UMGC at Fort Meade: A Team that is Small but Mighty

When Daniel Norris completes his education this summer, he will receive two bachelor’s degrees—in business administration and cybersecurity—from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). He will have the distinction of completing two degrees in just two years while also working full time for the National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade.

To call Norris an overachiever is an understatement. He is just 20 years old.

Norris is motivated and disciplined but another factor helped make possible his ambitious goals: the UMGC educational advisors assigned to Fort Meade.

The seven-person team at Fort Meade handles UMGC’s largest student enrollment of any military base worldwide. Four team members carry the title “military education coordinator,” each managing portfolios with as many as 1,900 students, among them active-duty and retired servicemembers, their family members, Department of Defense civilian employees, private sector military contractors connected to the base, veterans living near the Maryland base, and employees of the NSA.  

“I had started working at NSA in high school as an intern. I got a job there after graduation but knew I needed a degree to move ahead,” Norris said. “I wanted to finish my bachelor’s degrees in two years, so I needed to make sure I was taking the correct classes and not too many hard classes at the same time.”

He said UMGC’s team helped him sort through the degree requirements, assisted him in determining which combination of majors would best advance his goals, and walked his mother through the financial aid options. When Norris needed a dean’s approval for his course overload, the UMGC team was on his side.  

Nora Graves, UMGC Stateside Military Operations regional director whose area includes Fort Meade, has high praise for the base’s educational team, which she described as “resilient, tough, super easygoing, and highly diverse—which is also what the military is.”

At Fort Meade, the university enrolls servicemembers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, as well as the NSA Air Force and Navy commands.

“UMGC’s team works as a unit, like the most perfect family, on a base that’s highly secured. They get along well and help each other. And they all bring different skill sets,” Graves explained.

Educational coordinators—also known as counselors or advisors—assist students with myriad issues, from how to transfer credits to what to do when deployment occurs in the middle of a course. They understand how UMGC operates and the ins and outs of tuition assistance, including GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program benefits.

Prior to COVID-19, students contacted educational counselors via phone, email, and face-to-face meetings. During the pandemic, online meetings replaced in-person conversations. Although some in-person contact resumed for NSA-linked students in late June, Graves predicted that virtual advising rooms will become a permanent tool to help the team handle the fastest-growing enrollment of any military base where UMGC is active.

The workplace culture fostered by Khadijeh Sarvandani, Stateside Military Operations’ assistant director for the Central Region, is often cited as one reason for UMGC’s success at Fort Meade.

Team members are cross-trained so they can do other colleagues’ work if needed, and Sarvandani, who goes by the name Farrah, gives them opportunities to grow in their jobs, even if it means they may someday leave the team. 

“We watch each other’s backs,” Sarvandani said. “And we are all committed to the students.” Team members not only go to their students’ graduations, they attend servicemembers’ retirement parties and keep in touch with some students long after degrees have been earned.

Sarvandani’s most successful enrollment tools are the Military Open House events and the annual Spotlight on Security she launched a few years ago. The Spotlight on Security gathering, to be held virtually this year, brings speakers from Leidos, Amazon, Uber, and other companies to Fort Meade every October to talk about cybersecurity, technology, and career opportunities. Sarvandani’s team is on site to offer information about degree programs and classes. UMGC career services staff are also at the ready to answer questions.   

“Farrah’s team is really good at outreach, one of the reasons they’ve been successful. They are creative about getting the word out,” Graves said.

The ever-rising student enrollment at Fort Meade is positioned to ramp up even more in the months ahead thanks to an agreement announced in June between UMGC and the 270 non-military organizations in the Fort Meade Alliance. The agreement, which was developed through UMGC’s Corporate Learning Solutions office, reaches far beyond Fort Meade to provide discounted tuition for students worldwide.

Mary Sikes, one of the Fort Meade educational coordinators and a retiree from the Navy, described her colleagues as “open communications people” who jump in to help one another as needed. “Our mentality is ‘get the job done.’ It’s been like that as long as I’ve been here,” she said.

She called the team’s diversity was a strength, adding: “We look like the students we serve.”  

