President Biden Appoints Two Prominent UMGC Alumni to Leadership Roles

By Gil Klein

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her UMGC classwork meshed with those interests.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Reflection on the 20th Anniversary of September 11: President Gregory Fowler On a Dark Day in Our Nation’s History that also Reminds Us of Who We Are at Our Very Best 

As national leaders, family members, friends and fellow citizens gather in New York City, at the Pentagon, in Pennsylvania—and around the world—commemorate those who perished in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, UMGC President Gregory Fowler’s message to the university community resonates with reflections of courage and sacrifice, and hope for a more peaceful future. 

To the UMGC Community:  

Today—on the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001—we honor the memories of those who lost their lives in the attacks, mourn with all who lost loved ones and friends, and reflect on the courage and sacrifice of countless first responders, servicemembers, and civilians who were injured or died in rescue and recovery operations or in the international conflict that followed. 

While September 11 represents a dark day in our nation’s history, it also stands as a reminder of who we are at our very best, when we reach out with open hearts to those who are suffering and in need. 

Today and always, let us seek to be that source of comfort and support and, together, make our world a better, more peaceful place for all. 

Sincerely, 
Gregory Fowler, PhD 
President 
University of Maryland Global Campus 

Maryland Parks Association Recognizes Student Projects Focused on Environmental Management

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

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

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

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

Flag Ponds Nature Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yes, and there was a pandemic underway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

University of Maryland Global Campus’s Institutional Advancement Team Sweeps Hermes Creative Awards for Quick Transition to Holding Highly Successful Virtual Events

University of Maryland Global Campus swept the international 2021 Hermes Creative Awards for creative communication, winning platinum, gold and honorable mention for work the Institutional Advancement team did to reconfigure  events online to accommodate COVID-19 restrictions.

The annual Hermes Awards are granted to universities, Fortune 500 corporations, nonprofit organizations and advertising and public relations agencies in recognition of innovative communication work.

“You are being judged by your peers, by marketing communication professionals who identify work that’s above and beyond the scope of the standard for the industry,” said Nikki Sandoval, UMGC’s associate vice president for Alumni Relations.

The university was “able to adapt and move quickly” when the pandemic struck, said Cathy Sweet, UMGC vice president for Institutional Advancement. She credited support from other university units for allowing her team to take risks—and ultimately, succeed—and the awards recognize the university’s commitment to supporting students and alumni.

The Platinum Award went for the work done for the “Giving Day 2020: One Day of Giving, A Lifetime of Impact” campaign.

Giving Days are 24-hour fundraising challenges that rally groups of people around a particular cause through digital communication, targeting alumni, students, staff and supporters.

UMGC held its first Giving Day in 2018; it has since become an annual event. In 2020, Giving Day was scheduled for May 27, but once the pandemic struck, plans were adjusted quickly. The university realized the greatest immediate need was to establish a student emergency fund, later named the Student Aid Fund for Emergency Relief (SAFER), and the date was moved up to raise urgently needed money.

Even with employees in the midst of an abrupt transition to remote work, Institutional Advancement staff were able to meet an 18-day deadline to create a strategy for messaging, images, social media, email templates, data segmentation and website, and the campaign launched more than a month early, on April 20. The multi-channeled campaign raised $41,433, a 205 percent increase over Giving Day 2019, with almost all of the gifts were aimed at the SAFER fund, surpassing the goal set for that aspect of the effort.

The Hermes Gold award was presented for the UMGC Ehrensberger Legacy Society Induction Celebration that was held virtually on June 16, 2020, in lieu of the annual in-person luncheon.  The Society recognizes the university’s major financial supporters, inducting new members and seeking prospects for future members.

In the past, the event attracted about 25 local Maryland residents. But on just 40-days’ notice, the Institutional Advancement team converted the event to a virtual format, while accommodating many attendees who were elderly and sometimes not as technology-savvy as younger demographics. The event drew 87 attendees from seven states and Washington, D.C., greatly expanding its reach.

“What was originally an obstacle that we were a little nervous about turned into a great win,” Sandoval said.  “All of those who wanted to participate could. They don’t always have the ability to do that if the event is in-person.”  

The Honorable Mention award was granted for the “Alumni Homecoming and 30th Annual Awards: Together We Are UMGC” campaign.

