(No Longer) Returning Women Students: The Final Chapter – Graduation!

On the eve of UMBC’s undergraduate commencement, we are thinking of all the graduating seniors out there who finally made it the finish line. Congrats!

We’re especially proud of the graduating students we work with through the Returning Women Students Scholars + Affiliates Program and want to shout your success from the rooftops! Since the Women’s Center is located on the ground floor of The Commons, though, we’ll exchange the rooftop for our blog.

The Women’s Center is proud to support the Returning Women Students Scholars + Affiliates Program for UMBC students 25 years and older seeking their first undergraduate degree. These students are called “returning” because they often have various circumstances that have kept them from the traditional college path and they are now “returning” to college to pursue their degree. Student scholars in this program not only receive scholarships to help financial supplement their tuition, but also benefit from tailored support and programming from Women’s Center staff through individualized meetings, programs, and events that meet the specific needs of older students on campus. Each year we have between 20-25 scholars and affiliates participate in this unique program. Returning women students (or you may have also heard the term “adult learner” or “non-traditional”) not receiving a scholarship are still welcomed (and highly encouraged) to participate in our events that are open to any adult learner at UMBC. Students can also participate in our program more fully as an affiliate. For more information, visit our website.

But, enough shameless plugging, onto celebrating our graduates!

We reached out to each student graduating tomorrow and asked them to write a short paragraph about what they were involved in at UMBC, what’s next for them after UMBC, and some sage advice for other adult learners. Here’s what they had to say!


Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates at the end of the year graduation celebration and pinning. This has become a special tradition of our program where each scholar + affiliate receives a purple paw print pin they can wear at graduation to represent their membership in the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates program.


wc17_228Meriam Bahta
Despite the fact I only had an eighth grade level of education when I moved to the U.S., with hard work I put in and ambition I carried with me, I earned my certificate in just one year while working 30 hours a week to support myself. I subsequently enrolled in Montgomery Community College for two years. In the fall 2015, I transferred to UMBC with a GPA of 3.80. I am now graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with a minor in physics. Last summer, I participated in a summer internship program at the National Cancer Institute of the NIH and I had an amazing experience. Since I extremely enjoy my lab courses, I always thought that I would be good at research and my experiences at the NIH has truly showed me that research is where I thrive, and I would love to engage in research during my gap year before I enroll in medical school by the fall of 2019. As a returning woman student, I consider my unfortunate circumstances and struggles as the driving forces behind all my achievements. If it wasn’t for all the responsibilities, which includes caring and supporting my mother and four younger siblings, I juggled while going to school full time, I would not be the strong person I am today.

My sage advice is this: The Women’s Center is a great place to connect with other returning women students and to get inspired by their stories. I highly recommend taking advantage of the different events.


Parents Club - Fall 2017Janiqua Dunn
My name is Janiqua and I transferred here to UMBC in Fall of 2015. I’m graduating with my B.A. in Psychology and a minor in Sociology. During what now seems like such a short time here, I got involved in a ton of things! My largest and most long-term commitment was co-founding and serving on the executive board of the Parents Club, which we started in Spring 2016. I started off as the Secretary and I am now the Vice President. We started the Parents Club to provide a space and support system for UMBC students who also have children, and so far it has been a success! It’s been such a great feeling to be a part of that! Outside of that, I have served as a Student Ambassador, Research Lab Assistant, Writing Fellow (for the Psych department), and I’ve taken on a number of internships, both on and off campus. This all in addition to raising my 5- and 6-year-old sons! Plans for after graduation are to land a full-time job and begin my Masters within the next year or two.

My sage advice is this: If you’re a student parent, join the Parent’s Club! You can find out more about this student organization at their myUMBC group.


emmaEmma Matthews
My name is Emma Matthews. I’m a Richard & Roselyn Neville Scholarship recipient. In the last 4 years at UMBC I have been a McNair Scholar and a member of the Honors College. I have developed and presented research in psychology regarding stress and oppression in college students with Dr. Shawn Bediako’s lab, and I interned at the Special Victim’s Unit at the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office. I have been accepted into the University of Baltimore for their Master’s of Science in Criminal Justice and Trauma Informed Certificate Programs and am awaiting news on acceptance, stipends and assistance-ships from two other graduate schools. I intend to focus on victim services and domestic violence issues.

