UMGC Highlights Fire Prevention Month and Educational Opportunities Available to First Responders

October is Fire Prevention Month, and last week (Oct. 3-9) was recognized as Fire Prevention Week, which aims to raise awareness on fire safety to protect people and their homes. Faculty experts from the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) recently discussed fire safety tips and how UMGC educates first responders, law enforcement and other professionals.

“The latest fire safety campaign recommends sleeping with your bedroom door closed, so it puts that barrier between you and the fire and controls the spread, and also to create an evacuation plan for your house,” said Ralph Hutton, collegiate associate professor for homeland, intelligence and emergency management. “Make sure your smoke detectors are working and your batteries are replaced every six months.”

Hutton is currently updating content for Fire Prevention, Organization and Management course, which is part of the Fire Administration minor at UMGC for undergraduate students. Other courses in the minor include Fire and Emergency Services Administration, Personnel Management for Fire and Emergency Services, Community Risk Reduction for the Fire and Emergency Services and Emergency Services Training and Education. All the classes are modeled after the National Fire Academy’s Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education curriculum.

The Fire Administration minor can accompany one of the following bachelor programs: public safety administration, homeland security, investigative forensics or legal studies. Graduate students can also advance their knowledge by obtaining a master’s degree in one of three specialties: emergency management, homeland security management or intelligence management. Certificates are available as an undergraduate in Public Safety Executive Leadership or graduate Homeland Security Management specialization.

“We have instructors with extensive experience and students who are working in the field themselves, so the scholar-practitioner is a benefit to our students,” said Christopher Swain, program director for the public safety administration program at UMGC and a retired Major from the Harford County Sheriff’s Office in Maryland. “Our instructors have a range of professional backgrounds from fire chiefs to emergency managers.”

Brian Powers, program director of homeland, intelligence and emergency management and

collegiate associate professor, pointed out that emerging technologies play a crucial role in educating professionals to respond to fire emergencies, natural and human-made disasters, urgent situations and much more. 

Recent innovations include fire behavior computer modeling, which can help assess risks before wildfires start and project their path and growth. 

“The use of drones is increasingly important for firefighters because they can be equipped with sensors, which can produce infrared photos and artificial intelligence of the fire area,” Powers said. “This helps gather information for the positioning of firefighters and managing resources.”

The impact of climate change is a growing factor attributed to the frequency of wildfires in the United States. Last year, an estimated four percent of California’s total land burned in numerous and more intense wildfires. 

Sabrina Fu, program director and collegiate professor of UMGC’s environmental science and management program, says, “The experts often say climate change is a threat multiplier for fires because of droughts and extreme weather.”

Powers highlighted the intertwined responsibilities of law enforcement, public safety and emergency management when dealing with various crisis situations, including wildfires. “If someone set a fire, all three sectors could be involved in the investigation” Powers said. 

For more information on UMGC’s various program offerings available to first responders or law enforcement, visit umgc.edu.

World Teachers Day: A UMGC Classroom Can Be Anywhere

John Barbato has an uncommon claim to fame: He has taught for University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) on three continents.

“I’ve been all over Europe, the Middle East and South America for a year when UMGC had a program in Montevideo, Uruguay, in the early 1990s,” he said. “I’ve also had the privilege of being deployed to many remote sites like Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Bahrain. The list is long.”

Barbato is one of approximately 565 UMGC overseas faculty members for whom a classroom may be any place in the world. These educators usually teach in education centers on military bases—except when COVID-19 drove them to online education platforms—but they also have moments where a class might unfold in a tent, in a building stairwell, in a bunker.

They are drawn to the experience because of their links to the military, by their interest in nontraditional students, by their love of travel or, sometimes, by all three.

On Oct. 5, World Teachers’ Day, the experiences of these UMGC teachers especially resonate.

UMGC Psychology Professor Mindy Otis said teaching in a global classroom has been her best job. She enjoys her students and she gets to indulge her lifelong love of travel. Before joining UMGC as a full-time faculty member, she had multiple positions in the education field, including as a special education administrator and a school principal.

“I was living in Connecticut and I didn’t like the job I had. It was very stressful. I was looking for a change,” she said. She spotted a UMGC advertisement for overseas teachers and applied.

That was seven years ago, and she hasn’t looked back.

