2021 GenCyber Campers Gain the Toolkit to Prepare the Next Generation

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

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

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

Kyra Walker

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

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

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

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

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

UMGC at Fort Meade: A Team that is Small but Mighty

When Daniel Norris completes his education this summer, he will receive two bachelor’s degrees—in business administration and cybersecurity—from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). He will have the distinction of completing two degrees in just two years while also working full time for the National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade.

To call Norris an overachiever is an understatement. He is just 20 years old.

Norris is motivated and disciplined but another factor helped make possible his ambitious goals: the UMGC educational advisors assigned to Fort Meade.

The seven-person team at Fort Meade handles UMGC’s largest student enrollment of any military base worldwide. Four team members carry the title “military education coordinator,” each managing portfolios with as many as 1,900 students, among them active-duty and retired servicemembers, their family members, Department of Defense civilian employees, private sector military contractors connected to the base, veterans living near the Maryland base, and employees of the NSA.  

“I had started working at NSA in high school as an intern. I got a job there after graduation but knew I needed a degree to move ahead,” Norris said. “I wanted to finish my bachelor’s degrees in two years, so I needed to make sure I was taking the correct classes and not too many hard classes at the same time.”

He said UMGC’s team helped him sort through the degree requirements, assisted him in determining which combination of majors would best advance his goals, and walked his mother through the financial aid options. When Norris needed a dean’s approval for his course overload, the UMGC team was on his side.  

Nora Graves, UMGC Stateside Military Operations regional director whose area includes Fort Meade, has high praise for the base’s educational team, which she described as “resilient, tough, super easygoing, and highly diverse—which is also what the military is.”

At Fort Meade, the university enrolls servicemembers from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, as well as the NSA Air Force and Navy commands.

“UMGC’s team works as a unit, like the most perfect family, on a base that’s highly secured. They get along well and help each other. And they all bring different skill sets,” Graves explained.

Educational coordinators—also known as counselors or advisors—assist students with myriad issues, from how to transfer credits to what to do when deployment occurs in the middle of a course. They understand how UMGC operates and the ins and outs of tuition assistance, including GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program benefits.

Prior to COVID-19, students contacted educational counselors via phone, email, and face-to-face meetings. During the pandemic, online meetings replaced in-person conversations. Although some in-person contact resumed for NSA-linked students in late June, Graves predicted that virtual advising rooms will become a permanent tool to help the team handle the fastest-growing enrollment of any military base where UMGC is active.

The workplace culture fostered by Khadijeh Sarvandani, Stateside Military Operations’ assistant director for the Central Region, is often cited as one reason for UMGC’s success at Fort Meade.

Team members are cross-trained so they can do other colleagues’ work if needed, and Sarvandani, who goes by the name Farrah, gives them opportunities to grow in their jobs, even if it means they may someday leave the team. 

“We watch each other’s backs,” Sarvandani said. “And we are all committed to the students.” Team members not only go to their students’ graduations, they attend servicemembers’ retirement parties and keep in touch with some students long after degrees have been earned.

Sarvandani’s most successful enrollment tools are the Military Open House events and the annual Spotlight on Security she launched a few years ago. The Spotlight on Security gathering, to be held virtually this year, brings speakers from Leidos, Amazon, Uber, and other companies to Fort Meade every October to talk about cybersecurity, technology, and career opportunities. Sarvandani’s team is on site to offer information about degree programs and classes. UMGC career services staff are also at the ready to answer questions.   

“Farrah’s team is really good at outreach, one of the reasons they’ve been successful. They are creative about getting the word out,” Graves said.

The ever-rising student enrollment at Fort Meade is positioned to ramp up even more in the months ahead thanks to an agreement announced in June between UMGC and the 270 non-military organizations in the Fort Meade Alliance. The agreement, which was developed through UMGC’s Corporate Learning Solutions office, reaches far beyond Fort Meade to provide discounted tuition for students worldwide.

Mary Sikes, one of the Fort Meade educational coordinators and a retiree from the Navy, described her colleagues as “open communications people” who jump in to help one another as needed. “Our mentality is ‘get the job done.’ It’s been like that as long as I’ve been here,” she said.

She called the team’s diversity was a strength, adding: “We look like the students we serve.”  

