institute of Technology—Caltech—and receives federal funds from NASA. 

“In fact, when I drove across the country to move to California, I planned my route to hit as many NASA centers as possible to visit,” Hillsgrove said. 

Today Hillsgrove still works for JPL, leading the team focused on cyber threats and intelligence. She is advancing her career with a Master of Science in Transformational Leadership, her third degree from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). She also received a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Management in 2007 and a Master of Science in Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigation in 2015. 

“I can definitely say that what I’ve learned from my master’s is tremendously helping me in my current role,” said Hillsgrove. “The transformational leadership instills how to be more people-oriented and how to consider those people’s aspects when it comes to leadership.” 

She added that the management skills that come with her degree, including budget and marketing know-how, are “helping me lead my team and to promote my team within my organization so that we can all be successful together.” 

Hillsgrove’s professor from a 2015 cybersecurity course described her as unforgettable and an excellent student. 

“Chris was not only impressive, given her leadership skills and willingness to serve our nation, but her zeal to learn extends far beyond the coursework,” said Michael Ball, adjunct associate professor of cloud computing and computer networking. “She and I had multiple dialogues concerning the work of my then-employer, the NASA Office of Inspector General/Cyber Crimes Division, and she expressed genuine interest in the work in the digital forensics field. She is a leader who will continue to grow and shine.” 

Hillsgrove’s decision to return to school was indirectly linked to her service in the National Guard. Even when Hillsgrove relocated to California, she flew to Maryland monthly to assist her National Guard unit and play the clarinet in the 29th Army Band of the Maryland National Guard. On a 2020 trip during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hillsgrove got stuck in Maryland. The National Guard found out and asked her to come to the office and help its IT department. Years before, Hillsgrove had worked full-time for the Guard as an IT technician from 2010-2014.  

While aiding the National Guard, Hillsgrove started thinking about expanding her professional skills further and started looking through graduate programs at UMGC. 

“I was getting ready to retire from the military after 22 years of service. I had just gotten promoted into a new leadership position at JPL, and so when I was looking at the curriculum for transformational leadership, I realized that it more aligned with what I wanted to learn,” Hillsgrove said. 

In fall 2020, Hillsgrove embarked on her second master’s degree.   

“JPL has this great tuition reimbursement program and I wanted to take advantage of it even though I already have a master’s degree. Plus, there is so much more I can learn by pursuing another degree,” Hillsgrove said. “I’m really grateful for UMGC having the programs that they do and recognizing that their students need flexibility, providing the online format so that we’re no longer bounded by geographic limitations.” 

Hillsgrove, who retired from the National Guard in November 2020, plans to apply all her new skills in leading JPL’s veteran employee resource group. She looks forward to supporting other veterans transitioning out of military service and struggling in their day-to-day lives. 

“I really appreciate that UMGC has a program specifically for military personnel because that transition from military to civilian life is incredibly difficult,” Hillsgrove said. “Without a university like UMGC, I would have never been able to finish one graduate degree, let alone two or even my bachelor’s.” 

To Anyone Returning to School Later in Life, Graduate Mae Beale Says Make it a Priority

When Mae Beale returned to school in her late 70s to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Business Management, she had already spent several years in a career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Others in her shoes might have faced this decision with trepidation. Instead, the Howard County, Maryland, resident jumped in with purpose and confidence.  

Of the decision to study at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), she said, “I discovered that I had to be intentional about it and make it my priority.”  

Over her long career as an LPN in Washington, D.C., Beale worked at health care and government agencies in the area, including Children’s National Hospital, the National Naval Center (now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center), the Washington VA Medical Center Hospital, and later joined the Department of Health and Human Services. It was at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid where Beale’s career pivoted toward business and event planning.  

“My supervisors thought I had something special,” she said. “When I was working at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, I organized some large events and everybody was impressed with it, so I started coordinating their IT information conferences.”  