As a worldwide campus, the university put on three events in one day focused on its three divisions: Europe, Asia and the United States. In 2019, the event attracted 375 attendees. By shifting to a virtual format, the university was able to accommodate  673 participants from 31 states and five countries.

Even more important, Sandoval said, UMGC was able to use Whova mobile and a web app that allowed the participants to customize their experience, seeking out fellow alumni with similar interests.

Four networking “lounges” allowed alumni to congregate with people who shared their interests, and by the time the event was over, the alumni participants had created another 20 lounges of their own. More than 250 discussion boards were also set up along with 144 meet-ups during the event.

“This put the power in their hands for how they wanted to network,” Sandoval said, “how they wanted to communicate with each other, and they have continued access to that.”

It was groundbreaking, Sweet said. “I believe we got this award because we developed something that no one else was doing. The team came together in the time of global crisis and found an alternative way to execute our plans.”  

She is “proud of the team,” said Sweet, and grateful for “the trust and support of leadership to make changes quickly to support the global UMGC student and alumni community.” The awards program is administered by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brig. Gen. Janeen L Birckhead to UMGC Class of 2021: “Think Critically and Act Intentionally”

Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead, commander of the Maryland Army National Guard, called on University of Maryland Global Campus graduates to help others, pursue self-improvement, and focus on solutions in her keynote address at the university’s 2021 Virtual Spring Stateside Commencement. Herself a UMGC alumna, Birckhead commanded the National Guard troops that protected the U.S. Capitol and presidential inauguration following the failed insurrection of January 6. 

Keynote Speaker Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead

“There is no lack of talent for identifying problems,” Birckhead said in her keynote. “However, fewer people can identify solutions, and even fewer are prepared and able to take action on that solution. Use what you have learned, and the relationships you have built through the UMGC program to think critically and act intentionally.” 

Watch Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead Keynote Address 

Birckhead said graduates should “stay grounded and help others. We all stand on the shoulders of giants who have gone before us. Be a giant in the life of someone who wants to be a solution finder, not a divider.” She added, “Commit to spending time every day in the pursuit of self-improvement, and actuating your plan. This will change you. This will change how you see the world, and it will change how the world sees you.” 

Read UMGC Global Media Center Feature Story About Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead 

The 2021 virtual commencement website also features the complete commencement program, including the conferral of degrees by UMGC President Gregory W. Fowler, a message from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, a roll call of graduates—including their photos and quotes—as well as congratulatory messages from UMGC faculty, staff and friends. 

UMGC President Gregory Fowler

UMGC Virtual Commencement Website

The site was visited by more than 14,000 unique viewers on Saturday, May 15, and messages on social media garnered more than 55,000 views. The ceremony will remain available for on-demand viewing through October 15, 2021. 

Raymond Fisher, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, spoke on behalf of the graduating class. Fisher, who traces his lineage to a slave owned by George Washington, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in information systems management after a 25-year journey.  

Watch Raymond Fisher Address 

A native Washingtonian, Fisher was the youngest of six children and orphaned by the time he was 11. Yet three of the six children now hold UMGC degrees. After graduating from high school and attending Anne Arundel Community College, Fisher joined the Marines, serving two combat tours. 

He attended Purdue University but left to work as a junior engineer, rising to a software programmer and tester in the dot-com era.  Often the only person of color in his office, Fisher acknowledged that he “dealt with the challenges that came with that.” 

Watch WJLA-TV ABC 7 Feature Story on Raymond Fisher 

Student Speaker Raymond Fisher

Six years ago, he decided it was time to finish his bachelor’s degree, “with all of the early mornings, late nights and family time that had to be managed, not sacrificed. It took all of the courage, self-discipline and integrity that I developed growing up and solidified in the Marines, where I became a man.” 

He faced an inner journey, as well, acknowledging that “I have a little boy, trapped deep inside of me, who is so afraid to fail. So, he hides. But in this journey, I had to open the door within me. Take him by the hand and say, We need to step outside, outside of the comfort zone to the limitless possibilities life has to offer.’” 

Noting that he and his fellow graduates were tested by having to complete their degrees during the coronavirus pandemic, Fisher said: “It did not shake our resolve. Instead, it brought us closer together, more determined than ever, even as we mourn those who have fallen to this illness. At the start of spring semester, I had two classmates become ill with the virus. But our professors showed compassion and empathy, extending deadlines, and allowing my classmates to focus on their health. It made a huge difference. They both are graduating with us today.” 

