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

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

Matthew Sinclair

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

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

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

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

Isa Martinez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caren Clift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UMGC Mentors Share Their Career-Shaping Wisdom to Help Others

A mentor has the power to make a life-changing difference in someone else’s career. In recognition of National Mentoring Month this January, mentors in UMGC’s alumni career mentors program share insights about how they use their time and talent to help others reach their professional goals.  

“Mentoring has the potential to make a huge impact on up-and-coming professionals, which is why the university offers, Community Connect,” the increasingly popular mentor program, says Nikki Sandoval, associate vice president of alumni relations. “We’re so grateful to our talented and generous alumni who give so selflessly to help other professionals get ahead.” 

Here’s some key advice from some of UMGC’s alumni career mentors:  

Dr. Catherine Pearson ‘11 
Business and Management PAS, MBA 

Why do you mentor?  
When I contribute to the development of mentees to become more innovative thinkers, they can reframe their own experiences. They can consciously make informed decisions about their careers. When mentees accomplish their goals, I feel honored to celebrate with them. 

What’s your best advice for up-and-coming professionals?  
When choosing a career path, don’t be afraid to step out into an uncomfortable environment and experiment. Use LinkedIn or other social media platforms to leverage your research. Seek out professionals who currently hold the job title within the industry you want to pursue. Learning directly from professionals in your field will impact the direction of your career. Request a 15-minute phone call followed by a visit to the organization or a virtual orientation.  

Ask questions about the day-to-day demands of the job. Find out if your skills fit into the job or industry. Build on your skills and strengthen other areas. Be open to exploring opportunities that contribute to your desires of where you want to be in your career. Getting there may require change. Have a mindset of flexibility and implement the needed changes to get you there.  

Find a mentor with the experience and accomplishments that will most support you during your journey. Be sure the mentor’s values align with your values—filter on the importance of integrity. Engage and invest your time in getting to know your mentor. Demonstrate your potential by action. Follow up and share your progress, clarify what you want, and determine if they are a good fit to help you move from where you are to where you want to be. Cultivate the relationship  before  you ask them to be your mentor.   

How can a mentor help students who are just starting out?  
As mentors, we have to be careful not to assume that students have the same desires as we do, even though they may pursue the same career. Challenge students to maximize their potential in discovering their passion and where they fit into the world. Help them explore opportunities by providing resources and introducing them to partnering networks. Be that champion for them. Celebrate their successes to let them know they have support.  

What are some of the benefits of mentoring?  
As a mentor, I connect with mentees and build trust. They have a safe space to share their concerns, worries and personal life decisions that may affect their careers. Creating a safe space fosters a culture of growth and leadership for mentees. Mentoring helps stretch me, further develop as a leader and gain new insights into generational differences. 

What key lesson have you learned during your career? 
Challenges create growth and development opportunities. The bigger the challenge is, the stronger we become if we remain steadfast as we work through those challenging opportunities. 

Aisha Summers ’16 and ‘19 
Bachelor of Science in Laboratory Management, Master of Science in Biotech-Regulatory Affairs 

Why do you mentor? 

Mentoring is one of the ways I give back. Personally, I didn’t have much luck with mentorship when I began my professional career. I had to seek out most of the information I yearned for by reading career-advice blogs and then make sense of it all on my own. My hope is to be a source of information and support system to someone else that needs it.  

Most importantly, representation matters. I mentor so that someone else sees the reflection of a woman of color, mother, wife and person with dyslexia navigate a successful career.  

What’s your best advice for up-and-coming professionals? 
Invest in yourself by keeping your resume up to date. You never know when you’ll need it to justify a promotion or entertain a new position.  

Avoid becoming complacent. Take on new challenges by volunteering for a task or project at work. This is how we grow as professionals and gain expertise in our industry or profession.  

How can a mentor help students who are just starting out? 
Students just starting out have a lot of questions and many times are overwhelmed or feel uncertain about what is next for them. The biggest help a mentor can provide a student who is just starting out is to be supportive and encouraging,  

What are some of the benefits of mentoring? 
Mentoring is a pathway to new professional relationships. A mentee can become a professional colleague. I love seeing a text or email from a mentee who wants to share a new achievement or success.  