My sage advice is this: It’s not easy being a first generation, non-traditional student, but I think that every student at UMBC faces their own unique challenges. Gratitude and humility will help you take inventory of what you have and what you need, and carry you through each new obstacle.


LTLindsey Titus
Lindsey Titus transferred from CCBC (Essex) to UMBC in the fall of 2015. I have been involved with Tau Sigma, a national honor society for transfer students, and was president of the UMBC chapter last year. I also held positions in the Sociology department, such as a peer mentor and grader. For the past two semesters, I was a part of the Accelerated Graduate Program in Applied Sociology, taking two graduate classes along with my undergrad coursework. Last spring, I was accepted into Phi Beta Kappa, one of the oldest honor societies. I am graduating summa cum laude with a double-major in Sociology and Anthropology with a minor in Management of Aging Services. I am excited to continue my journey at UMBC in the spring, working on my Master’s in Applied Sociology.

My sage advice is this: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for assistance if you need it. I have found that my professors can be understanding to plights occurring outside of their classrooms. Whether I spoke to them after class or during a visit to their offices, I usually felt better about having my feet solidly on the ground for my education. I guess that’s why I’m sticking to these professors for grad school! Also, Jess and the Women Center are the best. It was always a treat to visit the Center, even if I didn’t get to visit very often. It was the one place on campus that felt like a warm and welcome hug when you opened their door. And we can always use an extra hug sometimes!

Big congrats to Sungeun Oller and Lily Glushakow-Smith who are also members of the  Returning Women Students Scholars + Affiliates Program graduating this December!

So while these students will no longer to “returning” to campus as undergrad students after tomorrow, we welcome you back as alumnae! In addition to celebrating these students, we hope hearing their stories will provide encouragement to other students still working towards their degree. You can do it!


At the Returning Women Students End of Year Celebration and Graduation Pinning!

Look out for our full list of Returning Women Students events later in January. We host events each month. Additionally, Returning Women Student Scholarship applications will be available beginning in early January! 


Failing Feminism


A reflection by student staff member, Marie, on her personal journey to becoming a feminist and beginning the process of raising her own daughters as feminists.

I am not usually one to make excuses for myself. However, there is a first time for everything, and I am about to give my excuse.  I am extremely behind the times when it comes to being a feminist and knowing everything there is to know about feminism.  


Why is this, you might be asking?  Well, I can think of two reasons.  The first is because I am old.  It is hard to keep up with the constant evolution of feminism in this day and age when you have had a preconceived notion of feminism instilled into your brain for decades.  The second reason, which directly correlates with the first, is because of the circumstances surrounding my early education.  I was (un)fortunate to attend a private, catholic school from the time that I was in kindergarten all the way up until my senior year in high school.  I was an honored member of my school’s thirteen year club.  It felt so prestigious at the time.

During my thirteen year sentence, I can vividly remember taking the ONE class that spent a nanosecond talking about reproductive health.  This class, which was mandatory, was not even offered until our junior year in high school.  We literally looked at outdated (even for back then) pictures of both the female and male anatomy.  This lasted for about the amount of time in which the nervously sweating nun, teaching our class, could utter the phrase, “Abstinence only!”  I remember vaguely learning about menstruation, but by that time it was too late, I’d already gotten my own period.  And let me tell you the amount of time we spent on contraception, birth control, or even (gasp) abortion.  Hold on, wait for it…absolutely none.  I guess there was never any thought or consideration put into the fact that half of our class was already having sex.  Or maybe the nuns  really didn’t know, or they just chose to ignore it.

I tell you all this because my catholic education was the start of my lack of education that I was given in regards to women that had any sort of affiliation with the word feminism.  Here’s what I did know about feminism back in the late 1990’s.  It basically followed this particular guideline:feministblog1

  1. Feminists hate men.
  2. Feminists are angry.
  3. Feminists are unattractive and not feminine.
  4. All feminists are lesbians.
  5. Feminists are all pro-choice.
  6. If you are a feminist, you cannot be religious.
  7. All feminists are career women and do not support stay-at-home moms.
  8. Feminists are Bra- Burners who hate sex.
  9. Feminists can only be women.
  10. Feminists don’t believe in marriage.

