Candace Orsetti Fulfills Life-Long Dream, Is Contestant on March 30 Episode of Jeopardy!   

Candace Orsetti was 11 years old when Alex Trebek made his debut as host of TV game show Jeopardy!. Watching the program turned Orsetti into a diehard fan of the program and an unrepentant trivia nerd. It also put her on the path to what she calls “a dream come true.” 

On March 30, the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) course development writer and editor will appear as a Jeopardy! contestant. 

Last week, Orsetti’s bio on Twitter read: “Wife, dog lover, word nerd, Llama, baker. Hoping someday to have a profile pic w/a vivid blue background.” This week it has a photo with a vivid blue background. 

“All the Jeopardy! followers know what that background means,” said Orsetti, referring to the color of the program’s stage set. 

Orsetti taped the show in California in January and has waited two months to go public about her TV fame. Did she win big prize money? Will she appear in more than one episode? She is not allowed to say before the show airs, the secrecy being one of the many components of Jeopardy! mystique. She was, however, permitted to note that actor Mayim Bialik was the show’s host. And she revealed that she went for a true Daily Double, meaning that she wagered everything she had on one answer that could double her winnings.   

It is hard to overstate Orsetti’s fervor for the show—and the persistence of her ambition to appear on it. Her first chance came when she was 15. In those days, contestant searches were announced at the end of the show via a note that flashed on the screen to announce tryouts in specific cities. Contestant wannabes responded by sending in postcards that were randomly drawn. Orsetti’s postcard to a local Baltimore TV affiliate resulted in an invitation to take an in-studio test.

“I missed the qualification by one question. That’s been my story for 35 years, but that’s also an inside joke at Jeopardy!” she said. “Everybody that didn’t make the cut was told they missed it by one question.” 

The postcards continued and Orsetti came close to qualifying again in the 1990s. By the 2000s, postcards were replaced with online tests. In 2018, she made the cut—but then languished in the contestant pool for 18 months without being called to a taping. 

“That 18-month period ended on March 13, 2020, the day when everything happened with COVID-19,” Orsetti said. “That was UMGC’s first 100 percent telework day.”

Orsetti persevered, and a June 21, 2020, test put her in the running again. A year after taking that 15-minute online quiz, she was invited to take a Zoom version of the test where she was watched online to confirm her identity and ensure there was no cheating. She had a stroke of luck when one of the questions on the proctored test focused on the ingredients in a Black Russian cocktail. She credited her father, who had died five months earlier, for her knowledge of that answer. It had been his favorite drink.

Four days after the proctored test, she was called for an audition. Since the pandemic, Jeopardy! hopefuls take the audition through an online video platform. The audition featured a contestant interview and a series of mock games. 

“The players hold up a clicky pen as a buzzer. And you’re phrasing your responses in the form of a question,” Orsetti explained. “It wasn’t just about people giving correct responses, but about personality and keeping the game moving and having an interesting presence.”

In the time between the proctored test and the audition, during a dinner of Chinese takeout, Orsetti opened a fortune cookie and found this message: “You will pass a difficult test that will make you happier and financially better.”  

The message was prescient. For a second time, she was back in the contestant pool. 

“At that point, the smart thing to do was to hit the books and start studying. I did—for about a week,” she said with a laugh. Six months later, just as she was about to enter a UMGC work meeting, she received a phone call with a Los Angeles area code. It was the Jeopardy! contestant coordinator inviting her to a January 26, 2022, taping of the show.  

For the next three weeks, Orsetti went everywhere with her “Jeopardy! Go Bag,” a tote bag containing flashcards and study materials she put together.

Orsetti, who earned a B.A. in English from UMGC in 2003, is such a Jeopardy! enthusiast that she had read not only contestant—and, later, host—Ken Jennings’s book, Brainiac, but also the book by Fritz Holznagel titled Secrets of the Buzzer that explains the idiosyncrasies of the buzzers used for Jeopardy! and other game shows. She was aware that contestants pay their own hotel and airfare to appear on the program. And that her clothing would have to be able to support a hidden microphone. And that she wasn’t supposed to wear stripes or certain colors. 