What key lesson have you learned during your career? 
Eventually I learned to reduce stress and burnout. I bought a planner specifically for work. It helped me take notes in meetings, prioritize my tasks and better communicate my workload with my leadership. 

I have also learned that any position I hold needs to be mutually beneficial to the organization I work for and to myself. My advice is do not stay in any position that is not providing you an opportunity to grow personally and/or professionally. 

David Austin ’17 and ’20  
Master of Science in Cybersecurity Policy, MBA  

Why do you mentor?  
I mentor with the hope I can inspire other people that they are capable of doing anything they really see in their hearts and minds.  

What’s your best advice for up-and-coming professionals?  
Have an open mind and be flexible. Most importantly, be prepared. There is no easy road in terms of paying your dues. The younger that you are, the more opportunities that come your way. Really be prepared to make sacrifices.  

What are some of the benefits of mentoring? 
The biggest benefit to mentees is that they start getting different ideas. I mention different ideas and different paths they may never have thought of before. I think that’s what’s helpful. 


What key lesson have you learned during your career?  
The one thing I learned from a security information perspective is that in in other businesses, we are taught to take the initiative and not ask permission to do things. That’s fine, but in cybersecurity, I learned that you have to ask permission. You have to work as a team.  

Esther Ndungu ‘15 
Bachelor of Science in Gerontology & Aging and Psychology 

Why do you mentor? 
As a military spouse and mother of two boys, attending school was an endeavor I did to better myself and to expand my knowledge on different subjects. I had a great learning experience while attending school at UMGC, so mentorship is my way of giving back to the school and a way to guide the current students to achieve their academic goals.  

What’s your best advice for up-and-coming professionals? 
I would advise an upcoming professional to choose a career that is in line with their hobbies. They will be motivated and excited whenever they engage in work that they enjoy. 

How can a mentor help students who are just starting out? 
I did not have a mentor when I started college, and because of this, I made so many mistakes along the way by trying out everything. It became overwhelming, and at some point, I did not have the motivation to continue pursuing my educational endeavors. Guiding students who are just starting out to create practical schedules is essential in ensuring that they have enough time allocated to attend to personal matters, as well as staying active in school.  

What are some of the benefits of mentoring? 
Mentorship is like having VIP access to specialized information that would help one advance faster. The mentee gets to avoid some pitfalls because they can leverage both good and bad experiences from others, enabling them to implement aggressive strategies to their goals. 

What key lesson have you learned during your career? 

Over the cause of my career, I have come to learn the value of properly picking out electives in school and the importance of strategic partnering, or networking. In general, these present unique opportunities to expand an individual’s scope and enhance necessary skills for future growth and success. 

Keith Gruenberg ‘94 
Bachelor of Science in Management Studies 

Why do you mentor? 
I enjoy encouraging others and providing guidance and alignment to help them navigate an ever-changing world. I remember transitioning out of the military and all the unknowns and trying to work through all the challenges on my own. I’m hoping my mentoring helps reduce challenges and anxiety and results in each person taking a giant step forward in his or her career.     

What’s your best advice for up-and-coming professionals? 
Know what you are looking for or at least what gets you excited and network, network, network. There are many options out there, but you can speed up the process by knowing what you are looking for and what are your must-haves for a company. Building a broad network will hopefully get you introduced deeper into a great company with a great fit.   

How can a mentor help students who are just starting out? 
When a student is just starting out is the perfect time to connect with a mentor. A mentor can provide assistance on navigating college courses and aligning that to a potential career aspiration. Connecting with a mentor from the start allows you to build a relationship and grow with the student as they work through key education and employment decisions.   

What are some of the benefits of mentoring? 
Mentoring keeps me connected to the new workforce and keeps me connected with current trends in business. I want to be as prepared as possible to provide great support and guidance based on the current business situation. It also helps me to understand the concerns and focus for students getting ready to join the workforce. I feel like I’m making a difference and giving back.   

