With Experience and an Education, this Award-Winning Veteran Is Just Getting Started

Even though he was only in grade school, the 9-11 terrorist attacks focused Devon Nieve’s decision to devote his life to the defense of his country. Now, as a U.S. Marine Corps specialist in language cryptology, signal operations and intelligence, Staff Sgt. Nieve is finishing a University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) master’s program in intelligence management. 

This follows his undergraduate degree in accounting from UMGC summa cum laude, all while serving and assisting in missions in Latin America and the Middle East. His diligence during seven years of academic work also earned him UMGC’s General John W. Vessey Jr. Student Veteran of the Year, which was presented at the university’s Veterans Day ceremony in Adelphi, Maryland.

In announcing the award, UMGC noted that Devon was honored as Military Performer of the Year in 2020 while maintaining a 4.0 GPA in his master’s program. His commanding officer said Devon “is unequivocally one of the top performing Marines of any rank within my command.”

In a surprise announcement as he finished his remarks during the Veterans Day ceremony, Devon said he would give the $3,000 scholarship award to the university’s fund to help veterans still seeking an education after their VA benefits run out.

 “My father has been big on teaching me that money is not everything in life,” he said. “When you have things that can be given to others, maybe that’s the spark required on their end to push them to that next level. It’s going to make an impact on our country.”

Assigned to Company H of the Marine Cryptologic Support Battalion and a section leader supporting a national security mission, Devon supervises a joint-service team performing technical analysis and target development for the ongoing operations to a variety of federal agencies and major combatant commands. 

Growing up in Modesto, California, Devon was only 8 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. But he recalls the day vividly.  

“I remember talking to my friends at school and asking them, ‘Are terrorists gonna take over the United States?’” he said in an interview. “And I just remember that feeling that I kind of carried around after that, that someone’s got to stop that.”

His father was an Army veteran. “The things he taught me were directly related to the training he had received—that the military was the best option to make myself proud and to show my younger brothers the right path,” Devon said. “I felt like the military was where I could make an impact.”

After graduating with an associate degree and honors from Modesto Community College, Devon decided to join the Marine Corps in July 2013 rather than pursue a bachelor’s degree right away. His path in the military changed dramatically after he took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

The recruiters looked at his score and told him he had a choice to make. He could go ahead with a regular Marine Corps career or he could opt for language cryptology, which would open a lot of doors when he finished his military service.

“When they told me that, of course, I went with it,” he said. “I had no idea what I was going to do. I thought it was going to be learning Arabic.”

Instead, he found himself immersed in studying Spanish and Portuguese for a year. After that, he was assigned to a Radio Battalion in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Exactly what a cryptological linguist does is classified, he said, but he has been deployed to Latin America and supported operations in the Middle East.

Throughout his military service, Devon has pursued education. If he wanted meaningful work after he left the military, he believed he had to have at least a bachelor’s degree—and maybe more.

He looked at all the universities with programs for active service personnel and decided that UMGC offered the best overall opportunities. It also provided the flexibility necessary to work around his military assignments.

“I was in and out of the field constantly,” he said. “I was supporting last-minute operations for forward-deployed tactical units. I was deploying, and I needed something that was flexible with that,” Devon said. “When I talked to the counseling department at UMGC, it just felt right. It’s veterans being led by veterans, that’s the difference.”

After finishing his bachelor’s degree, he took only a three-month break before starting the master’s program.

“I realized I’m not done,” he said. “I enjoyed that structure. I enjoyed constantly progressing in the educational realm, and I wanted to do more.”

The majority of his professors are professionals in their field, Devon said, with first-hand information on what they are teaching. He described them as “absolutely incredible.”

“I’m convinced they’re up 24 hours,” he said, explaining that he could post something late at night and find a lengthy response in the morning.  “They want the students to learn and actually comprehend the information so they can apply it in real life. They take it seriously, and because they take it seriously, the students take it seriously.”

Devon will finish his graduate degree in July, just about the same time his enlistment is up. He will take everything he has learned to a civilian position in the Department of Defense.

Student Finds Home at UMGC and Connects with Fellow Veterans

Gibril Bangura moved to the United States in 2009 after winning a spot in the Diversity Lottery, a visa program focused on individuals from countries with low rates of U.S. immigration. Born and raised in Sierra Leone, he relocated to take advantage of new opportunities, first by serving in the U.S. Army and now by attending University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). 

Growing up amid a civil war in Sierra Leone, Bangura was determined to make a change for his future. He attended a few university classes in Sierra Leone before moving to the United States.

“I felt like I had to move from Sierra Leone to find a better opportunity because I always had bigger dreams of being successful and helping others,” Bangura said.

Bangura arrived in the United States in 2010 and immediately joined the army. He served as a financial technician performing payroll duties. Unfortunately, a cracked tibia injury that occurred during a training exercise worsened, and he officially retired from the military in 2015, ready to focus on his education.

Bangura attended two universities before finding his new home at UMGC.

The flexibility that UMGC offers with remote learning attracted him. Bangura has long-term effects from his injury and still uses a cane. With UMGC, he can participate in classes in the comfort of his own home, which helps on days his leg bothers him. Another key reason Bangura selected UMGC was its long history with veterans.

“I have taken general education classes, including accounting, where I learned a lot. This has given me a strong foundation to continue my studies as a veteran who was out of college for some years,” Bangura added.

