Work Took Precedence Over Mike Easley’s Studies—for a Crucial Reason 

There’s a year-long gap in Michael Easley’s march toward a master’s degree in project
management from the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). But he had a good
reason for the time out.

As a project manager working for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Easley was one of
only a handful of individuals assigned to execute personal protective equipment (PPE)
acquisitions at a national level during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The various types
of PPE were necessary to meet the high demand throughout VA medical facilities to protect
both caregivers and patients.

“We were executing $millions in PPE buys to support the effort,” Easley said. “I was working a
lot of overtime, and I couldn’t keep it up with my studies. So, I took almost a full year off while
supporting COVID requirements and picked it back up this past year.”
In November, he finished all his degree requirements.

“Unfortunately, some people tried to take advantage of the high demand for PPE,” he said.
“Businesses who had no prior experience in medical supplies were trying to offer products,
products offered at well above market rates, and in some cases, vendors tried to sell
counterfeit products. We had to do a lot of market research to scrutinize vendors promising the
moon. Would they be able to deliver as promised? Would the products be safe for veterans and
care providers? Each product had to go through a clinical review before issuing contracts.”

“Many of the things I learned about project acquisitions, quality management, and risk
assessment came into play,” he said.

Easley said that what he learned from his UMGC professors in the graduate program became
knowledge he immediately applied to his work, which aided in his selection as a deputy
program manager.

He said that his degree program’s last two capstone projects were highly beneficial. They
allowed him to take all he had learned from his professors and from the Program Management
Institute (PMI) to do a self-assessment of his own organization.

“What I learned, I could apply throughout my job,” he said. “Those [capstones] were a critical
part of tying up a master’s degree.”

Easley grew up in Macon, Illinois, a small town where everyone waved to each other because
they all knew one another. Seeing few opportunities after graduating from high school, he
enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1983, coming up through the enlisted ranks and serving
ashore and deployed around the world. His work provided financial and logistical support for
both garrison and deployed troops.

While serving in Okinawa, Japan, he retired in 2008 as a Chief Warrant Officer Four after 25
years of service. His wife Noriko was born in Okinawa, so he remained on the island and took a
position as the logistics chief for the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA)
Okinawa School District. He was responsible for all logistical and facility support for the 13
DoDEA schools in Okinawa.

No one in Easley’s family had gone to college, but he knew that he had to take college courses
and complete degrees to get ahead in the military.

“The first thing you do is get your associate [degree],” he said. “That makes me a little bit more
competitive than the next guy. Then you work on getting your bachelor’s, and then that makes
me a little bit more competitive.”

He completed a bachelor’s degree in management while still in the military, but he did not
begin the UMGC master’s program until returning to the United States in December 2016. In
Northern Virginia, he ended up working for DoDEA at the Marine Corps Base Quantico School
District, which ultimately led him to the VA as a project manager.

Easley is a published photographer with a passion for landscape and underwater photography.
He has traveled around the world with a group of underwater photographers. His last trip was
in the Bahamas, photographing hammerhead sharks. He is an avid golfer and was proud to have
completed the Marine Corps Marathon six times. His best time of 3hrs and 42 minutes was
when he flew from Okinawa to Washington, D.C., and back to Okinawa, all within a five-day trip
that included picking up his son in Illinois.

“I live by two simple rules,” he said. “You do not have to be perfect, just do the right thing,” and
a motto that has continued to serve me well for over 30 years, “Not everything that is faced can
be changed, but nothing can be changed until it’s faced.” If you follow these rules, you can
move forward in life and make a positive change.”

Edith Vinson-Maitlandt Completes Bachelor’s Degree to Support Work at FEMA 

Edith Vinson-Maitlandt, or “Edie” as she is known by her colleagues and professors, is closing 2021 by completing her Bachelor of Science in Environmental Management, with a minor in business administration. The new credential will add value to her position at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“Even in the online asynchronous environment, one could see that Edie is a thoughtful person and a good listener,” said Sabrina Fu, program director and collegiate professor for UMGC’s Environmental Science and Management Program. “Often she integrated her life experiences and observations to deepen concepts and provided thoughtful perspectives.”

Fu most recently taught Vinson-Maitlandt in the Stewardship and Global Environmental Challenges course (EMT 365). The course provides a brief history of how we got to the present environmental crisis, the role of human behavior in that journey, especially as it relates to population growth, use of technology and affluence, and system changes needed to be stewards of our earth.

Since Fu and Vinson-Maitlandt’s first meeting in class, they have developed a friendship outside UMGC through Citizens Climate Lobby, an organization focused on national policies to address climate change. Fu invited Vinson-Maitlandt to attend a conference through the organization two years ago to speak as a representative of FEMA.

