Celebrating our May 2021 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 for what will hopefully be our last and final totally virtual celebration. This event is a special tradition in the Women’s Center with its intentions rooted in creating 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.

Image of many people in a grid of small boxes. The faces are smiling and belong to the attendees of the RWS celebration. The top of the image has yellow and golds colors and "Congratulations" in all capital black letters. The bottom of the image has gold starts and glitter. In white text it says "Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates Graduation and End of Year Celebration, Spring 2021."
A group photo from the RWS End of Year and Graduation celebration.

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 financially 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 Scholars 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 had our largest cohort of scholars + affiliates that included 32 students participating in this unique program.

In pre-pandemic 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 invited us to share in their joy, excitement, gratitude, and sheer relief. “I finally made it!” was heard more than once!

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 that 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. You can learn more by checking out this great Class of 2021 graduation story featuring adult learners and transfer students’ experiences. The feature includes two of our graduating seniors featured below!

So, it is with great joy that I invite you to join me in celebrating these fantastic students and their accomplishments. Below are this May’s graduating Returning Women Student Scholars 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!!!

Charla Spano, Bryson-Neville Scholar
Major: Social Work

An image of Charla standing with her left hand on her hip. Charla's long blondish hair is down and hanging over her shoulders. Charla is wearing a white dress and a black and gold graduation stole. The background image is a building on UMBC campus.
A self-submitted photo of Charla in her UMBC graduation stole. 

What was your experience like as an adult learner?
In the beginning, I remember feeling the need to explain to everyone why I was back or what stopped me in the first place. It was hard coming from community college where a lot of people took classes after work or were just returning. It was not out of the ordinary to be in class with a bunch of returning students. Luckily, being a social work major and being part of the RWS group I quickly realized it does not matter what stopped me or interrupted my education. The important part was that, I returned and I am working towards one of my goals.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
You can do it! and there are many of people at UMBC that want to see you do it! 🙂

What are your plans after graduation?
Eventually I will be going to grad school, but I will be taking a shore break from school and will be working. I recently received an offer from my field placement and will start in June. I am excited to for the opportunity to relax and reflect on my time as an undergrad. 

Cira Tapia, AEGON Scholar
Major: Global Studies

Image of Cira from the shoulders up. She is wearing a black glittery top with thin straps and her dark brown hair is down and over her shoulders. Behind her is a rose gold background of thin streamers.
A self-submitted photo of Cira.

What was your experience like as an adult learner?
My experience at UMBC as an adult student was both challenging and rewarding. As an older person in my classes, I have been mistaken as the teacher by my younger classmates. Starting the first day of school for the semester was very challenging. Coming back to school after 30 years was very hard due to the new era of modernization and technology. There were also many things that I did not understand, especially the new way of thinking of young people, and also because of the different cultures from which we come. However, as time passed, I began to see that being an older person was a benefit. I am very happy and grateful for everything I learned from everyone in my UMBC classes.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
The advice I have for all the students who return to the classroom is to take advantage of their age and their life experience, as well as learn something new from the youth. Also take advantage of the resources that the Women’s Center has, such as using the space to study and meet and make friends with other colleagues who have returned to study.

What are your plans after graduation?
First, I will take a vacation to relax! I will then look for work in organizations that help immigrants. I want to serve people and help them in what they seek and need.

Christin Fagnani, Newcombe Scholar
Major: Chemical Engineering

A self-submitted photo of Christin.

What three words would you use to describe your experience as an adult learner?
The words I would use to describe myself as an adult learner include serious, adaptable, and accepting. I am an established person with children and full-time job, so I understand and am able to adapt to different situation as they are presented to get things done efficiently. I have also learned to accept things I cannot change, accept that help from others is crucial in success to achieve certain goals, and to accept the challenges and difficulties that arise with having to balance so many things to achieve my goals.

What are your plans after graduation?
Although my post-graduation goals are still undetermined, I hope they will include finding a position where I am able to continue to challenge and push myself in the chemical engineering world and still have time to spend with my family.

You can also learn more about Christin’s UMBC journey by checking out her RWS Spotlight.

Erin Weeks, Newcombe and AEGON Scholar
Major: Biology and Psychology

An image of Erin. She is wearing a black graduation cap with a black tassel displaying a gold "2021." She is wearing a gray shirt displaying the UMBC True Grit Logo. Erin had dark black curly hair that comes just above her shoulders. Behind Erin is a blurred image of stairs.
A self-submitted photo of Erin. 

What was your experience like as an adult learner at UMBC?
My experience as an adult learner had many challenges. For years I longed to feel connected or involved at UMBC. However, my busy schedule didn’t allow me to join clubs or attend social events hosted on campus. It wasn’t until I found the Women’s Center that I was able to finally fill this void. Being surrounded by other students who shared similar peaks and valleys was more support than I could have ever imagined! I absolutely loved being a RWS Scholar!

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
My advice is to not give up! I know being an adult learner can be challenging at times, but don’t let age or circumstances deter you from pursuing your dreams. You can do this! Lean on the Women’s Center and I’m positive that you will have a community of supporters cheering you on each step of the way!

What are your plans after graduation?
After graduation I plan to take a moment to sit back and appreciate this accomplishment. I will spend more quality time with my wonderful baby boy and eventually start the process of applying to grad school.

