Celebrating our May 2019 Returning Women Student Scholar Graduates!

A post curated by Women’s Center director, Jess Myers.

Last week, the Women’s Center celebrated our Returning Women Student Scholars graduating this semester at our pinning ceremony. This event has become a tradition in the Women’s Center as a means to celebrate our continuing and graduating returning women students who are 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 what our popular culture deems as a 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.

full group
Many members of the 2018-19 Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates celebrate their accomplishments whether it’s finishing up another semester or making it to graduation day!

At this special “pinning” ceremony, graduating seniors receive their Women’s Center Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates pin to wear at graduation along with a yellow rose. Each scholar was invited to share a short reflection, many of which included joy, excitement, gratitude, and sheer exhaustion. “I finally made it!” rang through the Women’s Center lounge walls along with laughter and tears.

Students not graduating were also invited to share their reflections on the year and one scholar asked to read a poem her friend recently shared with her as a note of encouragement. As the poem was read aloud, the group of students present became captivated by the reality this poem had in their own lives. At its conclusion almost everyone said “you will you please share that?!” (we’ll share with you too… a condensed version is below). For a non-traditional adult learner who often feels like they are taking on the weight of the world, this poem is a powerful testament to their strength and determination.

“…I’ve hated this woman. I’ve not loved her at full capacity. I’ve fed her lies & told her she wasn’t good enough and have allowed others to tell her she wasn’t good enough. I’ve allowed her to be broken. I’ve allowed others to treat her disrespectfully. I’ve allowed her to run through brick walls & battle for others who won’t even stand for her. I couldn’t stop individuals from abandoning her, yet I’ve seen her get up and stand to be a light to the world & love others despite all that. I have stood paralyzed by fear while she fought battles in her mind, heart and soul….She is who she is. Every mistake, failure, trial, disappointment, success, joy, and achievement has made her the woman she is today…. This Woman is a WARRIOR. She’s not perfect but God calls her WORTHY! She’s UNSTOPPABLE. Gracefully broken but beautifully standing. She is love. She is life. She is transformation. She is ME and She is BRAVE!”

Anyone who has spent time in the Women’s Center knows that working with this special group of students is one of my favorite experiences in my role as director of the Women’s Center. At a University which celebrates, grit and greatness, no other student cohort exhibits both with such deep grace and humility. As individuals and as a community, they are brave and unstoppable. So, it is with great joy that I invite you to join me in celebrating these fantastic students and their accomplishments. Below are some of our graduating students who in their own words share what they were involved in at UMBC, what’s next for them after UMBC, and some sage advice for other adult learners.

Happy Graduation!!!

Lex Ashcroft, Newcombe Scholar 

Lex and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration.

I started my journey at UMBC as a transfer student from AACC in the fall of 2016 as a psychology major. My first semester at UMBC was rough to say the least, being a single mom working full time in addition to taking evening classes. I didn’t have time to take part in any extracurricular activities or campus groups. I remember feeling very disconnected and discouraged at times. Thankfully, I came across the Parents Club in my second semester and connected with other student parents. Through them, I was introduced to the Women’s Center and the Returning Women Students (RWS) program. The RWS scholarship fully covered the rest of my tuition costs, and took such a burden off of my shoulders. Not only that, it allowed me to connect with other “nontraditional students” and women who had similar challenges as mine. The support that the RWS program (and the Women’s Center as a whole) offers is so important, especially for students who have competing responsibilities outside of school.

To say I am excited for graduation is an understatement, I’m eager to get started on the next lap of my educational journey. I will be applying to doctorate programs at the end of this year, and hope to enter a program in the Fall of 2020. I’ve been fortunate to meet some amazing professors here at UMBC, and through them I further explored areas of study that I hadn’t considered before. I hope to combine my love of psychology and education into a career as a behavioral health policy analyst.

My advice to returning women students, don’t be afraid to explore. Your time here will pass much faster than you think. Join clubs, service based or professional orgs. Get familiar with our awesome resources like the Women’s Center, the Mosaic Center, and Off Campus Student Services. You will find your tribe within the UMBC community, and it will make your college experience so much more fulfilling.

You can also read more about Lex’s story which is featured in one of UMBC’s graduation news stories

Giovanna Carbonaro, Newcombe Scholar 

Giovanna and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

Graduation has been the front and the center of my ultimate goal since I began going to school. I still remember walking to my classes pregnant, postpartum and walking around the halls with my little guys. Yes, it was hard, difficult and exhausting; however every time I reminded myself all the reasons I am getting an education. My best gift of all! That has helped me to focus. There have been countless times where I felt despair and I didn’t know how to find school resources. Here is where Returning Women Students community has been the backbone to my success by not only offering me a safe place to rest, but also to connect with other students/adults like me. Their staff were always ready to help with a big smile which made me feel so welcome and put me at ease; for which I am SO thankful. Thank you!!!

As for my career path, I am looking into part time teaching positions so I can be around my young boys who are under 5 years old. The thought that I will be walking to receive my undergrad diploma in Multicultural Linguistics Communication has proved to me once more that if we set our minds to do it….anything is possible.

