University System of Maryland Board of Regents Recognizes UMGC Faculty Members for Outstanding Teaching, Public Service

Professors Celeste McCarty and Sabrina Fu, Ph.D., Honored

Adelphi, Md. (April 29, 2022)—The University System of Maryland (USM) Board of Regents today honored 17 members of its faculty at institutions across the system–including two from University of Maryland Global Campus–with 2022 USM Regents’ Faculty Awards.

UMGC’s Celeste McCarty, professor of psychology, was honored with the “Excellence in Teaching” award, while Sabrina Fu, Ph.D., collegiate professor and program director for Environmental Science and Management, was recognized with the “Excellence in Public Service” award.

“It is a pleasure every year to recognize these outstanding faculty members,” USM Board of Regents Chair Linda R. Gooden said. “I am especially grateful for their dedication throughout the many phases of the pandemic and pleased we can plan to recognize them in person, thanks to the work our campuses have done to keep their communities safe.”

Each award carries a $2,000 prize provided by the institutions and the University System of Maryland Foundation.

“The bedrock of the University System’s quality, its prominence, its power to transform lives and change the world is, quite simply, our faculty,” said USM Chancellor Jay A. Perman. “It’s a privilege to be able to honor them and celebrate what they make possible every day—possible for each individual student and for the body of scholarship that advances our progress and deepens our humanity.”

Celeste McCarty

Professor McCarty has taught for UMGC in the U.S. and on military bases in Asia. According to her nomination, McCarty’s approach to teaching is characterized by her use of real-world examples to bring the classroom to life.  Her classroom management style is defined by her responsiveness, actively engaging with students to ensure their development, progress, and success.

Her nominating letter also notes that McCarty focuses on discussions and assignments that help develop advanced critical thinking skills, psychological and clinical skills, and sound research methodology. She helps students become good consumers of information.

McCarty has received numerous awards for her teaching, including the Stanley J. Drazek Teaching Award, the highest recognition awarded at UMGC for excellence in teaching.

Dr. Sabrina Fu

According to Dr. Fu’s nomination, she is the founder and inaugural regional coordinator of the Howard County Citizens Climate Lobby chapter, where she focuses on issues related to growth and environmental science-related service. She organizes public events, meetings, and presentations, as well as opportunities to lobby public officials. She is also a coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic Region of Citizens’ Climate Education, where she helps to empower diverse voices to talk to Congress about solutions to address climate change. She also is a Watershed Steward for Howard County.

Dr. Fu is a recipient of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s prestigious People, Prosperity, and the Planet award, where she was recognized for using her environmental science expertise and her passion for community engagement to make the community a better place.

The USM Regents’ Faculty Awards are the highest honor presented by the board to exemplary faculty members. In addition to teaching and public service, the awards honor excellence in mentoring, research, scholarship or creative activity, and innovation.

About University of Maryland Global Campus

Currently celebrating its 75th anniversary, University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) was established in 1947 to serve adults in the workforce and the military. Today, UMGC enrolls some 90,000 students annually, offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs, as well as certificates in more than 90 fully online and hybrid programs and specializations.  

UMGC has a long history of innovation in reaching students where they are, including as a pioneer of internet instruction, piloting its first online classes in 1994. The university has received numerous awards for its groundbreaking work in developing fully online degree programs, including in high-demand fields such as cybersecurity, business, data analytics, health care and education. 

UMGC now offers classes to military service personnel and their families at some 180 locations in more than 20 countries. More than half of the university’s students are active-duty military personnel, their families, members of the National Guard and veterans. 

UMGC Takes Third Place in a Strong Field at the Hack the Port 22 Maritime Cybersecurity Competition

Adelphi, MD — The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) cybersecurity competition team earned a bronze award at the Hack the Port 22 Virtual and Live Maritime and Control Systems Cybersecurity event, finishing behind first-place Northeastern University and second-place Texas A&M University. For its accomplishment, the UMGC team was awarded a monetary prize of $3,000. 

The event, which took place in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from March 21-25, was hosted by the U.S. Cyber Command and its innovation and prototyping partner, DreamPort. The competition featured teams from more than 30 universities nationwide.

Jesse Varsalone, associate professor of cybersecurity technology, coached the five-member UMGC team. Team members were Joshua Taylor and Artem Asoskov, undergraduate students majoring in computer network and cybersecurity; Scott Horner, an undergraduate majoring in Business Administration; Raiden Redila, an undergraduate in cybersecurity policy and management; and Team Captain Michael Frauenhoffer, a graduate student in the UMGC Cyber Operations Program. 

“It’s notable that all five UMGC team members have earned their CompTIA Security+ certification and two-thirds of the team is currently working in the field of cybersecurity, which puts us in a strong position for success,” said Varsalone. 

During the event, teams either chose to participate as attackers, known as “red teams,” or defenders, known as “blue teams.” Red teams attacked the critical infrastructure of the port, including gates, trains and ships. Blue teams tracked down and thwarted the actions of the attackers. 

“We chose to defend primarily because a large majority of the jobs in the field are associated with defending networks, so establishing that position offers our students an opportunity to gain real-world experience that best reflects the cybersecurity professional landscape,” said Varsalone. 

Participating schools included Bowie State, Florida Institute of Technology, Fordham University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Kennesaw State University, Naval Postgraduate School, New York University, Norfolk State University, Northeastern University, Pennsylvania State University, Stevens Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University, The Citadel, Towson University, and the United States Naval Academy, among others. 

