A screen shot of a webex meeting with a grid of 24 boxes with individuals smiling.

Celebrating our December 2020 Returning Women Student Scholar + Affiliate Graduates!

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

Last week, the Women’s Center celebrated our Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates graduating this semester at our graduation pinning ceremony (virtually, of course!). This event has become a special tradition in the Women’s Center to create celebratory space for both our continuing and graduating returning women students/adult learners who are UMBC students 25 years and older seeking their first undergraduate degree.

A screen shot of a webex meeting with a grid of 24 boxes with individuals smiling.
The RWS pinning celebration held collective space virtually.

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. Affiliate students are also an important part of our program (and if you’re interested in joining, reach out to the Women’s Center!). This year we have our largest cohort of scholars + affiliates that includes 31 students participating in this unique program.

In usual times at this pinning ceremony, graduating seniors receive their Women’s Center Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates pin to wear at graduation along with a yellow rose. This year, we sent their pins to them via snail mail and they pinned themselves!

Upon their pinning, each scholar says a few words. Despite being in their own homes and not sharing physical space with each other, we still created a “collective assembly” in which graduates were still able to invite us into sharing their joy, excitement, gratitude, and sheer relief. “I finally made it!” rang through the Women’s Center lounge walls along with laughter and tears.

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 (even during non-pandemic times), 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 advice they wanted to share with other adult learners.

Happy Graduation!!!

Christan Malenia Dior Wallace, Newcombe & AEGON Scholar
Major: Social Work

A self-submitted photo of Chris in her graduation cap and gown. 

What was your experience like as an adult learner? What were you involved in at UMBC?
I was involved in attending Social Work Student Association, the First Generation Team and the Women’s Center. As an adult learner I initially stayed to myself. I really did not talk to anyone. At one point my fellow social work peers were even surprised to learn I was a senior and have been there for years. I did not feel connected to anything. Then I met Jess at the Women’s Center. She embraced me and introduced me to a lovely group of people. I felt included and came out of my little shell. I felt so embraced, understood and accepted.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
My advice for current Returning Women Students would be to open up and don’t be afraid to meet new people. I have social anxiety and I never thought I could. I would also say try the Women’s Center for yourself. You will find a place in there where you fit in regardless of who you are. They are so accepting of anyone and it’s a safe space.

What are your plans after graduation?
I will get my MSW. I plan to start my own organization and help any population needed.   

You can also learn more about Chris my visiting the UMBC’s First Gen myUMBC page and our Instagram post where we featured Chris for an RWS Spotlight.    

Harley Khaang, Newcombe Scholar
Major: Individualized Studies

A self-submitted photo of Harley.

What you were involved in at UMBC?
I was incredibly fortunate to have been involved with the Women’s Center at UMBC through my internship at the center and its scholarship program.  The support I received was amazing and the continued scholarship throughout my undergrad career via the Newcombe Scholarship was invaluable.  I am grateful to UMBC and to the Women’s Center for being a part of academic career.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
It all goes by very quickly.  2)  Yes, it is totally worth it.  3)  You will be able to look back on your time at UMBC and know you made the right choice. 
Get involved with the Women’s Center and reach out anytime you need help or support.  You are not alone, and you don’t have to do this all by yourself! 

What are your plans after graduation?
I plan on pursuing a graduate degree at UMBC. 

Iris Tapia, Newcombe Scholar
Major: Management of Aging and Pre-Dental  

Photo of Iris from the RWS Fall 2018 Scholars + Affiliates Orientation

What was your experience like as an adult learner and what were you involved in at UMBC?
As a returning, first-generation, and transfer student, UMBC helped me feel like I belonged and that I mattered. Jess Myers, the Women’s Center Director, has inspired me in many ways to get more connected on campus and to never give up! I also had the opportunity to step out of my comfort zone. At the time, I was enrolled in FYS 102 with Gib Mason, Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Leadership Professor & Graduate Program Director. The first day in any class can be very stressful, but Gib’s FYS class is something none of us will ever forget. I can still remember on the second day of class when student guest speakers presented to us (who soon after became my teammates). The moment they shared their experiences as students who were once in the same FYS class. I was moved by the amount of dedication and passion they each have towards OCA Mocha, and their story resonated with me. I am delighted to share that I had the opportunity to be part of this student-led initiative. This experience enabled me to expand my network, build community, and meet some extraordinary people.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
Step out of your comfort and network! Personally, the Women’s Center helped me in countless ways, and I will forever call it my second home.

What are your plans after graduation?
I plan on applying to dental school and keep volunteering.

Mafoudia Bangoura, Newcombe Scholar
Major: Business Technology

A self-submitted photo of Mafudia. 

What was your experience like as an adult learner at UMBC?
My experience as an adult learner wasn’t an easy one, but I can truly say it was rewarding! You learn to appreciate your individual journey. 

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
Reach out more to your fellow affiliates [adult learners in the RWS Scholars + Affiliates program); whatever you are going through, they have probably gone through most of the same things or can be additional support.

What are your plans after graduation?
I will work as an Operations Analyst and apply to grad school for the Fall 2021 entrance.

Mimi Yaldram, Newcombe Scholar
Major: History, USG

A self-submitted photo of Mimi.

What were you involved with during your time at UMBC and how did it impact your experience as an adult learner?
As a retuning women student, I learned to be resilient and patient with myself. I was able to take advantage of the opportunities that UMBC and Shady Grove offered and it helped me grow as an individual. As a UMBC student at the Universities at Shady Grove I was involved in numerous leadership opportunities such as the President of Zeta Sigma Disability Honor Society, President of History Student Association, Student Council, UMBC Peer Advisory Team, USG Blogger and Author of History Journal for Mildawareness. These experiences as an adult learner was noteworthy because I was able to contribute my insight from an adult learner’s perspective. I shared my experiences as an adult learner with my fellow peers.     

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
My advice is to be kind to yourself and learn to ask for help. I also encourage returning women students to take advantage of the resources that UMBC offers.          

What are your plans after graduation?
I plan to attend and have been accepted to UMB’s School of Social Work’s Advanced Standing graduate school program.

Tess Robinson, Newcombe Scholar
Major: Political Science  

A self-submitted photo of Tess and her kitty, Sparkles.

What you were involved in at UMBC?
My experience as an adult learner was sometimes very stressful but I applaud the Women’s Center for believing in me especially during my most dark days. I appreciate the sessions, group meetings, one-on-one’s and meeting other courageous women to share my journey with.    

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
My advice for current returning Women Students is to reach out to the Women’s Center when you feel over burdened with the demands of school, work and home. Sometimes, just talking to other women who are experience the same challenges as you helps to ease the stress tremendously.

What are your plans after graduation?
I plan to continue my education either by obtaining a master’s degree or going to law school. I haven’t made a final decision, yet.

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

Sara Weiss, Affiliate Scholar 

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

*Minor edits were made for clarification and tone. 

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