Several members of the team earned degrees from institutions that are part of the University System of Maryland; Sarvandani is a UMGC alumna. Sikes is a bilingual first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Mexico. Sarvandani, also multilingual, grew up in Iran. Three members of the team are Black. Just more than half are women.  

Rosario Talbert said the Fort Meade team guided her to a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 2018. She didn’t know anything about UMGC until she attended an open house at the base.

“At first I was scared. This was a four-year college and here I was, a student with English as a second language and coming from a community college—with its in-person experience—to a four-year university with an online program,” she said. That changed when she found herself speaking to a UMGC team member in Spanish.

Talbert was later connected with Sikes.

“As a foreigner here, I didn’t know much about the system. Mary sat with me and explained everything. She’s very personable and she’s very caring,” Talbert said. “She also had everything on charts so I could visualize what I needed to do. That really helped me.”

Because Talbert’s husband was retired from the Navy, she did not qualify for military benefits. However, Sikes told her she was eligible for financial aid because she came to UMGC from a Maryland community college.

Sikes also stepped up when Talbert’s degree plans were in danger of being derailed, including when Talbert’s father in Spain fell ill.

As for Daniel Norris, his connection with the Fort Meade team continues. In October, he begins a master’s degree in cybersecurity at UMGC, continuing a family tradition. His mother is a UMGC alumna and his brother, a recent high school graduate, is enrolled at UMGC for the fall.

Three Doctor of Management in Community College Policy and Administration Faculty Members Receive Accolades

Adelphi, Md. (Aug. 19, 2021)— University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) is pleased to announce that three Doctor of Management in Community College Policy and Administration (DMCCPA) faculty members received distinguished honors in their industry. Trudy Bers, Ph.D., Gena Glickman, Ph.D., and Charlene Nunley Ph.D., all adjunct professors of DMCCPA, were recently recognized.

Trudy Bers

“The awards and honors given to UMGC faculty members in the community college doctoral program represent the highest levels of achievement,” said Reynaldo Garcia, Ph.D., professor and program director of the DMCCPA program. “That our doctoral program students have the privilege of working with individuals who are at top of our field is a testament to the high quality of our program and our university. I know of no other community college doctoral program that can match the level of achievement in the long list of awards our faculty received this year. I am humbled and honored to work with these outstanding scholars and teachers.”

Trudy Bers was honored with the 2021 Sidney Suslow Scholar Award from the Association for Institutional Research (AIR). As a 2021 awardee, Bers, who was acknowledged through her scholarly work as stated by AIR, “has made significant contributions to the field of institutional research and advanced understanding of the profession in a meaningful way.”

In addition to teaching at UMGC, she is president of The Bers Group, an education consulting organization. Bers is also the former executive director of research, curriculum and planning at Oakton Community College, and a data coach for more than 20 Achieving the Dream Colleges. See Bers bio

Gena Glickman

Gena Glickman was elected to serve as chair of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which is the national advocate and institutional voice for academic quality through accreditation.

Since 2018, Glickman has led Massasoit Community College as president and prior to this, she spent 10 years as president of Manchester Community College. Focused on student success, academic excellence and community engagement, Glickman has managed initiatives, wrote articles on higher education issues, and presented at national conferences. View Glickman’s bio

Charlene Nunley

Furthermore, the founding director of the UMGC’s DMCCPA program, Charlene Nunley was awarded the 2021 American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) Leadership Award earlier this summer. AACC’s award honors individuals who demonstrate outstanding accomplishments and professional contributions to the community college field.

Nunley was the president of Montgomery College for eight years before coming to UMGC. She spearheaded Montgomery College into the top five national community colleges in private fundraising for three consecutive years. In the past, Nunley co-chaired a statewide task force that examined capacity challenges facing Maryland’s public colleges and universities. Read Nunley’s bio

About University of Maryland Global Campus

University of Maryland Global Campus is a world leader in innovative educational models with award-winning online programs in disciplines including biotechnology, cybersecurity, data analytics and information technology that are in high demand 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 degree and certificate programs, including doctoral programs. A pioneer in distance education since 1947, UMGC today is harnessing the power of learning science and technology to deliver high quality, low cost, accessible higher education. 