“One of the workshops talked about the impacts of climate change to the Mid-Atlantic and specifically New Jersey,” Vinson-Maitlandt said. “I did flood house-mapping when I worked for contractors of FEMA, so I understood the coastal impact and wanted to share how FEMA responds to all sorts of events, such as a hurricane like Sandy that devastated the coastline, and what the expectations are.”

Today, she still supports the Delaware chapters of Citizens Climate Lobby by identifying what is happening in that state regarding clean energy. She also keeps elected officials and other groups in Delaware informed.

In Vinson-Maitlandt’s current role as emergency management specialist with FEMA, she resides in Dover, Delaware, but travels 90 percent of the time to help with emergency recovery response in the United States and its territories. Vinson-Maitlandt’s team writes grants to assist communities seeking financial recovery. She recently was in Kentucky—the site of an early 2021 ice storm and flooding—to help the police, road and fire departments, and other public entities, with their financial recovery process.  

Vinson-Maitlandt’s experience with FEMA began in 2012 in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Without power for nine days, she felt the need to lend a hand. Even then, while working full-time, Vinson-Maitlandt continued her UMGC classes toward her bachelor’s degree.

“The journey Edie took to keep going with academics, amid serving communities one emergency after another, is inspirational,” Fu said.

Looking to the future, Vinson-Maitlandt plans to use her degree by applying in 2022 for a position on a FEMA strategic group created to focus on climate change.

“It would be really exciting for me if I could get this detail and contribute a little bit of what I learned and what I see happening with regards to climate change and helping our agency formulate a message,” Vinson-Maitlandt said. “By incorporating these concepts and policies into what FEMA does and how we respond, it will benefit people with a little more thought.”

Protecting the Capitol After the January 6 Riot Didn’t Deter Paul Cooper from Earning His MBA, Only Delayed It

On Jan. 6, 2021, Paul Cooper and his wife were celebrating their three-year anniversary over dinner at home when his phone lit up. He was to report the following morning for duty. The next evening, he and his unit stood guard at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., where he spent 30 days, including during the presidential inauguration.

“Fortunately, nothing major happened at the Capitol, and no one was hurt or injured after the 6th,” says Cooper, who recently earned an M.B.A. from University of Maryland Global Campus.

Cooper’s wife was pregnant at the time, which made it scarier to not know how long he would be gone, and the pandemic was a concern given the tight living conditions for him and his colleagues, who weren’t yet able to vaccinate.

Having just finished his first assignment in a course, Cooper was anxious to stay on track, but he contacted his professor at UMGC, who said the course was very intensive. He decided to drop out that semester, in part to maintain his 4.0 GPA. He knew he would re-enroll the following semester—which he did—but he was disappointed to part with his cohort, to which he had grown attached.

Cooper engaged in independent study and preparation after his activation ended, and he and his former cohort stayed in touch. Classmates would text and check in on him. He got back on track and having now finished his degree and with military benefits remaining, he is weighing future options, including a second master’s degree, a doctorate, or several graduate certificates.

“I feel so accomplished,” says the Cincinnati native, who helps manage a traumatic brain injury clinic as a health systems specialist for the Defense Health Agency. “I know that this has opened the door for me in my current position to advance and get me to those upper-level management positions. I would like to hopefully manage a clinic at a military treatment facility.”

After graduating from the College of Mount Saint Joseph, where he played football and majored in history, Cooper taught junior high school at a small charter school. He had recently married and had two young children, so he decided to join the military to support his family and to repay his student loans.

While stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Cooper was able to meet a UMGC advisor face-to-face, which was hard to do with other schools. The advisor was very helpful and explained the process, he recalls. He was weighing a second bachelor’s in education, but the advisor helped him get into the M.B.A. program.

He recommends UMGC to working adults who have been out of school for a while or want to study with other adults. “It helps to ease a lot of fears and tension about working in groups,” he says. “We all understood that we all had competing priorities and were willing to give each other grace. I think the teamwork and support were so important. We had so many different abilities that you could always find someone with experience in each of the subjects that we had.”

Using Personal Tragedy from the Pandemic Inspires Mahawa Bundor to Reach Higher Goals

It would be an understatement to call the past two years “difficult” for Mahawa Bundor. The Sierra Leone, West Africa native—who moved to Maryland with her family at age 10—was studying full time in the master of science in cybersecurity technology program at University of Maryland Global Campus while raising her 12-year-old son as a single mom. Both of her parents contracted Covid. Her mother was hospitalized for two weeks and came home with oxygen, but her father tragically passed after fighting for his life, ventilated, at the hospital.

“I was completely heart-stricken after my father passed due to his complications from Covid, for I loved my father dearly. But I was not as sad as I was stressed and overwhelmed with responsibilities,” Bundor says. “I learned of true dedication to education when working on my master’s degree. I got a better handle on juggling school, work, and home life, and I learned that everything is earned.”