I’m being 100% serious…this is what I thought.  This is what my girlfriends thought.   The idea that feminists were man hating, hairy arm pitted, bull-dykes was the epitome of the picture that came to mind if or when I ever even remotely thought about feminism.  Do you hear the problem in that last sentence??  There was a period in my life where I never even thought about feminism!  Now, you are probably thinking that this Gender and Women’s Studies double major who works at the Women’s center at UMBC, (which is centered around women and their experiences, stories, and potential) has been, since the late 90s, immersing herself in feminist theory and the constant evolution of feminism.  I am here to tell you that this has not been the case. Until recently.


I started UMBC in fall of 2014.  My intention was to get in and to get out of school.  I am 38 years old (I did it, I aged myself) and a single parent to two young, adorable children.  Going back to school was supposed to be the big catalyst that advanced my earning potential as a social worker.  It was not supposed to be this eye-opening journey down the ins and outs of a society in which there is an ever present need for the fight for equality and equity amongst genders, races, religions, ethnicities, sexualities, the LGBTQ community, etc.


But that is exactly what happened!  I came here as a Social Work (SOWK) major with a minor in Gender and Women’s Studies (GWST).  To be completely honest, I was required as a SOWK major to have a minor.  I thought that GWST was going to be my “easy out.”  Little did I know that it would literally change the way I thought, parented, lived, and experienced my day to day life.  I’m leaving here this coming May with a double major and a greater appreciation for the word feminism and all that it represents.  I owe it all to this school, in particular the Women’s Center and the Gender and Women’s Studies program.  

Summer session of 2015 was my first experience with GWST classes.  I took two “obligatory” online classes in order to expedite my graduation status.  The two classes seemed simple enough: Issues in Gender and Women’s Studies and Gender and Sitcoms.  I mean, how hard could it be to watch TV and write papers about the differences between Lucille Ball and Roseanne Arnold?  As for Issues in Gender and Women’s Studies??  I am a woman, duh.  That class was a “no brainer.”  Except neither of them turned out to be what I expected.


I wanted more.  I needed to have interactions with “real” people.  Discussion boards were not enough.  I was dying to have feminist theories explained to me, (which I later regretted wishing as I was knee deep into Feminist Theory!)  I hated that I had boring gen ed requirements that I had to take because they took the place of GWST classes.  I began to LEARN what feminism meant, not only from my own personal perspective, but from a broader point of view.  

I have been so fortunate to have had some of the best teachers along the way who have challenged me, excited me, frustrated me, and really pushed me to think outside the box.  (Thank you Dr. Kate, Dr. Bhatt, and Dr. McCann…you all have changed me!!)  In addition to these amazing classes, I started meeting people who LIVED this way of life both inside and outside of the classroom.  These theories were ways of life and not just classroom rhetoric.  I learned about activism, and feminism on a global level.  I learned what feminism is, and most importantly, what feminism is not.


AND…. I found the Women’s Center.  I found a home on this campus that incorporated everything that I was learning, and smooshed it all into a cozy center with amazing bean-bag chairs (seriously, come check them out, you won’t regret it) and a loving, safe, and colorful space.  I became part of a community that, as a non-traditional student, I struggled to fit into.  Not only that, but I could talk and ask questions about everything that I was learning  or struggling to comprehend with people who wanted to engage in this type of conversation.

Basically, what I am trying to say with all of this, is that coming to UMBC and having the engagement with the Women’s Center and the GWST program that I have been fortunate to have, has changed my perspective and my outlook on life.  I am now profoundly committed to being a better feminist on a daily basis.  I am passionate about carrying my knowledge outside of this institution and making a change in the world…or at least trying to.  I am confident in my ability to speak about feminism and am open and willing to expand my knowledge.  I am lucky to have learned what I have, even though it is considered to be “late in the game.” Feminism is an ever evolving concept, and I know that there is so much in this world that I still need to learn, and so much more that I am going to have to know how to teach…. Especially to the two little girls at home that call me “mama.”