Established in 2012, the UMGC cybersecurity competition team is composed of students, alumni, and faculty who compete regularly in digital forensics, penetration testing, and computer network defense scenarios that help them gain experience to advance their cybersecurity careers. To prepare for competitions, students detect and combat cyberattacks in the university’s Virtual Security Lab and work through case studies in an online classroom. 

Through its history, the UMGC team has received numerous top honors, including recent first-place finishes in the 2021 Maryland Cyber Challenge and the 2020 MAGIC, Inc. Capture the Flag competition and a second place finish in the 2012 Global CyberLympics.

About University of Maryland Global Campus

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

UMGC Professors, Students and Alumni Share Success Stories of Women in Business

Fewer women than men tend to select careers in business, but they are making inroads. Women in management, business and financial operations had higher salaries than female workers in any other major occupation category in 2020, according to new data from a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

Business schools can play a powerful role in encouraging women to pursue business careers, in exposing them to strong role models, and in opening opportunities to network with business professionals.       

Currently, more than 13,000 women are enrolled in an associate, bachelor’s, master’s, certificate or doctorate program within the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) School of Business. Businesses are booming, and empowering women are working their way to the top.

UMGC faculty in business education said women in business are increasing in visibility. To round out Women’s History Month celebrating women’s achievements, faculty discussed ways to advance women pursuing business degrees.

Anna Seferian, PhD, acting dean of the School of Business, says UMGC provides role models for women pursuing degrees.

“The role of business education is not limited to developing business acumen and hard skills in management, finance, marketing and other related areas. Business education motivates and inspires people to reach for higher goals, to be a better version of themselves and, through that, to be a positive force in our society. 

“The role of women in business and society is more visible now than ever, a major driving force behind so many changes and achievements. As we [as a society] continue to learn to be more inclusive and diverse, we [in the UMGC School of Business] serve as role models in our student’s educational journey. We motivate and inspire our students, just as our students motivate and inspire our faculty. It’s a rewarding experience.”

Freda Powell-Bell, PhD, director of the human resources program and collegiate professor, encourages her students’ success.

“As a professor I try to do three things to motivate my students, especially women, to stay the course and complete their business degrees. First, I try to share stories and examples of successful business professionals in the workforce and in the world as part of our online or hybrid classroom discussions. 

“Secondly, I share information with my students through classroom announcements about upcoming events, presentations, speakers, conferences and summits, such as the SHRM [Society for Human Resource Management] Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Conference or Women Spanning the Globe Conference, so that they will be able to see talented women in the field and gain an opportunity to network with both professional women and men.

“And third, I share my own personal testimony with my students to be a living example of a successful business professional. I want them to understand the benefits of persevering and the rewards and challenges they will face. I want them to leave out of the class saying, ‘if Professor Powell-Bell could do it, so can I!’”

Kathleen Sindell, director of the finance and economics department and director of the Certified Financial Planners (CFP) program, has multiple strategies to help students stay the course: 

“Provide clear instructions, use examples that students can identify with and maintain a steady online presence.”  

Kathleen Sobieralski, director of the accounting department and a certified public accountant (CPA), gives students successful strategies for achieving their goals.

“Your resume is strengthened as you enter the name of the school and degree earned. On an employment application, you may be asked to list colleges and universities attended and to check the box ‘Did you graduate?’ Let’s work to say ‘yes.’

“Read job postings. What education and certifications do they seek? This assists you in creating your path to success. Certifications such as the CPA or others such as the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) or Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) opens doors. Begin by earning your first certification.”  

Anthony Vrba, collegiate professor of management foundations, and nonprofit and association management, says engaging learners is a big part of teaching.

“The course MGMT 630 is one of the first classes that management students enroll in, and it is crucial that they have an engaging learning experience and know that they can complete an advanced degree. 

“Having an engaging environment can help students stay motivated, increase self-esteem, and continue in their programs. Part of that is a focus on having a variety of learning experiences incorporating videos, tables, reports and other assignments as would be experienced in the work environment. Having a variety of resources is also important, such as lectures, readings from practitioners, and scholarly sources and videos. Videos can include talks, lectures, or feedback video.  

“Sharing experiences is the best way I find to connect with students, especially to show how concepts learned in the course can be used in their jobs. Being a retired U.S. Navy Master Chief Petty Officer, I have had many experiences that I share.

“Relationship-building is one concept that is very important in business and covered in our courses. I was the only female manager in the eight-state recruiting area, and I had to work hard to build relationships with others and be able to keep up with communications and strategies that were going on within the organization. At that time, I would have to go to the smoking area to get things done. That is where the men made decisions on policy and strategy, which was important for me to know. 

“Meeting people in their areas can help build relationships. These … can include connecting with people at conferences, in the lunchroom, even at the turkey trot. You never know when you can expand your network to improve your future.”  

Female students enrolled in UMGC business degree programs also shared their thoughts in honor of Women’s History Month.  

Ivory Cooper, a graduate student in management, information systems and services and the former president of the SHRM Student Council, underscores the opportunities the School of Business has given her.

“UMGC has an assortment of opportunities and is inclusive in its approach to learning and teaching. (…) From its robust career support services, various volunteering initiatives, and club activities, at no point have I felt my ideas being dismissed or was I discouraged from going into a field that many women are not represented in, like management and information systems. 

“My teachers have always gone the extra mile to ensure I trust the university but, also, myself, and [I] feel confident when I step out into the world,” Cooper said.

A master’s degree candidate in criminal justice management since October 2021, Lakerera Little says a UMGC degree will allow her to rise in her career field.

 “I wanted to move up in my current job role as a family law clerk. Hopefully, after graduation, I am able to manage my own team.”  