What she hadn’t known is that she would have to go through COVID screening in the Jeopardy! studio’s garage and that the show’s staging area, where contestants had their hair and makeup done, was the set of Wheel of Fortune.  

On taping day, Orsetti worried about two knowledge categories she was weak in: sports and 2020s pop stars. That wasn’t the only thing. Because of the time gap between when the show is taped and when it airs, Orsetti said she and others in the contestant pool were unsure whether Amy Schneider—whose 40-game appearance became the second-longest winning streak in Jeopardy! history—was still a contestant.

“We were all looking around for Amy and asking if Amy was still there. We were scared of Amy,” Orsetti said. It turned out that the day of the taping was also the day that Schneider’s last episode with Jeopardy! aired.   

Orsetti’s Jeopardy! smarts owe something to her deep engagement with trivia. For nearly 10 years—until COVID ended in-person gatherings—she played on a weekly pub trivia team with her husband, parents and a shifting roster of friends. She also belongs to an online trivia league whose membership is capped at 20,000. “A good thousand of the members are Jeopardy! alumni,” she said.

On the day she makes her television debut with Jeopardy!, Orsetti is hosting a small watch party with close friends and family. Concurrently, she’ll host a Zoom gathering with far-flung friends and family.  

“For two months I’ve been living with this weird timeline. I’m both a future and past Jeopardy! player,” Orsetti said, referring to the gap between when the show was filmed and when it will air.  

Jeopardy! may be behind her, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Orsetti’s game show days are over.

“I’ve always been a game show fan, especially trivia-based game shows. I have also gotten to the point where I got a second callback for Wheel of Fortune, The Chase, and Weakest Link,” Orsetti said. There’s just one hitch: Her Jeopardy! contract bars her from appearing on other TV game shows for six months.

Making History at UMGC: Patricia Wallace and Her Role in Pioneering Online Learning

When schools and universities around the globe were quickly forced onto virtual teaching platforms by the COVID-19 outbreak, Patricia Wallace had one thought.

“I was thinking that this is going to be extremely difficult for most educators to do,” said Wallace, a technology pioneer who led University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) into large-scale virtual learning nearly three decades ago.

“If you’re talking about a fifth-grade teacher who is used to being hands on in the classroom with 20 or more kids, it would have been difficult moving all those kids to online learning,” Wallace continued. “At the university level, faculty at many institutions faced the same issues because they were not used to online teaching and a lot of their curricula was not designed for that.”

Wallace knows what she is talking about. As chief information officer in the 1990s at what was then known as University of Maryland University College, she ignored skeptics and spearheaded a move to online education before that concept even had a name. Because of her team’s foresight, UMGC seamlessly continued its courses in 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered classrooms around the world.

Wallace recalled the intensive work, faculty training, technology acquisition and experimentation that preceded UMGC’s shift to virtual education in the 1990s. She said the desire to provide education to nontraditional students around the world, including in conflict zones, was the impetus.

“We knew our students needed pathways to education that didn’t require them to get babysitters and commute all the time,” she explained. “Another driver… is that we had students in remote places, like McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and a remote base had too few students to support more than a couple of faculty members. That meant only a small number of courses could be offered and the students couldn’t pursue a degree.”

The university constantly tested new distance learning options. In the 1970s, newspaper courses debuted in the European Division. Military newspaper Stars and Stripes carried reading assignments and faculty commentary; exams were administered in classrooms. In another approach, students earned credits through structured independent study. Participants did not attend classes but, rather, relied on tutors, television lectures, videotapes, texts and radio broadcasts. Then, in 1991, UMGC became the first university to offer a degree-completion program in which course materials were provided through cable and satellite television, boosted by telephone conferencing and voicemail. 

Those systems generally proved unwieldly, expensive or too hard to scale-up for a global student enrollment. A breakthrough came when students and faculty gained access to the internet.