For Renaldo Walker, teaching at UMGC has an intensely personal significance. Walker is both a former servicemember and a former UMGC student. Deployed to Germany to support Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, he began studying German through the university. Today he is a full-time faculty member teaching graduate and undergraduate business, human resources and project management classes in Germany.

“The experience of being away from the United States and still having the possibility to pursue a valuable education with a respectable institution was influential in paving the way to where I am now,” Walker said. “I always valued what it meant to me as a member of the military to be academically supported away from home.”

Walker, even while teaching, continues his own education at UMGC. He is pursuing a doctorate in business administration.

Walker noted the irony of his current career, given that he was interested in sports—not education—when he was young. He described himself as an “at times below average” student when he joined the Air Force in 1987.

Several years into his military service, he felt “it would be an honor to travel abroad and pay service to our military members, Department of Defense employees and contractors, and their families in their pursuit of academic accomplishment.”

Gretchen Koenig, meanwhile, had always wanted to teach outside the United States. A professor of English, speech and writing since 2016, she said her position with UMGC in Europe “was a perfect fit.”

The theme for World Teachers’ Day in 2021 is “teachers at the heart of education recovery.” When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, most stateside UMGC classes were already online or hybrid, which is a combination of online and in-classroom. At military education centers overseas, however, in-person classes were the norm.

The pandemic was a game changer. Walker described it as “the biggest challenge that I have experienced” in teaching.

John Nolan, a UMGC professor of history, leads field study courses in which students do online work and reading then meet for guided travel marked by lectures, museum visits, meetings with local experts and other on-the-ground experiences. Nolan was in London with a field study group when he got word that countries were locking down because of the novel coronavirus. His students managed to finish their trip, but a field study program in Spain was derailed mid-week.

Despite needing to shift gears for COVID-19, Nolan said he enjoyed the challenges that came with teaching online. “Though the classes have been small, the students have responded well and produced some of the best work I have seen from undergraduates so that, too, is rewarding,” he said.

Otis, meanwhile, was teaching in Korea when the global lockdowns started. “I’ve been in quarantine four-and-a-half times,” she said, “but being in Germany or Korea, compared with the United States, was much more restrictive. We were shut down and the only thing you could do was go to the grocery store or pharmacy or pick up takeout.”

She said the isolation of lockdown was hard, and her students in Italy and Germany seemed to arrive at the Zoom classes seeking both academic and social engagement.

“My students would stay online after class and we would all chat. It was our social exposure,” she explained.

Indeed, the interaction with students—and the opportunity to unleash their potential—is one of the things that drives Walker passion for teaching. He recalled the time when an MBA student was in touch to say a job would prevent her from attending the first cohort weekend in his class. Shortly afterward, Walker learned that the student was taking steps to drop the course.

“A program coordinator … was instrumental in advising her that she should first speak with me before doing anything further. She agreed, we eventually spoke and during our telephone conversation, she began to cry and explain to me that the office where she worked was understaffed so she was working most weekends, and that she was trying her hardest to establish work-life balance while also being a wife and mother of three,” Walker said.

The student was ashamed that she wasn’t keeping pace with the rest of her cohort.

“I went on to make a deal with her that she should suspend all efforts to catch up on her classwork until she had the opportunity to meet with her cohort. If she still felt ashamed after that point, then I would fully respect her wishes to withdraw from the course,” Walker said.

She went to class, met the other students and explained her situation.

“Needless to say, she fell in love with the cohort, caught up with her classwork, confronted her [work] manager about the importance of her pursuing her education and became one of the best students that I ever had,” Walker said. The woman completed her MBA, becoming the first woman in her family with a graduate degree.

Otis, too, finds it gratifying to see her students achieve.

“My students are the best part of the job. They never cease to amaze me,” she said. “Some of them come out of less-than-stellar K-12 education and they think they aren’t college material, that they can’t learn. Then they come to UMGC and realize, ‘Hey, I can do this!’”

Koenig noted that teaching servicemembers overseas often feels exactly like teaching students stateside—and then she is reminded of “the different stressors that our students have to content with.

“Many of these students are away from home for the first time, living in a foreign country, and many are facing deployments or training to additional countries. They are trying to maintain a stable life at home while everything around them is different,” she explained. “That potential loss of equilibrium can make classes more challenging.

“The actual classes and classroom interactions aren’t different, but the concerns or distractions weighing on our student’s minds certainly are,” she added.

