Alumnus Credits UMGC Degree for Shaping Federal Career

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the Great Resignation: The Great Hiring?

Upheaval in the labor market continues, changing the way people view the jobs they have and the careers they want. University of Maryland Global Campus experts looked ahead to the job market in 2022, including where opportunities will be found, how salary and benefits are being reshaped, and the toolkit job seekers will need.  

The U.S. Department of Labor opened 2022 by releasing its latest job market data, which showed that 4.5 million people changed or left jobs in the month of November. The quitting rates continue to outpace hiring. UMGC Associate Professor of Economics Matthew Salomon said the so-called Great Resignation is the sign of a strong economy.

“If people are scared about jobs they don’t resign,” he said. “Even though inflation is high right now we’ve recovered ahead of what was anticipated with the pandemic.” 

Salomon noted that a COVID-19 halt in visas for foreign workers and a crackdown on undocumented workers has also contributed to the labor force shortage. “And of course, there are the mothers and fathers who left the workforce because child care was not available and their children had to go to school remotely,” he said. “That is an unfortunate loss of talent.”

What do job seekers want?

“That’s a loaded question with multiple layers,” said Darren Cox, UMGC senior director of employer relations and student affairs.  “To a large degree, it’s about quality of life. During the pandemic, people have had more time for retrospection.” 

Workers are shifting careers—and career fields—in a quest for greater opportunities, higher salaries and work conditions that better dovetail with their lives. Cox said some UMGC students and alumni have told him that flexible work hours are important. People want to escape long work commutes. Entrepreneurship is also experiencing an uptick.

As they seek out safer working conditions and wages that allow them and their families to progress, Cox said UMGC students seem especially interested in jobs that are remote. “Our students are accustomed to being virtual, so they’re able to adapt to that type of environment,” he said.

A guarantee of job security has also gained new traction. The onset of COVID-19 pandemic left many people unsure whether they would have a job from one day to the next.

Francine Blume, assistant vice president of career development at UMGC, said the trends may reflect the fact that for some workers “their values simply changed.”

“After getting a taste of a healthier work-life balance, many workers are moving on to jobs that offer greater flexibility so they can spend more time with their families or enjoying other personal pursuits,” Blume explained.

What jobs are in demand?

IT and cybersecurity jobs remain hot. These are career fields with opportunities to advance. Even more, employees can often work remotely, making these safe positions during the pandemic, and the hours may be flexible. But job applicants should be aware that the skill sets sought by tech employers are changing. 

“From an employer’s perspective, they’re looking for people skilled in data aggregation and data analysis. They need people who understand cloud infrastructure,” said Cox. “This is a huge shift from just knowing a basic language like JAVA.”

Tech job opportunities are especially rich for professionals in automation, robotics, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Shuruq Alfawair, UMGC job development and placement specialist, said tech leaders maintain that they are not trying to take away human jobs but, rather, to make people more productive.

“How will that disrupt how we hire? We don’t know yet,” Alfawair asked. “Some people may feel like it’s an Armageddon, but it is not. It’s just the reality of the future of technology.”

There are extraordinary job opportunities this year for nurses, health care administrators, technicians and other medical professionals. Increased numbers of workers are needed to manage the COVID-19 crisis, at the same time that burnout and illness at the front line have brought waves of resignations—in a field that faced worker shortages and high turnover even before the pandemic.

The health care labor deficit has been exacerbated by the growing need for care for the large Baby Boomer population and ongoing worker shortfalls in rural areas. At the same time, the ongoing push toward robotics has shaken health care, requiring workers to have more technology finesse.

Within the business arena, Cox said, project managers are in demand. Business analytics, too, remains a strong field for job applicants in 2022.

Increasing numbers of CEOs say they want employees who thrive as part of a team. Salomon said job applicants with military backgrounds are especially well-suited for that workplace culture. Companies across the country are also working more conscientiously to diversify their workforces.

The mass exodus from the service industry, including the hospitality sector, has left a surfeit of jobs there. Low wages and a fear of COVID-19 spurred many of those departures. 

“There was also the great rudeness of people,” Salomon noted, a disturbing trend that may have roots in the stressfulness surrounding the pandemic. “And there are workers who have decided to go back to school.”  

What about job training?

Degrees continue to open doors, and certifications in particular skill areas add oomph.  Employer-offered training and education are also on the rise, but they are starting to look different.