Read UMGC Global Media Center Story about Raymond Fisher

“We—the class of 2021—collectively say, Here we are,” Fisher concluded. “We’re fierce, confident, and ready for any challenge, shaped by the academic crucible of this institution of excellence.” 

Governor Hogan also highlighted the perseverance of the graduates completing their programs during the pandemic. 

“Normal life came to a screeching halt over the past year, and it forced all of us to pause and reflect on the things that truly matter,” Hogan said. “Staying apart from friends and family reminded us how much we depend on and need each other to get through the hard times. We were reminded that each day is precious.” 

Watch Maryland Governor Larry Hogan Address 

With the end of the pandemic in sight, Hogan challenged the graduates to “remember that each of us can make the days ahead count that much more.” 

In special remarks to graduates who are active-duty military servicemembers and veterans, UMGC’s senior vice president for Global Military Operations, Maj. Gen. Lloyd “Milo” Miles (U.S. Army, Ret.), praised their achievements and urged them to “acknowledge all of those who have helped them along the long path to get to this day. 

“There were probably parents, mentors and children and close personal friends who encouraged you to keep it up [and] press on,” said Miles. He continued, “When you were tired: press on. When you were sick or discouraged: press on.  When you didn’t think you could do any more: press on. Wherever they are, you owe them a debt of gratitude. Please take some time today to reach out and thank them.” 

From the perspective of a distinguished 32-year military career, Miles said that “what truly matters in life is not the amount of education a person has or his race or his economic background or station in life. What matters is how you treat others. It’s about your heart and your commitment to your fellow man. It’s about sacrifice and honor and loyalty.” 

Watch Special Message from Maj. Gen. Lloyd “Milo” Miles (U.S. Army, Ret.) 

UMGC Graduate Mariya Wasti’s winning entry in the UMGC cap decorating contest.

Vivian Mojica, another 2021 graduate, sang the university’s alma mater at the conclusion of the ceremony. Mojica earned a Bachelor of Science in Social Science. 

Mariya Wasti, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Health Services Management, received the most votes in a cap decorating contest that included more than 100 entries. Her winning cap featured the Arabic phrase “Alhamdulillah”—which means “thank God”—in gold lettering surrounded by white and pink beads and a turquoise fabric boarder. Wasti said her faith “kept her motivated and determined on achieving my life goals. I also believe God always has better plans for us.”  

Snapshot of UMGC graduates for 2020-21: 

  • UMGC held separate commencement ceremonies in Asia (April 24) and Europe (May 1) to accommodate graduates who are serving in the military overseas. 
     
  • Total number of graduates worldwide: 13,171 
      
  • Locations of our graduates:  All 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and 32 countries and territories. 
     
  • Youngest graduate: 17 years 
     
  • Oldest graduate:  78 years 
  • Average age: 35 years 

Descendant of Slavery’s Compelling Life Journey Includes Military Service, a Musical Gift–And Now a UMGC Degree

Editor’s Note: Raymond Fisher recently was featured in WJLA-TV ABC 7’s Spotlight on Education series. Click HERE to watch.

Raymond Fisher is a father and grandfather, a technology professional, a musician, a military veteran and the descendent of an enslaved woman on George Washington’s farm. He now is adding another descriptor to his life: college graduate.

After a 25-year interruption in his education, Fisher earned a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Management from University of Maryland Global Campus. Even more, he was selected as student speaker for the virtual commencement on May 15.

Ray Fisher will address his fellow graduates as the student speaker at the UMGC virtual commencement ceremony on May 15.

Fisher, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who served in the Gulf War, said the degree may not be his last engagement with UMGC. He wants to use his military benefits to enroll in a master’s program “and then look into getting a Ph.D.”  

In the late 1990s, Fisher was enrolled at Purdue University, pursing a degree in mechanical engineering, when he withdrew from his studies to raise a family.

“I was working and studying at the same time, and I made a decision that was in the best interest of my family,” he said. In the years that followed, he made a good income. The lack of a college degree wasn’t an obstacle in the fields where he worked: engineering, construction, project management and, eventually, Internet technology.