Developing a Sense of Community Key to Successful Online Classes

A recent virtual panel discussion—entitled “Successful Online Academic Programs” and organized by the Chronicle of Higher Ed—focused on what institutions will do with their online capabilities as they explore the potential of the digital-first classroom post-pandemic. It also delved into the lessons these same schools have learned about operating successfully from more established online players.

Joining moderator Ian Wilhelm, an assistant managing editor at the Chronicle, was University of Maryland Global Campus Chief Student Affairs Officer Martina Hansen, along with Evangeline Cummings, assistant provost and director of the University of Florida’s online program; Peter Shea, a University of Albany education professor, who had been the associate provost for online learning; and Jarris Taylor, director of Hampton University’s online program.

The panelists agreed that the question will be whether students will want to continue studying online, and if not, how quickly they will jettison “Zoom U” in favor of the traditional on-campus experience.  What happens in the next couple of years may transform higher education.

If traditional, brick-and-mortar universities choose to continue providing online instruction post-pandemic, they will have to enhance the online experience to ensure that students feel part of an academic community.

As a pioneer in online education, UMGC can offer practical advice on what makes these courses and programs work.

“Have you ever shown up for a party [where you] didn’t know anyone, and you felt really lonely and probably left early?” Hansen asked. “When our students are showing up in an online classroom, how do [we] help them feel a sense of belonging?”

One of the first assignments in each class is to post something about yourself to the discussion board, she said, including your goals, background, and what brought you to UMGC. Many students are veterans or active service personnel, and they quickly find they have other things in common.

“It seems so simple, but that helps people feel like they are not alone,” she said.

Hansen added that students also want to feel a part of their program, so it helps to find ways to connect them to other students with the same major and program-related activities. Students need to know that the program is right for them, see their path forward, and understand where it will lead.

Equally important, they need to be able to find support online just as students would on campus, whether around financial aid, clubs and organizations, or registration and transcripts.

The online experience must be about flexibility, Hansen said, so students studying online must be able to do everything just as easily as their counterparts on campus. And they also need the mental and emotional support to help them navigate the personal and academic challenges online students often encounter—especially when they are adult learners juggling full-time jobs, families, or military responsibilities.

While Hansen said UMGC conducts regular student surveys, hearing directly from students is one vital component that generates more nuanced feedback. The university’s Student Advisory Council provides regular feedback on how the institution can improve, she said, and that has informed decision-making around the availability of academic support resources and how to get help from tutors, librarians and success coaches.

“Outreach to students is really critical,” Hansen added, “just keeping a pulse on how students are doing and helping them individually to overcome challenges.”

University of Maryland Global Campus Names Chuck Trierweiler Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President for Admissions

Adelphi, Md. (August 16, 2021)–University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) has named Chuck Trierweiler, a senior marketing executive with more than 30 years of experience in higher education, technology, and consumer goods, as chief marketing officer and senior vice president for admissions. He began his new position on August 2. 

Trierweiler will serve on the university’s Executive Committee and lead the Marketing and Admissions unit, responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive, global approach to marketing and admissions that aligns with the university’s overall strategy, strengthening the student experience and shaping how UMGC engages with prospective learners all the way to graduation. 

Chuck Trierweiler

“Chuck is a true professional with a long track record of driving growth across multiple industries, including higher education,” said UMGC President Gregory Fowler. “I look forward to his insight and leadership as we work together to strengthen our student experience, expand our reach, and improve lives and communities around the world.” 

Trierweiler most recently served as global head of product marketing and vice president for ibml, a market-leading technology company focused on information capture and intelligent, high-speed scanning. Prior to that role, he served for 15 years in higher education, first at Capella University in marketing and business management and more recently as chief marketing officer and executive vice president for the Education Corporation of America, a 71-campus college system. 

“I am very excited to join an institution with such a strong history of focusing on the needs of adult learners, and I look forward to expanding UMGC’s mission of transforming the lives of students across the globe,” said Trierweiler. 

Earlier in his career, Trierweiler held leadership roles in marketing with the $8 billion grocery retail division of SuperValu Inc.; with subsidiaries of the Alberto Culver Company in Illinois and Stockholm, Sweden; and with the Cadillac Motor Car Division of General Motors in Detroit, Michigan.  