Bangura decided to pursue a major in cybersecurity with a focus on business. He plans to graduate in 2023 with a B.S. in Computer Networks and Cybersecurity.

“Attending UMGC, being a veteran and feeling like I’m at a military home has helped me professionally,” Bangura said.

Today he builds on his military experience by aiding fellow veterans at the Office of Veterans Initiatives and Outreach (VIO) at UMGC.

“As a student worker in the VIO, I’m the first line of response. It is not easy transitioning to civilian life, so I’m happy to help veteran students,” Bangura said. “We work hand in hand with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).”

The VIO offers resources and assistance related to veteran-student issues, including transcripts, financial aid, military benefits and advice on the best way to access the information. The best part about the job is that Bangura can work from home while connecting with fellow veterans.

Kelly Grooms, assistant director of veterans’ initiatives for the VIO, described Bangura as “a dedicated team member.”

“He is committed to assisting fellow student veterans in understanding how to use their benefits, as well as how to balance the transition from combat zone to classroom,” Grooms said. “He is diligent in accomplishing tasks and his attention to detail is an asset to his colleagues and overall mission of the Veterans Initiatives Office.”

As a retired servicemember, Bangura has firsthand knowledge to share with new veteran students. He credits professional development and mental health programs through the VA with helping him regain his identity as a civilian and attend UMGC.

Bangura also praises the leadership at the VIO, saying they serve as role models and mentors as he progresses in his academic journey and eventual professional career. 

“I know with a UMGC education, I can leave here and find a better job. And the flexibility with the program is just great,” Bangura said.

“No Fear of Math” Carried UMGC’s Goldberg to STEM Career Success 

Professor Kate Goldberg’s career choices and mentors shaped her path to the University of Maryland Global Campus, creating a life journey that echoes the story of many of our students.  

Kate Goldberg, collegiate assistant professor of data analytics at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), grew up in a family that both embraced and excelled in math and science. She recognized early on that the encouragement she received made a huge difference in her life, especially when it came to STEM education.  

“My father was a math teacher and my grandfather was a math teacher, so I was fortunate to grow up with no fear of math,” she said. “When I was doing homework assignments, my dad was right there helping me, and so I recognized that a nurturing environment is important.”  

When she attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia, now the co-ed Randolph College, Goldberg again benefited from a supportive environment.  

“At a woman’s college, I didn’t experience the gender discrepancies in math and science that a woman in a co-ed environment might experience,” she said.  

Although she excelled at math at an early age, she went to college intending to become a veterinarian. However, Bs in biology discouraged her from continuing on that path. Sage advice from her father helped Goldberg set a course for future success. 

“My father told me to do three things,” she said. “Get up, get dressed and go to breakfast in the morning; take a math class next semester; and practice your music every day.” Goldberg had grown up playing clarinet and cello. 

“At the time, I didn’t really understand what he was getting at, but the next day I went to breakfast, and I looked around at the women there,” Goldberg said. “They were all dressed professionally. They were the leaders of my college, organized and put together.”  

Goldberg’s father knew she needed to see what leaders look like. He also believed she should follow her passion and strengths. And he understood that music, something she loved when growing up, would help to enrich her college experience.  

Dr. Paul Irwin, her first math professor at Randolph-Macon—at a time when she was still majoring in biology—introduced Goldberg to mathematical biology, which would eventually become her self-designed major and path to data science.  

“I was fascinated with the idea of finding phenomena in nature, like a sunflower, and studying the way it grows its seeds, its geometrical pattern and underlying formula,” she said. For her senior research, she investigated the rate of growth of the mold Penicillium chrysogenum in different glucose levels, which impacts the production of the antibiotic penicillin.  

Goldberg’s new major led her to learn computer programming and then to a job at the college’s help desk, where she was able to study how people worked with computers and what problems they needed to solve.  

Dr. Irwin later encouraged Goldberg to pursue a master’s degree in public health at Johns Hopkins University, but an anxiety disorder and fear of test-taking kept her from taking the GRE exam and derailed her graduate school plan at that time.  

“During the spring of my senior year of college, my mother saw an ad for a nearby environmental software company looking for technical support,” said Goldberg. “I ended up getting the job, and it actually is what launched me into everything I know and do now.”  

The company’s clients were large refineries and other industrial businesses. It calculated, modeled and predicted the level of pollutants they emitted into the air.  

“I was there for three years, but it seemed like a lifetime,” Goldberg said. “I traveled the country, I went to refineries and worked on installations, and I learned all of these computer skills that I had never known before.”  

When the environmental company was in the process of being sold, around 2000, Goldberg’s mother played another important role in determining her daughter’s future.  

“My life had changed. I was about to get married and become a stepmother,” she said. “My mother read that Washington College, which was closer to home, was looking for a help desk manager.”  

Goldberg would spend the next 19 years at Washington College, the small liberal arts school in Chestertown, Maryland, in a variety of positions, gaining knowledge, experience and clout along the way. She professionalized the help desk department by hiring students, giving them job descriptions and helping them move through the organization and on to jobs in technology. She also revamped and automated the fundraising department and provided research and analytics in institutional research. In addition to her role as a staff member, she served as an adjunct professor in the Department of Business Management.   