“Some faculty in Europe and Asia started teaching via email and that was about the most successful,” Wallace said. “That’s how we started to think about how we were going to build this university online.”

In teaching via email, professors sent assignments and received homework assignments through their email accounts. But unstable internet connections, limits on file sizes and weather interference were challenges, and the approach still fell short of UMGC’s vision of a technology-based infrastructure capable of providing full-degree programs, students services, library resources and even financial aid information.

Wallace said the University of Illinois had been experimenting for many years with a computer-based instruction system called PLATO, short for Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations. It required a mainframe computer and special terminals. UMGC had a few of the terminals but students still had to report to a university lab room to take a course. Nonetheless, Wallace said, “the concept was there, so we looked into how we could do something like that.” 

By 1994, Wallace’s team had developed a learning management system called Tycho that students could install on their personal computers. The students then dialed into modems and logged in to see their course materials, interact with discussion forums, form study groups and contact their professors and other students. It caught on so quickly that it became difficult to keep up with enrollment.

“We had 54,000 percent growth over seven years,” Wallace said. “That’s even hard to imagine. Every semester, the classes filled up.”

She said faculty training was an ongoing challenge, especially as technology shifted and advanced. Over time, students were migrated into more sophisticated technology platforms and programs. 

Wallace, who left the CIO position in 1999 but remains an adjunct professor at UMGC, acknowledged that women in tech leadership positions might not have been common in the 1990s, but she said the university’s inclusive culture made it feel normal.

“I reported to a woman vice president. I had six units reporting to me and three of them were headed by women,” she said. “UMGC is a fairly egalitarian place. We didn’t have the same types of struggles that emerged in other organizations.”

Although Wallace carved out a career in technology, that’s not where she started. She earned her Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and in 1975, while on sabbatical from a tenured position as an associate professor of psychology at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, she taught as a short-term UMGC faculty member in South Korea and Japan. She left Clarion and returned to UMGC as a faculty member in 1980 when her husband, Julian Jones, was named director of the university’s Asian Division, based in Tokyo.

Soon after, Wallace added a master’s degree in computer systems management from UMGC to her resume and began to work in technology. Eventually, she was named head of IT for the Asian Division and then was elevated to CIO for overall university operations.

“At the time, there was certainly a lot of movement to attract more women to technology jobs,” she said. “In Asia, most of the people who worked for me were women.”  

Wallace said her pairing of psychology and technology may sound unusual, but the two disciplines go hand in hand.

“After all, we’re humans. We’re interacting with technology and with the humans on the other end of it,” she said. 

Wallace explored that interaction, examining how being online can change people’s behavior, in her book “The Psychology of the Internet,” published by Cambridge University Press in 1999. A revised and updated version of the book came out in 2016.

She is also the author of other books, including “The Internet in the Workplace” published in 2004.

Wallace credits UMGC for giving her the leeway to experiment. Her work helped open access to a university degree to generations of nontraditional students.

“The university took a lot of risks in many different areas,” Wallace said. “I’m quite proud of what we were able to accomplish on the technology side and the academic side.”

UMGC’s Hoch and Aker Recognized for Outstanding Service at Aberdeen Proving Ground

One of UMGC’s great challenges is to create an environment that makes a diverse student body, made up of thousands of students of a wide range of ages, educational backgrounds, military service, and career stages feel connected to the institution, no matter where they are located.

UMGC’s military student population particularly is in a state of flux, living and serving on different bases around the world.  When factoring in the effects of the global pandemic, the feeling of disconnectedness that some servicemembers are feeling can be acute.

That is why the efforts of UMGC advisors and education coordinators have grown in importance as a catalyst to keep students on track with their educational goals.

And it is why Amy Hoch and Cherie Aker were humbled and honored to receive a special commendation from the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) Army installation in northern Maryland for going the extra mile to guide a soldier along his educational journey.

Hoch is a team associate and Aker is the assistant director in the region. Both of them work directly with students on APG.  They are part of a global team of representatives who foster success throughout the student’s journey in achieving their academic goals.