A graduate of Michigan State University with an MBA from the University of Michigan, Trierweiler has won multiple advertising awards, including three ADDYs; the Cannes Advertising Awards, Bronze Lion; and second prize in Sweden’s Advertising Effectiveness competition. 

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University of Maryland Global Campus Meets Growing Demand for Data Scientists with New Bachelor’s Program

Adelphi, Md. (August 11, 2021) — University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) will begin enrolling students in a new Bachelor of Science program in Data Science in Spring 2022. The program, offered through the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology, responds to growing industry demand for skilled data science professionals at the bachelor’s degree level.

The demand for skilled data science professionals exceeds supply by 50 percent, and the shortage is expanding. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 11.5 million data science jobs will be created by 2026.

“As a pioneer in online learning, UMGC is one of a very few universities to offer an online bachelor’s degree in data science,” said Douglas Harrison, vice president and dean, School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology at UMGC. “Traditionally data science programs have been offered exclusively at the master’s level, but we’ve heard loud and clear from our corporate and public sector partners – and employment market reviews by organizations such as Glassdoor, Forbes and Gartner back this up – that data science is rapidly becoming ubiquitous across all sectors of the economy and generates incredible growth in job opportunities for graduates at the bachelor’s level.”

“The Bachelor of Science in Data Science program aligns with an expected surge in demand for machine learning, deep learning, Python, Tableau, artificial intelligence and natural language processing,” said Elena Gortcheva, professor and director of the data analytics program at UMGC. “The program aims to produce graduates who are ready to respond to the emerging need for skills in those areas.”

Graduates of the program will earn a certificate in Business Analytics upon completion of the first five courses in the program. The degree helps fast track careers in a range of private and public sector industries, including banking and financial services, sports and entertainment, health care, technology, manufacturing, retail, and government.

UMGC faculty in the Bachelor of Science in Data Science program are expert scholar-practitioners in all aspects of the field. They include principal data scientists at National FFA Organization, IBM, GE and Oracle Healthcare, as well as a chief information officer at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Research Center.

About University of Maryland Global Campus

University of Maryland Global Campus is a world leader in innovative educational models, with award-winning online programs in disciplines—including biotechnology, cybersecurity, data analytics and information technology—that are in high demand 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 also include jobs, family and military service. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs, including doctoral programs. A pioneer in distance education since 1947, UMGC today is harnessing the power of learning science and technology to deliver high quality, low cost, accessible higher education.

University of Maryland Global Campus Promotes Kristophyre McCall to New Role as Chief Transformation Officer

Adelhi, Md. (July 27, 2021)—University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) has promoted Kristophyre McCall to the newly established role of chief transformation officer.

In this new position, McCall will oversee innovation, enterprise program management (ePMO), and information security, and will serve on the university’s executive committee. McCall will also be responsible for driving forward critical business and technology processes, products, and programs that will support the university’s academic and administrative priorities.

“Kris has been successful in optimizing key processes and operations that have strengthened our services for learners worldwide,” said Nicholas Eremita, UMGC chief of staff and senior vice president for strategy. “He has led a variety of other initiatives to improve efficiency and effectiveness in service to our students, and we look forward to his vision and leadership in this new role.”

Kristophyre McCall

McCall came to UMGC in 2018 as vice president for academic operations and led his teams to record-setting performance, even in the face of challenges presented by the pandemic. He has worked across Academic Affairs and with other institutional partners to develop the Straightline Paths for UMGC’s undergraduate programs based on real-world student data and behavior and extended the university’s capacity to expand and optimize student transfer pathways.

“I am excited to take on these new responsibilities and this new position,” said McCall. “Our education offerings and the way we operate are destined to change as time passes, and it is imperative that we prepare for the future of education. Our goal is to establish a level of agility that allows us to continuously improve upon our vison, strategy, operations and culture, even as we position ourselves to seize new opportunities in an ever-changing educational landscape.”

McCall has spent his career developing new and innovative ways for educational organizations to adapt and transform the way they handle operations while focusing on great student experiences and outcomes. Prior to UMGC, he served in senior leadership positions in university operations for Pearson Online Learning Services, Western International University and American Intercontinental University.

