Celebrating our May 2022 Returning Women Student / Adult learners Scholar + Affiliate Graduates!

A Post curated by Women’s Center’s social work intern, Jane DeHitta




Screenshot of the RWS-AL Graduation and End of Year Celebration over virtual call featuring Women's Center Staff and Scholars and Affiliates.
Image Description: Screenshot of the RWS-AL Graduation and End of Year Celebration over virtual call featuring Women’s Center Staff and Scholars and Affiliates.

This week, the Women’s Center celebrated our Returning Women Student/Adult Learner 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.

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!).

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 gave them a graduation packet including their pin and they pinned themselves!

Upon their pinning, each scholar says a few words. Graduates share about what this accomplishment means to them, what brought them to this moment, the struggles and the triumphs, and what they will continue to carry with them and they are celebrated with a round of virtual applause.

I had the amazing opportunity to work with the RWS program while I served my field placement at the Women’s Center this past academic year. Working with this special group of students has been an honor and a true joy.  This year has not been easy by any means, and yet, each of these students has continued to show up for themselves, for their loved ones, and for this RWS-AL community. At a university that 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. You can learn more by checking out this great Class of 2022 graduation story featuring adult learners and transfer students’ experiences.

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

Jennifer Dennis Major: Biology

Photo of Jennifer Dennis beside True Grit on UMBC's Main Campus
Photo of Jennifer Dennis beside True Grit on UMBC’s Main Campus

What you were involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner?

Not only did I come to UMBC as an adult learner, but I also was a transfer student. I was unaware of all that UMBC had to offer and I felt like I was constantly comparing myself to traditional students. I felt like I had something to prove and that I had to show others that I deserved to be at this school. But it didn’t take long for me to find my people and to feel accepted, not only by those who were also like me (coming back to school after being away for so long) but by those who were just starting out on their educational journey. I found a place where I belonged at UMBC and I will forever be grateful for this chapter in my life.

What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)?

I plan on working in the Emergency Medical Services field as I work toward preparing for applying to a Physician’s Assistance program. My family will be moving during the next year and things will need to be temporarily put on hold (again), but I am committed towards my goals and will be back on track as soon as possible.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students/adult learners?

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and reach out to others. And don’t preclude yourself from something you want. If you want it, go and get it.

What else do you want to share?

I am so grateful for the Women’s Center and the opportunities that they have provided me. Because of the programs they have provided, I have learned more about myself and have increased tremendously in the confidence I have for myself and my abilities. Thank you for all your time and effort you provide to all of us at UMBC. So with all my heart, thank you.

Marybeth Mareski Major: Social Work

Photo of Marybeth at UMBC
Photo of Marybeth at UMBC

What you were involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner?

Having clear goals, and being able to be focused, organized, and integrated into UMBC changed the experience entirely. As a social work student with my field placement at the Women’s Center, I felt like a part of a community with a purpose. I finally found the mentorship I had craved out of college twenty years ago.

What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)?

Straight to accelerated grad school! Soon I’ll be doing (more) therapy for the LGBTQ community in the wake (?) of the pandemic.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students/adult learners?

Make sure to pace yourself and allow yourself rest. And make sure to use your opportunities to connect!

What else do you want to share?

Make sure to make full use of the Women’s Center — spending my time there was one of the best decisions I made in my time back.

Joana Wall Major: Social Work

Self-submitted photo of Joana
Self-submitted photo of Joana

What you were involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner?

When I first attended UMBC, I was aware of the age difference between me and the other students, which made me feel really insecure. Thankfully I found the women’s center, and other adult women learners, which made my university experience far less alienating. In the women’s center, I found a place of unconditional acceptance and support, and a place where the unique feelings and the experiences that come with being an adult learner were validated. 

While at UMBC, I worked full time and took classes both full time and part time, which left  little time for extracurricular activities. However, I was recommended for the social work writing fellows program, which was an exceptionally rewarding experience. Not only was I able to collaborate with social work students on their research, being involved with the writing fellows program helped me to improve my own writing. The skills that I learned with the writing fellows program will follow me into grad school and into my professional career.

What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)?

After graduating in May with my bachelors degree, I plan on working for a few months before attending grad school in the spring of 2023. During this time I will be catching up on some much needed self care, including reaching a stack of novels that I have been dying to read.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students/adult learners?

My advice for Returning Women students/adult learners is don’t be afraid to reach out to the university or your fellow classmates for help. There are many women and adult learners who have taken the bold step to return to school so it is important to know that you are not alone in your journey.

What else do you want to share?

Deciding to attend UMBC over other Maryland Universities was the best academic decision I’d made. I was supported the entire way through my academic career at UMBC and it is due to my peers in the social work program, the students and staff at the Women’s Center, and my professors. I am so proud to have earned my degree from UMBC and I am looking forward to being counted as an alumna of such an incredible institution.

Jane DeHitta Major: Social Work

Photo of Jane at UMBC
Photo of Jane at UMBC

What you were involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner?

When I was considering coming back to school after fighting a cancer diagnosis that forced me to take a break, I was nervous because I had stopped at the end of my social work program so I lost the cohort that I had grown with and I was scared of coming back alone. But then I discovered the RWS-Adult Learners program and I found the community and belonging that I longed for. I got to participate in networking events and discussion groups and feel really empowered by being a part of this. When I had decided to come back, it was something I wanted to do for myself, to finish and get my degree. What I did not anticipate was that these two years were going to be the most meaningful years of my education, and that is largely the result of being a part of the Women’s Center and the RWS/Adult Learners Program

What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)?

