Army Veteran Credits UMGC Professor for Post-Military Career Success

Andrew Eyerly is the outreach director for the Citizens Climate Lobby, an international grassroots nonprofit with more than 200,000 supporters. How the Army veteran got there is the story of a University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) professor who saw Eyerly’s potential and offered help at each step of his career.

Like many UMGC students, Eyerly—who goes by the first name Drew—joined the Army right out of high school. He came from a small Pennsylvania town and was only the second in his family to graduate from high school. No one talked about college.

“There was nobody really to help me with that process, and at 17 years old, it was just overwhelming to me,” he said. “It was just easier for me to sign on the line, put on a uniform and go off and do that stuff.”

The Army was good to Eyerly. During the first two years of his service, he became a preventive medicine specialist trained in environmental and occupational health. His job was to limit soldiers’ exposure to hazards in their environment. He saw the effect on soldiers’ respiratory systems when that didn’t happen. After seven years in the service, he became a combat medic.

During his tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, he found himself increasingly focused on how fuel convoys were linked to servicemember casualties. He could see that petroleum is needed in every aspect of overseas military operations. That sparked his interest in how a more sustainable U.S. energy infrastructure could lessen dependence on other countries.

As he expanded his understanding of the energy infrastructure, Eyerly was also deepening his conservative political views and questioning the role of government regulation and taxation. He wasn’t worried about climate change. He saw it as a problem for the far future that did not affect him.

Until his daughter was born.

“It took the birth of a 10-pound baby girl—with cheeks so big, she couldn’t open her eyes—to get me to open my eyes,” he said.

Leaving the Army, Eyerly wanted to continue his education. One college told him he would have to start from scratch to earn credits for graduation. Then he found UMGC and its environmental management degree. He enrolled after a counselor informed him that his military training would translate into 45 to 55 credits, shaving about a year and a half off the time it typically took to earn a bachelor’s degree.

As part of his program, Eyerly ended up in the virtual classroom of Professor Sabrina Fu, who now directs UMGC’s Environmental Science and Management Program. Fu noticed that Eyerly was not active in discussions in her classes. She didn’t realize he was biting his tongue because he believed his classmates did not share his political philosophy regarding government regulation and taxation. She encouraged him to speak up, and he took her advice to heart.

“Everyone was just tax, tax, tax,” he said. “I guess I lost my cool a little bit. I put my real thoughts all over the discussion board.”

A day or so later, Fu sent him an email. Eyerly replied with an apology for his rants in class, but his professor encouraged him to speak out, telling him that conservative voices were needed in the climate change arena. Fu was working with Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), which trains volunteers to build relationships with elected representatives to influence climate policy. The organization supports carbon fee-and-dividend legislation through which carbon fees would be collected and returned to taxpayers as direct payments.

Fu invited Eyerly to check out the organization’s website and arranged a scholarship so he could attend his first “lobby day” in Washington. He found he could talk with ease to people there about his conservative ideas on how to fight climate change—something he could not do in his conservative social circle in Evans, Georgia.

He said CCL “helped me with my advocacy and how to speak on this topic without being adversarial.”

As soon as he completed his B.S. degree in Environmental Management at UMGC, Eyerly immediately enrolled in a second bachelor’s degree program—in occupational health and safety—at another university while working with the Environmental Protection Division in the George Department of Natural Resources taking air samples.

That’s when Fu contacted him again. Citizens Climate Lobby was looking for someone to head its outreach to conservatives. She thought he would be a perfect fit. Was he interested?

Fu said consensus on climate change requires taking the case beyond a one-sided viewpoint, something she believed Eyerly capable of. When the lobby’s president asked if she would recommend Eyerly, Fu was quick to endorse her former student.

“All I know is we can’t keep doing things the way we have been doing it,” she said. “Drew comes from a very different background than most CCL members, and he offers a perspective not often heard there.”

Because of his military service and background, he is able to talk to staunch Republicans, she said. Since he’s only 33, he brings a youthful perspective. She noted that Eyerly has done a lot with veterans and with habitat conservation. She told the CCL president that he was just what the organization needed.

“I never thought in a million years I would get that job,” Eyerly said. “But [Fu] always had better ideas for me than I did, and here I am.”

Many conservatives oppose what they view as overburdening environmental regulation. A large percentage even doubt that climate change is a man-made existential threat. How does Eyerly open their minds?

“I begin by listening,” he said. “I find out where they’re at.”