From 2003 to 2008, McCall was vice president of operations and student management at Career Education Corp., where he was a member of the Group President’s executive management team and led the daily operations of the student management process across three institutions in the group.

McCall holds a BS in Economics from Northern Illinois University and a MSM in Business Management and MSM in Project Management from Colorado Technical University.

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Maryland Parks Association Recognizes Student Projects Focused on Environmental Management

The Maryland Recreation and Parks Association recently recognized two solution-driven projects undertaken by University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) students with public service awards.

Both of the initiatives, which were capstone projects for students in the Environmental Management Master’s Degree Program, made recommendations for nature areas in Calvert County.

“The partnership was really important to me because we were being able to use the skills of the people in the classes to look at some issues that we have and then be able to come up with the recommendations,” said Karyn Molines, chief of the Natural Resources Division for the Calvert County Department of Parks and Recreation. “They helped us eliminate a step in these projects, which saved us a lot of money. That money can be used for other work.” 

One project assessed storm water management at the Battle Creek Cypress Swamp Sanctuary in Prince Frederick. The county is moving forward on the recommendations generated by the five-student team, noting that they could save the county more than $30,000.

Flag Ponds Nature Park

The second project offered an analysis on building a sustainable beach shelter for education programs and visitors at Flag Ponds Nature Park in Lusby. The students were praised for the creative ideas they presented, but the county found that state and federal regulations made the project infeasible.

Molines said she is working on new projects she hopes UMGC students will help to produce.

Like many UMGC masters programs, the environmental management program emphasizes practical projects to augment theoretical learning. In place of a master’s thesis, teams of students work together on capstone projects that require an analysis or examine a problem. They must complete the work within a 12-week course.

Many of the students already are working in environmental management, and they come with a wealth of experience, said Dan Grosse, who teaches the capstone classes. Students with expertise in the field are often paired with less experienced students.

“The amount these working adult students can teach one another is truly phenomenal,” Grosse said.

Nadean Carson, for example, had five years’ experience in civil engineering with the Air Force. She worked on environmental and construction projects after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. She was assigned to the same UMGC team as Peter Holland, a Towson University graduate in sociology. Holland had decided to move into the environmental field and realized he needed a graduate degree to advance to the next level. Like many UMGC students, he is progressing slowly through the program as he dovetails the academic work with a schedule that also includes his paying job and family responsibilities.

Most of the students’ work was done virtually during the COVID-19 epidemic, although one member of Battle Creek Sanctuary team lived in the same town as the sanctuary and was able to visit the site. The use of topographical maps underpinned the project, the students said, but having Andrea Gibbons at the park during a rainstorm was a big plus.

“She was taking videos. She took pictures,” Holland said. “Seeing the water running down, Andrea was able to see firsthand the problem areas we were discussing and the heavy erosion.”

The project broke the work into phases so the county could advance on it as it got the money, Carson said. The project fit right into the type of work she does professionally.

“This was fantastic for me,” she said. “I did a little happy dance when we got the assignment.”

Natalie Oryshkewych was the team leader on the Flag Ponds Nature Park project. With 25 years of experience at the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, she brought a wealth of knowledge to the team. Her team was located in two time zones and had to learn quickly to work together in order to meet the capstone deadline.

Even though the shelter will not be built, the team had the satisfaction of knowing that its work saved Calvert County from investing time and money into its own analysis.

Oryshkewych said the capstone project also gave her a new appreciation for her job with the Ohio EPA.

“It helped me see the agency that I work for in a more holistic manner, so it wasn’t just what I do from a day-to-day perspective,” she said. “It gave me a better understanding of what my agency does as a whole and how it contends with all of the regulatory programs.”

University of Maryland Global Campus Names Martina Hansen to Lead New Division as Senior Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer

Adelphi, Md. (July 14, 2021)–University of Maryland Global Campus has announced that Martina Hansen has been promoted to senior vice president and chief student affairs officer. 

In this role, Hansen will lead the university’s new Student Affairs division—recently created to consolidate key academic and administrative student support functions across the university—focusing on increasing persistence, retention, and the institution’s various measures of student success. She will oversee enrollment management, regional center operations, academic support and new student experience functions, tutoring, the Effective Writing Center, library services, student resolution, student communications, retention and engagement initiatives, career services, and virtual lab support for students. 