Several members of the team earned degrees from institutions that are part of the University System of Maryland; Sarvandani is a UMGC alumna. Sikes is a bilingual first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Mexico. Sarvandani, also multilingual, grew up in Iran. Three members of the team are Black. Just more than half are women.  

Rosario Talbert said the Fort Meade team guided her to a Bachelor of Science in Psychology in 2018. She didn’t know anything about UMGC until she attended an open house at the base.

“At first I was scared. This was a four-year college and here I was, a student with English as a second language and coming from a community college—with its in-person experience—to a four-year university with an online program,” she said. That changed when she found herself speaking to a UMGC team member in Spanish.

Talbert was later connected with Sikes.

“As a foreigner here, I didn’t know much about the system. Mary sat with me and explained everything. She’s very personable and she’s very caring,” Talbert said. “She also had everything on charts so I could visualize what I needed to do. That really helped me.”

Because Talbert’s husband was retired from the Navy, she did not qualify for military benefits. However, Sikes told her she was eligible for financial aid because she came to UMGC from a Maryland community college.

Sikes also stepped up when Talbert’s degree plans were in danger of being derailed, including when Talbert’s father in Spain fell ill.

As for Daniel Norris, his connection with the Fort Meade team continues. In October, he begins a master’s degree in cybersecurity at UMGC, continuing a family tradition. His mother is a UMGC alumna and his brother, a recent high school graduate, is enrolled at UMGC for the fall.

Developing a Sense of Community Key to Successful Online Classes

A recent virtual panel discussion—entitled “Successful Online Academic Programs” and organized by the Chronicle of Higher Ed—focused on what institutions will do with their online capabilities as they explore the potential of the digital-first classroom post-pandemic. It also delved into the lessons these same schools have learned about operating successfully from more established online players.

Joining moderator Ian Wilhelm, an assistant managing editor at the Chronicle, was University of Maryland Global Campus Chief Student Affairs Officer Martina Hansen, along with Evangeline Cummings, assistant provost and director of the University of Florida’s online program; Peter Shea, a University of Albany education professor, who had been the associate provost for online learning; and Jarris Taylor, director of Hampton University’s online program.

The panelists agreed that the question will be whether students will want to continue studying online, and if not, how quickly they will jettison “Zoom U” in favor of the traditional on-campus experience.  What happens in the next couple of years may transform higher education.

If traditional, brick-and-mortar universities choose to continue providing online instruction post-pandemic, they will have to enhance the online experience to ensure that students feel part of an academic community.

As a pioneer in online education, UMGC can offer practical advice on what makes these courses and programs work.

“Have you ever shown up for a party [where you] didn’t know anyone, and you felt really lonely and probably left early?” Hansen asked. “When our students are showing up in an online classroom, how do [we] help them feel a sense of belonging?”

One of the first assignments in each class is to post something about yourself to the discussion board, she said, including your goals, background, and what brought you to UMGC. Many students are veterans or active service personnel, and they quickly find they have other things in common.

“It seems so simple, but that helps people feel like they are not alone,” she said.

Hansen added that students also want to feel a part of their program, so it helps to find ways to connect them to other students with the same major and program-related activities. Students need to know that the program is right for them, see their path forward, and understand where it will lead.

Equally important, they need to be able to find support online just as students would on campus, whether around financial aid, clubs and organizations, or registration and transcripts.

The online experience must be about flexibility, Hansen said, so students studying online must be able to do everything just as easily as their counterparts on campus. And they also need the mental and emotional support to help them navigate the personal and academic challenges online students often encounter—especially when they are adult learners juggling full-time jobs, families, or military responsibilities.

While Hansen said UMGC conducts regular student surveys, hearing directly from students is one vital component that generates more nuanced feedback. The university’s Student Advisory Council provides regular feedback on how the institution can improve, she said, and that has informed decision-making around the availability of academic support resources and how to get help from tutors, librarians and success coaches.

“Outreach to students is really critical,” Hansen added, “just keeping a pulse on how students are doing and helping them individually to overcome challenges.”

Maryland Parks Association Recognizes Student Projects Focused on Environmental Management

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

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

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

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

Flag Ponds Nature Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Largest Class of Pillars of Strength Scholarship Recipients to Attend University of Maryland Global Campus

Unique Scholarship Program Recognizes Volunteer Service of Family Members and Friends Who Care for Severely Wounded, Ill or Injured Military Servicemembers

Adelphi, Md. (June 30, 2021)—Twelve caregivers of wounded, ill, or injured military servicemembers were awarded full scholarships to attend University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). That is the largest number of scholarships the Pillars of Strength program has ever awarded in a single year. 