Candace Orsetti Fulfills Life-Long Dream, Is Contestant on March 30 Episode of Jeopardy!   

Candace Orsetti was 11 years old when Alex Trebek made his debut as host of TV game show Jeopardy!. Watching the program turned Orsetti into a diehard fan of the program and an unrepentant trivia nerd. It also put her on the path to what she calls “a dream come true.” 

On March 30, the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) course development writer and editor will appear as a Jeopardy! contestant. 

Last week, Orsetti’s bio on Twitter read: “Wife, dog lover, word nerd, Llama, baker. Hoping someday to have a profile pic w/a vivid blue background.” This week it has a photo with a vivid blue background. 

“All the Jeopardy! followers know what that background means,” said Orsetti, referring to the color of the program’s stage set. 

Orsetti taped the show in California in January and has waited two months to go public about her TV fame. Did she win big prize money? Will she appear in more than one episode? She is not allowed to say before the show airs, the secrecy being one of the many components of Jeopardy! mystique. She was, however, permitted to note that actor Mayim Bialik was the show’s host. And she revealed that she went for a true Daily Double, meaning that she wagered everything she had on one answer that could double her winnings.   

It is hard to overstate Orsetti’s fervor for the show—and the persistence of her ambition to appear on it. Her first chance came when she was 15. In those days, contestant searches were announced at the end of the show via a note that flashed on the screen to announce tryouts in specific cities. Contestant wannabes responded by sending in postcards that were randomly drawn. Orsetti’s postcard to a local Baltimore TV affiliate resulted in an invitation to take an in-studio test.

“I missed the qualification by one question. That’s been my story for 35 years, but that’s also an inside joke at Jeopardy!” she said. “Everybody that didn’t make the cut was told they missed it by one question.” 

The postcards continued and Orsetti came close to qualifying again in the 1990s. By the 2000s, postcards were replaced with online tests. In 2018, she made the cut—but then languished in the contestant pool for 18 months without being called to a taping. 

“That 18-month period ended on March 13, 2020, the day when everything happened with COVID-19,” Orsetti said. “That was UMGC’s first 100 percent telework day.”

Orsetti persevered, and a June 21, 2020, test put her in the running again. A year after taking that 15-minute online quiz, she was invited to take a Zoom version of the test where she was watched online to confirm her identity and ensure there was no cheating. She had a stroke of luck when one of the questions on the proctored test focused on the ingredients in a Black Russian cocktail. She credited her father, who had died five months earlier, for her knowledge of that answer. It had been his favorite drink.

Four days after the proctored test, she was called for an audition. Since the pandemic, Jeopardy! hopefuls take the audition through an online video platform. The audition featured a contestant interview and a series of mock games. 

“The players hold up a clicky pen as a buzzer. And you’re phrasing your responses in the form of a question,” Orsetti explained. “It wasn’t just about people giving correct responses, but about personality and keeping the game moving and having an interesting presence.”

In the time between the proctored test and the audition, during a dinner of Chinese takeout, Orsetti opened a fortune cookie and found this message: “You will pass a difficult test that will make you happier and financially better.”  

The message was prescient. For a second time, she was back in the contestant pool. 

“At that point, the smart thing to do was to hit the books and start studying. I did—for about a week,” she said with a laugh. Six months later, just as she was about to enter a UMGC work meeting, she received a phone call with a Los Angeles area code. It was the Jeopardy! contestant coordinator inviting her to a January 26, 2022, taping of the show.  

For the next three weeks, Orsetti went everywhere with her “Jeopardy! Go Bag,” a tote bag containing flashcards and study materials she put together.

Orsetti, who earned a B.A. in English from UMGC in 2003, is such a Jeopardy! enthusiast that she had read not only contestant—and, later, host—Ken Jennings’s book, Brainiac, but also the book by Fritz Holznagel titled Secrets of the Buzzer that explains the idiosyncrasies of the buzzers used for Jeopardy! and other game shows. She was aware that contestants pay their own hotel and airfare to appear on the program. And that her clothing would have to be able to support a hidden microphone. And that she wasn’t supposed to wear stripes or certain colors. 

What she hadn’t known is that she would have to go through COVID screening in the Jeopardy! studio’s garage and that the show’s staging area, where contestants had their hair and makeup done, was the set of Wheel of Fortune.  

On taping day, Orsetti worried about two knowledge categories she was weak in: sports and 2020s pop stars. That wasn’t the only thing. Because of the time gap between when the show is taped and when it airs, Orsetti said she and others in the contestant pool were unsure whether Amy Schneider—whose 40-game appearance became the second-longest winning streak in Jeopardy! history—was still a contestant.

“We were all looking around for Amy and asking if Amy was still there. We were scared of Amy,” Orsetti said. It turned out that the day of the taping was also the day that Schneider’s last episode with Jeopardy! aired.   

Orsetti’s Jeopardy! smarts owe something to her deep engagement with trivia. For nearly 10 years—until COVID ended in-person gatherings—she played on a weekly pub trivia team with her husband, parents and a shifting roster of friends. She also belongs to an online trivia league whose membership is capped at 20,000. “A good thousand of the members are Jeopardy! alumni,” she said.

On the day she makes her television debut with Jeopardy!, Orsetti is hosting a small watch party with close friends and family. Concurrently, she’ll host a Zoom gathering with far-flung friends and family.  

“For two months I’ve been living with this weird timeline. I’m both a future and past Jeopardy! player,” Orsetti said, referring to the gap between when the show was filmed and when it will air.  