Martina Hansen

“Martina Hansen has a track record of building and leading student-centric teams that create positive experiences for our learners, as well as a passion and enthusiasm for serving our students,” said UMGC President Gregory Fowler. “I look forward to her vision and leadership in this new role. I am also confident that our new structure will position us to be more focused and effective in supporting our students and to more deliberately reflect our value of ‘Students First.’” 

Hansen joined UMGC in August 2018, initially serving as vice president of student retention and later as vice president of student affairs. She has led the design, implementation, and improvement of programs to continuously enhance academic student services and student success. 

“UMGC has made great strides over the past year in enhancing services and support available to our students,” said Hansen. “I look forward to building on that to ensure the best experiences and outcomes for our diverse learners by maintaining focus on what our learners need to succeed and ensuring that they have the right support throughout their journey, along with the confidence to achieve.” 

Hansen came to UMGC with more than 18 years of experience in enrollment management and operations. Previously, she served as vice president of operations at Delta Career Education Corporation. In that role, she was responsible for centralized operations, information technology, PMO, application development, training and development, and procurement. Simultaneously, she served as a regional vice president of campus operations, with profit and loss responsibility for 17 of Delta’s campuses. At Delta, Hansen carried out several strategic operational transformations, migrated the organization to a new academic model, and led enterprise technology integrations. 

Before that, Hansen served as vice president of continuous improvement at Career Education Corporation, where she implemented strategies to improve student success and persistence, served as a liaison between departments, and worked to ensure the effectiveness of new growth and student experience initiatives. 

Hansen holds a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in marketing and communications from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a master’s degree in technology management from Georgetown University. 

Top Higher Ed Publication Ranks UMGC No. 1 in Conferring Master’s Degrees in IT to Minority Students

Adelphi, Md. (July 12, 2021)—Diverse: Issues in Higher Education (Diverse), the preeminent source of news, information and commentary on issues concerning diversity in American higher education, has ranked University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) No. 1 in conferring master’s degrees to minority students in the area of Information Technology, according to its latest survey results.

The results, featured in Diverse’s most recent “Top 100 Degree Producers” rankings of institutions that confer the most degrees to minority students, are based on analysis of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set. They represent degrees conferred during 2018-19. According to the survey, UMGC ranked number one in the category of IT master’s degrees with 758 total minority graduates in 2018-19 (474 men and 284 women).

“UMGC is particularly proud that minority students constitute 53% of our total enrollment and represent 52% of all UMGC credentials, including degrees in the fastest growing and most in-demand fields,” said Douglas Harrison, vice president and dean, School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology. “This is important because meeting the workforce demands of the future in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) will only be possible by widening the funnel of opportunity for students from historically marginalized populations.”

Information Technology remains one of the hottest industries in the U.S. UMGC’s IT programs are designed with input from today’s top employers to provide technical, operational, and problem-solving skills for career advancement.

“UMGC offers a growing number of graduate and undergraduate degrees and certificates in Information and Computer Science structured for current professionals, career changers, and first time job seekers,” said Dan Mintz, chair, department of Information Technology at UMGC. “Furthermore, we are continually expanding our programs. In addition to our existing master’s degree program in Data Analytics, which was included in the Diverse rankings, we are adding an undergraduate degree in Data Science and a certificate in Business Analytics, thus offering students even more career-relevant options in fields such as machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

About University of Maryland Global Campus

University of Maryland Global Campus is a world leader in innovative educational models, with award-winning online programs in disciplines including biotechnology, cybersecurity, data analytics and information technology that are in high demand 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 degree and certificate programs, including doctoral programs. A pioneer in distance education since 1947, UMGC today is harnessing the power of learning science and technology to deliver high quality, low cost, accessible higher education.

Largest Class of Pillars of Strength Scholarship Recipients to Attend University of Maryland Global Campus

Unique Scholarship Program Recognizes Volunteer Service of Family Members and Friends Who Care for Severely Wounded, Ill or Injured Military Servicemembers

Adelphi, Md. (June 30, 2021)—Twelve caregivers of wounded, ill, or injured military servicemembers were awarded full scholarships to attend University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). That is the largest number of scholarships the Pillars of Strength program has ever awarded in a single year. 