He said many conservatives like him enjoy outdoor activities and hunting. He starts by noting the changes in their surroundings caused by pollution and climate shifts. “As a sportsman, you get to see firsthand how it’s impacting your lifestyle,” he said. “But a lot of people don’t make that connection.”

He also talks about the economic impact caused by pollution and its damage to the environment. He points out that those costs have to be borne by someone. Then he refers to conservative economists and the lens they use to evaluate the costs of climate change. Many of those economists argue that raising the carbon fee can strengthen the nation’s economy, reduce regulation, help working-class Americans, shrink the size of government and promote national security.

Eyerly said a carbon fee can generate three jobs for every one the fossil fuel industry creates without it. Still, he acknowledged, it can be difficult to bring conservative legislators onboard when their supporter base is suspicious of anything that addresses climate change.

“They need cover,” he said. “They need something that they can move behind while addressing the issue without saying that they’re addressing this issue. There are a lot of Republicans that are active in the discussion up on … [Capitol] Hill.”

Not only does Eyerly credit his UMGC professor for guiding him to his job with Citizens Climate Lobby, but he said Fu’s influence on his career continues.

“She doesn’t take no for an answer,” he said. “She is so passionate, she’s so energetic about things. You can’t help but fall in line with her perspective. It doesn’t matter if you are uncomfortable with the topic or not. You’re going to address it because you want to work with her. “She’s someone I know I can call and talk to and get honest feedback.”

UMGC Arts Program Shifts Gears During the Pandemic

In a darkened room, a white-haired man in a sleeveless, striped sweater sits on a wooden swivel chair before a door. The title of Sharon Wolpoff’s 1988 oil painting, “Waiting for the Electrician,” explains the scene. Yet the work is much more. It is a symphony of abstract forms where, in this instance, the shadow cast by the chair alternatively evokes fossilized dinosaur bones, a stringed instrument such as a harp, and a gridded Piet Mondrian painting.

With a year of social distancing, pandemic, and relative isolation behind us, the work of Wolpoff—a Washington, D.C.-born artist—feels like it is channeling the quarantine. A unseen electrician is evidently en route, but anything, say even a global pandemic grinding the world to a near standstill, could happen. Perhaps the man in the sweater awaits Godot, to evoke Samuel Beckett’s famous play about pining in vain for an arrival.

The painting is a gift by the artist to the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) Maryland Artist Collection. It is also one of 10 artworks that UMGC has printed and mailed to supporters of its Arts Program as part of the Stay Connected initiative during the COVID-19 shutdown. According to printed materials, the Arts Program “will renew its exhibition program upon the reopening of site operations” and all previously slated exhibitions, including a survey of Wolpoff’s art, will be mounted when it is safe to do so.

In the Stay Connected mailings, each printed work from the UMGC collection is sized for framing, said Eric Key, director of the Arts Program, and accompanied by information about the artist and the art. In the case of Wolpoff’s painting, “it is at the moment when the light appears that artistic creativity strikes. She sees more than just a well-lit space; she sees how the space is transformed.”

Wolpoff also explores the ways light affects color. “For example, what at first appears to be a navy blue might become a lighter blue or sky blue with a ray of light on the surface,” according to the notes about the painting. “This play of light on color inspires her to discover how different shades of one color can change the tenor of a work. It is this union of color and shapes, this fusion, that she demonstrates in her work.”

Nine other printed works from UMGC’s collection scheduled to be mailed over the next few months are: a circa 206 B.C.E. to 220 C.E. cauldron—perhaps part of funerary set—by an unknown Chinese artist; Selma Oppenheimer’s 1960 painting “Girl in Yellow Hat;” an untitled Alma Thomas 1969 watercolor painting; Paul Reed’s 1971 acrylic painting on paper, “Gilport One,” from a series called Gilport; a silver gelatin print of William Anderson’s 1978 photo “Woman with Pipe;” McArthur Binion’s circa 1978-79 crayon-on-aluminum work “152 W. 25th Street;” Nelson Stevens’ 1983 mixed media work “Stevie Wonder;” Andy Warhol’s 1983 screen print “African Elephant” from his Endangered Species series; and Curlee Raven Holton’s 2017 oil painting titled “Dream Bait.”

The notes accompanying the images are rich with detail. Among other things, recipients are informed that Warhol was born Andrew Warhola and that a movement called AfriCOBRA stands for “the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists.” Photographer Anderson, who was born in Selma, Alabama, in 1932, said of his artistic approach, “I believe there is beauty in all life … I look for people whose faces tell a story.” Anderson died in 2019.