Somehow, Bundor summoned the energy and fortitude to complete her studies and to earn a 4.0 grade point average despite all of the hardships her family faced. “I was not going to disappoint myself by allowing my personal problems of my home life, global pandemonium, and bad health to get to me so much that I neglected my schoolwork. No!” she says. “The day after receiving the terrible and traumatizing news of my father’s passing, I studied harder and sacrificed my time to classes and dedicated myself to continue to focus on my son.”

She has never worked harder in her life than she has in the past two years, Bundor says. She kept telling herself that things were only going to get better and drew inspiration from the Frederick Douglass declaration, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.” She also realized that with family support and her own self-motivation that she was not alone.

Being empathetic and deeply-loving are among Bundor’s greatest strengths, the self-declared extrovert and “friendly person in general” believes. She brings those attributes to the mental health field in which she works.

After earning a bachelor of social work from University of Maryland Baltimore County, she practiced as a student intern at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. Initially, she aimed to pursue case management, but she then decided to study cybersecurity at UMGC to bring technological skills to her social work.

“Due to the high demand of technology these days and everything gradually transitioning into digital models, I realized that with a technology degree under my belt I would be able to grow further within my career into this emerging, crazy crypto world,” she says.

Bundor speaks highly of both the campuses and atmosphere at the University of Maryland systems, which she calls “exemplary” and motivating, and she particularly wanted to study cybersecurity at UMGC, because she knew it was so well regarded.

“UMGC gave me the platform to continue my educational goals by providing the proper tools to help reach my great accomplishments,” she says. “It provided the most patient professors, centers for research, labs, books, tutors, and workshops to improve the educational process.” And where one can feel alone in graduate school, UMGC offered Bundor a “gentle push” to keep striving and succeeding.

“The first day of graduate school was surreal,” she remembers. “It suddenly hit me that I was no longer a child. Every decision that I made henceforth could have the ability to dramatically change my life for the better or the worse. UMGC has made my future life better.” She wishes her father was here to congratulate her on her newly minted degree, but she also knows he is looking down, happy, and smiling upon her.

Down the road, she intends to advocate for women on health issues, including focusing on fighting human trafficking and domestic violence (of which she is a survivor). She also has her eye on a career in the federal government focused on cybersecurity. “Dreaming big is a scary thing,” she says. “The goals that I have set for myself to reach are high up in the sky, but they are not impossible.”

Ramon Perea Uses His UMGC Degree as Springboard to a Master’s in Security Studies at Georgetown University

Ramon Perea embarked on a new adventure with the U.S. Air Force when he was just 21 years old and left his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Today, he calls Hyattsville, Maryland, home.

He is still on active-duty status with the Air Force—but something important has changed.

Perea officially completed his Bachelor of Science in Computer Networking and Cybersecurity and Political Science this month. Thanks to the flexibility and virtual learning offered by University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), he was able to maintain his full-time job as a network analyst in the Air Force while expanding his knowledge of the cybersecurity field and exploring political science and computer networks.

“The first few years while I was studying at UMGC, I was working shift work and I wanted to continue my higher education. An in-person program would not have been feasible,” Perea said. “Recently, with COVID, most programs had to shift toward online. We already had a model set [with UMGC] and I felt like I just kept going as I was.

“I think for what UMGC does, they do it very well,” he added.

Since Perea enrolled at UMGC five years ago, he has joined Pi Gamma Mu, an international honor society for the social sciences, as well as two other honor societies. He is a member of SALUTE, a nationally recognized organization for military and veteran students, and he belongs to Alpha Sigma Lamba, which celebrates the scholarship and leadership of adult students in higher education in the United States.

“From Day One, Ramon was fully engaged in my American Foreign Policy class. He interacted constantly with his colleagues in the course and showed in-depth understanding of the readings and discussions and solid insights into relevant areas, enriching the class for everyone,” said Mary Frances Lebamoff, PhD, collegiate professor and program director of the Department of Political Science and Government. “His two papers were among the best in terms of research, outstanding thesis statements and mature, well-considered conclusions.”

Perea first heard about UMGC at the education office on his base, Fort Meade. The rest is history.

“I initially started at UMGC with the intent to study cybersecurity to gain more knowledge for my current job, but along the way I discovered how much I like political science, so I added another major,” Perea said.

While in the Air Force, he has lived in California, Texas, Florida and now Maryland. His first role was as a linguist. Eventually he shifted to become a network analyst.

In January 2022, Perea will pursue a new opportunity by beginning a master’s degree in the security studies at Georgetown University.  That multidisciplinary program is designed to prepare graduates for positions within the defense and security fields.