Barbato said it’s not only the unexpected experience of teaching against a backdrop of different countries, cultures and challenges but, sometimes, the unusual form the classrooms themselves take.

On the first night of a teaching assignment in Kandahar, Afghanistan, his class was interrupted by sirens signaling a rocket attack. He was instructed to crawl under a table in the classroom until the group moved to a bunker.

“Once in the bunker, which was pitch black, I asked, “Can I still talk?’” Barbato recalled. “I was told I could, so I continued on with the class as I would have anywhere, going over the syllabus, the assignments, forming groups and talking about human resource management.

“We had been in the bunker for almost two hours when a student said, ‘Professor, it’s nine o’clock,’ pointing to his watch. The class was scheduled to go from 6 to 9 p.m.

“I said, ‘Do you have somewhere to go?’ We all laughed a bit and then we kept discussing human resource management until we were given the all-clear sign,” he said.

Not surprisingly, many of the UMGC faculty overseas love being on the road, and they take advantage of the opportunity to travel when they can.

Otis is an old hat at off-the-beaten-track experiences. On one trip she visited an amusement park in the bottom of a salt mine in Turda, Romania. On another, she tried out a multi-level trampoline in a coal mine in northern Wales. A 5,000-miles road trip took her through several countries.

“Before I came to UMGC, I was a normal suburban soccer mom. I went to work, I came home, I did potluck,” she said. “I love the life I have now. Next weekend I’m going hiking by myself in the Canary Islands.”

In Nolan’s 23 years with UMGC, he has taught in nine locations in Germany, six in the UK, four in Italy, three in Belgium and two in Bosnia. He has also had multiple postings in Kuwait, Bahrain, Afghanistan and Diego Garcia. His field study courses, notably in Ireland and France, give him an extra opportunity to travel when he’s not at his home, a small farm in rural

Cornwall where, as he puts it, “I wear bib overalls a lot.”

For all his postings with UMGC, Barbato’s link to the university came through his father who retired from the military, served as dean of the European operations of a U.S. college that no longer exists and then taught at UMGC for 17 years.

Just out of college and ready to begin a job as an investment banker in New York, Barbato found his father trying to lure him back to Europe, where Barbato had attended school on military bases.

“My father had financed my studies in the form of a loan. He told me, that if I came over to Europe and taught with him for one year, he would erase the loan,” Barbato said. “That one year turned into 32 years and going.”

Barbato teaches business courses, including management and marketing. He is assigned to Germany’s Ramstein Air Base, the same base where his father served. At the Commencement ceremony marking the last year his father taught, the father and son—both UMGC faculty members—walked across the stage together.

UMGC Partners with FPA NCA to Offer Free Financial Advice 

Last month, staff and students from the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) Certified Planning Program (CFP) collaborated with the Financial Planning Association National Capital Area (FPA NCA) to host a virtual Financial Wellness Day. The event offered the public an opportunity to take part in pivotal educational workshops and receive one-on-one advice from a certified financial planner.  

“The UMGC Virtual Financial Wellness Day was the first time many attendees met with a financial planner,” said Kathleen Sindell, CFP, program director and professor of finance and economics. “Before the day, many of our UMGC personal financial planning students had never spoke with an expert planner about their day-to-day duties and experiences.”

Sindell and Peter Munger, JD, department chair of finance and economics, coordinated the event with the help of FPA NCA, industry speakers, and UMGC Certified Financial Planning program students and staff volunteers. Thanks to the day’s success, nearly 80 individuals received free, private consultations on financial issues ranging from household budgeting, debt, income taxes, mortgages, college expenses, estate planning and insurance. 

The day was structured so participants could attend up to three presentations in a virtual auditorium, in addition to one-on-one financial counseling. The presentations addressed key personal finance topics, such as basic investing and retirement and estate planning. Three lucky participants walked away with one door prize, which included the AverMedia Live Streamer Webcam, Apple AirPods and Fitbit Versa 3 Motivational Smartwatch. Participants also received 30-day access to the Financial Wellness website.

“I enjoy being able to give each client a personalized experience. In fact, my five-year goal is to become a financial adviser at a small to medium-sized financial advising firm,” said Rachel Woodward, a finance major at UMGC and student volunteer at the Financial Wellness Day. “I am currently working as a financial advising intern at Global Advisor Group in Reston, Virginia. My ultimate goal is to earn my CFP certification.”