In 1994, Beale established her own event planning business, In Grand Style, and started working toward her associate degree in Business Management at Howard Community College. As a member of several local boards and as someone who is deeply involved in her community, Beale has always enjoyed business, building relationships, and organizing. She has spent the past 40 years supporting her Howard County, Maryland community through activism, civic engagement, and volunteering.  

So, after getting her associate degree, Beale decided to enroll at UMGC and work toward a bachelor’s degree, one class at a time. “I wanted to make certain I had the time to devote to whichever class I was taking,” she said. “I was like the tortoise. Slow and steady wins the race.”  

Beale’s dedication to putting her best into each class paid off. She made the Dean’s List several times at UMGC and graduated with honors, a major accomplishment for her.  

At UMGC, Beale devoted much of her time to helping others. For four years while she pursued her degree, she served on the UMGC Student Advisory Council. Even after she finished her coursework, she continued as an ex-officio member until her term ended in December 2020. In January 2021, Beale was honored as Volunteer of the Month. 

Well into her retirement as a licensed practical nurse, and now as a community advocate with her Bachelor of Business Management in hand, Beale is busier than ever. She has joined a few more local boards, including those of the Howard County, Maryland Tourism and Promotion, the Restaurant Association, the Festival of the Arts, and the Columbia Bright Minds Association.  

With her degree, Beale already feels a greater sense of respect. “I knew that if I had the degree, it would solidify things and make me feel more comfortable,” she said. 

Beale was fortunate throughout her career to have the support of a loving husband and son. “I tell everyone my husband allowed me to be me,” she said. “Whatever ambition or whatever I was doing, he was always my biggest, encourager and my biggest motivator.” Beale’s husband passed away several years ago, but her son remains one of her biggest supporters.  

To others who may be on the fence about pursuing higher education, Beale says to do what makes your heart sing. “Expose yourself to as many possibilities as you can because you never know what life will present.”  

Prince George’s County 3D Scholars: First Graduates of Ambitious Collaboration Crush Myths About Accessibility and Affordability in Higher Education

Your Path, Your Pace: First Graduates Show How Innovative Program Can Reshape Education

As Nailah Gibson looked forward to her May 2022 graduation from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), she was debating whether to use her Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice as the steppingstone to law school or to a career in law enforcement. For now, law school has the edge.

Gibson is 19—the age when many are just starting college—and she has already earned her high school diploma, associate degree and bachelor’s degree. If law school weren’t on her horizon, she’d be starting a career, building professional experience and accumulating retirement savings while her friends are barely out of high school. More remarkable is the fact that she has accomplished this without incurring significant debt.

Nailah Gibson and Davion Ward at UMGC commencement.

Gibson is one of more than 80 students in the groundbreaking Prince George’s 3D Scholars program and the first student to graduate. The pioneering initiative –based in Prince George’s County, Maryland—partners UMGC with Prince George’s Community College (PGCC) and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) to offer high-performing students a seamless and accelerated pathway from high school to community college to university. The program put Gibson on a fast track toward a bachelor’s degree without the need for student loans.

“Programs like this allow us to challenge our own thinking about the way education has to happen, reevaluating our myths about access, affordability and debt,” said UMGC President Gregory Fowler. “I love this program, and I’ve been in conversation with others about how we can expand it.”

Like all Prince George’s 3D Scholars—the 3D is shorthand for the three diplomas students earn—Gibson took classes at Charles Herbert Flowers High School and Prince George’s Community College simultaneously. And while the program is designed to overlap one year of high school and community college, Gibson stepped up the pace and graduated from both high school and PGCC the same year. Then, she transferred to UMGC as a junior and whizzed through the remaining courses for her bachelor’s degree.

“Prince George’s County Public Schools is committed to offering innovative programs that allow students to maximize their readiness for college and careers,” said school district CEO Dr. Monica Goldson. “PG3D Scholars is the first program that tracks students from high school through the completion of a bachelor’s degree – at nearly no cost to families. Students take their first college course as juniors in high school, which counts toward earning their associate or bachelor’s degrees.”