What key lesson have you learned during your career? 
Nothing comes easy in the real world. You have to want it and work for it to make it happen. If you don’t get it, pick yourself up, determine where you need to improve and try again. Persistence and tenacity are your friends.   

Interested in mentoring through UMGC’s Career Connect program? 
If you’re looking for a mentor or would like to sign up to become a mentor, visit careerquest.umgc.edu to learn more about UMGC Career Services and to register to participate in the Community Connect program. To speak with someone directly about the program, contact communityconnect@umgc.edu.

Read more UMGC Alumni News

UMGC Event Looks at Martin Luther King Jr. through a Personal Lens

A University of Maryland Global Campus event to honor the civil rights legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. spotlighted the rich personal recollections of Juandalynn Abernathy, the daughter of one of King’s closest friends and partners in the civil rights movement.

Abernathy is the oldest daughter of civil rights leader Ralph David Abernathy, who was one of the strategists of the yearlong Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was also King’s successor as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which organized some of the civil rights movement’s most iconic nonviolent protests.

Juandalynn Abernathy

During Wednesday’s webinar, which was part of the university’s Martin King Luther Jr. Day activities, Abernathy talked about the man she called “Uncle Martin” and detailed the deep friendship between the Abernathy and King families. She noted that her father was an early driver of the effort to name a national holiday in King’s honor.

Abernathy also discussed what she described as the “very scary” complacency and current backsliding on voting rights in the United States. 

“If people do not come together to fight this, we’re going to have a similar situation that we had in the ’50s,” she said. She encouraged both activism and education.

“There is hope, there is really hope, but we have to begin … with children. They are the future. We, as parents, have to talk to [young people], to open their minds to history so that history does not repeat itself,” Abernathy told the nearly sixty people in Europe, Asia and the United States who joined the UMGC discussion.

The event was hosted in Germany, where Abernathy lives and works as a singer and vocal coach.

UMGC Europe Vice President and Director Tony Cho said presentations like Abernathy’s not only offer a rare look at the personal experiences that mark moments in history, but they also underscore an essential responsibility of education.

“As an educational institution, we have a role in keeping history relevant,” he explained.  

Abernathy, born in 1954, described herself as the first child of the civil rights movement. She lived in a house where the changemakers of the era held meetings. King’s year-younger daughter Yolanda was her friend and playmate.

Abernathy’s childhood edged up against some of the country’s most transformative—and tragic—moments, including King’s 1968 assassination. Her father was with King in Memphis to provide support to striking sanitation workers at the time of the shooting.   

“I do remember my father taking me to school before he got on the plane to go to Memphis and I asked him when he was coming back,” Abernathy recalled. “He had a strange look on his face. ‘I don’t know. This is a really tough fight. And I don’t know when we’ll be back.’

“And a couple of days later Uncle Martin was shot,” she said.

Abernathy was on a phone call with Yolanda King when she learned about the shooting. Another friend had called in on one of other phone lines in the Abernathy house and told her to turn on the television.

Immediately the Abernathy house became a hub of action, with people at the door and the telephones ringing.

“I kept praying that he would survive the shooting,” she said. She called King’s death “devastating” for her family.

During her presentation, Abernathy reminded the audience that the civil rights movement was started by “energy generated from women,” referring to the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the women who refused to ride the buses to their jobs. She said her mother typed letters—and paid young boys to distribute them—to let people know of the boycott.

She also discussed her father’s arrests, the bombing of the Abernathy home and her father’s calling as a pastor, like King. Unlike King, however, she said her father insisted that his children be present at important marches—except in Birmingham. “We used to say as children that it was ‘Bombingham’ because so many bombings were taking place,” she noted.

Tucked in with the serious memories were happy ones. She recalled the first time she took a plane with her family. They traveled to Los Angeles where they went to the world’s fair and saw the opening of the movie, A Raisin in the Sun, starring Sidney Poitier. She also mentioned two summer vacations at Coney Island with the King family.

UMGC Collegiate Associate Professor of History Michael Mulvey kicked off the virtual presentation by detailing King’s connection to Europe, starting with King’s father’s 1934 trip to Germany where he learned of the religious reformer Martin Luther. At that time, owing to King’s father’s admiration of Luther’s story, the child who had been christened Michael, had his name changed to Martin Luther.