“At the help desk, I got to know everyone because I was usually the first person they met on campus,” said Goldberg. Fortuitously, this position led to her meeting the new vice president of fundraising, who asked Goldberg to update the school’s entire database system. 

Developing a way to make predictions about donors ended up being an important step in Goldberg’s path to data science, and it led her to the Susan M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies at Rice University. “I heard that Rice University had just launched a continuing education certificate program in fundraising that was entirely remote, so I could complete it while raising my family,” she said.  

Goldberg was matched with a capstone mentor at Rice, Clint Shipp, who asked why she didn’t have a master’s degree. Goldberg explained that family and job demands prevented her from commuting or moving for a graduate program—and there was also the issue of the test-taking anxiety. Dr. Shipp advised her to look at online programs. Goldberg found UMGC.  

Discovering UMGC was a game-changer. Goldberg enrolled in the Master of Science in Data Analytics Program and fell in love with the work.  

“I was solving real problems,” she said. “I would get homework assignments, and I would use my work experience at Washington College to provide real-life solutions. I was becoming an expert.”  

Faculty were supportive and provided practical exercises that were immediately applicable to working adults like Goldberg. During a meeting on campus, Goldberg talked to Dr. Susan Vowels, the chair of the Department of Business Management at Washington College. Vowels invited Goldberg to teach the data analytics course as an adjunct.  

Goldberg found that she enjoyed teaching and helping students to learn about data analytics. During a reflective moment on the beach with her husband, she decided to pursue more teaching opportunities. “I want people to experience that moment I had when I was excited about data analytics. I want to give that to other people,” she explained.  

Goldberg reached out to Elena Gortcheva, chair of the UMGC Data Analytics program, to ask about teaching. Dr. Gortcheva told her that she would need a doctoral degree. So, Goldberg returned to UMGC as a student again, this time in the Doctor of Business Administration Program in the Business School.  

With the support of her family, Goldberg completed the program. Her dissertation provided a framework for nonprofit organizations to adopt analytics in furthering their missions, and she remains an active alumna in the program. She often speaks with current and prospective students to help them find their passion.  

Goldberg’s doctorate has paid off and today she is living her dream. She is a full-time collegiate faculty member in UMGC’s Bachelor of Science in Data Science Program. This new undergraduate degree and certificate program offers students from all around the world an opportunity to learn data analytics, problem-solving, data-driven decision making, business intelligence, data modeling, data visualization, machine learning and artificial intelligence.  

Goldberg, who also teaches as an adjunct in the UMGC Master of Science in Data Analytics Program, uses her experiences in the real world to provide interesting assignments and scenarios for her students to investigate.  

Goldberg has come full circle in her journey and now helps others unlock their potential just like her mentors did. She has a mentoring relationship with several former students. One is helping to create affordable housing in their community, another recently completed the dissertation phase of a doctoral degree and a third has decided to return to college to pursue a master’s in data science.  

UMGC’s Peter Smith Publishes Book on the Educational Underground

The difficult stories of 20 adults and their pathways to an education are spotlighted in a new book by Peter Smith, EdD, Orkand Chair, and Professor of Innovative Practices and Higher Education at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). “Stories from the Educational Underground: The New Frontier for Learning and Work” looks at people whose access to higher education is severely limited, the same population that UMGC traditionally serves. 

“For the last 10 years, I’ve had this notion of interviewing learners and just getting their stories, but I couldn’t quite grasp the angle,” said Smith. “As time slowed down during the pandemic and I conducted several interviews, I realized how important it was to tell these stories to further demonstrate the lack of access to higher education often pre-determined by circumstances beyond someone’s control of birth and society.”

Smith has worked with adult learners for more than 50 years. He began his career as the founding president of the Community College of Vermont. He later was the founding president at two other higher education institutions: California State University, Monterey Bay, and Open College at Kaplan University. 

“Using his own white privilege as a stark counterpart, Peter uses honest, beautiful storytelling to introduce us to modern heroes who succeeded without that privilege,” Jane Oates, editor at nonprofit WorkingNation, said in a quote that appears on the cover of Smith’s new book. WorkingNation brings attention to labor force skill gaps, the future of work, and other issues affecting the economy.

Smith said he looked at individual stories to see what they revealed about obstacles to higher education.

“What I wanted to do was to tell the stories of people, to say here’s the human consequence of the exclusion that we practice by the way we look at learning, what we think is important, how you validate learning and what this iron-lock hold that higher education has on certificates and brand and quality is costing us,” Smith said

To locate prospective subjects for his research, Smith tapped into his professional network. This included contacts at McDonald’s Archways to Opportunity program, Walmart, Amazon and the Community College of Vermont. They also included students from UMGC and Western Governors University. 

One common factor he identified among the interviewees was the involvement of a mentor or important person who offered great advice and guided them. Some of those interviewed reached a turning point in their life after serving time in jail or overcoming abuse; they pivoted to education to prevent their past from defining them. Others looked to education after they found themselves overlooked for promotions because they lacked an academic degree.

“What I say at the end of the book is [that] this isn’t just about good curricula or good teaching. This is about respecting a person’s culture, about respecting the knowledge they gained wherever they gained it, validating it and building on it,” Smith said.

