President Biden Appoints Two Prominent UMGC Alumni to Leadership Roles

By Gil Klein

President Biden appointed two prominent UMGC graduates to federal boards in September – Florent Groberg to the American Battle Monuments Commission and Ginger Miller to the United Service Organization (USO) Board of Governors.

“On behalf of our global university community, I congratulate our distinguished alumni on these honors,” said UMGC President Gregory Fowler. “They are part of a long-standing and honorable UMGC tradition of alumni first serving their country with distinction in the military and then returning as civilians to offer their talents in further support of our nation.”

Capt. Groberg (U.S. Army, Ret.) was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Barack Obama for tackling a suicide bomber while on a mission in Afghanistan in 2012. He suffered severe leg injuries when the bomb exploded, but his selfless act saved the lives of several people around him.

While recovering from 32 surgeries at Walter Reed Military Hospital, Groberg completed a UMGC Master’s degree in Intelligence Management.

Groberg now leads the Microsoft Azure Global Government M360 Mission Solution Team, which works with governments worldwide to identify key missions and systems that should operate on the Azure Cloud. Microsoft Azure Government is a mission-critical cloud, delivering breakthrough innovation and security to U.S. government customers and their partners.

The American Battle Monuments Commission is an independent federal agency that oversees permanent U.S. military cemeteries, memorials and monuments both inside the United States and in other countries. It is responsible for maintaining military cemeteries for 140,000 veterans as well as maintaining memorials for more than 94,000 service personnel missing in action or lost or buried at sea.

Ginger Miller graduated from UMGC in 2012 with a master’s in Non-Profit and Association Management. Hitting a low point in her life as a homeless disabled Navy veteran, she turned herself around, graduating from Hofstra University with an accounting degree and then following her passion in running non-profit groups.

She became a White House Champion of Change for Women Veterans and president and CEO of the Women’s Veterans Interactive, which enables and empowers women veterans to get the support and resources they need to succeed in their post-military lives.

She now serves as an Advisory Board Member at the Northwest Federal Credit Union and previously served on the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, as the chairwoman of the Prince George’s County Veterans Commission,

Commissioner on the Maryland Commission for Women, and as a member of the Maryland Caregivers Coordinating Council.

Founded in 1941, the USO is the nation’s leading organization serving the men and women in the U.S. military and their families throughout their time in service with their assignments and deployments as well as during their transition back to their communities. Famed for its entertainment shows bringing Hollywood talent to soldiers fighting overseas, the USO has more than 200 locations in 13 countries and 27 states.

Groberg and Miller have both served as student keynote speakers at UMGC graduation ceremonies.

Education, Experiences through the Lens of Hispanic Americans

Higher education can be a complex experience for Hispanic American students who do not have friends and families to help them navigate enrollment, financial aid or the time-management challenges of taking classes, often while also working.

That’s why universities, including University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), need to be intentional about providing services and programs that support first-generation students, according to panelists at The Road to Higher Ed for Latinx Women, an online forum sponsored by the university in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month. 

The Sept. 17 discussion was among the events unfolding at UMGC in the United States and at its overseas locations during Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. The goal of the month is to recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans—past and present—in shaping the United States. 

An estimated 60 million Hispanic Americans live in the United States.

Nationwide, Latin American food tastings, author readings, film festivals and theater and music events  remained among the mainstays in celebrating the month. UMGC was involved in cultural activities, but it also brought thoughtful discussion into the mix.

“Universities need to consciously work to attract and retain Latinx students in higher education,” said Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, director of community engagement at University of Maryland College Park and a panelist at the event sponsored by the UMGC Diversity and Equity Office. “We need to think outside of the box.

“We are full of talent and we are looking for opportunities,” added Aparicio Blackwell, who grew up in Venezuela.  

The higher education panel also included Annie Foster Ahmed, the director of the Macklin Center for Academic Success at The Universities at Shady Grove in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and New Futures DC Program Director Griselda Macias. Natasha Rodriguez, director of multicultural training and diversity programs in the UMGC Diversity and Equity Office, served as moderator.

The speakers were unanimous in calling for more guidance, resources and financial aid so that educational pathways held fewer obstacles for traditionally disadvantaged students. They also said higher education institutions need more Latinx administrators, faculty and staff in visible positions.

“We have to recognize that we have students experiencing racism and … struggling with identity if they don’t find [an academic] community that is open and understanding and that values and welcomes their identity,” said Foster Ahmed, who is Afro-Latina.

Foster Ahmed talked about the culture shock she experienced at college. She also noted the excitement of being able to take courses in Latin American history and Black history.

Ten days after the panel presentation, on the other side of the world, another UMGC-sponsored event unfolded on an Air Force base in southwest Asia. That round table discussion, A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Serving our Nation, included servicemembers detailing what it means to be a Hispanic American member of the military.  

“At my location, we have a lot of Hispanic military members,” said Chantell Simmons, the UMGC program coordinator at the base. “The panelists include a UMGC student and members of a Hispanic Heritage Committee on the base. We want to talk about real-life issues.”

Simmons, who is also a UMGC adjunct instructor, said topics for the roundtable included how having a second language affects identity. The panelists at the Latinx education event also discussed language, with one whose mother was born in Guatemala and her father in Jamaica, saying the pressure to advance her English-language skills eroded her ability to speak Spanish. Other panelists noted that bilingual college students often have unusual language barriers that universities do not take into account.

Both discussions also touched on the diversity that lies within the label “Hispanic.” Simmons talked of students on the base who were Puerto Rican and students who were Mexican American, and how their cultural identities widely differed.

“It is important to have events like this because it honors Hispanic American people and their legacy. It helps us to discover and rediscover their—and our—history,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Chelsie Gross, who manages the education office on the base. 

Simmons and Gross partnered to organize the online roundtable and ensure that access to the event was available to everyone on the base. Gross said the discussion was the serious spot amid a month of Hispanic heritage activities on the base, including a cookout with a Hispanic menu, salsa dancing and trivia competitions. 

“Sometimes we focus on the fun, but it’s nice to have the educational piece, to acknowledge … that men and women from all cultural backgrounds continue to influence where we are today,” Gross said. “Whether at UMGC or the military or wherever we may be, diversity and inclusion make us better and stronger—as an Air Force and as a country.  

“In unity there is strength,” she added.