As an adult and religious leader, King returned to Europe and Germany multiple times, Mulvey said. The civil rights leader visited both East Berlin and West Berlin to spread messages of reconciliation, democracy, and nonviolent resistance. Mulvey said King was surprised by how much Europeans knew about the civil rights movement. He was also interested in understanding the shifting social concerns of European Christians and how they tied their religious beliefs into other social movements including environmentalism.

Patricia Jameson, UMGC director of Overseas Diversity and Equity Programs, organized the event with Abernathy to advance the public conversation focused on diversity and the role the community can play. She echoed the speaker’s message that “education is key” to social progress.

University of Maryland Global Campus Joins Wiley’s Extended Learning Network

UMGC will now offer degrees for Wiley Beyond’s Network of 80 Companies and 500,000 Employees 

Adelphi, Md. (Jan. 11, 2022)—University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), a pioneer in providing innovative and quality academic degree programs for adult and underserved populations, has joined Wiley, a global leader in research and education, in an alliance that adds UMGC to Wiley’s Extended Learning Network. This network includes 57 partner schools that support degrees and reskilling programs through Wiley Beyond, the company’s tuition benefits solution, and the 80 companies and 500,000 employees currently partnered with Wiley Beyond will have access to UMGC’s more than 90 fully online degree programs and specializations.   

As part of this agreement, UMGC will work with Wiley and workforce development agencies around the country, as well as with community colleges that are seeking more efficient access to bachelor’s degree programs.   

“We are pleased and proud to partner with Wiley to develop a more skilled workforce,” said UMGC President Gregory Fowler. “Our experience with establishing transfer relationships with community colleges will benefit the participants in Wiley Beyond and increase the pipeline of students who are completing bachelor’s degree.” 

“Through Wiley Beyond, Wiley offers one of the most extensive learning networks for employer-sponsored education programs,” said Todd Zipper, president of Wiley Education Services. “We’re excited to add University of Maryland Global Campus to our learning network to provide more learners with affordable, accessible and outcomes-driven education.”   

UMGC enrolls more than 90,000 students each year, more than half of whom are active-duty military personnel and their families stationed on military bases around the world.  

The university also offers award-winning online programs in disciplines including biotechnology, cybersecurity, data analytics and information technology that are in high demand in today’s increasingly technical, global workplace. UMGC also offers cost savings through its use of digital resources, which have replaced costly publisher textbooks in most courses.  

About University of Maryland Global Campus 

Celebrating its 75th anniversary, University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) was established in 1947 to serve adult students outside the traditional campus, including military servicemembers and veterans. Today, UMGC enrolls some 90,000 students annually, offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs, as well as certificates in more than 90 fully online programs and specializations.
 
UMGC was the first university to send faculty overseas to teach active-duty military personnel at installations in Europe, beginning in 1949, expanding to Asia in 1956 and to the Middle East in 2005. UMGC faculty have taught in the war zones of Vietnam, Kosovo, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq.   

UMGC now offers classes to military service personnel and their families at more than 175 locations in more than 20 countries. More than half of the university’s student body are active-duty military personnel and their families, members of the National Guard and veterans.  

About Wiley

Wiley empowers researchers, learners, universities, and corporations to achieve their goals in an ever-changing world.

For over 200 years we have been helping people and organizations develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. We develop digital education, learning, assessment, and certification solutions to help universities, businesses, and individuals move between education and employment and achieve their ambitions. By partnering with learned societies, we support researchers to communicate discoveries that make a difference. Our online scientific, technical, medical, and scholarly journals, books, and other digital content build on a 200-year heritage of quality publishing.

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.”

UMGC Cyber Competition Team Concludes Fall 2021 Season with 1st Place Finish at Parsons CTF

Adelphi, Md. (Dec. 28, 2021)–The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) cyber competition team placed first in a capture-the-flag (CTF) competition sponsored by Parsons Corporation, a global provider of cyber and converged security services.