In addition to working in higher education, Smith spent 10 years in politics as a state senator, lieutenant governor and U.S. Congress member for the state of Vermont. He also served in professional roles at UNESCO, the Graduate School of Education and Human Development at George Washington University, and College Unbound. Smith published four books prior to his latest one, as well as numerous papers. 

Smith joined UMGC in 2016. In addition to his role as Orkand Chair, he also serves as a senior adviser to the university’s leadership team. 

Smith noted the importance of technology in his current role, particularly throughout the pandemic, and pointed out that technology can be used to connect with people who might otherwise be left out of higher education—and it can do so in an equitable and qualitative way. 

“Of course, I see that as the being at the heart of UMGC’s mission as a public university,” Smith added.

UMGC Names Sharon Fross as Vice President and Dean of School of Arts and Sciences

Adelphi, Md. (Sept. 30, 2021)—Sharon L. Fross, PhD, has been appointed the new vice president and dean of the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) School of Arts and Sciences. Fross has served for nearly 3o years in leadership roles across higher education, dedicating her career to making colleges and universities accessible to adult and first-generation learners.

“UMGC is one of the few national institutions that has been committed to adult and military learners since its founding. I am thrilled to join such a preeminent institution−especially, at this critical time as the pandemic continues to change the needs of adult learners,” Fross said. 

The School of Arts and Sciences at UMGC offers degree programs that can be easily customized with a variety of minors. Students and alumni stay connected through lifetime career services and a strong global community that can greatly aid professional networking. 

“The nature of work is changing right before our eyes, along with the expectations of employees and employers,” said Fross. “Adult learners and employers know they can rely on UMGC to put learners first and to respond quickly and thoughtfully to these changing needs. I am excited to join the UMGC community of faculty and staff who do everything possible to foster the continued success of our learners.”

Fross holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master of Public Administration from the College of Charleston in South Carolina. She earned her doctorate in educational administration from the University of South Carolina.  

“Sharon brings extensive experience developing online, credit and competency-based curricula, stackable credentials, and student pathways to meet workforce needs,” said UMGC Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer, Blakely Pomietto, when announcing Fross’ appointment. “She is adept in creating collaborative teams to revise and develop new programs.”

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 biotechnology, cybersecurity, data analytics, information technology, and other high-demand disciplines in today’s increasingly technical, global workplace. With an enrollment of some 90,000 students, UMGC offers open access with a global footprint and a specific mission—to meet the learning needs of students whose responsibilities may include jobs, family, and military service. The university offers both undergraduate and graduate degrees and certificate programs, including doctoral programs. A pioneer in distance education since 1947, UMGC is harnessing the power of learning science and technology to deliver accessible high quality, low-cost higher education.

After Raising a Family, Recent UMGC Grad Inspired to Take On Next Educational Challenge–Law School

Cherie Correlli is in law school at the University of Baltimore on a full scholarship. The path she took to get there at age of 39 is touched by inspiration and determination. It also is marked by an unexpected catalyst: a University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) education in sociology.

A lifelong Baltimore resident, Correlli dropped out of community college to get married and raise her two children. After all, no one in her family had completed college, so did she really need it?

She opted to be a stay-at-home mom, homeschooling her children. The homeschooling idea started as kind of a lark to provide more hands-on activities and experiences for her kids, opening the way for her to take them to museums and performances. It fit so nicely with the family’s schedule—her musician husband works mostly nights—that she kept it going.

While raising her children, Correlli developed a part-time career as a birth doula, a trained non-medical companion who supports women through their pregnancies and child birth, complementing the work of health care professionals.

While in her junior and senior years of high school, her older daughter was dual enrolled at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC). She graduated with both a high school diploma and an associate degree. She has a scholarship to pursue a degree in dance education at Goucher College.

As her daughter started her college career, Correlli began to regret that she had never finished her degree. She went back to CCBC, where she found that she needed only two more classes to complete her associate degree. After that, it was on to a bachelor’s degree—at UMGC.

Why did she pick UMGC? “The price was a big surprise,” she said. “I felt I couldn’t burden my family paying a lot for my degree.”

UMGC’s Completion Scholarship for graduates of a Maryland community college joined other grants and scholarships that Correlli was able to line up. The result was a degree she could afford.

Her work as a doula had triggered an interest in the social sciences and women’s studies. She completed the UMGC degree in social science with a concentration in sociology in 2021.

Donna Maurer, a UMGC collegiate professor of social sciences, described Correlli as a standout in her class. Maurer cited her intellectual ability, her writing, her critical thinking skills and, perhaps most important, her love of learning.

“When a student really loves to learn, they put a lot of energy into everything they do,” Maurer said. “So her work in my class was exemplary.”

As someone who spent many years without any academic degree, law school had not crossed Correlli’s mind as a possibility—until a midwife friend, Alexa Richardson, mentioned that she was going to Harvard Law School. With Richardson as an inspiration, Correlli became more and more interested in the law as it pertains to patient rights in childbirth. She was especially focused on working against obstetric violence and making sure expectant mothers were informed.

Her UMGC classwork meshed with those interests.

“It was wonderful to have the opportunity through school to research the things that I cared about in my personal life and be able to write papers on them and to have the time and instructors’ feedback in doing that kind of research,” Correlli said.