Of the 51 recipients of scholarships since the program began in the fall of 2013, 13 have now graduated and four more are expected to join them by December. 

“Pillars of Strength is truly a marquee program for UMGC,” said President Gregory Fowler. “It continues our long tradition of service to the military and aligns precisely with our goal of bringing education within reach for underserved populations, thus improving lives and strengthening communities around the world. We are so proud of this year’s recipients, so grateful for their service to injured and wounded military personnel, and so pleased to be able to support them as they work to overcome the challenges ahead and improve their own lives and the lives of those they love.” 

“We are once again pleased that we have been able to expand the Pillars program even further with 12 more full scholarships to our great recipients,” said Richard F. Blewitt, founder and CEO of The Blewitt Foundation, which established the Pillars of Strength program in association with UMGC. “We are proud to remain the only program of its type providing full scholarships to the caregivers of our military heroes.” 

The scholarships are designed to help volunteer caregivers, usually spouses of servicemembers. These scholarship recipients have had their worlds turned upside down as they take over day-to-day caregiving responsibilities while maintaining a household, earning income to make ends meet and, often, raising children. 

The restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic made those challenges much more difficult. Among other things, they complicated the caregivers’ ability to be present when their servicemembers and veterans, who often had memory problems, visited doctors. 

These caregivers receive few, if any, educational benefits from the federal government, yet academic degrees are often essential to their ability to support their families. UMGC’s fully online programs allow these students the flexibility they need to earn college credit on their own schedules. 

“Caregivers give and give and then give some more… often losing themselves in that cycle of care,” said Besa Pinchotti, executive director and CEO of the National Military Family Association, a partner organization in the scholarship program.  Providing scholarships to these 12 caregivers isn’t a gift, but an investment in the future of their families who gave so much to our country. It’s an honor to work with The Blewitt Foundation and UMGC who are making it all possible. 

Melissa Allen, one of this year’s Pillars of Strength recipients, said it felt like a weight had been lifted when she learned she had been chosen for a scholarship. “I let out a huge cry and sigh of relief because it finally was like those bricks that were on my shoulders? They fell off.” 

Although the specific circumstances surrounding each of this year’s recipients—all wives—were different, in many ways their experiences were the same. 

They talked about how the “invisible wounds” of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder often went unrecognized while the servicemembers were in the field. These injuries also were not obvious to the public, and the caregivers faced critics who wondered why their husbands were not working. What the public could not see were the sleepless nights, the psychotic spells and the struggles to manage the most basic needs. 

Caregivers married to men who were committed to their military careers said their husbands did not want to accept that they were wounded, ill, or injured, even as they were sent back into battle. 

These women had to come to grips with how to help relieve the pain and psychological suffering of their loved ones while still raising children, working to support their families and handling most of the household finances and decisions. They had to become quick studies in disorders with long, complicated names. And they had to learn how to take care of themselves so they could continue to have the strength for their work and their caregiving duties. 

The bureaucracy of the Veterans Administration often was overwhelming, many said. One recipient has gone to work for the VA with the express purpose of using her experience to make it easier for other injured veterans and their caregivers to get the attention they need. 

“I want to help the veterans and their families in this journey, especially the new ones who are coming into the system,” said scholarship recipient Karen Lopez. “I’ve heard a lot of horror stories—how patients would fall through the cracks, how family members struggled to get appointments for their spouses. I want to make sure the gaps in the system don’t happen to them, at least on my watch.” 

Here are the stories of 12 remarkable women who are setting off on a path to remake themselves and build the resiliency of their families.

Melissa Allen, Bloomingdale, GA

Elisabeth Baugess, Springfield, VA

Volha Butkouskaya, North Potomac, MD

Sasha Clarkin, Bayville, NJ

Lelia Cottner, Kissimmee, FL

Karen Lopez, Kissimmee, FL

Amanda Martin, Fort Bragg, NC

Connie Ozmer, Bonney Lake, WA

Lisa Shaw, Monroeville, PA

Anna Soler, Tacoma, WA

Alison Storemski , Bowie, MD

Elisa Zanni-James, Fort Mill, SC

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.”