“They both have been so inspirational,” said Sgt. 1st Class Reginald M. Ross, senior religious affairs NCO at the Army Test and Evaluation Command. “Any time I needed anything, or I would come into the office or call, they are always helpful.”

Ross filed what’s known as an Interactive Customer Evaluation (ICE), which is a formal comment about services to the Army.  More often than not, ICE filings are complaints, so when a positive report was filed and reached all the way to the garrison commander, it was noticed as a breath of fresh air.

In his ICE comment about Aker, Ross commended her for her help and positive attitude, even as she was battling cancer.  “While going through treatment, she was still assisting me in my college preparation,” Ross wrote.  “Her optimism and cheerful attitude are enough motivation to push anyone to excel and go forward. I am personally grateful that UMGC and the Aberdeen Proving Ground community has an exceptional leader that goes over and above to support students.”

In his comments about Hoch, Ross said she was able to understand what he called his “complex” educational background that included five college transcripts and his service in two military branches to come up with a plan that worked for him.

“Her countless e-mails and reminders really express that she genuinely cared for my future education,” he wrote. “Her excitement of education is infectious and motivating. Her professionalism as a counselor has motivated me to be a lifelong learner.”

In making a presentation to Hoch and Aker at the base’s Education Center, the APG Garrison Commander, Col. Johnny Casiano, praised them for, “their unwavering support of the soldiers.”

“Your expertise has proven invaluable and has garnered numerous praiseworthy, interactive customer evaluation comments,” he said. “Additionally, your contributions directly honor and support our servicemembers who seek to increase their education.”

Casiano said he strongly supports soldiers’ commitment to their formal education. “The combination of experience in the military and education is a valuable asset that can serve a soldier well as they move up the ranks or transition to a career outside the military.”

“The UMGC Aberdeen team is a clear example of the personal connection the university makes with each and every student,” said Nora Graves, UMGC’s regional director for Stateside Military Operations. “Military students, especially, need to feel connected, valued, motivated; Amy and Cherie are consummate, caring professionals who understand how personal this journey is and they are eager to provide a connection and motivate their students throughout their academic journey.”

In an interview, Aker said how rewarding her UMGC job has been both at Aberdeen and throughout her career, to include her work with Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital.

“I’ve had some students walk in here and they’re so lost, they don’t know what exactly they want to do,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to see the growth of a student.”

Aker explains that the personal, face-to-face relationship promotes a more distinctive, empathetic connection to her students allowing her to help guide and mentor.  Aker’s personal journey with curative cancer treatments has added an even more layered connection with her students.   

Hoch said, “Students all have their unique story about their educational goals or where they are on their life’s journey or their history in the military.

“They may have limited time left in the military, and they often want to complete a degree before getting out and facing new challenges in the civilian world,” she added.

Hoch goes through their records to see how many college credits they already have earned from their military training and other educational institutions.  She may recommend advanced placement tests to help save time toward earning a degree. She works with students to find ways to pay for their out-of-pocket education expenses which may include other sources beyond tuition assistance, to include financial aid and scholarship options.

She said she is currently working with an entire family — husband, wife and daughter – seeking her help and using her as their collective resource.

“It’s just being able to find that unique way to help students based on their situation,” she said. “We want to do what’s best for the student and help them with their goals.”

MILITARY TIMES RANKS UMGC #1 AMONG EDUCATIONAL INSITUTIONS IN ITS 2021 LIST OF BEST EMPLOYERS FOR VETERANS 

University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) was ranked #1 among universities in the Military Times’ latest survey of the best employers for veterans, the most comprehensive annual ranking of organizations with military-connected employment programs, benefits and support efforts. 

Military Times’ 2021 Best for Vets: Employers ranked 161 companies, non-profits and educational organizations across the country. In addition to UMGC’s top ranking in the Education-Teaching- Administration category, the university was fourth among organizations ranked in the state of Maryland and #7 in the Non-profit category. 