Jaime Engrum, Newcombe Scholar 

Jaime and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

I started my journey at UMBC 4 years ago after spending 4 years completing my associate’s degree. I knew that a career in social work was what I wanted and I was willing to do another 4 years of college to achieve my bachelors. Taking only 2 classes a semester, I felt it was going to take forever to finish. The time went by faster than I expected and I was 2 semesters away from graduating and an internship I felt I was prepared for was about to begin. My professors at UMBC prepared me with the knowledge I needed to enter by internship, however I was not financially prepared. I had met the limits to all my loans and I saved as much vacation time I could to help with the hours I would lose going from working full-time to part time, however it wasn’t enough. I feared all my hard work was not going to end with a degree. My advisor recommended I apply for the Newcombe Returning Women’s scholarship the semester before my internship. She said I have a story and it should be shared!

The short version to my story is I didn’t decide to go to college until 10 years after graduating high school. I was a teenage mother raising my son on my own. College to me was not an option at that time. Once he was older and I had more family support close by, I decided to go to college. It has taken a tremendous amount of time away from time spent with my family to have my degrees; however, I have shown my son the value of a college education. During my 8 years of college I have married and my son is preparing himself for college.

As my internship approached, I received a notification that I was a recipient of the Newcombe Returning Women’s scholarship. It brought tears of joy that I received an award that allowed me to finish my senior year at UMBC and earn my degree in social work. Not only did this scholarship help me financially, but it allowed me to connect with women, like myself, and have a support system to encourage me to keep going when I couldn’t find balance in my life.

I now am about to walk across the stage next week with thanks to the amazing professors at UMBC and the amazing support of the Returning Women’s Program. The following week I then get to sit and watch my son graduate from high school! It may have been a long 8 years, but the reward at the end is priceless. I plan to begin my Master’s in Social Work this fall!

Rachel Mansir, Newcombe Scholar 

Rachel and Jess at the Returning Women Student Scholars pinning celebration

Sitting here, looking at the calendar, I am in utter disbelief. Thinking about graduating unleashes a torrent of mixed emotions. Chipping away one class at a time, this twenty-year endeavor has proven to be more than merely pursuing a piece of paper. This has become a personal journey. My diploma will contain the blood, sweat, and tears not only from me, but of my family. Returning to school as a non-traditional, older student is scary stuff. The college environment had become unfamiliar and was foreign ground for me. The Returning Women Students program created a place for me where I felt like I belonged. I connected with other single-mothers and found a brave, supportive place where I could spread my wings. Without the Women’s Center, their dedicated staff, and their financial support, I am not sure I would have been able to finish my degree. Of course, the support of my wonderful parents and daughters helped me persevere through the rough patches.

I am very much looking forward to the next stage of this grand adventure, graduate school. I have been accepted into the Advanced Standing Master’s program at the University of Maryland, School of Social Work where I will continue studying under the Title IV-E program, which is preparing me for a career as a public child welfare social worker.

I would love to tell you that going back to school was fun and has been a breeze. I can’t, because it is not easy. It’s just not. There are (many) days where you want to throw up your hands and quit. The late nights and bleary-eyed mornings can drive you to the brink of madness. The continual sacrifices and trying to balance work, raise children, juggle their activities and school is truly a struggle even on the best of days. Returning to school to finish my degree was the first thing I have ever really done for myself. But this has been, without a doubt, one of the best decisions I have made in my life. It’s worth it. My children are worth it. I am worth it.

Tenier Simms, AEGON Scholar 


At the age of 39, my journey began in Fall 2015 at UMBC. Undecided on whether I wanted to do nursing or social work, I ask myself who was I fooling to think I had four long years in me to do it. Unbeknownst to me, it was going to be a lot harder than community college. It was a rough start. Throughout the semesters I contemplated quitting, but my passion was to help others so giving up wasn’t an option. I remember meeting with my social work advisor and she was a little concerned. I reassured her I was going to do better, and after that first semester, I maintained A’s and B’s. As the years went on it, seem to get easier, and now that I am just days away from graduation, I can say I’m glad I stayed the course. On May 23rd, 2019 I will walk across that stage in front of my friends, family,  but most importantly my kids. My journey will show them and others that no matter how old you are, no matter how many obstacles come up against you, KEEP PUSHING! Push through the tears, doubts, and frustration because, in the end, I promise you it will be all worth it!

Being a Returning Women Student Scholar has meant so much to me it has allowed me to connect with a group of women from all ages, races, and backgrounds. The last few semesters I have had a few hardships, but because of the support I have received from Jess and the staff at the Women’s Center, it has given me the encouragement and motivation to get through. We as women make so many sacrifices in our personal and professional lives and to have a support system here at UMBC has been amazing.
My plans after graduation are to work at a local hospital as a Medical Social Worker as well as attend grad school at Morgan State University.

My advice to returning women students is don’t let anything or anyone get in the way of your dreams. Take full advantage of the Women’s Center and all that it has to offer; you will thank yourself later. Remember you have what it takes to be a victorious, independent, fearless woman!

Congratulations to our other Returning Women Students Scholars + Affiliates graduating this May:

Briana Graves, Newcombe Scholar 
Kiona Hines,
Newcombe Scholar 

Laura Popp, Newcombe Scholar 
Estelle Ra, Affiliate
Jenny Sage, Newcombe Scholar 
Ellen Tippet, Newcombe Scholar 

group - 19 graduates
Graduating Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates pose together with their graduation pins.

For more information about the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates program, visit the Women’s Center website. Returning Women Students at UMBC are also encouraged to join the group’s Facebook group.

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