Of the 51 recipients of scholarships since the program began in the fall of 2013, 13 have now graduated and four more are expected to join them by December. 

“Pillars of Strength is truly a marquee program for UMGC,” said President Gregory Fowler. “It continues our long tradition of service to the military and aligns precisely with our goal of bringing education within reach for underserved populations, thus improving lives and strengthening communities around the world. We are so proud of this year’s recipients, so grateful for their service to injured and wounded military personnel, and so pleased to be able to support them as they work to overcome the challenges ahead and improve their own lives and the lives of those they love.” 

“We are once again pleased that we have been able to expand the Pillars program even further with 12 more full scholarships to our great recipients,” said Richard F. Blewitt, founder and CEO of The Blewitt Foundation, which established the Pillars of Strength program in association with UMGC. “We are proud to remain the only program of its type providing full scholarships to the caregivers of our military heroes.” 

The scholarships are designed to help volunteer caregivers, usually spouses of servicemembers. These scholarship recipients have had their worlds turned upside down as they take over day-to-day caregiving responsibilities while maintaining a household, earning income to make ends meet and, often, raising children. 

The restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic made those challenges much more difficult. Among other things, they complicated the caregivers’ ability to be present when their servicemembers and veterans, who often had memory problems, visited doctors. 

These caregivers receive few, if any, educational benefits from the federal government, yet academic degrees are often essential to their ability to support their families. UMGC’s fully online programs allow these students the flexibility they need to earn college credit on their own schedules. 

“Caregivers give and give and then give some more… often losing themselves in that cycle of care,” said Besa Pinchotti, executive director and CEO of the National Military Family Association, a partner organization in the scholarship program.  Providing scholarships to these 12 caregivers isn’t a gift, but an investment in the future of their families who gave so much to our country. It’s an honor to work with The Blewitt Foundation and UMGC who are making it all possible. 

Melissa Allen, one of this year’s Pillars of Strength recipients, said it felt like a weight had been lifted when she learned she had been chosen for a scholarship. “I let out a huge cry and sigh of relief because it finally was like those bricks that were on my shoulders? They fell off.” 

Although the specific circumstances surrounding each of this year’s recipients—all wives—were different, in many ways their experiences were the same. 

They talked about how the “invisible wounds” of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder often went unrecognized while the servicemembers were in the field. These injuries also were not obvious to the public, and the caregivers faced critics who wondered why their husbands were not working. What the public could not see were the sleepless nights, the psychotic spells and the struggles to manage the most basic needs. 

Caregivers married to men who were committed to their military careers said their husbands did not want to accept that they were wounded, ill, or injured, even as they were sent back into battle. 

These women had to come to grips with how to help relieve the pain and psychological suffering of their loved ones while still raising children, working to support their families and handling most of the household finances and decisions. They had to become quick studies in disorders with long, complicated names. And they had to learn how to take care of themselves so they could continue to have the strength for their work and their caregiving duties. 

The bureaucracy of the Veterans Administration often was overwhelming, many said. One recipient has gone to work for the VA with the express purpose of using her experience to make it easier for other injured veterans and their caregivers to get the attention they need. 

“I want to help the veterans and their families in this journey, especially the new ones who are coming into the system,” said scholarship recipient Karen Lopez. “I’ve heard a lot of horror stories—how patients would fall through the cracks, how family members struggled to get appointments for their spouses. I want to make sure the gaps in the system don’t happen to them, at least on my watch.” 

Here are the stories of 12 remarkable women who are setting off on a path to remake themselves and build the resiliency of their families.

Melissa Allen, Bloomingdale, GA

Elisabeth Baugess, Springfield, VA

Volha Butkouskaya, North Potomac, MD

Sasha Clarkin, Bayville, NJ

Lelia Cottner, Kissimmee, FL

Karen Lopez, Kissimmee, FL

Amanda Martin, Fort Bragg, NC

Connie Ozmer, Bonney Lake, WA

Lisa Shaw, Monroeville, PA

Anna Soler, Tacoma, WA

Alison Storemski , Bowie, MD

Elisa Zanni-James, Fort Mill, SC