“Employers are offering apprenticeship programs that are done remotely. These are surfacing because employers are finding skill gaps,” Cox said. “Prior to the pandemic, most of these were in person because the thought was that someone early in their careers needed hands-on learning. The pandemic has taught employers that they can do this training remotely.”

TEKsystems, a UMGC employer, is one of many companies moving toward training boot camps. TEKsystems has reshaped itself as an all-remote IT staffing firm and its employee training is also now virtual. 

“They’re offering interesting training opportunities. They have a boot camp that pays the participants a stipend. It is full time and remote,” Cox said. “Because it is full-time, participants can’t balance a full-time job with the boot camp, but it is a great training opportunity.”

For its part, UMGC participates in SkillBridge , which collaborates with several organizations—including government agencies—to provide skilled training, internships and other workforce experience to individuals transitioning from the military. 

Where’s the money?

Some workers are shifting careers to boost their salaries, but Cox said job candidates might want to think about compensation beyond the dollar signs, particularly if training programs are part of the job offer.

“Sometimes our students aren’t willing to take a pay cut for an apprenticeship program, for example. They are older, often with families, and for someone who has been in the workforce for 15 years, the idea of taking an apprenticeship that means transitioning to a salary that is less than they currently make is not appealing,” Cox said. “But they need to look at this long term.”

He said jobseekers who sign on to lower-salary cybersecurity apprenticeships, for example, could earn back lost income within a couple of years—and their future ability to earn would be much greater.

“There are people who will get entry-level jobs in the $60,000 a year range,” Cox said, “but with expertise in AI or automation, they’ll be able to command a salary at or well over $100,000.”

Better pay is also one of the drivers of the growing trend toward entrepreneurship.  

“If you’re underpaid or underemployed, then you tend to look at other avenues for income. Also, many people want to work for themselves,” Cox explained. “And there is the idea of legacy building. The older you get, the more purpose you want. The average age of our students is 32. As someone gets into their 30 s and 40s, they start to think more intentionally about their career and where they see themselves long term. 

“They’re ready to take what they’ve learned from their workplace and make it their own.”

And job benefits?

The desperation to fill job vacancies in some career areas has sparked new benefits, including big hiring bonuses—even for hourly workers—as well as more flexible work schedules, wage increases and educational or professional training benefits.

“Money is very attractive, but time has become a draw. Maybe the work hours are not so exhausting. Maybe the schedules are better,” said Blume. “Or maybe the work allows people to make decisions on their own without micromanagement.”  

Education remains a coveted benefit in 2022, with employers looking at that perk in new ways. Amazon, which had been helping hourly employees at its fulfillment centers obtain associate degrees while still working, has now upped the ante. It is paying for bachelor’s degrees. UMGC has been education partner with Amazon since 2019.

“Even more interesting is that Amazon’s previous position had been “we’ll pay for you to get an associate degree while you work for us because, after a while, we want you to leave us for a better job,” Blume said. “Now they’ve changed the model to ‘we are a great place to work and we’ll pay for your education—even a bachelor’s degree—so you stay with us.’”  

There are also signs that workers will move to or remain at lower-salary companies if the benefits include childcare, paid leave and remote or hybrid work.

Salomon said federal and local governments need policies that makes the workplace more attractive. He cited childcare as an increasingly important benefit, especially in attracting and retaining female workers. Also urgently needed, he said, is immigration policy designed to fill job gaps and education reform that dovetails with labor market needs. 

Building a Job Search Toolkit for 2022  

UMGC job development and placement specialist Alfawair keeps an eye on what’s ahead. What she’s seeing for 2022 and beyond is “dynamic, fast-changing, and exciting.” 

On the employer side, companies are thinking about ways to disrupt hiring practices so they can better evaluate job candidates. In an unusual move, a few employers in fall 2021 bypassed resumes in favor of social media platforms, including TikTok.

“These were warehouse-worker companies or restaurants seeking line cooks, including Chipotle,” Alfawair said. “They were looking to see if TikTok would be a feasible tool for hiring individuals into the food industry as marketers or product managers or even chefs.  

“One idea was for a chef to go on TikTok to ‘show us your best meal,’” she explained.

She said the verdict is still out on alternative resumes, but younger job-seekers—particularly the Gen Z demographic—seem especially responsive to these unusual approaches. Instagram stories and chat features on other social media platforms are joining videos as ways job candidates can promote themselves. 