Biographical information offered through the Stay Connected initiative points out that Thomas’ career was marked by several historic firsts. She had her first solo exhibition at age 68 and was the first African American woman with a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She was also the first African American woman whose work was acquired by the permanent collection of the White House Historical Association and displayed at the White House.

When Key closed UMGC’s art galleries on March 15, 2020, he thought it would be a short-term measure. As it became clear that the pandemic would necessitate longer closures, he had to take measures to reschedule exhibitions.

“We were curating our own shows, so it was easier for us to communicate with artists and owners and let them know what was going on,” he said. “As much as we would have liked to stay on schedule, of course they all understood.

”We were very clear that we were not canceling. We were postponing,” he said.

After polling community members, Key decided that printed materials, rather than virtual artist talks, were the best way to stay connected for now.

“Our arts patrons were really getting burned out with those meetings, and they didn’t really feel a connection to the artwork. We decided not to do Zoom meetings,” he explained. “We decided to do print media instead.”

Stay Connected is the reminder to the UMGC community that the Arts Program is not closed for good. In showcasing many past exhibitions, artists’ talks and works from the UMGC collection, it also shows the breadth of the 35-year-old program.

“We also wanted the public to stay tuned—kind of like a teaser—to see the works up front and close when the program reopens,” Key explained.

The Arts Program had just completed the 4th Biennial Maryland Regional Juried Art Exhibition on March 1, 2020, when COVID-19 restrictions began. The facilities department and the security team ensured the safety of the juried artworks, displayed in the program’s rotating gallery, until they could be returned to the artists. Key said he was able to go in for a day or two to take the works down. Artists came to the building’s loading dock and retrieved their pieces,

“If the building is on lockdown, it’s on lockdown. You can’t get in nor out,” Key said.

The permanent collection remains hanging on the gallery walls. Conservators are not present in person but the collection has been safeguarded by 24-hour security during the pandemic.

Exhibitions are not the only thing disrupted by COVID-19. The pandemic also affected plans for a return art trip to Cuba for the Cuban Biennale. A 2019 trip generated enough interest that the 2020 trip was on track to sell out before the pandemic hit.

Key said he looks forward to when he can resume planning arts education trips.

With the pandemic, Key and the Arts Program directors had to pivot their focus. They have been hard at work on the longer-term project of digitizing the university’s nearly 3,000 works of art. That has meant planning photo shoots of some works and finding existing professional shots of others then uploading images into collection software while ensuring that the text describing each work is accurate.

With help from IT technicians, Key and his colleagues have been learning new computer software programs. When the building reopens, they will confirm the sizes, media, and key characteristics they must know in order to virtually present the works—and their artists—to the general public.

Until then, Key recommended that people who are exploring art online pay attention to the virtual events produced by the Smithsonian Institution, local Maryland galleries, and David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora at University of Maryland. He said Driscoll’s legacy, in particular, stands out for him.

He also encouraged art lovers to hang onto emails about exhibitions. “Keep them as a reference. Then go to the institutions to see the actual works when those organizations reopen,” he said. “Seeing the emails will only pique your interest in seeing the work in person.”   

Key said virtual exhibitions where viewers click on arrows that help them “walk” through galleries have not provided him with the closeness to art he seeks. He tried a virtual walk-through with Hauser & Wirth gallery’s Amy Sherald exhibit. Sherald famously painted former first lady Michelle Obama for the National Portrait Gallery.

“I was more interested to get to the pieces so I could see them, but even looking at a piece, I felt a distance from it. I didn’t feel a closeness to it,” Key said. “As much as I respect the intent of the gallery to show the work, I couldn’t see the brushstrokes. I couldn’t see the details that I would look at in person.”

It is impossible for Key to predict when the UMGC galleries will reopen. Once the university deems it safe to do so, the Arts Program will begin planning its postponed exhibition as well as future shows and programs.

“Personally, and as the director of the program, I was obviously very disappointed that people didn’t have access to the art,” Key said. People who frequent art galleries, including members of the UMGC arts community, have told Key they missed that access.

Even people who are not regular gallery visitors said they missed having contact with art.

“On a larger scale, we take art for granted, but it really does serve a higher meaning and a higher calling in the community,” Key said. “We’ve always known that art had its place. This just validates that it does.”