The 2021 Financial Wellness Day provides valuable financial advice to those who needed it, and UMGC aspires to continue this important service. A survey will go out to attendees in October, and plans are in the works to use the feedback to plan a financial wellness event in 2022.

2021 GenCyber Campers Gain the Toolkit to Prepare the Next Generation

High school teachers gathered virtually for an intensive week-long workshop designed to help incorporate cybersecurity into school curriculum. The program, offered with the support of University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), provided educators with an array of skills, games, labs, and supporting tools and technologies to take back to their classrooms.

“What stood out to me was the way that we were able to build a community of teachers by the end of the week,” said Brandie Shatto, program chair for the GenCyber camp and professor of instructional technology at UMGC. “We were able to incorporate activities throughout the camp that required collaboration and allowed the teachers to get to know each other and the instructional staff.”

Last offered in 2019 as an in-person event, this year’s July 26-30 camp was delivered via Zoom, but that did not stop participants from thriving in a collaborative environment.

Kyra Walker

The teachers came from high schools in five Maryland counties, as well as the District of Columbia, northern Virginia, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. They represented a broad range of subject areas, including homeland security, computer science, data structures, engineering, networking, and library sciences. The program exposed them to the many facets of cybersecurity.

“I hope to give my students an insight to an undiscovered portal,” said Kyra Walker,a resource teacher for the gifted at the Arlington Career Center in Arlington, Virginia. “I’m looking forward to incorporating the skills of ethical hacking into our problem-based learning projects.”

Leading the instruction at the event were Shannon Beck, assistant professor of computer and cyber sciences at the United States Air Force Academy, and Kim Mentzell, cybersecurity program manager at the Maryland Department of Commerce.

“The diversity, deep experience, and interest of the teacher participants was particularly notable this year,” said Beck. “One of the notable interactions was a debate about privacy centered around views for cell phone access.”

In addition to cybersecurity training relevant to grades 9–12, camp participants receive cybersecurity curriculum development support, resources to take back to the classroom, a $1,300 stipend for full program participation, and a certificate of completion.

UMGC Opens Permanent Education Office at Morón Air Base in Spain

Following a tradition that spans more than seven decades of providing education to U.S. military personnel serving overseas, University of Maryland Global Campus has opened a new permanent office at Spain’s Morón Air Force base, which often serves as a jumping-off point for deployment to Africa.

It becomes the university’s 51st permanent location in Europe, and the second in Spain.

“Expanding in Europe demonstrates UMGC’s commitment to providing the best opportunities for American service personnel to access higher education while they are deployed,” said Tony Cho, the university’s vice president and director for Europe. “This is just the latest example as we continually look for additional ways to improve our services on the continent.”

The base is crucial to the American military capability in the Mediterranean and North Africa, he said.

Morón, which is shared with the Spanish Air Force, is located in Andalusia, the country’s southern-most region, near the town of Morón de la Frontera. It is less than an hour away from historic Seville and 75 miles northeast of Naval Station Rota. Its massive flight line, in-ground refueling system, long runway and prime location near the Mediterranean and the Middle East make it an important link in any U.S. operation moving east from the United States.

In 2015, the Spanish government granted the U.S. military a permanent presence on the base, allowing up to 3,000 American troops and civilians of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Taskforce – Crisis Response – Africa and the 496th Air Base Squadron to be stationed there with up to 40 aircraft.

In the past, UMGC’s presence at the base was using university personnel from Rota to occasionally set up a table to answer questions and to sign up students. This agreement allows for a permanent office, Cho said. The university sought the expansion after Girlie Ann Barcinas, who had worked with UMGC in Bahrain, moved to Morón when her husband was appointed principal at the base Middle School.

The UMGC Europe division was established in Germany in 1949, as the first university to send faculty to educate active-duty U.S. military personnel overseas after WWII. The division provides services to approximately 14,000 students annually in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa (europe.umgc.edu).

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UMGC Grad Student, UMBC Alum, Team Up on Winning University System of Maryland Public Health Multimedia Challenge

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MLK Scholar Inspires Next Generation of Civil Rights and Social Justice Activists

The Black Lives Matter Movement is allowing a new generation to define the struggle for equality and to learn who their allies are, Dr. Clayborne Carson told a University of Maryland Global Campus audience gathered virtually on Jan. 21 to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Every generation must determine who we are—and answer the question, “Where are we heading?” he said. Continue Reading