Jeopardy! may be behind her, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Orsetti’s game show days are over.

“I’ve always been a game show fan, especially trivia-based game shows. I have also gotten to the point where I got a second callback for Wheel of Fortune, The Chase, and Weakest Link,” Orsetti said. There’s just one hitch: Her Jeopardy! contract bars her from appearing on other TV game shows for six months.

Making History at UMGC: Patricia Wallace and Her Role in Pioneering Online Learning

When schools and universities around the globe were quickly forced onto virtual teaching platforms by the COVID-19 outbreak, Patricia Wallace had one thought.

“I was thinking that this is going to be extremely difficult for most educators to do,” said Wallace, a technology pioneer who led University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) into large-scale virtual learning nearly three decades ago.

“If you’re talking about a fifth-grade teacher who is used to being hands on in the classroom with 20 or more kids, it would have been difficult moving all those kids to online learning,” Wallace continued. “At the university level, faculty at many institutions faced the same issues because they were not used to online teaching and a lot of their curricula was not designed for that.”

Wallace knows what she is talking about. As chief information officer in the 1990s at what was then known as University of Maryland University College, she ignored skeptics and spearheaded a move to online education before that concept even had a name. Because of her team’s foresight, UMGC seamlessly continued its courses in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered classrooms around the world.

Wallace recalled the intensive work, faculty training, technology acquisition and experimentation that preceded UMGC’s shift to virtual education in the 1990s. She said the desire to provide education to nontraditional students around the world, including in conflict zones, was the impetus.

“We knew our students needed pathways to education that didn’t require them to get babysitters and commute all the time,” she explained. “Another driver… is that we had students in remote places, like McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and a remote base had too few students to support more than a couple of faculty members. That meant only a small number of courses could be offered and the students couldn’t pursue a degree.”

The university constantly tested new distance learning options. In the 1970s, newspaper courses debuted in the European Division. Military newspaper Stars and Stripes carried reading assignments and faculty commentary; exams were administered in classrooms. In another approach, students earned credits through structured independent study. Participants did not attend classes but, rather, relied on tutors, television lectures, videotapes, texts and radio broadcasts. Then, in 1991, UMGC became the first university to offer a degree-completion program in which course materials were provided through cable and satellite television, boosted by telephone conferencing and voicemail. 

Those systems generally proved unwieldly, expensive or too hard to scale-up for a global student enrollment. A breakthrough came when students and faculty gained access to the internet.

“Some faculty in Europe and Asia started teaching via email and that was about the most successful,” Wallace said. “That’s how we started to think about how we were going to build this university online.”

In teaching via email, professors sent assignments and received homework assignments through their email accounts. But unstable internet connections, limits on file sizes and weather interference were challenges, and the approach still fell short of UMGC’s vision of a technology-based infrastructure capable of providing full-degree programs, students services, library resources and even financial aid information.

Wallace said the University of Illinois had been experimenting for many years with a computer-based instruction system called PLATO, short for Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations. It required a mainframe computer and special terminals. UMGC had a few of the terminals but students still had to report to a university lab room to take a course. Nonetheless, Wallace said, “the concept was there, so we looked into how we could do something like that.” 

By 1994, Wallace’s team had developed a learning management system called Tycho that students could install on their personal computers. The students then dialed into modems and logged in to see their course materials, interact with discussion forums, form study groups and contact their professors and other students. It caught on so quickly that it became difficult to keep up with enrollment.

“We had 54,000 percent growth over seven years,” Wallace said. “That’s even hard to imagine. Every semester, the classes filled up.”

She said faculty training was an ongoing challenge, especially as technology shifted and advanced. Over time, students were migrated into more sophisticated technology platforms and programs. 

Wallace, who left the CIO position in 1999 but remains an adjunct professor at UMGC, acknowledged that women in tech leadership positions might not have been common in the 1990s, but she said the university’s inclusive culture made it feel normal.

“I reported to a woman vice president. I had six units reporting to me and three of them were headed by women,” she said. “UMGC is a fairly egalitarian place. We didn’t have the same types of struggles that emerged in other organizations.”

Although Wallace carved out a career in technology, that’s not where she started. She earned her Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and in 1975, while on sabbatical from a tenured position as an associate professor of psychology at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, she taught as a short-term UMGC faculty member in South Korea and Japan. She left Clarion and returned to UMGC as a faculty member in 1980 when her husband, Julian Jones, was named director of the university’s Asian Division, based in Tokyo.

Soon after, Wallace added a master’s degree in computer systems management from UMGC to her resume and began to work in technology. Eventually, she was named head of IT for the Asian Division and then was elevated to CIO for overall university operations.

“At the time, there was certainly a lot of movement to attract more women to technology jobs,” she said. “In Asia, most of the people who worked for me were women.”  

Wallace said her pairing of psychology and technology may sound unusual, but the two disciplines go hand in hand.

“After all, we’re humans. We’re interacting with technology and with the humans on the other end of it,” she said. 

Wallace explored that interaction, examining how being online can change people’s behavior, in her book “The Psychology of the Internet,” published by Cambridge University Press in 1999. A revised and updated version of the book came out in 2016.

She is also the author of other books, including “The Internet in the Workplace” published in 2004.

Wallace credits UMGC for giving her the leeway to experiment. Her work helped open access to a university degree to generations of nontraditional students.

“The university took a lot of risks in many different areas,” Wallace said. “I’m quite proud of what we were able to accomplish on the technology side and the academic side.”