“We are proud of our commitment to recruit, support, and retain those who have served our country,” said UMGC President Gregory Fowler. “Whether establishing relationships with veteran service organizations, working with government agencies on hiring initiatives for veterans with disabilities, expanding access to career development and health and wellness programs for veterans and their families, or our outreach to veterans at military job fairs, we are engaged in a variety of activities to both support our veterans who may be transitioning to civilian lives and helping them succeed in their careers.” 

Each year Military Times ranks organizations according to criteria related to recruitment, retention and career advancement. This year, it said it placed more emphasis on the practices that veterans say make civilian workplaces attractive to their talents and needs. 

“We had conducted focus groups with subject matter experts and with subscribers of Military Times,” said Tina Kurian, senior researcher for the Fors Marsh Group, a research firm that specializes in the veterans and military community that conducted the sessions. “They ordered which topics were most relevant for organizations to be the best for veterans.” 

The result, said group Director of Customer Experience Research Nicole Tongo, is a list of firms “that care about things that veterans care about, and good companies for them to explore if they are looking for a job.” 

About University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC)

Celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2022, UMGC is the state of Maryland’s open-admissions university. With an enrollment of some 90,000 students, the university offers high-quality, affordable, accessible undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degree programs as well as non-degree certificate programs in online and hybrid formats.

From its inception in 1947, UMGC has been guided by its historic mission to bring education within reach for adult students in the workforce and the U.S. military in Maryland and around the world—students for whom a traditional education is impractical or impossible.

In 1949, UMGC became the first institution to send faculty overseas to teach active-duty military personnel at installations in Europe. The university expanded overseas operations 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 and education support services to military personnel and their families at 175-plus locations in more than 20 countries. Over half of the university’s current students are active-duty military personnel and their families, reservists, members of the National Guard and veterans.

“No Fear of Math” Carried UMGC’s Goldberg to STEM Career Success 

Professor Kate Goldberg’s career choices and mentors shaped her path to the University of Maryland Global Campus, creating a life journey that echoes the story of many of our students.  

Kate Goldberg, collegiate assistant professor of data analytics at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), grew up in a family that both embraced and excelled in math and science. She recognized early on that the encouragement she received made a huge difference in her life, especially when it came to STEM education.  

“My father was a math teacher and my grandfather was a math teacher, so I was fortunate to grow up with no fear of math,” she said. “When I was doing homework assignments, my dad was right there helping me, and so I recognized that a nurturing environment is important.”  

When she attended Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia, now the co-ed Randolph College, Goldberg again benefited from a supportive environment.  

“At a woman’s college, I didn’t experience the gender discrepancies in math and science that a woman in a co-ed environment might experience,” she said.  

Although she excelled at math at an early age, she went to college intending to become a veterinarian. However, Bs in biology discouraged her from continuing on that path. Sage advice from her father helped Goldberg set a course for future success. 

“My father told me to do three things,” she said. “Get up, get dressed and go to breakfast in the morning; take a math class next semester; and practice your music every day.” Goldberg had grown up playing clarinet and cello. 

“At the time, I didn’t really understand what he was getting at, but the next day I went to breakfast, and I looked around at the women there,” Goldberg said. “They were all dressed professionally. They were the leaders of my college, organized and put together.”  

Goldberg’s father knew she needed to see what leaders look like. He also believed she should follow her passion and strengths. And he understood that music, something she loved when growing up, would help to enrich her college experience.  

Dr. Paul Irwin, her first math professor at Randolph-Macon—at a time when she was still majoring in biology—introduced Goldberg to mathematical biology, which would eventually become her self-designed major and path to data science.  

“I was fascinated with the idea of finding phenomena in nature, like a sunflower, and studying the way it grows its seeds, its geometrical pattern and underlying formula,” she said. For her senior research, she investigated the rate of growth of the mold Penicillium chrysogenum in different glucose levels, which impacts the production of the antibiotic penicillin.  

Goldberg’s new major led her to learn computer programming and then to a job at the college’s help desk, where she was able to study how people worked with computers and what problems they needed to solve.  