She graduated from UMGC with a 4.0 grade point average and law school became a realistic goal—if she could find a way to pay for it. At the encouragement of her friend, she took the LSAT, the law school admission test, and her score put her well above average among applicants to the University of Baltimore. With recommendations from her UMGC professors and a lot of research, she was accepted into law school with a scholarship.  

“I applied to Baltimore in April, and they offered me the scholarship two weeks later,” she said.

For Maurer, Correlli’s success underscores the wide range of careers available to graduates in sociology.

“Sociology students understand the social structures that can help them create positive social change and to move toward social justice,” Maurer said.

For Correlli, UMGC provided the kind of support she needed on the way to a degree.

“Since I am a first-generation college student, I didn’t feel like I had a lot of people to ask advice when it came to my academic life,” she explained. “Since UMGC is totally online, many students don’t realize how helpful and willing some of the professors are to engage with their students.

Dr. Maurer in particular went above and beyond in teaching excellence, as well as in spending time to give me thoughtful advice on my law school plans.”

International Literacy Day: Reading Shapes UMGC Lives

A University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) writing teacher hated reading when she was a child. An academic program director and author didn’t become interested in books until he was in college. The university’s senior vice president of global military operations turned to books because his family didn’t have the means to travel.

Today—Sept. 8—is celebrated around the world as International Literacy Day. A UNESCO resolution launched the day in 1967 to advance literacy as a human right and as essential in lifelong learning. In recognition of the day, UMGC leadership and faculty members looked back on their relationship with books and reading.

“There are so many moments in history that involve wisdom that came from reading. I think of Abraham Lincoln, of Martin Luther King Jr. I think of Malcolm X learning to read in prison, of Richard Wright talking about reading and writing,” said UMGC President Gregory Fowler. “History is filled with the power of reading. Literacy broadens our horizons and helps us really grow as human beings.

“In its own way, it allows us to explore the world.” 

Fowler’s drive to read was fueled by impatience. He couldn’t wait for the moments when his mother or sister had time to read to him, so he learned to do it himself. By the time he started school as a 5-year-old, he was reading at a Grade 3 level—and was able to consolidate two years of elementary school, entering third grade at the age of six. 

Books were also a childhood fixture for Damon Freeman, collegiate professor and director of the History and African American Studies Program. His father read to him as an infant and toddler. 

“I vaguely remember getting a book around the age of 4. One day I walked up to my mother and began talking to her about ‘diplodocus,’” he said. “We have a photo somewhere of me trying to read my dinosaur book to my little sister.” Decades later, Freeman still owns that copy of “The True Book of Dinosaurs” by Mary Lou Clark.

The science section of any bookstore was Freeman’s go-to place as a child. His parents, both teachers, widened his collection by tucking in Shel Silverstein books for children—and he occasionally revisits a Silverstein book for its lessons about life.

“I think reading literacy and comprehension has been my greatest strength. I seemed to understand almost instinctively when a teacher would ask a question about the main idea or theme of a paragraph or chapter,” Freeman said. “I think the ability to contextualize facts and ideas is important to anyone’s life and has been central to my education in history and law.”  

Patricia Coopersmith, UMGC associate vice president and deputy director in the Europe division, also returns with frequency to a book she read when young: “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen.

Patricia Coopersmith, UMGC associate vice president, Europe division

“The rags-to-riches, romance, historical perspective—and so much more—sweep me away to another place and time, take any stress out of my day and always remind me of a few life lessons that I shouldn’t forget,” she said.

Coopersmith, a fan of historical fiction, said her reading of stories about kings and queens fueled a desire to see the world and directly connects her job at UMGC to her early reading.

Jeanine Williams, director of the Writing Across the Curriculum Program, is clear about her early connection to books—and its irony. 

“I hated reading as a child,” said Williams. “It’s funny when you think that my professional background is actually in reading. I teach writing now but most of my work has been around students at the college level who needed reading support.” 

She said that work is designed to teach students how to more deeply understand the lessons found in stories. “I got into that because I realized how important literacy is to everything in life,” Williams explained.

She said she did not feel connected with books until sixth grade when a teacher “selected books that seemed to resonate with me and my classmates.” Today Williams usually is reading multiple books at a time. Even more, she is a demonstrative reader. 

“I don’t come to reading passively. When I read, I mark up the margins,” she said. “I get really engaged and have a conversation with the text.”

Author Steven Killings, director of the Humanities and Philosophy Program, described himself a late bloomer when it came to reading.

“I joined the Marine Corps when I was 17, after graduating high school, and didn’t really get interested in books until I was in college,” said Killings, the author of  “A Student Reader of Secular Latin Poetry from Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages” and the novel “The Queen of Sorrows.”

“A professor of mine suggested that I visit the Newberry Library in Chicago for a class project. The Newberry was like the Pierpont Morgan in New York City or the Huntington Library in San Marino, those institutions founded in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by wealthy industrialists whose aim was to create a repository of ancient and medieval books and manuscripts for American scholars. 

“I became fascinated by the culture of medieval scholars and manuscripts at the Newberry. I became friends with the special collections curator, and I changed my college major and began studying Latin and Ancient Greek so I could read the medieval manuscripts,” he said.  

Killings’ interest in books cascaded into the collecting of rare books, as well as calligraphy and book binding. 

Libraries were also a favorite haunt of Reynaldo Garcia, a professor and director of the Community College Policy and Administration doctoral program. He recalled being a regular visitor to the library in the Catholic grammar school he attended. “For every book I finished, I was always anxious to get back to the library and pick the next one, and then the next one, throughout elementary, middle and high school.