Degree in Cybersecurity Opens a Door to Space Exploration for Rachel Jones 

Growing up on a farm near the Coca-Cola Space Science Center in Columbus, Georgia, Rachel Jones always looked forward to Astronomy Night. That’s when she could gather with other stargazers. It was then, pondering the unknown, that she fell in love with outer space.  

“It’s pretty normal for kids to go through a space phase,” she said. “For me that phase never stopped.”  

Fast forward to Dec. 10, 2021, when Jones officially introduced her space dream to a new generation. On that date, she culminated a year-long project by helping 10 students at Savannah River Academy in Georgia talk to an astronaut on the International Space Station using the ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) Program. Over 200 people attended the event, and Jones’s coordination with the local community enabled 2,000 others to live stream the conversation.  

The project had begun two years earlier with Jones reaching out to schools, completing an application, designing a curriculum, teaching students and, ultimately, coordinating a large-scale event.  

Jones knew early on that she wanted to pursue a career in outer space, but her path was circuitous. After a stint at a community college in Florida, she graduated from LaGrange College, not with a STEM-related degree, but as a political science major with a minor in graphic design. However, internships with NASA and former Sen. Bill Nelson, the second sitting member of Congress to travel into space and current NASA administrator, allowed her to keep her dream in sight.  

After college, Jones worked as a graphic designer and then traveled to China to teach English. In China, she used Google to search for universities that offered programs about outer space and discovered the International Space University near Strasbourg, France. She was accepted into its Master of Space Studies (MSS) program, keeping her space dream alive.  

It was during her graduate program that Jones had an “aha” moment. Through a thesis project that involved security breaches of space assets, she discovered a love for cybersecurity and realized she could combine this with her passion for space.  

“I focused on the cybersecurity of what’s called a ‘ground station,’” she said. “I never knew before where I’d fit in with outer space, but I knew I loved it, and so this was the moment I realized this was my niche.”  

After several job searches, Jones discovered that her newfound interest in cybersecurity was not enough to get a job in the field, especially without a degree or certifications. Eventually, she landed a civilian position with the U.S. Air Force in Washington, D.C. After three years, she transferred to San Antonio. There, she worked toward a second master’s degree—in intelligence, focusing on cyber. She was fortunate to join a cybersecurity group, and within that group even more fortunate to meet her future husband.  

After her husband transferred from the Air Force to the Army, the couple relocated to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia. During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jones embarked on her fourth degree, the one that would move her closer to her career goal. She expects to complete that Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity from UMGC this spring. 

“I know this will help me prepare the certifications I need to advance my career,” she said.  

If that’s not enough, Jones is also working toward a Ph.D. in aerospace sciences from the University of North Dakota. She expects a cybersecurity degree combined with an aerospace sciences degree will establish her as an expert in cybersecurity of space assets. 

The degrees will help her fulfill her dream, but it was the ARISS project with students at Savannah River Academy that brought home for her the importance of fostering a love of science at a young age.  

“I really didn’t have the mentorship to recognize what I wanted to do earlier in life,” she said, “so I want to make sure I provide that to others.”  

Edward J. Perkins: “Warrior for Peace”

Editor’s Note: As UMGC commemorates African American Heritage Month, we remember one of our most distinguished graduates. This article, written by Alita Byrd, first appeared in the Summer 2007 issue of Achiever magazine. Edward J. Perkins—a 1967 graduate of University of Maryland University College (now University of Maryland Global Campus) and the first Black ambassador to apartheid South Africa—died on November 7, 2021, at the age of 92.

In 1986, when President Ronald Reagan named Edward Perkins U.S. ambassador to South Africa, people sat up and took notice. At the time, the South African government was still enforcing a strict system of apartheid, holding African National Congress leaders like Nelson Mandela behind bars, and using repressive laws to keep the majority black population from voting and achieving equality with whites. Perkins—a career diplomat, soldier, and 1967 UMUC graduate—would be the first black ambassador to the troubled country.

Perkins was no stranger to intolerance. He grew up in Louisiana in the 1930s, served in the recently desegregated U.S. military beginning in the early 1950s, and aspired to a career in the overwhelmingly white Foreign Service. And while working in Taiwan, he met and fell in love with Lucy, his wife-to-be—a beautiful girl from a very traditional Chinese family.

“I had the temerity to ask Lucy for a date,” said Perkins, “and she took her reputation in hand to go out with an American.” When Perkins proposed, Lucy’s father locked her in the house and told her brothers to make sure she stayed there. So Perkins sent a driver to rescue her at midnight while he organized a wedding for the next morning, Romeo-and-Juliet style.

“When her family found out she was married, they decided there was nothing they could do,” Perkins said. “Now we are good friends.”

Perkins was equally focused when it came to advancing his career. After first serving in the U.S. Army in Korea and Japan, he remained in Japan while studying Japanese. Always on the lookout for adventure, after returning to university studies in the United States, he and a buddy decided to join the French Foreign Legion, but found they didn’t have enough money to get to France. So Perkins joined the U.S. Marine Corps instead. He recognized the opportunity offered by UMUC’s overseas operations and soon earned his undergraduate degree.

“I think the professors were some of the best I’ve seen,” Perkins said. “Their presentations were challenging and the interest they generated among the students was genuine. One instructor I remember was probably one of the best math and statistics professors in the world. He actually made mathematics come alive.”

Around the same time, Perkins recalled two Foreign Service officers who had made a lasting impression on him when they spoke to his high school class.

“The travel attracted me, and learning languages,” he said. So Perkins took the Foreign Service exam. He didn’t get in, but he was undeterred. The next time, he was accepted and went on to build an impressive diplomatic résumé, serving on the ground in Africa and in policy in Washington, D.C.