“Whether traditional resumes remain depends on the industry,” Alfawair said. “[Tesla and SpaceX CEO] Elon Musk wants to do away with resumes completely and look at alternative ways to hire.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know how this is going to look down the line, but I do think the hiring process can be made easier for the employer and the employee,” Alfawair said.

Another trend is that gaps in employment—once a red flag for employers—are losing their stigma. Employers are no longer skipping over applicants whose resumes show periods of unemployment, a pattern that had disproportionately affected the careers of women, many of whom leave the workforce to raise families.  

Even though jobs abound, Alfawair said job applicants will need to be agile about their career strategies in a labor market that is shifting at lightning speed. For example, she said many people do not use LinkedIn as effectively as they could to make new contacts in their fields and stay aware of trends.

“People will have to be ahead of the game,” she said. “Because UMGC already had career services online, we didn’t have to make a big transition on that front when the pandemic hit, but now we have to make sure we stay ahead.

“I’ve told students that they should use all the UMGC career tools, as well as talk one-on-one with an adviser. People need to keep up their resumes and their interviewing skills, even if they aren’t actively looking for new jobs,” Alfawair added.

In the past, she said, people had time to get used to new changes in a field. But now, “by the time you figure out something, a new tool has already appeared. For some people, it feels like a constant catch-up game,” she said.

Blume said the strong job market has not changed all the rules. She said job applicants still have to be thoughtful about how they ask questions about job benefits or working conditions.  

“I still advise people not to be difficult in an interview. They should get the job and then negotiate on smaller points,” Blume said. “It’s not all about what the employer can do for them. Job candidates still need to have good interview skills, a good resume and to think about what value they offer the company.”  

All UMGC students, alumni and staff have access to CareerQuest, a suite of tools and resources to help improve their resumes, upgrade their LinkedIn profiles, practice interview skills, research companies and find contacts in their industries. CareerQuest, available around the clock, includes a database of resumes available to national hiring managers. 

On Jan. 11, UMGC Career Services hosts a webinar on resumes for career changers. For information on this and other upcoming webinars, click here

UMGC’s Maryland Theta Chapter of Pi Gamma Mu Stands Out at Triennial Convention 

University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) students, alumni and faculty from the Maryland Theta Chapter of Pi Gamma Mu (PGM) received multiple accolades at the international honor society of social sciences’ Triennial Convention. 

The Maryland Theta Chapter was honored with the Joseph B. James Chapter Incentive Award at the convention, which was held virtually in November. The award is presented every three years and recognizes a chapter that excels in its membership or activities. Maryland Theta was recognized as a Top 10 Chapter for recruiting 183 members in 2021.

The chapter also received the Roll of Distinction, Pi Gamma Mu’s highest chapter honor, for the third year in a row.

“I think the PGM convention was important for UMGC because it highlighted the excellence of our students as scholars and leaders on an international stage,” said Katherine Im, faculty co-sponsor and program director of behavioral sciences and gerontology at UMGC.

“Since UMGC doesn’t have a traditional campus, it can be difficult to find opportunities for our students to stand out, but the PGM convention demonstrated that our students are eager to showcase and develop their talents beyond the classroom,” she added.

Im along with Emma Bate, UMGC program director of social sciences, are co-sponsors of Maryland Theta Chapter’s of PGM. 

Two UMGC alumni and one student shared their papers with an international audience of social science scholars during the convention. The presenters and their papers were:

  • Margareth Ojetola-Mead ’20, “Cognitive Impairments and Online Learning”
  • Jessica Dassler ’18, “Women in Literature: The Impact of Feminism on Fantasy Literature, 1950-1990”
  • Cynthia Glynn-Dindial, “Vivekānanda and Nivedita as Ardhanārīśvara: Why an Indian Svami Chose an Irishwoman as His Lioness”

Both Dassler and Glynn-Dindial received special recognition for Top 10 Papers, making them eligible for publication in the International Social Science Review. Dassler’s paper will appear in the review in December, and Glynn-Dindial will submit her work for publication next year.

“The students who represented Maryland Theta Chapter did an excellent job of raising the visibility of the social science programs at UMGC,” Im said.

During the Poster Session at the convention, Im offered an overview of the chapter’s annual social science essay. As the society’s Northeast Regional chancellor, Im was elected to a three-year term as Pi Gamma Mu’s first vice-president. In addition, Melissa Riggs ’22, a UMGC psychology major, was elected Pi Gamma Mu student trustee and will join Im on the national organization’s board of trustees.