Dr. Irwin later encouraged Goldberg to pursue a master’s degree in public health at Johns Hopkins University, but an anxiety disorder and fear of test-taking kept her from taking the GRE exam and derailed her graduate school plan at that time.  

“During the spring of my senior year of college, my mother saw an ad for a nearby environmental software company looking for technical support,” said Goldberg. “I ended up getting the job, and it actually is what launched me into everything I know and do now.”  

The company’s clients were large refineries and other industrial businesses. It calculated, modeled and predicted the level of pollutants they emitted into the air.  

“I was there for three years, but it seemed like a lifetime,” Goldberg said. “I traveled the country, I went to refineries and worked on installations, and I learned all of these computer skills that I had never known before.”  

When the environmental company was in the process of being sold, around 2000, Goldberg’s mother played another important role in determining her daughter’s future.  

“My life had changed. I was about to get married and become a stepmother,” she said. “My mother read that Washington College, which was closer to home, was looking for a help desk manager.”  

Goldberg would spend the next 19 years at Washington College, the small liberal arts school in Chestertown, Maryland, in a variety of positions, gaining knowledge, experience and clout along the way. She professionalized the help desk department by hiring students, giving them job descriptions and helping them move through the organization and on to jobs in technology. She also revamped and automated the fundraising department and provided research and analytics in institutional research. In addition to her role as a staff member, she served as an adjunct professor in the Department of Business Management.   

“At the help desk, I got to know everyone because I was usually the first person they met on campus,” said Goldberg. Fortuitously, this position led to her meeting the new vice president of fundraising, who asked Goldberg to update the school’s entire database system. 

Developing a way to make predictions about donors ended up being an important step in Goldberg’s path to data science, and it led her to the Susan M. Glasscock School of Continuing Studies at Rice University. “I heard that Rice University had just launched a continuing education certificate program in fundraising that was entirely remote, so I could complete it while raising my family,” she said.  

Goldberg was matched with a capstone mentor at Rice, Clint Shipp, who asked why she didn’t have a master’s degree. Goldberg explained that family and job demands prevented her from commuting or moving for a graduate program—and there was also the issue of the test-taking anxiety. Dr. Shipp advised her to look at online programs. Goldberg found UMGC.  

Discovering UMGC was a game-changer. Goldberg enrolled in the Master of Science in Data Analytics Program and fell in love with the work.  

“I was solving real problems,” she said. “I would get homework assignments, and I would use my work experience at Washington College to provide real-life solutions. I was becoming an expert.”  

Faculty were supportive and provided practical exercises that were immediately applicable to working adults like Goldberg. During a meeting on campus, Goldberg talked to Dr. Susan Vowels, the chair of the Department of Business Management at Washington College. Vowels invited Goldberg to teach the data analytics course as an adjunct.  

Goldberg found that she enjoyed teaching and helping students to learn about data analytics. During a reflective moment on the beach with her husband, she decided to pursue more teaching opportunities. “I want people to experience that moment I had when I was excited about data analytics. I want to give that to other people,” she explained.  

Goldberg reached out to Elena Gortcheva, chair of the UMGC Data Analytics program, to ask about teaching. Dr. Gortcheva told her that she would need a doctoral degree. So, Goldberg returned to UMGC as a student again, this time in the Doctor of Business Administration Program in the Business School.  

With the support of her family, Goldberg completed the program. Her dissertation provided a framework for nonprofit organizations to adopt analytics in furthering their missions, and she remains an active alumna in the program. She often speaks with current and prospective students to help them find their passion.  

Goldberg’s doctorate has paid off and today she is living her dream. She is a full-time collegiate faculty member in UMGC’s Bachelor of Science in Data Science Program. This new undergraduate degree and certificate program offers students from all around the world an opportunity to learn data analytics, problem-solving, data-driven decision making, business intelligence, data modeling, data visualization, machine learning and artificial intelligence.  

Goldberg, who also teaches as an adjunct in the UMGC Master of Science in Data Analytics Program, uses her experiences in the real world to provide interesting assignments and scenarios for her students to investigate.  