The jeopardy-style event tested participants’ skills on a range of relevant topics, including network forensics, coding, web hacking, cryptography, analytics, penetration testing, malware analysis, algorithms and reverse engineering. Normally a face-to-face event, the team participated remotely due to ongoing pandemic restrictions.

“This win provides a nice bookend to a successful season, which started with a first-place finish at Parsons in October,” said Jesse Varsalone, associate professor of Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigations at UMGC and coach of the competition team. “The skills tested in this competition will help current and future team members gain the real-world experience they need to network with prospective employers and advance their cybersecurity careers.”

At the Dec. 7 event, which attracted cybersecurity professionals and students of all skill levels, UMGC scored 9912 points to beat out 11 other teams and take first place. The UMGC team included current students Tim Nordved and David Saez, along with UMGC faculty members Jesse Varsalone and Matt Harvey, an adjunct professor in the School of Cybersecurity & Information Technology.

Established in 2012, the UMGC cybersecurity team is composed of students, alumni, and faculty who compete regularly in digital forensics, penetration testing, and computer network defense scenarios that help them gain experience to advance their cybersecurity careers. To prepare for competitions, students detect and combat cyberattacks in the university’s Virtual Security Lab and work through case studies in an online classroom. Through its history, the team has received numerous top honors, including recent first-place finishes in the 2021 Maryland Cyber Challenge and the 2020 MAGIC, Inc. capture the flag competition and a second place finish in the 2012 Global CyberLympics.

About University of Maryland Global Campus

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

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.”

Duane Tyson Works on the Frontlines of the Pandemic and Follows His Passion to Serve the Needs of Others

Duane Tyson has been at the tip of the front line fighting Covid.  As a respiratory therapist, he is, as he says, the last person someone fighting the virus wants to see. He’s the guy in the emergency room who is prepping the patient to be put on a ventilator, a difficult last stage in treating the disease.  “During this whole pandemic, when they talk about the frontline person, I’m that guy,” he said. “I’m the vent man, and I’m the one who puts a tube down your throat and manages your breathing. I’m always trying to help people breathe easier.” 

That means Duane, who now lives in Glen Bernie, has worked long hours at Mercy Medical Center and University of Maryland Rehabilitation and Orthopedic Institute with little time off as the disease has surged and waned and surged again. 

With all that, Tyson has completed a UMGC Bachelor’s degree in psychology in time to graduate in December.  Even more amazing, he is almost finished with an MBA. 

He said his hospital job has been so intense that he never would have started this academic work during the pandemic.  But by the time Covid hit, he already had mastered the skills of online learning and was comfortable navigating courses. 

“The pandemic really didn’t leave any leeway for me doing anything else,” he said. “I was forced to do mandatory overtime. So, I was really challenged.” 

He said he has not asked any professor for special consideration in making course deadlines. In fact, he has downplayed his hospital work while communicating with teachers and fellow students. 

“I never wanted to make it my focus,” he said. “I was just hanging in there with everyone else. I never wanted to make it about me.” 

Growing up in Baltimore, Tyson started working in the mental health field right out of high school. 

“I was always that person who was listening to people, trying to solve other people’s problems,” he said.  

Working in hospitals, he started looking around at different positions.  Respiratory therapy caught his attention, and he earned an AA degree in it at Baltimore City Community College. That led to a career that has spanned more than 20 years. 

But he saw he didn’t want to do that forever. So, for his Bachelor’s, he returned to his first love of psychology. 

“It was my safe zone,” he said. “It was a place that always made me feel at peace. It felt like it was something I understood. I could work with somebody, and it was always a heartfelt type of expression. When I started doing the class, it just seemed natural.” 

So why now pivot to an MBA? 

Doing graduate work to qualify for psychology positions would take so long, he said, and the clock was ticking. Like so many people during this pandemic, he is weighing his options for the future. He believes the MBA will qualify him to get into health care administration.  

“I’m working 12-hour days, and I’m not the young person I used to be,” he said. “My job needs a lot of energy – working with the patients, flipping them, turning them, trying to do whatever I had to in order to maintain their breathing efforts is really challenging. It made me reflect on life.”