“Being a member of Maryland Theta is a legacy, a distinction and an honor. I am very proud to stand among the brightest minds in the social sciences here at UMGC,” Riggs said.

Through the Pi Gamma Mu Leadership Development Institute, UMGC undergraduate students Courtney Peasley and Bethany Hanford completed a seven-hour program focusing on leadership in the social sciences. Peasley and Hanford learned about leadership in literature, under special circumstances and in academia. Maryland Theta Chapter of PGM sponsored the students.

“It meant I had the opportunity to learn from some of the most accomplished alumni in Pi Gamma Mu and at UMGC,” Peasley ’22 said when describing what the convention meant to her.

With Three Big Goals Accomplished, Luis Arriaza-Kibby is Reaching New Heights of Career Success

Luis Arriaza-Kibby came to the United States from El Salvador as a teenager. Settling in Damascus, Maryland, just shy of his 16th birthday, he had three goals: to learn English, to get his driver’s license and to continue his education.  

With his new Bachelor of Science in Human Resources in hand from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), he has hit that trifecta.  

“I remember telling my father that I wanted to go to school because I saw kids my age going and there was a high school near where we lived,” said Arriaza-Kibby. But his father had other plans, and the teenager gave up education and went to work at various jobs. A cousin encouraged him to take English classes in the Montgomery County school system, so he started a night program, attending sessions two to three times a week. Although his erratic work schedule prevented him from finishing the class, he learned enough English to start meeting people and making connections.  

His expanding network led to a job with a heating and air conditioning company, which immersed Arriaza-Kibby in the English language. It didn’t take long before he had gained enough vocabulary and fluency to achieve his first goal.  

Then he followed by securing his driver’s license, accomplishing goal No. 2. But the third aspiration, education, proved a more arduous task.  

“I wanted to go to high school and college, but no one in my family had ever gone, so I did not have that support system,” he said. “I fell into the restaurant and retail businesses after the heating and air conditioning job, which made it even harder.”  

While in his 20s, a news report about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program caught Arriaza-Kibby’s attention.  

“I met most of the requirements for DACA, except you had to have a high school diploma or GED to qualify,” he said. Because of his age and since work permitted no time to get into the school system, a GED was Arriaza-Kibby’s only option.  

His erratic work schedule allowed him only enough time to study on his own. After a few attempts, he passed the required test sections and earned his diploma. With the encouragement of teachers he met during the GED process, Arriaza-Kibby enrolled in Montgomery College and, after three and a half years of hard work, earned an associate degree in business.  

In 2013, Arriaza-Kibby met his future husband, William. They married in 2016. With William’s encouragement, Arriaza-Kibby continued his higher education journey, now as a permanent resident of the United States.  

“[William] has been the biggest support throughout all of this,” said Arriaza-Kibby.  

By 2018 he was settled into a more manageable work schedule as a grievance representative with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32 BJ. That’s when Arriaza-Kibby enrolled at UMGC in pursuit of his bachelor’s degree. It took an exhausting two years, but he finally did it, fully realizing the third goal he set for himself as a teenager.  

Arriaza-Kibby runs through a range of emotions as he reflects on his educational journey. “I still can’t believe it,” he said. “I thought to myself so many times that I was so close, yet so far.”  

With his degree in hand, Arriaza-Kibby hopes to advance his career with the SEIU and push to improve the workplace.  

“I believe that it is important for any job to understand how human resources works because working with people involves development, training and so much more,” he said. “Whatever I decide to do moving forward, I can now check this [education] box, which demonstrates my hard work and commitment.”  

Blending Psychology with Artificial Intelligence, Jacqueline Brogdon Hopes to Use Her UMGC Degree to Unlock the Mysteries of Mental Illness

Jacqueline Brogdon’s 11-year journey to earn a UMGC Bachelor’s degree this month has been shaped by a lifetime of her family’s tragedies and her own physical and mental health challenges that led to her study of both psychology and Information Systems Management.

Indeed, at the same time she was taking courses, she was caring for her 22-year-old son who had a heart transplant on Thanksgiving Day, 2019.

“My son was waiting for a heart, and most of my time I stayed with him at Johns Hopkins (University Medical Center),” she said. “After the transplant, Covid hit, and I spent four or five days during his recovery practically immobile as I recovered from a bout with the virus.”