By launching first in Prince George’s County Public Schools, one of the largest school districts in the country, the scholarship program offers a high-visibility education option that could be replicated nationally.

The program was launched in 2016, and eligible students commit to the program as early as eighth or ninth grade. By Grade 11, they are following a prescribed curriculum in one of three degree concentrations—criminal justice, business administration or cybersecurity—chosen because they dovetail with strengths of the PG3D academic partners and align with job market demand.   

“The Prince George’s 3D program is so practical,” said PGCC Executive Vice President Clayton Railey. “Through dual enrollment with their high school and community college, the students can earn the first 60 credits toward their baccalaureate degree for free. And they may also be eligible for scholarships. We try to make money not the issue. We remove as many barriers as possible.”

Interest in the program is so strong—each year there are at least 400 applicants for 50 guaranteed spots at Flowers High School—that students are now being chosen by lottery.

“When I heard about the Prince George’s 3D Scholars program, I thought it was a great opportunity,” said Davion Ward, who will graduate in the summer as part of the first cohort to complete the program. “I think getting the degree faster looks great on my resume. And, of course, there’s also the free education. We saved so much money.”

Ward, like Gibson, pursued a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. He is interested in a public service career and plans to take the LSAT so he can enroll in law school. The 20-year-old is currently seeking an internship at the U.S. Department of Justice or Department of State.

“Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been drawn to politics,” said Ward. I think law school would give me an opportunity to explore multiple career options, not necessarily practicing law but understanding the law.”

A third scholarship recipient in the first cohort, Darren Lim, would have graduated in May, as well, but chose to earn a second degree from UMGC, which he paid for himself. He will graduate in December with a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Science in Accounting.  

“I want to be an accountant. I might become a financial analyst, too,” Lim said. At 21, he already has a full-time job in auditing at MGM, the global hospitality and entertainment company. He hopes his degrees will open the way for advancement at the company.

Lim was not alone. The program is designed with the flexibility to accommodate students who also hold jobs, and both Gibson and Ward worked while completing their high school and college coursework.

This comes as no surprise to PGCC President Falecia Williams, who noted that, while the Prince George’s 3D Scholars program requires a 2.5 grade-point average or better, the students drawn to it are “just exceptional.”

“They are in the most accelerated programs. They’ve been recommended by their school. They’re brilliant,” she said. “They are independent thinkers and independent learners.”

Their focus and discipline was further tested by COVID-19. Most UMGC courses are offered online, but PGCC classes for the program were intended to be conducted face-to-face. The lockdown necessitated an abrupt shift to virtual learning, and students had to adapt.

It also meant that neither Gibson nor Ward were able to march in their high school and community college graduations. UMGC’s commencement in May will represent their first opportunity to celebrate in person.

Flowers High School: a proven testing ground

Charles H. Flowers High School is well suited for the Prince George’s 3D Scholars Program.  The 2,500 student school has a reputation for helping students leap ahead on academic achievement and career training.  Within its walls are a plethora of academic and technical programs to include the Science and Technology program, Project Lead the Way, the Academy of Finance, a culinary program and a Fire Fighter and Emergency Medical Technician program in partnership with the Prince George’s Fire Department.  Some seniors at the school have even received paid internship experiences with the U.S. Department of Defense.

The school even has an aerospace engineering and aviation technology initiative, and one 15-year-old student is the country’s youngest certified glider pilot.

Said Flowers High School Principal Gorman Brown, “We’re not preparing our students for the jobs of 30 or 40 years ago; we’re training them for the jobs of tomorrow.”

The school also had a dual enrollment partnership with PGCC before the advent of the PG3D program, and now boasts the highest number of dual-enrollment students of any school in its district. But the Prince George’s 3D Scholars program is distinctive for adding an accredited university, UMGC, to the formula.   

When the program was being developed, the school system worked with PGCC to identify courses suitable for dual credit, developing a curriculum for each of the three degree pathways. Before COVID-19 sent classes online, the school system also provided buses to shuttle students between the high school and PGCC.