“Then, about four years ago, I was caught up in a cycle of layoffs at Freddie Mac. I looked for job opportunities and found a match with Booz Allen,” Fisher said. The IT consulting company was keen on him until it learned he had no college degree.

“That’s when I made a decision that I would never be turned away from a job because I didn’t have a degree. I enrolled at UMGC and picked up where I left off—a bachelor’s degree I had abandoned 25 years earlier,” he said.

Fisher was raised in a family where education, music and church were valued. His mother was a nurse and his father a teacher. In the District of Columbia neighborhood where he grew up in the 1970s, there was a lot of political activism; it was the stomping ground of Marion Barry and others who would become political players in the nation’s capital. Barry, who later served four terms as D.C. mayor, lived only two doors away.

“It was a very progressive time and we were exposed to a lot. I was enrolled at the first D.C. public school program for talented students,” he said. But his life was thrown off kilter when his mother died. He was 9. Two years later, his father died. 

The youngest of six children and the only boy in his family, Fisher was cared for by family members in Dallas, Texas, and spent summers in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He lived in Maryland for his sophomore, junior and senior years of high school, attending Forestville High School in Prince George’s County. There, he entered the ROTC program “and joined a Go-Go band called Players Choice, which was managed by our shop teacher.” As a member of the band, he performed at a concert with Public Enemy, which he describes as his “15 minutes of fame.”

Fisher said his lifelong love of music started in his church. Later, during eight years of military service that began when he was 19, he was exposed to both music in other countries and the global influence of American jazz and R&B. Today, he jams with his son, an aspiring hip hop musician, in a basement music studio. Percussion and rhythm are Fisher’s passion.

“I’m a helluva beat maker,” he explained with a laugh.

Like many UMGC students, Fisher juggled a job while studying. Even after a car accident left him with a concussion, he pushed through with his coursework. He attributed his drive and resilience to his roots, including enslaved ancestors and his father’s Native American background.

“I am an African descendent of slaves. An ancestor on my mother’s side was a slave of George Washington. A grandmother was a runaway slave in Texas,” he explained. “I don’t look at my family’s link to slavery as a prideful thing. It was an atrocity. But that’s who we were and we take pride in who we are.”

Fisher said getting his bachelor’s degree was made more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic, but he credited his UMGC professors for being compassionate and working with students—including some on a class project team—who contracted the coronavirus.

“It was a long journey to get me to this point. There have been a lot of trials and tribulations,” Fisher said. “But one thing that helped is that at UMGC, I felt like we had a community.”   

UMGC ALUMNA BRIG. GEN. JANEEN L. BIRCKHEAD HAS SUCCEEDED BY “HAVING A PLAN—AND A PLAN TO CHANGE THE PLAN”

Rising to the Top Echelons of the Maryland National Guard, Birckhead Excelled at Leading National Guard Troops from Around the Country in Protecting the U.S. Capitol After the Failed Insurrection
and During the Presidential Inauguration in January

As a young girl growing up in Snow Hill, a small hamlet on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead wanted to be a civil rights lawyer. Public service and community involvement were hallmarks of her immediate and extended family; her mother was a judge and several aunts were teachers.

A good student, Birckhead scored a prestigious summer internship when she was in high school, working as a page in the U.S. Senate, a position sponsored by Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland. She majored in political science at Hampton University in Virginia, but instead of moving on to law school, chose a career in public service and the military.

Birckhead’s decision was rooted in a lesson she learned from her mother when Birckhead was a sixth grader. She had stayed up late to finish a poster, and on her way to school the next day her mother let her know that she had done a good job. Later, though, she pointed out that the poster could have been great, if only Birckhead hadn’t procrastinated.

“I received the message loud and clear,” Birckhead vividly recalled. “I needed to take charge of my life and not let things distract me.”

Fast-forward to her senior year of high school, and Birckhead’s mother was at it again when Birckhead was applying for financial aid. She mentioned an Army ROTC scholarship, and her mother questioned whether Birckhead would be chosen in the highly selective process.

Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead

“I enjoyed competition,” said Birckhead, taking on her mother’s not-so-veiled challenge with gusto. In reality, her mother was not surprised when Birckhead earned the scholarship, which changed the trajectory of her daughter’s life.