Her educational journey had taken her to a number of colleges and universities. She started at UMGC at the beginning of 2020, taking five courses in the spring semester, five courses in the summer semester, and finishing this fall.

“It was difficult finishing my degree while my children are in college, and I’m working two jobs to make it happen. It was a difficult journey, but we made it.”

Beginning when she was 11 years old, Brogdon, who was raised by her great-grandmother, wanted to be a physical therapist. Two of her aunts were involved in a serious automobile accident–one died and the other suffered serious injuries including paraplegia and had to undergoe months of rehabilitation. Brogdon watched as a physical therapist worked with her aunt.

Right out of high school, she started on an associate’s degree in physical therapy.  But in 2010, she suffered a ruptured disc and lost feeling all down her legs. She could no longer lift patients.

If she could not help patients physically, perhaps she could help those with mental ailments.  Again, she had a number of family members with mental health issues throughout their lives.  Her mother had been hospitalized during most of Brogdon’s childhood. It was not until she was an adult that Brogdon learned her mother suffered from schizophrenia. Her brother also suffered from it.

One of her two daughters suffers from Tourette syndrome, and both have ADHD.

Brogdon lost three years in her pursuit of a college education as she dealt with these issues, and she worked multiple jobs simultaneously – from real estate to welding – to support her family on her own.

After all, her grandmother, who had raised her, made clear when Brogdon was a young girl, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.”

One of those jobs with Freddie Mac led her to work with information technology and Artificial Intelligence, and she followed that work when she landed a position with the Federal Emergency Management Administration. With 11 years in that field, she began to see ways that perhaps Artificial Intelligence could be used to diagnose and cure chronic mental disorders like those that afflicted so many of her family members.

“I still had a love for psychology because I wanted to know how to help my family. My mom, my brother, my kids, everyone around me is suffering mental illness,” she said. “I was told my mother was a thriving person before the onset of schizophrenia. She had gone to college. She worked for the Social Security Administration. I want to figure out how schizophrenia is triggered. Is there some way to use AI to figure out how to reverse that trigger? I want to dive deeper.”

Finishing college, she says, has given her a purpose in life.

“I have a goal that I’m trying to achieve,” she said. “Nothing stands in my way of doing it. I’m showing my kids there is a better way to a bigger reward.”

UMGC Takes First Place in CyberMaryland’s National Capture-the-Flag Competition

Adelphi, Md. (March 29, 2021)–University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) placed first in the four-year university category at the 2021 CyberMaryland Conference’s national capture-the-flag (CTF) competition on March 24.

UMGC scored 91 points to take first place, followed by runner up University of Central Florida with 87 points, and Towson University taking third-place with 56 points.

The UMGC team included Tim Nordvedt, captain (MS Cybersecurity Technology); Paul Chilcote (BS Cyber Management and Policy); Louis Rush (MS Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigation); and Ben Simcox (BS Computer Science, Cybersecurity minor).

“Our victory in this annual event is a testament to the rigor of our cybersecurity program and to the highly developed skills of the graduate and undergraduate student practitioners working in the field today,” said Jesse Varsalone, collegiate professor of Cybersecurity Technology at UMGC and organizer of the competition.

The signature event of the conference, the Maryland Cyber Challenge & Competition (MDC3) hosted by UMGC, gathered top national cyber talent competing in an online-virtual competition using the TryHackMe cybersecurity training platform.

The UMGC team was coached by Aaron Klink, associate adjunct professor in Cybersecurity Technology in the School of Cybersecurity and Information Technology. John Galliano, program director, Cybersecurity Technology, and Varsalone ran the competition, which included creating all 100 questions in 10 categories, conducting the training session, tabulating the results, and managing technical issues and questions throughout the competition.

About CyberMaryland 2021

Hosted by the Federal Business Council (FBC), the 2021 CyberMaryland Conference featured two days of educational presentations on the latest IT and cybersecurity technologies by industry and government subject matter experts. The event assembled thought leaders from Maryland’s cybersecurity sector and also featured nationally recognized speakers and panelists on cyber and technology innovations. Sessions covered the most up-to-date information from leaders in all facets of the cyber ecosystem. This year’s theme, “Building the Cyber Generation,” encompassed the event’s intent to ensure the cyber-safety of today and educate the cybersecurity professionals of tomorrow.