The Prince George’s 3D Scholars program doesn’t take admissions lightly, particularly given the relative youth of some applicants. Families sign a memorandum of understanding acknowledging the challenges their child must negotiate related to time management and program expectations. Success can be life-changing.

“Some of these scholars are the first in their families to get a university degree. They are the anchor for their families, especially for families who have realized the importance of education but have not had a pathway to it. They understand that achieving the American dream starts off with receiving a quality education,” Brown said. “A lot of these young people become the shining stars in the program and the anchor for their families, the examples for younger siblings and cousins.”

Both Flowers and PGCC provide advisers who maintain close contact with the students and track their progress. Some students benefit from peer mentors, and at UMGC, students have access to success coaches.

TuMisha Alao is the Prince George’s 3D Scholar coordinator at Flowers High School. She meets with students and their parents and tracks grades and course enrollment.

“The most important facet of my position is building relationships with students and checking their pulse the whole time,” Alao said. “We pay for their books and fees. We provide support. We invest in the students and we want to see them be successful.”

Beginning in ninth grade, Alao said, students who apply for the Prince George’s 3D Scholars program are guided into honors programs and advanced placement (AP) classes. Although they are considered “pre-scholars,” they start to take courses that touch on content in the program’s concentration areas—criminal justice, cybersecurity, and business administration—while learning about career options in those fields. 

“We really start transitioning the students in the 10th grade when they take a college-readiness exam for the community college level,” Alao said. The students are also provided free after-school tutoring services in math to help prepare for the test.

By 11th grade, they have taken a one-credit orientation class to prepare them for college and a few introductory courses in their concentration levels. They are now ready for their first dual-enrollment courses with PGCC. Dual Enrollment courses can be taken online or at the community college.

“We find that the kids like to actually go to the PGCC campus because it changes their attitude about school. It’s as if they go into the booth as Clark Kent and come out as super college students,” said Alao.

She watches over the students until they graduate from high school. By then, Leslie Miller, PGCC’s academic and career adviser for the 3D Scholars, knows them personally. Miller’s role involves progress reports and check-ins to make sure neither academic nor personal problems are impeding their progress.

Currently, Miller has 82 scholars under her watch. Most surprising about this remarkable group? 

“Their independence,” said Miller. “They have innate motivation. It’s unusual at that young an age to know what major they want to be in, what they want for the future. Their academic achievement is also impressive. If you could see their college credit GPAs—3.5 and 4.0.”

She also praised their parents, who “have allowed their students to be college students, allowing them to speak and advocate for themselves.”

Changing Education, Changing the Labor Force

The Prince George’s 3D Scholars program is the outgrowth of an idea proposed by Maryland Senator James Rosapepe (D, College Park), who represents Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties and is a former University System of Maryland regent. He approached UMGC and PGCC with the concept because he had been inspired by another marquee program, UMGC’s Maryland Completion Scholarship, which allows graduates of Maryland community colleges to complete a bachelor’s degree from UMGC for only $12,000 more.

“I asked, ‘Can we get high school kids to take two years of community college and get them a degree at UMGC for $10,000?’” Rosapepe recalled. “We had to get the community college on board and the school system on board. The idea is to change the model for what students learn in 11th and 12th grades, to make it easier for kids to earn their associate degree while they are in high school.

“This program saves families and taxpayers money. If you do it at scale, you save millions of dollars,” he said.

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Act, which overhauled education in Maryland, opened the way for a program that builds a bridge from high school to community college to university. In effect, Rosapepe said, Maryland is “normalizing” concurrent degrees, a move that especially benefits working class families whose children may be scared away from college because of the costs of acquiring a degree.

“There’s also the opportunity cost savings,” Rosapepe said. “By flipping the model and showing a clear, fast, low-cost path to a degree, you can have a bachelor’s degree by the age of 20 and gain two years of additional work life. That’s less cost, more income now for these young people.”