He would need every bit of that persistence and experience as he tackled the post in South Africa, where the consequences of failure were grave indeed.

“There was a very tenuous relationship between the U.S. and South Africa back then,” said Perkins. “A growing number of Americans were insisting we should help dismantle apartheid. The president was convinced that if the U.S. did not lend a hand in helping to dismantle this racist government, there could be a race war in South Africa. He decided he had to do something quick and dramatic to show everyone that he did not countenance a government based on race and religion and advantage for one group of people over another. The secretary of state [George Shultz] recommended a black ambassador. He said it was time to send a professional diplomat, so they went down a list of about nine people and finally settled on me.”

Some saw Reagan’s decision to send a black ambassador to a segregated country as a political message to the South African government. But others—including the Reverend Jesse Jackson—criticized Reagan, whom they saw as racist, for doing too little too late. And many, both in the United States and South Africa, saw the appointment as little more than a symbolic step meant to quiet critics who were calling for tougher sanctions against the apartheid government.

Jackson went so far as to ask Perkins to refuse the assignment. But Perkins believed it was his duty as a Foreign Service officer to go, and, in November 1986, he took up his post in Pretoria with Lucy by his side.

“The assignment was to turn the embassy into a change agent,” said Perkins. “I wanted to make sure that everything I did, from the moment I arrived, was focused on bringing about political change in South Africa without violence. That’s what Reagan asked for.”

It was a daunting task. From the first, South African president P. W. Botha—never known for his polished manners—made clear his dislike for Perkins. When Perkins presented his credentials after arriving in South Africa, Botha shook his finger in Perkins’s face and warned him sternly, “I don’t want you getting involved in our affairs.”

But Perkins did get involved—first in Pretoria, then elsewhere around the country, working tirelessly for the duration of his posting. During apartheid, Pretoria was a symbol of white Afrikaaner rule and oppression. The city was hated and feared by black South Africans as a citadel of racist policies. But Perkins was determined not to bow to the rules. He instituted an embassy policy that forbade employees from patronizing establishments that did not accept black customers.

“Pretty soon, all the restaurants around the embassy in Pretoria— which were highly segregated—sent word that they would accept anyone,” Perkins said.

Next, the American embassy organized an exhibition at the art museum in Pretoria, showing the work of both black and white artists and sending invitations to both black and white guests.

“The museum managers were astonished that there were black artists in South Africa,” said Perkins. “[Today], these efforts might not seem all that dramatic, but in a place where segregation was so rigidly enforced, it was a [significant] step.”

Many resented those steps, no matter how small, and Perkins—who spent a great deal of time walking the streets of Pretoria—often was exposed to their open hostility.

“I was hissed at by young Afrikaaner mothers pushing their babies in strollers,” he said. “It was not an enjoyable assignment—it was stressful for all of us—but we had a job to do.”

He began to court the black community assiduously, making contacts around the nation. In Soweto, the sprawling black township outside Johannesburg, Perkins met with civic leaders; in Mamelodi, the largest black township outside of Pretoria, he met with religious leaders. He even met with activists in squatter camps outside Cape Town.

And while he tried to avoid the media spotlight, Perkins didn’t hesitate to make his convictions known.

“I sense a growing realization that a valid political system here must be one that correlates with the demographics of the country—not merely black participation or black cooperation, but a government that truly represents the majority of South Africans,” Perkins wrote in an article published in a South African journal in December 1987. While the United States insisted that this had been its policy all along, Time magazine called the statement “pure dynamite” and a “breakthrough.”

Every couple of months, Perkins flew back to the United States to brief Ronald Reagan on the situation in South Africa. And despite warnings to the contrary, Perkins recalled that he always felt fully supported by the administration.

“Once he made the decision [to appoint me], he never backed off,” Perkins said. “The Afrikaaners tried many ways to go around me to get to him. But Reagan’s response was always, ‘The U.S. ambassador speaks for the American people and this administration.’ Without that complete support, we couldn’t have done what we did. But the president gave me permission to make policy from the embassy in Pretoria—something that never happens.”

Perkins left South Africa before he had the satisfaction of seeing the apartheid government formally dismantled, but there was no question he had helped plant the seeds of change. And although violence occasionally flared as the old government was replaced, the country never spiraled into the civil war that so many feared.

Perkins, meanwhile, went on to serve as Director General of the Foreign Service (the first black officer to ascend to the top position), U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and ambassador to Australia. Now retired, he remains as busy as ever, serving at the University of Oklahoma as senior vice provost for international programs and executive director of the International Programs Centre, where he holds the Crowe chair in geopolitics.

In 2006, the University of Oklahoma Press published Perkins’s memoirs—aptly titled, Mr. Ambassador: Warrior for Peace.

After Career in Drama, 75-year-old Navy Veteran Finishes One Degree, Starts Another  

When 75-year-old Bruce Taylor decided to complete his bachelor’s degree in humanities at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) three years ago, he never pictured going straight into another degree program. Nonetheless, three weeks post-graduation he was pursuing a master’s degree in educational technology. 

Taylor completed his service in the Navy in 1972 and went on to graduate from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London with a stage management diploma. He spent most of his career in opera, dance and theater, eventually finding his passion by sharing with others just how important it was to combine the arts with K-12 education, especially in the age of Common Core, the state grade-level standards instituted in 2010.

Taylor held workshops for school districts all over the country, teaching them how to integrate arts into reading and writing within Common Core. Once the workshops were completed, he embarked on his next adventure: to complete his college degree.