Goldberg has come full circle in her journey and now helps others unlock their potential just like her mentors did. She has a mentoring relationship with several former students. One is helping to create affordable housing in their community, another recently completed the dissertation phase of a doctoral degree and a third has decided to return to college to pursue a master’s in data science.  

World Teachers Day: A UMGC Classroom Can Be Anywhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Education, Experiences through the Lens of Hispanic Americans

Higher education can be a complex experience for Hispanic American students who do not have friends and families to help them navigate enrollment, financial aid or the time-management challenges of taking classes, often while also working.

That’s why universities, including University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), need to be intentional about providing services and programs that support first-generation students, according to panelists at The Road to Higher Ed for Latinx Women, an online forum sponsored by the university in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month. 

The Sept. 17 discussion was among the events unfolding at UMGC in the United States and at its overseas locations during Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. The goal of the month is to recognize the contributions of Hispanic Americans—past and present—in shaping the United States. 

An estimated 60 million Hispanic Americans live in the United States.

Nationwide, Latin American food tastings, author readings, film festivals and theater and music events  remained among the mainstays in celebrating the month. UMGC was involved in cultural activities, but it also brought thoughtful discussion into the mix.

“Universities need to consciously work to attract and retain Latinx students in higher education,” said Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, director of community engagement at University of Maryland College Park and a panelist at the event sponsored by the UMGC Diversity and Equity Office. “We need to think outside of the box.

“We are full of talent and we are looking for opportunities,” added Aparicio Blackwell, who grew up in Venezuela.  

The higher education panel also included Annie Foster Ahmed, the director of the Macklin Center for Academic Success at The Universities at Shady Grove in Gaithersburg, Maryland, and New Futures DC Program Director Griselda Macias. Natasha Rodriguez, director of multicultural training and diversity programs in the UMGC Diversity and Equity Office, served as moderator.

The speakers were unanimous in calling for more guidance, resources and financial aid so that educational pathways held fewer obstacles for traditionally disadvantaged students. They also said higher education institutions need more Latinx administrators, faculty and staff in visible positions.

“We have to recognize that we have students experiencing racism and … struggling with identity if they don’t find [an academic] community that is open and understanding and that values and welcomes their identity,” said Foster Ahmed, who is Afro-Latina.

Foster Ahmed talked about the culture shock she experienced at college. She also noted the excitement of being able to take courses in Latin American history and Black history.

Ten days after the panel presentation, on the other side of the world, another UMGC-sponsored event unfolded on an Air Force base in southwest Asia. That round table discussion, A Celebration of Hispanic Heritage and Serving our Nation, included servicemembers detailing what it means to be a Hispanic American member of the military.  

“At my location, we have a lot of Hispanic military members,” said Chantell Simmons, the UMGC program coordinator at the base. “The panelists include a UMGC student and members of a Hispanic Heritage Committee on the base. We want to talk about real-life issues.”

Simmons, who is also a UMGC adjunct instructor, said topics for the roundtable included how having a second language affects identity. The panelists at the Latinx education event also discussed language, with one whose mother was born in Guatemala and her father in Jamaica, saying the pressure to advance her English-language skills eroded her ability to speak Spanish. Other panelists noted that bilingual college students often have unusual language barriers that universities do not take into account.

Both discussions also touched on the diversity that lies within the label “Hispanic.” Simmons talked of students on the base who were Puerto Rican and students who were Mexican American, and how their cultural identities widely differed.

“It is important to have events like this because it honors Hispanic American people and their legacy. It helps us to discover and rediscover their—and our—history,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Chelsie Gross, who manages the education office on the base. 

Simmons and Gross partnered to organize the online roundtable and ensure that access to the event was available to everyone on the base. Gross said the discussion was the serious spot amid a month of Hispanic heritage activities on the base, including a cookout with a Hispanic menu, salsa dancing and trivia competitions. 

“Sometimes we focus on the fun, but it’s nice to have the educational piece, to acknowledge … that men and women from all cultural backgrounds continue to influence where we are today,” Gross said. “Whether at UMGC or the military or wherever we may be, diversity and inclusion make us better and stronger—as an Air Force and as a country.  