Although accessibility and affordability are hallmarks of the program, increased equity, inclusion and return-on-investment are also benefits.

“We are the front door for students of color, those who are attaining their associate and baccalaureate degrees,” said Williams, who noted that students of color comprise 96 percent of PGCC’s enrollment. “We are a pathway even into graduate education. We have to figure out how to bring more programs like this to scale so we can measure how this is changing students’ trajectory and the economy.”

Williams added that programs like the Prince George’s 3D Scholars are tools “to keep talent in the state, and to make Maryland known as a state for high-performing students.”

PGCC Vice President Railey, who also serves as provost of teaching, learning, and student success, agreed, pointing out that students emerging from the Prince George’s 3D Scholars program are positioned to change the face of the workplace.

“These degrees are all aligned with lucrative career opportunities,” Railey said. “The DC Metropolitan Region is the third largest market for cybersecurity professionals in the country. And marketing and business skills are needed everywhere. At the same time, our criminal justice program covers a broad range of career opportunities.”

UMGC’s Fowler said that while the university gets attention for being a global institution, it is “first and foremost a school in the University System of Maryland.”

“I want to make sure we have an impact in our home,” Fowler said. “The future of UMGC is to bring new types of learning to students. I want UMGC to build muscle around that.”

Jazz Lewis represents Prince George’s County in the Maryland House of Delegates and, like Rosapepe, his early support helped get the scholarship program off the ground. He is also a graduate of Flowers High School, so the program is especially close to him.

“This is a great program. The students get a quality degree. They finish their studies with no debt. And they are prepared as workers that we need for the jobs of tomorrow,” Lewis said. “We should make sure everyone knows about the Prince George’s 3D Scholars program.”

Autistic Graduate says UMGC Helped Her Find Career Confidence

Trying to find your passion is not always an easy task. For autistic people, who struggle with being understood, masking and using extra energy just to “fit in” is common. Finding a place in a professional world or classroom can be double the challenge.  

Claudia Petty is one of those people who has struggled with people’s misunderstandings. She said the learning environment at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) gave her the freedom to feel at home within herself and find her true passion. She graduates this month with a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Management. 

With her academic journey, she landed her dream job. 

“The interesting thing about UMGC is that it’s really helped me see my natural skills and enhanced the skills that I knew that I was lacking,” Claudia said.   

Her career path began almost two decades ago. After attending Northern Virginia Community College, obtaining an associate degree, and sitting for the Virginia State Medical Board, she became a Virginia Medical Board certified licensed veterinary technician. For 10 years, Claudia helped teach her colleagues to plan and administer cancer radiation treatments to animals. It was tough.  

After a decade, feeling burned out, she asked herself, “What’s next?” 

In 2009, she took an internship with an information technology (IT) company. She was valued for her energy and her problem-solving savvy as she helped people with software problems. Although she was never a “tech-type” growing up, she felt that she was becoming more invested in IT’s big picture even as she focused on the small details that would make a product’s interface with users really great. 

As her career advanced, Claudia decided a bachelor’s degree would help her continue to reach new heights. In 2015, she decided to go back to school at Kaplan University. But it didn’t offer the support she needed and it carried hidden fees. She then attended University of the People. It was free and it provided the learning challenges she was seeking but it lacked a sense of community.  

An advertisement for UMGC proved to be the turning point. From the first class, Claudia knew that UMGC was the place for her, the place where she would succeed in her quest for a bachelor’s degree. Many autistic individuals find the lights, noise, and face-to-face interactions in work and school environments uncomfortable. The UMGC classroom experience was a perfect fit for Claudia. Online learning worked for her. 

When the pandemic hit and employees needed to work from home, Claudia found yet another opportunity. She thrived with remote work. 

In the last few years, her career and her UMGC education advanced in tandem. The skills her professors taught her helped lay the groundwork for new job responsibilities and promotions. Working with other students in a professional capacity in a classroom environment made her a strong student but also enhanced her communications skills, something she has struggled with throughout her life.  