Evangeline Kirigua, Newcombe Scholar
Major: Poltical Science, USG

An image of Evangeline from the waist up. She is sitting and behind her are people sitting around tables at a conference of sorts. Evangeline is wearing gold-rimmed glasses and a green and brown scarf. She has short black hair with tight curls.
A self-submitted photo of Evangeline.

What were you involved with during your time at UMBC?
I was a 2019-2020 Student Council member at USG. I am also a Returning Women Scholar and a recipient of Charlotte W. Newcombe Scholarship for 2019 and 2020.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
Step out and do your best. You are better than you think. Your experiences do not define you. They are stepping stones to your ultimate success.        

What are your plans after graduation?
I plan to work as a Policy Analyst while attending Graduate School at UMBC. I will be getting my Masters in Public Policy.

You can also learn more about Evangeline’s UMBC journey by reading “Retrievers buck ‘traditional’ timelines and redefine success” which features transfer students and adult learners from the Class of 2021. She was also featured in an RWS Spotlight.

Kelly Martin Broderick, Newcombe Scholar
Major: Gender, Women’s, + Sexuality Studies

An image of Kelly who is wearing black glasses with large circle frames. She has short blonde curly hair and bright red lipstick. She is wearing a black shirt that reads in all capital pink letters "Impolite arrogant women make history."
A self-submitted photo of Kelly.

What you were involved in at UMBC and how did you journey as a student evolve?
When I first attended UMBC from 2012-2014, I was involved with WILL as a co-leader, and I worked at the Women’s Center, first as an Honors College intern, and next as a student staff member. While at the Women’s Center, I helped Jess get the Returning Women Student Scholars program up and running. My experience at UMBC has been one of the most rewarding school experiences of my life. For example, I am only graduating this semester because of the pandemic and because of the support I’ve always had at UMBC. I was laid off from my job in the performing arts industry last summer and couldn’t go back to the kind of work I was doing because the entire industry had disappeared overnight. So, I took a hard look at what I wanted to be doing, and before I could even really consider my next steps, I received a letter from UMBC reminding me that I was only three GEP requirements away from graduating, and encouraging me to consider returning to reach the finish line while classes were virtual. I re-enrolled, and the first person I emailed was Jess, because I knew from having worked with her and having been a Returning Women Student Scholar, she would be there to support me however she could – and of course, I was right. Jess got me back into this program, and here I am today, finally graduating. The Women’s Center was my home on campus, and the only thing I’m sad about this year is that we weren’t able to be in that space together.  

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
Get involved. That’s really the biggest thing. It’s so easy to not get involved, and to just go to classes and do the work, and then go home, but you’ll miss out on making friends and doing projects or creating events that you are passionate about, and can help you figure out what you want to do in the future. And, hang out at the Women’s Center! It is where I made all of my friends at UMBC and it’s where I was most comfortable. Especially for older students who don’t live on campus, it’s so important to have a space to sit down for a bit and decompress. Take advantage of the space and of the community available there, I promise, it will be one of the best parts of your experience at UMBC.

What are your plans after graduation?
As of right now… my only plan is to take a little time to relax and then to find a job!

Sandra Crespin-Melgar, Newcombe Scholar
Major: Social Work, USG

An image of Sandra in front of UMBC's main campus entrance. She is standing to the right hand side of big UMBC letters. She is wearing a black graduation gown and is holding a black graduation cap in her hand. She is wearing several graduation cords around her neck. Sandra is smiling and has long brown hair that is is laying over her shoulders.
A self-submitted photo of Sandra.

What you were involved in at UMBC and what was your experience like as adult learner.
During my time at UMBC, I was the President of Phi Alpha Social Work Honor Society, a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Member and a NASPA (NUFP) Undergraduate Fellows Program Recipient. I also was a member of the Student Academic Advisory Council for the Vice Provost and Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs and served on UMBC’s Inclusion Council Student Recruitment, Enrollment, Retention, and Belonging work group. Finally, I was a Women’s Center Student Staff and Field Placement Intern! You can read more about my experience as an adult learner by checking out my blog about being an adult learner in a pandemic!

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students?
My advice for current Returning Women Students/adult learners is to connect with other adult learner students. If you are not already part of the Women’s Center community, I highly suggest you reach out to the Women’s Center staff to learn more about opportunities to get connected! As I reflect on my time at UMBC, I would have not “made it” or be so successful in my undergraduate journey without the Women’s Center community, particularly the Returning Women Student Scholars community. Lastly, reach out to your professors and advisors to help you hone in your passions and academic/career goals! Also advocate for yourself! It never hurts to ask for special meeting accommodations(via phone/online) or request if events are recorded or Livestream. Communicate your needs and stay in community as you journey through your time at UMBC!

What are your plans after graduation?
I will continue to work full-time and I will be attending the University of Maryland, Baltimore to pursue my Master’s degree in Social Work. My concentration will be focused on Community Action and Social Policy.

You can also learn more about Sandra’s UMBC journey by reading “Retrievers buck ‘traditional’ timelines and redefine success” which features transfer students and adult learners from the Class of 2021.

Congratulations to our other Returning Women Students Scholars + Affiliates graduating May 2021:

Ashleigh Maples, Newcombe Scholar, Social Work major

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 brevity.  

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