“I thought if I want to [continue] working with teachers and kids, why don’t I try the humanities, where there are several domains of learning in that. I already know the music and art part,” Taylor said.

As a young adult in Alaska, Taylor had completed a few years of college but had no idea what he wanted to do. He decided to make a change in 1967 and join the Navy. He trained as a Navy Russian linguist at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, and attended Security School in San Angelo, Texas. He was first stationed outside Istanbul, Turkey employed as an analyst, and his last stop in the Navy was Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska.

In Turkey, Taylor’s involvement with an amateur theater group persuaded him to go to drama school. During a tryout with Hugh Cruttwell, an influential English teacher of drama and principal at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), Taylor was encouraged to pursue the stage management program.

“At RADA, you did every job in stage management that you find in the theater. We did props, makeup, built sets, and crewed them. There was also some acting, lighting—we did it all with no books,” Taylor said. “It was all practicum. I loved it and felt I could walk into a room and I would plugin, and I knew what to do.”

Upon graduation from RADA, Taylor wrote 300 letters seeking employment at every theater, dance, and opera company he knew. He accepted a job with the Seattle Opera, where he spent five years.

“My biggest achievement there was [that] I was the production stage manager for the first full Ring Cycle ever done outside of Germany. Now everyone is doing Wagner’s Ring Cycle,” he said.

In Seattle, he became interested in education and started going to schools to conduct workshops. That experience helped him in the next step of his career: the Opera Company of Philadelphia as both the production manager and the education director.  

“A colleague I had worked with in Seattle became the director of education at the Metropolitan Opera Guild, so she hired me to do programs since I was so close by in Philadelphia,” Taylor said. “I developed a project called Creating Original Opera, and the premise was you take a group of kids with a teacher and the kids create, compose, write, design, manage and perform their own original 30-minute musical theater piece.”

“That became a very big deal. At one point, there were more than 400 schools all over the world in about a dozen countries and 30 states all creating an original opera program,” he noted.

Meanwhile, Taylor published three books on arts and education: “The Arts Equation: Forging a Vital Link Between Performing Artists and Educators” in 1999, “Common Sense Arts Standards: How the Arts Can Thrive in an Era of Common Core” in 2013 and “Common Sense Common Core: Finding Common Ground of Clarity and Simplicity” in 2015.

Taylor moved from the Opera Company of Philadelphia to the Pennsylvania Opera Theater, and he completed his career in the professional performing arts at the Washington National Opera as director of education in the U.S. capital.

“One of the nice things about the arts, and [what] I try to do with kids in reading and writing, is to provide them a real ownership piece in what they’re doing and why it should matter to them,” Taylor said.

Since starting at UMGC, where the courses he took in Alaska were credited toward his degree, Taylor said it took him a year to get into the groove of remote classes. He now spends hours and hours on research.

“I don’t know how a lot of the students at UMGC who are full-time parents or military personnel are able to do this because I make my own schedule and use my time anyway that I want,” said Taylor. “I’m in awe of what these students are doing and the fact that UMGC gives them the chance. That’s the biggest thing about UMGC. It gives people opportunity who want to engage in lifelong learning, which is awesome. “

Once Taylor graduated in December, he enrolled in UMGC’s master’s program in educational technology. He also began working on a paper titled “Reductionist Approach to English Language Arts.” He plans to submit the paper to the Journal for Educational Research and Practice for publishing consideration.

“Bruce is an exceptional humanities student, hardworking, intellectually curious, with a broad range of life experiences to draw upon,” said Steven Killings, PhD, program chair of humanities and philosophy at UMGC.

Six UMGC Students Make the Cut for Prestigious Presidential Management Fellows Program

Matthew Sinclair is watching his email to see what job opportunities open in this year’s Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program, a high-profile gateway to government employment. Sinclair is one of six University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) students selected as finalists in the highly competitive program that identifies talented individuals and invites them to apply for positions within the federal workforce.

Matthew Sinclair

“I have lots of friends who work in the federal government, and they told me the PMF is a great way to get your foot in the door,” said Sinclair, assistant director of the Mechanical Engineering Program for University of Maryland College Park. “They said it is prestigious and an honor.”

Sinclair is among only 1,100 people, out of more than 8,000 applicants from 299 academic institutions worldwide, who survived the rigorous multi-step selection process to be named a finalist. PMF finalists are invited to government career fairs—held virtually last year—and receive regular notices of federal job openings for which they may compete. Once matched with a job, a finalist is officially a fellow and has access to training, mentoring and other career-advancing opportunities.

“The Presidential Management Fellows Program is a training and leadership development program, specifically for graduate students. It is extremely competitive and it ends with a two-year fellowship in a federal agency,” said Career Advising Specialist Isa Martinez, who oversees UMGC’s involvement in the program. “This carries a regular salary and benefits and training and access to professional development programs.”

PMF job openings surface across the country, and finalists may have to compete with other fellows for the locations, government agencies, and positions they seek. Martinez said being a finalist doesn’t guarantee a job but 80 to 85 percent of finalists generally find positions.

Isa Martinez

“You can apply for as many openings as you want,” Sinclair explained. “Or, if there’s a specific department or agency that interests you, you can wait for those.”

Sinclair completed his MBA from UMGC last year as part of a career move, and he sees the PMF as a way to propel that aspiration. He also holds undergraduate degrees in education and history, as well as a master’s degree in reading and language arts.

Many of the agencies have webinars explaining their goals and mission. Sinclair said he found the webinar for the Department of Veteran Affairs especially compelling, adding that his maternal grandfather had been a veteran.