“I want to take the technical side of what I learned through UMGC and through my experience in the military and then apply it to a broader picture. I’m very excited,” Perea said. “I hope to find a job in the foreign policy field where I’m working with other nations or policies with a cybersecurity focus.”

FAA Capstone to Protect U.S. Airspace Helps Data Analytics Grads Advance their Military Careers 

Two active-duty servicemembers in the Master of Science in Data Analytics Program at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) have become the first students to complete a new capstone project co-sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

The goal of the FAA capstone was to detect when an aircraft deviates from its air route. Being able to spot and predict deviations quickly is critical to maintaining the integrity of FAA-imposed flight restrictions. 

“I participate in many roles in the battlespace,” said Sarah Gaylord, a captain in the U.S. Air Force and a recent graduate of the data analytics program. “I manage gas plans and airspace safety, aid fighter aircraft in their tactical intercepts and communicate a common operating picture of our area of responsibility to upper echelon leadership.”  

For Gaylord, who is busy with her work as a battle manager, participating in the FAA capstone was the perfect fit. Likewise for Oscar Cardec, a fellow graduate of the data analytics program who joined the Air Force in 2000 as an aerospace maintainer on AC-130H gunships.  

Capstone projects with industry partners are an invaluable part of the last course in the data analytics graduate degree program. Gaylord and Cardec earned their degrees this December. 

“Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic, several partners discontinued their involvement with UMGC for a variety of reasons,” said Elena Gortcheva, program director of the Master of Science in Data Analytics. She intensified her search for industry partners last spring, and her deep alumni network paid off.  

“I have been using my professional contacts since 2015 to start projects with partners such as NASA, USAID, American Institute of Research and the Department of Defense,” Gortcheva said. The FAA capstone came about when a recent UMGC graduate, Sarah Eggum, led Gortcheva to Sherri Shearon of the Chief Data Office at the FAA. After several meetings with Shearon, the two arrived at a number of project proposals from different FAA units. They selected two for UMGC under adviser Mike Paglione of the FAA Research Division.  

The two projects, with UMGC professors Jon McKeeby and Hany Saleeb serving as advisers, are now part of the collection of capstone projects for data science.  

The Data Analytics Capstone course allows students to demonstrate, through hands-on experience, a complete data science experience that includes problem scoping, dataset preparation, comprehensive data analysis and visualization, and the use of advanced machine learning techniques to develop a predictive model.  

“Students must tell a story and explain their project approach and results along with recommendations for future work” said Gortcheva, who noted that capstones benefit both students and industry. “Students gain exposure to real analytics problems using industry data and, quite often, the industry partner will recruit them after having evaluated them on the job.”  

Gaylord brought a unique perspective to the capstone. “One of the functions of my job is airspace management and making sure the area we are in charge of stays safe, which is very similar to the air traffic control [ATC] function of the FAA,” she said. “The concepts of ATC are ideas that I have been working around for the last five years of my career, so I was excited to see if I could apply my experience to this new project.” 

Gaylord believes the FAA capstone project will help her progress in the Air Force. “I hope to get to 20 years of service and apply the lessons from this project to products in my own squadron,” she said. 

For Cardec, the capstone offered an opportunity to complement his academic accomplishments with a real-world perspective.  

“I successfully presented various classification predictive models, expanded on the rationale behind each of the models and elaborated on possible applications,” he explained. “The deliverables were immediately accepted by the Chief Data Office and lauded as novel groundwork for further expansions.”  

Paglione at the FAA mentored Cardec and Gaylord during the project, providing focus and guidance.  

“He offered insights into what would work and what wouldn’t for the project,” said Gaylord. “At one point, I started moving down path he thought wouldn’t work and he helped to steer me in a more beneficial direction.”  

At the conclusion of their capstone, Gaylord and Cardec presented to a team from the FAA Aviation Research Division and a data scientist from the Chief Data Office. The two-hour presentations described their traffic data research on spotting when aircraft deviate from the route the FAA has given them.  

The presentation brought positive outcomes. The FAA wants to continue working with future students in the UMGC program. The agency invited Gaylord and Cardec to present their findings to its upper management and executives, and the FAA now wants to hire them.  

Like many UMGC students who are balancing work and school, juggling the capstone amid the demands of military service was a challenge.  

“As a captain and instructor in an operational squadron, I have a lot of responsibilities just in the office alone, but I also have to maintain physical fitness standards,” said Gaylord. “I managed by working on most of my schoolwork over the weekends.”  

For Cardec, the capstone was part of an important personal accomplishment.  

“Being the first person in my family, where English is a second language, to attain a graduate degree means a lot,” he said. “I am grateful for the shoulders that have carried me to this point, and I am looking forward to additional challenges and opportunities to put in practice my skillset before embarking again onto my next educational endeavor.”  

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.