“Reading for me was always an exciting privilege,” he said. “Early opportunities to explore and develop those reading muscles made me a very strong student and a really well-informed consumer of information who is able to examine things with a critical eye.”

Today Garcia splits his reading three ways—and he always has multiple books going at the same time. He reads books that keep him current in his field. He reads for self-development, a category that includes books about history, politics and governance. And he reads for pleasure, from airport paperbacks to classic literature. 

Childhood books hold a special place in the lives of many UMGC readers.

“My earliest memory about reading involves a book about a mouse who wanted to bake an apple pie. I was able to understand that much from the pictures,” said Valorie King, collegiate professor and director of the Cybersecurity Management and Policy Program. “I wanted to know the rest of the story but there was no one available to read the book to me—my older brother wanted to play outside with his friends and mom was busy with chores. 

“I decided then and there that I was going to learn to read so that I didn’t have to wait for anyone else,” she said.

King’s aspiration didn’t actually come true until second grade, when a nun at Holy Redeemer School in College Park, Maryland “took me in hand and taught me phonics and spelling.” From that point forward, she borrowed books from her school library on a daily basis and, during the summer, walked two miles each way to the county library “to check out as many books as my arms would hold.” Science fiction was her favorite genre. 

“Those were the days when Andre Norton and Robert Heinlein were writing juvenile fiction,” she said. “I am constantly amazed that I am living with the technologies that they and other authors created and described in their fictional works.”

She added that she gets some of her best ideas for cybersecurity-focused student projects and classroom discussions from the works of authors like S.E. Weir, J.D. Robb, C. J. Cherryh, Glynn Stewart, and Craig Martelle.

King is a voracious reader, currently on a Kindle reading streak that is close to 160 days long. 

Books were also a gateway to the world and new ideas for Lloyd “Milo” Miles, senior vice president of global military operations. 

“I come from a poor background, and books were the way we could escape and read about different places in the world we never thought we would see,” he said. “I could increase my imagination from reading science fiction—Isaac Asimov—or ‘Robinson Crusoe’ or even comic books.”

For his work at UMGC, there’s a book that Miles keeps close at hand, the war novel “Once an Eagle” by Anton Myrer. 

“I refer to it a lot in the speeches I make. It has messages about leadership that I value,” he explained. 

Miles said he reads nonfiction during the day and fiction “for enjoyment and escape” in the evening before he goes to bed. 

Miles retired from the U.S. Army as a major general before joining UMGC. In his real-life journeys around the globe, he has often been struck by how people—especially those who do not have a lot—value books. 

“If you gave them a book, it was like handing them a bar of gold,” he said. “I always appreciated when nonprofits would team up with military to help us distribute books in various parts of the world.

“I felt that maybe we were helping them escape to a bigger world, like I did as a child,” he said.

The Obstacle Course: One Student’s Life Journey to an MBA

Ida Halliburton has extra reasons to be proud of her new MBA from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). Like many UMGC students, she took a full course load while also juggling a career. Unlike other students, however, the 52-year-old grandmother did it—posting excellent grades along the way—while in transitional housing, learning the ins and outs of a new high-pressure job, and coming to terms with the physical after-effects of brain surgery.

Oh yes, and there was a pandemic underway.

“I compete against myself—I don’t compete against other people—and I know what I’m capable of doing,” Halliburton said. “Sometimes I set a standard for myself that people perceive as unrealistic or too much, but I just keep pushing.

“For me, giving up is not an option.”  

Halliburton’s UMGC degree continued a journey that was interrupted more than three decades earlier. She had enrolled at Southeastern Louisiana University after high school but, just two semesters in, she joined the military. She spent the next seven years in the U.S. Marines, mostly based in California, working in aviation supply, inventory and logistics.

Halliburton was a sergeant when she left the service and resumed her studies, earning an associate degree in general studies with a concentration in English at Irvine Valley College and then a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication with a minor in journalism from Southeastern Louisiana University.

“I was going to start a master’s degree program right after I got my undergraduate degree, but I was a single mom with two children at that point, and I put my dreams and aspirations on hold to focus on my kids,” she said. “Then I found myself working with no time left to attend school. It was years and years before I was able to get back to school again.”

It was her job in the Office of the Provost at Chapman College, now Chapman University, that indirectly led her to UMGC. At the time, Chapman College was seeking accreditation as a university and planning to create a university college focused on servicemembers, working adults and other non-traditional students. Halliburton said Chapman’s provost and executive vice president looked to what was then University of Maryland University College as a model.

“That stuck with me for a long time, even after I left California. I knew and trusted the provost and if he held the school in high esteem, I knew it must be a good school,” she said.

The years passed. When her daughter neared her senior year of college, Halliburton decided to return to school. In the fall of 2019, she enrolled at UMGC.

“I had aspirations for my career but I kept getting rejected for jobs because I didn’t have a master’s degree,” she said. “When I knew I wanted to do an MBA, I remembered the University of Maryland Global Campus from my experience with the provost at Chapman.”

Just a month after she started UMGC classes from her home in Florida, Halliburton was hired to work in the nation’s capital as the invitation coordinator for U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams. Her new job included managing requests for public appearances and speeches by the surgeon general.