Birckhead’s ability to switch gears and adapt, “to have a plan, but also a plan to change the plan,” she says, has served her well as she rose through the ranks, first in the Army reserves and then for the next 27 years (and counting) of her distinguished career in the Maryland Army National Guard.

She has been a chemical officer, an Aide de Camp to the Adjutant General of the Maryland Guard, commanded troops at the company, battalion and brigade levels, and served with distinction as a team leader and the Designated Military Officer for the Office of Administrative Review for the Detention of Enemy Combatants at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Birckhead has also deployed on two separate missions to Afghanistan, first supporting plans to field and grow the Afghan National Security Forces as Deputy Operations Chief, and more recently as Division Chief for Logistics at the Joint Forces Headquarters.

After commanding a regional Army training institute, Birckhead went back to Capitol Hill and directed the Legislative Liaison Office for the Maryland National Guard.

She followed her mentor, Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, in company command, battalion command and, in 2018, as assistant adjutant general for Army, when Singh promoted Birckhead to the position Singh once held.

“I admire and hold her in high esteem and seek her counsel,” said Birckhead of Singh, who retired in 2019. “She is a role model and someone who can give me another perspective on what’s going on in the world.”

Birckhead was part of a first-in-the-nation all-female state National Guard command staff, which also included April Vogel, who was promoted by Singh to assistant adjutant general for Air several months after Birckhead, and Command Sgt. Maj. Perlisa D. Wilson, the highest-ranking enlisted person. Birckhead takes extra pride in the fact that she, Singh and Vogel are also women of color.

“I didn’t even realize that it was going to line up this way,” Singh told The Washington Post in 2018. “It’s not like I engineered it for all of them to end up in these positions. It just so happened that these talented ones started rising to the top.”

It was another Birckhead mentor, Gen. James F. Frettered, who encouraged her to join the National Guard in 1993 and who emphasized the importance of education as the key to her advancing up the ranks.

His advice had an immediate effect. Birckhead enrolled at University of Maryland Global Campus (then University of Maryland University College) in fall 1993 because of its reputation as a flexible option for people like her who must juggle a full-time job and military service. Birckhead was doing both, working in legislative affairs on Capitol Hill and serving in the National Guard.

“The military teaches you to think a certain way, so it is important to attend a university outside the service to be able to think more broadly about issues,” she said.

Birckhead earned a master’s degree in management from UMGC and attributed the program with helping her to prioritize, take her critical thinking skills to another level and better articulate concepts. She added that having older students in her classes at UMGC elevated the discourse.  “Many of my fellow students had more life experience and were working in a variety of different fields, so I was learning not just from my professors.”

She also earned a master’s degree from the U.S. Army War College, preparing her to succeed in her leadership roles in the military, and ultimately leading to her assignment commanding Task Force Capitol, following the failed insurrection on Jan. 6 and continuing through the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20.

People asked, “Why her?” Birckhead’s response: “Why not me? I worked on the Hill, I know it very well. I’m a leader. I’ve led at every level. I can do this.

“Not to say it wasn’t a very big challenge,” she added, “working in an environment that was volatile and uncertain. It was important that I was able to build a strong team [at the Maryland National Guard] and bring them with me.”

Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead was named by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to lead the state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Task Force.

Birckhead commanded more than 16,000 National Guard troops from across the country and was impressed with their dedication. “Having soldiers from every state on the ground, as professionals coming together and perform, was extraordinary,” she said.

Reflecting on a remarkable moment, Birckhead, who had been looking out from the Task Force operations center on the day of the inauguration and observing the peaceful transfer of power, said, “it was very moving for me and for all of the soldiers who were guarding our democracy that day.”

Following her role at the Capitol, Birckhead was selected by Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to head the COVID-19 Vaccine Equity Task Force. She currently juggles that responsibility with her position as deputy commanding general for reserve affairs at the U.S. Army War College.

Her accomplishments stand out, underscored by the fact that she has also held full-time civilian positions during her entire National Guard career. Among those roles, Birckhead, who is currently a senior advisor in the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau Trust Funds Administration, has also served as a special agent in charge of Defense Security Service and has worked in the Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights field at the Office of Personnel Management.

As a distinguished UMGC alumna, Birckhead will present the keynote address at the university’s stateside virtual commencement ceremony on May 15. What will she tell graduates? “Be proud of the degree and let it be known you are a UMGC graduate—and go back and tell your story.”