I am going to take a well-earned break from school and work and hopefully do a lot of traveling. I have been wanting to travel more with my sister for years and I’ll finally have the freedom to do it! I hope to return to grad school after at least two years to get my Master’s in Social Work

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students/adult learners?

You aren’t behind and you haven’t missed out on what is for you. Your journey and what brought you to this point matters and is worth telling. There is a community for you at UMBC and there are people who want to support you on your journey, you’re not alone.

What else do you want to share?

I am just truly grateful for the ways the RWS Program and the Women’s Center have supported me and become a home on campus for me. Over these last two years of returning to school and finishing my degree, I have felt a part of something bigger than myself, and in that I have felt seen and heard and valued, and I have been able to support others in their journeys which has just been one of the greatest honors of my final year. Thank you to the professional staff who take such amazing care to support, encourage, and connect adult learners. 

Chinyere Sloley Major: Computer Science

Self-submitted photo of Chinyere
Self-submitted photo of Chinyere

What you were involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner?

I felt like I belonged esp. w/ returning women. Also, LSAMP helped me attain research experience.

What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)?

Grad school – MPS in Cybersecurity @ UMBC

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students/adult learners?

Reach out to your resources and grow them as you complete your degree.

What else do you want to share?

UMBC was a life changer for me and I’m so appreciative to be a part of the legacy.

Maria Cervasio Major: Biological Sciences

Photo of Maria at UMBC
Photo of Maria at UMBC

What you were involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner?

I am so lucky that I found out about this program from another returning women’s scholar during my first semester at UMBC. Thank you Harley Khaang! I was already feeling so lost and overwhelmed. This program gave me the support and community I desperately needed. 

What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)?

Work and grad school

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students/adult learners?

Take your time and be patient with yourself. It’s hard not to expect school to be just as easy as it was when you were younger and it’s hard not to compare your performance with other traditional students. Just remember that you lived a whole other life to get here. And you have a whole other life and responsibilities outside of school that doesn’t magically pause while you’re in here. Going back to school is a huge learning curve. Just keep reminding yourself why you are here and what it will mean to you to get that degree!

Emma Earnest Major – Social Work

A self-submitted photo of Emma
A self-submitted photo of Emma

What you were involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner?

I was involved in many student organizations and honor societies at USG. At UMBC I was the President of Phi Alpha. My experience as an adult learner has been very supportive one. I was able to attend school with the financial support of UMBC and USG. With the guidance of staff, I was able to realize my potential and find success as a student that I did not know was possible.

What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)?

I will be attending the advanced standing MSW program at UMB as a Substance Use Disorder Workforce Expansion fellow.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students/adult learners?

My advice for future students is to never let money get in the way of your dreams and prioritize your mental health. Where there is a will, there is a way and you can succeed if you first, care for yourself.

Ester Weir Major: Public Health

Photo of Ester and her daughter Evelyn beside True Grit on UMBC's Main Campus
Photo of Ester and her daughter Evelyn beside True Grit on UMBC’s Main Campus

What you were involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner?

My experience as an adult learner was so welcoming. I did not at all feel out of place or like I was “too old” to be getting an education at UMBC. My professors showed me compassion ad understood my obligations outside of school so I never felt pressured or stressed. I also became great friends with one of the other adult learners and I look forward to keeping my relationship with her after graduation. I am grateful to have had this group to turn to and Jess for being able to come to when I needed help

What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)?

I will be working full time hopefully! I definitely would like to go to grad school eventually, but I think I am going to take a break for now and enjoy my nights and weekends with my family

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students/adult learners?

The group is here for you! And also UMBC is a wonderful place for adult learners. It is an education focused university, so as long as you are willing to learn, it is so easy to get along with people.

What else do you want to share?

I feel grateful to have had this experience. When I was first returning to campus I was so nervous because I had never been to a college campus in person prior to UMBC, and I was worried that I would be treated differently. The welcoming meet and greet that was held at the beginning of the semester eased to much of my anxiety, and made me more excited than nervous to go to school in person. Also, everyone that is involved with this group is extremely kind.

Jamila Michael-Sobratti Major: Social Work

A self-submitted photo of Jamila in her graduation outfit
A self-submitted photo of Jamila in her graduation outfit

What you were involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner?

My experience as an adult learner was great! I felt supported by both students and staff.

What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)?

Beach, Sun, Fun and Coconut Rum.

Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Women Students/adult learners?

My advice is to go for it! UMBC has a great support system and the women’s center is one of them.

Congratulations Graduates of 2022!

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.

Image Description: some of the members of the RWS-AL Scholars + Affiliates Program with the Newcombe Foundation's Executive Director, Gianna Durso-Finley (End-Right) and Associate Executive Director, Lindsey Borha (End-Left)
Image Description: some of the members of the RWS-AL Scholars + Affiliates Program with the Newcombe Foundation’s Executive Director, Gianna Durso-Finley (End-Right) and Associate Executive Director, Lindsey Borha (End-Left)

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