“In unity there is strength,” she added.

UMGC Names Sharon Fross as Vice President and Dean of School of Arts and Sciences

Adelphi, Md. (Sept. 30, 2021)—Sharon L. Fross, PhD, has been appointed the new vice president and dean of the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) School of Arts and Sciences. Fross has served for nearly 3o years in leadership roles across higher education, dedicating her career to making colleges and universities accessible to adult and first-generation learners.

“UMGC is one of the few national institutions that has been committed to adult and military learners since its founding. I am thrilled to join such a preeminent institution−especially, at this critical time as the pandemic continues to change the needs of adult learners,” Fross said. 

The School of Arts and Sciences at UMGC offers degree programs that can be easily customized with a variety of minors. Students and alumni stay connected through lifetime career services and a strong global community that can greatly aid professional networking. 

“The nature of work is changing right before our eyes, along with the expectations of employees and employers,” said Fross. “Adult learners and employers know they can rely on UMGC to put learners first and to respond quickly and thoughtfully to these changing needs. I am excited to join the UMGC community of faculty and staff who do everything possible to foster the continued success of our learners.”

Fross holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and a Master of Public Administration from the College of Charleston in South Carolina. She earned her doctorate in educational administration from the University of South Carolina.  

“Sharon brings extensive experience developing online, credit and competency-based curricula, stackable credentials, and student pathways to meet workforce needs,” said UMGC Senior Vice President and Chief Academic Officer, Blakely Pomietto, when announcing Fross’ appointment. “She is adept in creating collaborative teams to revise and develop new programs.”

About University of Maryland Global Campus

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.

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.

University of Maryland Global Campus Names Martina Hansen to Lead New Division as Senior Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer

Adelphi, Md. (July 14, 2021)–University of Maryland Global Campus has announced that Martina Hansen has been promoted to senior vice president and chief student affairs officer. 

In this role, Hansen will lead the university’s new Student Affairs division—recently created to consolidate key academic and administrative student support functions across the university—focusing on increasing persistence, retention, and the institution’s various measures of student success. She will oversee enrollment management, regional center operations, academic support and new student experience functions, tutoring, the Effective Writing Center, library services, student resolution, student communications, retention and engagement initiatives, career services, and virtual lab support for students. 

Martina Hansen

“Martina Hansen has a track record of building and leading student-centric teams that create positive experiences for our learners, as well as a passion and enthusiasm for serving our students,” said UMGC President Gregory Fowler. “I look forward to her vision and leadership in this new role. I am also confident that our new structure will position us to be more focused and effective in supporting our students and to more deliberately reflect our value of ‘Students First.’” 

Hansen joined UMGC in August 2018, initially serving as vice president of student retention and later as vice president of student affairs. She has led the design, implementation, and improvement of programs to continuously enhance academic student services and student success. 

“UMGC has made great strides over the past year in enhancing services and support available to our students,” said Hansen. “I look forward to building on that to ensure the best experiences and outcomes for our diverse learners by maintaining focus on what our learners need to succeed and ensuring that they have the right support throughout their journey, along with the confidence to achieve.” 

Hansen came to UMGC with more than 18 years of experience in enrollment management and operations. Previously, she served as vice president of operations at Delta Career Education Corporation. In that role, she was responsible for centralized operations, information technology, PMO, application development, training and development, and procurement. Simultaneously, she served as a regional vice president of campus operations, with profit and loss responsibility for 17 of Delta’s campuses. At Delta, Hansen carried out several strategic operational transformations, migrated the organization to a new academic model, and led enterprise technology integrations. 

Before that, Hansen served as vice president of continuous improvement at Career Education Corporation, where she implemented strategies to improve student success and persistence, served as a liaison between departments, and worked to ensure the effectiveness of new growth and student experience initiatives. 

Hansen holds a Bachelor of Business Administration with a concentration in marketing and communications from University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a master’s degree in technology management from Georgetown University.