When the finalists for the 2022 cohort were announced in December, the selection of six students from UMGC was unprecedented. A year earlier, there were no finalists from the university. In the 2020 cohort, there were two. Both were placed in jobs with the Department of Homeland Security.

“For us to go from zero to six, competing with students from Yale and Georgetown, means that the program is starting to see the wonderful potential of UMGC students,” Martinez said.

Martinez said students from all disciplines are eligible for the PMF but the jobs tend to dovetail with the government’s needs at the time. In 2020, the focus was on IT and cybersecurity. In 2022, it seems to be business administration and health care.

In addition to Sinclair, three other UMGC finalists have degrees in business management or administration: Caren Clift, Clair Curtain and Thuy An Truong. Finalist Elena Candu is completing a degree in emergency management and Xia Lao’s degree is focused on health administration.

Candu, a mother of two who was born in Moldova, is slated to graduate from UMGC in August. She already is a federal employee, but she hopes the PMF will put her on track to a leadership position in emergency management or humanitarian assistance.

“I heard of the program from alumni PMFs who found the program an excellent opportunity for professional development,” she said.

Candu enrolled at UMGC in 2020, two months after her family relocated to Northern Virginia following six years in Africa while her husband was on Foreign Service assignment in Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea. She was getting a haircut when she received an email telling her that she had been selected as a PMF finalist.

Caren Clift

“I was glad that I was wearing a mask covering the big grin on my face when seeing the email,” she said. “I wonder what the stylist was thinking about me grinning, without any explanations, for a good part of the time I was there.”

Martinez said finalists like Candu who are already working for the government can use the PMF to “get a boost in their salary grade level or switch agencies.”

She said she heard about a PMF finalist who worked as a program analyst during her two years as a fellow. “Now she’s a director,” Martinez added.

When it comes to the PMF, three’s the charm for Clift, who had eyed the fellowship on three occasions before becoming a finalist.

When she first learned about PMF, she was “thrilled” about applying but discovered that her UMGC graduation date fell just outside the window for eligibility. Later, her return to school to pursue a dual graduate degree program in health care administration and business administration enabled her to apply, but she was not selected as a finalist.

But she had another chance. The 2020 completion date of her MBA enabled her to jump on the complex Presidential Management Fellowship application process in 2021.

“At the time I applied, I was thinking I could find an opportunity within Health and Human Services or the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention),” she said. “I wanted to utilize the education I have, focused on wellness and translate that … into a steady income.”

Before she learned that she was a finalist, she had added a project management certificate to her professional credentials and accepted a job with the George Washington Medical Faculty Associates. She likes the job and, especially, her work team but she is also keeping an eye on PMF opportunities.

Whether she ends up working for the federal government or not, Clift said to be selected as a finalist was impressive on its own.

Alumnus Credits UMGC Degree for Shaping Federal Career

Thomas Brandt ’19, a member of the U.S. Navy Reserve, lives in the Pacific Northwest. Thanks to his degree from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), he has switched from a job marked by tough physical labor to a career as a financial analyst. 

“Without having gone to the University of Maryland Global Campus graduate program, I would not have been afforded the opportunity to have shifted gears from doing hard work as a field service engineer into training to be a financial analyst so easily,” Brandt said. “I have nothing but applause and praise for the program that I went through and all the programs at University of Maryland Global Campus.”

Brandt is employed by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Energy. His current post as a GS-9 employee is a one-year temporary position, which Brandt is optimistic will develop into a permanent job in 2022.

In his role as a financial analyst, Brandt coordinates and trains on how to calculate the federal budget, capital expenditures, rate case development, and understanding the deep nuances and financial partnerships and memorandum of understanding (MOU) that BPA has within the Pacific Northwest environment.

Brandt joined the Navy as an electronics technician (ET) shortly before 9/11 in 2001 then switched to an information technology specialist (IT). Growing up in Binghamton, N.Y., he saw the Navy as a pathway to something adventuresome and fulfilling. He was stationed on an aircraft carrier, the USS Abraham Lincoln, and participated in the tsunami relief effort in Indonesia in 2005. He switched to the Navy Reserve in 2006. He has mobilized and deployed to Iraq, United Arab Emirates, the Republic of Djibouti and Bahrain while in the Reserves to aid in the Global War on Terrorism efforts. 

During his time on active duty, Brandt developed shoulder and back pain and sleep apnea, and his injuries were exacerbated by 12-hour shifts working on lab equipment in Hillsboro, Oregon. He deployed to Bahrain for a year, took a brief graduate study pause, and came back to work on his Master of Science in Financial Management and Information Systems Integration, which he completed in 2019.  

“I just had to dig deep and find that internal motivation because coming off of deployment can be very exhausting and you want to take more time off,” Brandt said. “I knew that I had to get through this.”

After beginning his UMGC studies in 2016, he relocated because of his job with ABB to Portland, Oregon, from North Carolina. Brandt also has an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Excelsior College. Additionally, Brandt has a second bachelor’s degree in electrical technology from Thomas Edison State University. 

After 20 years in the Navy, Brandt will retire later this year as a Chief.

As he reflects on his years studying at UMGC, he remembers fondly his last capstone project, which incorporated the financial management and information systems skills he received in the master’s program. The final project divided students into teams and had them come up with a business. Each team then had to design its website and create a portfolio spreadsheet for investors and others interested in the business.

“He really cared about his education and kept it a priority in his life,” said Randy Kuhn, adjunct professor of business at UMGC. “I am very proud of him for his persistence and dedication to finishing his program despite what was going on in his life.”