Shining a Light on the Pioneering Contributions of Black Women Suffragists

Black women—from Sojourner Truth in the 1850s to Georgia’s Stacy Abrams today—have played a key role in the fight for voting rights for African Americans. Now, a special Maryland Public Television (MPT) presentation jointly sponsored by UMGC and Morgan State University highlights the work of these pioneering women, whose contributions have been largely obscured in the historic record.

The program highlights the work of Dr. Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, a Morgan State professor who established the university’s first PhD in history program and co-founded the Association of Black Women Historians. Her groundbreaking books revealed—often for the first time— how African American women kept the voting rights struggle alive.

All four panelists on the MPT program were trained by Terborg-Penn, including Dr. Damon Freeman, director of the history and African American studies program at UMGC.

Another panelist, Dr. Toya Corbett, assistant vice president for student affairs in the University of North Carolina System, spoke of how important Terborg-Penn’s work was in uncovering voices that were never included in history.

“[We] were made to believe that Black women did not have a role in building this country or in the suffrage movement or any other movement,” Corbett said, adding that Terborg-Penn had challenged that narrative head on.  “She inspired us to give voice to the voiceless.”

Freeman said Terborg-Penn opened a field of historic research that did not previously exist. Historians of that era did not consider Black women to be involved in the suffrage movement. Perhaps because White women had not welcomed Black women into the movement.

“They were invisible,” he said. 

Yet, beginning in the 1890s, Black women created a “Women’s Club movement” that is crucial if one is to understand their role in the suffrage movement, he said.  These clubs fought for voting rights and economic independence and against lynching. This is the work that Terborg-Penn painstakingly uncovered.

But the panelists pointed out that, even as one acknowledges these contributions, one must also recognize that the struggle for Black voting rights continues. It is never a straight-line process from total exclusion to full equality.

“As soon as you have political power, you have a backlash,” said Gloria Browne-Marshall, professor of constitutional law at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The first such backlash came in the 1870s after the 15th Amendment was passed, allowing Blacks to vote. Whites staged violent protest in an effort to stop Blacks from voting, creating systemic barriers that persisted until the 1960s Civil Rights movement.

Now, another backlash is apparent, one that started in 2013 when the Supreme Court gutted those parts of the Voting Rights Act that required the Justice Department to review changes in voting procedures in states that had a history of denying Blacks the right to vote. It accelerated after the 2020 election when minority votes helped win Democrat Joe Biden’s election.

“They [Republicans] saw how we were able to unify, and what the Black community can achieve when we come together,” Browne-Marshall said. “The challenge to voting rights is to disenfranchise us again.”

As a resident of North Carolina, she said, she sees consistent challenges to voting rights, including recent changes pushed through by the state’s Republican-dominated legislature

Noting Stacy Abrams work in organizing the vote in Georgia in the 2020 election, in the two U.S. Senate elections in the state, and in the fight against recent voting regulations, Freeman said, “Black women are crucial to Black voting rights and getting people elected to office.”

Former U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., also acknowledged the continuum from Sojourner Truth to Stacy Abrams.

 “The connective tissue is that the fight for Black women’s suffrage is an ongoing struggle,” she said. “So much of what needs to happen in this country is dependent on Black women raising those issues, and we do it through the power of our vote.” 

The virtual program, a part of Women’s History Month, was livestreamed on mpt.org on March 31.  It was moderated by Dr. Kaye Whitehead, an award-winning Maryland radio host and a Morgan State associate professor of communication and African and African American studies.

UMGC’s Simonsen Tells Maryland House Panel of Ways to Combat “COVID Slide” in Schools

Closing schools during the coronavirus pandemic has exposed inequities in the education system that need to be fixed even after students return to the classrooms, University of Maryland Global Campus Education Program Director Monica Simonsen, Ph.D., told Maryland House Ways and Means subcommittee members at a Nov. 19 hearing.Continue Reading

UMGC’s New Certificate Program Preps Public Safety Workforce for Executive Leadership Roles

You’re a police officer, firefighter, EMT or emergency manager who wants to advance to an administrative position. Here is your dilemma: You need advanced training to qualify for the promotion, but employers often do not provide advanced training until you have the job.

That is a niche University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) is filling with its new Public Safety Executive Leadership certificate program launching in January.Continue Reading

Vaccine Development Explained

With some Americans questioning the safety of vaccines while others are demanding rapid deployment of them at this critical moment in fighting Covid-19, University of Maryland Global Campus School of Arts and Sciences Dean Kara Van Dam asked microbiologist Jim Coker, chair of UMGC’s Science Department, to explain how the vaccine process works.Continue Reading