“He traveled a lot and he could receive 2,000 to 3,000 requests in a month. My job was vetting the requests, briefing him on them, making sure the appearances were appropriate and aligned with his priorities and just really managing that whole process,” she said.

That high pressure job amped up even more when the coronavirus hit the news.

“All hell was breaking loose,” she said. “The deputy surgeon general was temporarily reassigned and detailed with overseeing COVID-19 testing, so she was gone. My direct supervisor was from the Centers for Disease Control, and I was surrounded by physicians talking about COVID-19 all the time, getting the information firsthand.”

Her daughter graduated from college during the pandemic, right into a tight job market. Even more, they were living in temporary housing with most of their possessions in storage in Florida. Halliburton had just arrived in the D.C. area when the lockdown was declared; it took 10 months before she could move into a permanent home in Virginia.

In addition to the housing upheaval, a new job, the pandemic and a full-time course load, Halliburton also had health problems to manage. Two years earlier, she underwent brain surgery—twice—for serious conditions and now has intermittent periods where it is difficult to focus. While acknowledging that it was a challenge at times to study and meet her course deadlines, she powered through.

Halliburton said an MBA is not necessarily the end of her education. For years, she has carried around an entrepreneurial idea she’d like to launch one day. She keeps the details confidential but said she may need more education to ensure the project’s success.

For now, she is focusing her energy on her current job as executive administrator for the deputy assistant secretary of the Army and on her family—her daughter, son, daughter-in-law and her six grandchildren “who bring me so much joy.”

Army Veteran Credits UMGC Professor for Post-Military Career Success

Andrew Eyerly is the outreach director for the Citizens Climate Lobby, an international grassroots nonprofit with more than 200,000 supporters. How the Army veteran got there is the story of a University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) professor who saw Eyerly’s potential and offered help at each step of his career.

Like many UMGC students, Eyerly—who goes by the first name Drew—joined the Army right out of high school. He came from a small Pennsylvania town and was only the second in his family to graduate from high school. No one talked about college.

“There was nobody really to help me with that process, and at 17 years old, it was just overwhelming to me,” he said. “It was just easier for me to sign on the line, put on a uniform and go off and do that stuff.”

The Army was good to Eyerly. During the first two years of his service, he became a preventive medicine specialist trained in environmental and occupational health. His job was to limit soldiers’ exposure to hazards in their environment. He saw the effect on soldiers’ respiratory systems when that didn’t happen. After seven years in the service, he became a combat medic.

During his tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, he found himself increasingly focused on how fuel convoys were linked to servicemember casualties. He could see that petroleum is needed in every aspect of overseas military operations. That sparked his interest in how a more sustainable U.S. energy infrastructure could lessen dependence on other countries.

As he expanded his understanding of the energy infrastructure, Eyerly was also deepening his conservative political views and questioning the role of government regulation and taxation. He wasn’t worried about climate change. He saw it as a problem for the far future that did not affect him.

Until his daughter was born.

“It took the birth of a 10-pound baby girl—with cheeks so big, she couldn’t open her eyes—to get me to open my eyes,” he said.

Leaving the Army, Eyerly wanted to continue his education. One college told him he would have to start from scratch to earn credits for graduation. Then he found UMGC and its environmental management degree. He enrolled after a counselor informed him that his military training would translate into 45 to 55 credits, shaving about a year and a half off the time it typically took to earn a bachelor’s degree.

As part of his program, Eyerly ended up in the virtual classroom of Professor Sabrina Fu, who now directs UMGC’s Environmental Science and Management Program. Fu noticed that Eyerly was not active in discussions in her classes. She didn’t realize he was biting his tongue because he believed his classmates did not share his political philosophy regarding government regulation and taxation. She encouraged him to speak up, and he took her advice to heart.

“Everyone was just tax, tax, tax,” he said. “I guess I lost my cool a little bit. I put my real thoughts all over the discussion board.”

A day or so later, Fu sent him an email. Eyerly replied with an apology for his rants in class, but his professor encouraged him to speak out, telling him that conservative voices were needed in the climate change arena. Fu was working with Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), which trains volunteers to build relationships with elected representatives to influence climate policy. The organization supports carbon fee-and-dividend legislation through which carbon fees would be collected and returned to taxpayers as direct payments.

Fu invited Eyerly to check out the organization’s website and arranged a scholarship so he could attend his first “lobby day” in Washington. He found he could talk with ease to people there about his conservative ideas on how to fight climate change—something he could not do in his conservative social circle in Evans, Georgia.

He said CCL “helped me with my advocacy and how to speak on this topic without being adversarial.”

As soon as he completed his B.S. degree in Environmental Management at UMGC, Eyerly immediately enrolled in a second bachelor’s degree program—in occupational health and safety—at another university while working with the Environmental Protection Division in the George Department of Natural Resources taking air samples.

That’s when Fu contacted him again. Citizens Climate Lobby was looking for someone to head its outreach to conservatives. She thought he would be a perfect fit. Was he interested?

Fu said consensus on climate change requires taking the case beyond a one-sided viewpoint, something she believed Eyerly capable of. When the lobby’s president asked if she would recommend Eyerly, Fu was quick to endorse her former student.

“All I know is we can’t keep doing things the way we have been doing it,” she said. “Drew comes from a very different background than most CCL members, and he offers a perspective not often heard there.”