As an application engineer for a global technology consulting firm, C-Prime, Claudia loves the challenges that come with each new project. Discovering her love for workflow engineering has led to leadership opportunities, and she hopes to continue to use her skills and UMGC education to “enhance what I was already doing and to finally reach a place in my career where I’m doing exactly what I feel like I want to be doing.” 

When asked what advice she would give to other students or colleagues, Claudia offered her motto: “Lead with curiosity and find something that you lose hours over. When you find your jam, you can find ways to turn that into your dreams.”  

She also cautioned that “the world isn’t just one thing.” She noted that diversity extends to the contributions of all people, including those who don’t fit the conventional mold. 

“It’s all of us, a quilt that makes all of us unique and wonderful,” she said. “Because when things can make sense, and you know that you’re not bad or wrong, you know you’re just different, there are so many possibilities.” 

Twenty-five Years and Seven Children Later, Determined Mother Celebrates Her Bachelor’s Degree

Kelly Beech put her college education on a l-o-o-o-o-n-g hiatus. 

Unmotivated by her studies, she dropped out of a community college after a year and married her high school sweetheart just as he enlisted in the Army nearly 25 years ago. 

What followed were seven children – a boy and six girls – born as the expanding family traveled from military base to military base in the United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Dissatisfied with the education available, she home-schooled them all for years, including a daughter with learning disabilities – dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. 

Then Beech started thinking about going back to college. As the first in her family to attempt to go to college, she really didn’t know how to navigate higher education.  But then another military spouse, who was a good friend, talked to her about the classes she had taken at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). At the same time another friend, also a prior military spouse, was just finishing up her degree.  

Could Beech afford it? Could she do it and still help her children go to college? 

“My friend told me the UMGC classes were good quality. They weren’t just handing out pieces of paper,” she said. “There is enough rigor, but it’s manageable enough. I thought if they could do it, I could do it, and that’s how I started.” 

Beech knew she loved graphic design and she would take some classes and see how it went. 

Enrolling in the fall of 2018, Beech didn’t lollygag.  She took a full set of four classes every semester working toward a bachelor’s degree in digital media and web technology with a minor in human resources. One semester led to another and soon she had an associate degree, then an undergrad certificate in Human Resource Management, and was going full steam toward graduation for a bachelor’s degree. 

After years of doing all of the work for the family, she said she realized she couldn’t keep that up and still complete the classes. 

“At Christmas of 2018, I went on strike,” she said. “I stopped cooking dinner. I realized that school was hard. There’s a lot of writing. It was a bit of a shock to them, but my husband and my oldest daughter learned to cook.” 

She said she learned how to determine exactly what had to be done to get an A for each course. She also learned how to take advantage of the “tons of resources” UMGC offers students.  

She ended up with a 3.968 GPA. That was one B in a Spanish course.  As a bit of an overachiever, she thought about taking the class over to earn an A and end up with a perfect 4.0-grade point average, but her friends convinced her it wasn’t necessary.  

Her experience at UMGC was so rewarding, she said, that she has encouraged her children and husband to attend. She taught her two oldest daughters and husband her techniques of learning and managing online coursework.  

And what Beech learned, especially in her human resources classes, already has paid off in her work as a store administrator for a Safeway supermarket, where she handles recruiting, hiring, employee orientation, and training. 

“A lot of the things I learned have been helpful in my current role in understanding the way people think and process things,” she said. 

When her commencement regalia arrived with all of the attachments for honor societies, she told her son, “This is for graduating in the top 10 percent.” 

“That’s so cool,” he replied. 

Her children being able to witness her accomplishments is one of the great rewards. 

But the journey to get her degree had its own rewards, she said. 

“I waited until I was in my 40s to finish,” she said. “But you can do it. It doesn’t matter how old you are, and it doesn’t matter if you didn’t know what you wanted to do when you were 21. My degree is in a subject that is nowhere near what I thought it would be when I started at community college, and that’s OK.”