Because of his military service and background, he is able to talk to staunch Republicans, she said. Since he’s only 33, he brings a youthful perspective. She noted that Eyerly has done a lot with veterans and with habitat conservation. She told the CCL president that he was just what the organization needed.

“I never thought in a million years I would get that job,” Eyerly said. “But [Fu] always had better ideas for me than I did, and here I am.”

Many conservatives oppose what they view as overburdening environmental regulation. A large percentage even doubt that climate change is a man-made existential threat. How does Eyerly open their minds?

“I begin by listening,” he said. “I find out where they’re at.”

He said many conservatives like him enjoy outdoor activities and hunting. He starts by noting the changes in their surroundings caused by pollution and climate shifts. “As a sportsman, you get to see firsthand how it’s impacting your lifestyle,” he said. “But a lot of people don’t make that connection.”

He also talks about the economic impact caused by pollution and its damage to the environment. He points out that those costs have to be borne by someone. Then he refers to conservative economists and the lens they use to evaluate the costs of climate change. Many of those economists argue that raising the carbon fee can strengthen the nation’s economy, reduce regulation, help working-class Americans, shrink the size of government and promote national security.

Eyerly said a carbon fee can generate three jobs for every one the fossil fuel industry creates without it. Still, he acknowledged, it can be difficult to bring conservative legislators onboard when their supporter base is suspicious of anything that addresses climate change.

“They need cover,” he said. “They need something that they can move behind while addressing the issue without saying that they’re addressing this issue. There are a lot of Republicans that are active in the discussion up on … [Capitol] Hill.”

Not only does Eyerly credit his UMGC professor for guiding him to his job with Citizens Climate Lobby, but he said Fu’s influence on his career continues.

“She doesn’t take no for an answer,” he said. “She is so passionate, she’s so energetic about things. You can’t help but fall in line with her perspective. It doesn’t matter if you are uncomfortable with the topic or not. You’re going to address it because you want to work with her. “She’s someone I know I can call and talk to and get honest feedback.”

Paul Chilcote Navigated Life Challenges and the Demands of a Military Career on His Path to a Degree in Cybersecurity

Air Force Veteran Played a Key Role in UMGC Cyber Competition Team’s Recent 1st-Place Finish at the Maryland Cyber Challenge

For Paul Chilcote, life sometimes felt like a juggling act.

“Often, I found myself completing readings and written assignments late at night,” said Chilcote, whose path to a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity Management and Policy, which he received in May, was anything but easy. “Other times, my location or current work duties prevented me from taking classes for a semester or two,” he added.

But Chilcote, recently separated from the United States Air Force, persevered, chipping away at his degree requirements one class at a time while also maintaining a full-time military career and the responsibilities of being a single parent, all during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Chilcote learned persistence early and followed his passion in technology tenaciously. “When I was a kid, I was navigating the command line on an old Amiga computer and playing games on now-obsolete 5-inch floppy disks,” he said. As a teen, he was online constantly, even during the dial-up days.

“I was making friends with computer enthusiasts all over the world, learning to modify hardware and write programs by talking to these new friends in online chatrooms and message boards.”

High school classes in computer programming, 3D animation, and Cisco networking led Chilcote to join the Air Force in 2009 as a fighter aircraft crew chief, where his interests in computers and electronics helped him quickly learn the complex electrical systems that enable aircraft to fly.

Eventually Chilcote seized on an opportunity to retrain as a cyberwarfare operator. In 2013, that training opportunity, as well as his passion for computers and networking, prompted him to enroll in a cybersecurity program at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), tackling one or two classes at a time at night after work.

“My classes at UMGC and my own self-guided learning and computer hobbies helped me prepare for the difficult computer skills tests required to gain acceptance into the Air Force’s training program for cyber warfare operations,” he said. From 2016-18, Chilcote trained for and was tested on system administration, network configuration, and advanced cybersecurity concepts. After that, he began serving as a cyberwarfare operator for the Air Force.

In 2020, Chilcote added “full-time single parent of two” to his résumé, which prompted his decision to leave the military. “I was faced with the challenge of getting my two children through elementary school online, as well as my own classes, while still performing my military duties,” he said. And so he began preparing to separate from the Air Force in late 2020 so that he could devote more time to his children and their hybrid school schedule.

Now a civilian, having separated from the military in March 2021, Chilcote’s journey has led him to his current work as a penetration tester for CyberPoint International, a Maryland-based Department of Defense contractor. Through it all, his UMGC courses in cybersecurity policy and management helped increase his awareness of the complex interaction of laws, regulations and guidelines that companies must manage.

Chilcote capped off his academic accomplishments as a member of the UMGC cyber competition team that won the Maryland Cyber Challenge, the national tournament held during the annual Cyber Maryland conference. Competing in cyber events also contributed to his professional development, allowing him to mentored other students and gain invaluable real-world problem-solving skills. “These events have helped me develop creative solutions and think outside of the typical use of many computer technologies,” he said.

For Chilcote, perseverance and passion paid off, and his advice to other students balancing work and life is simple.

“Don’t be intimidated,” he said. “Cybersecurity is a broad field with countless areas of specializations. No one person knows everything; everyone is constantly learning and relearning as new technologies arise, change and improve.”