Who You Came to Be Along the Way: Celebrating Our Returning Women Student Graduates

“As you journey through life, choose your destinations well, but do not hurry there. You will arrive soon enough.

Wander the back roads and forgotten paths, keeping your destination in your heart like the fixed point of a compass. Seek out new voices, strange sights, and ideas foreign to your own. Such things are riches for the soul.

And, if upon arrival, you find that your destination is not exactly as you had dreamed, do not be disappointed. Think of all you would have missed but for the journey there, and know that the true worth of your travels lies not in where you come to be at the journey’s end, but who you came to be along the way.”

 

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As students across the country prepare for graduation, the above quote is one that deeply resonates with me. In fact, this quote was a constant presence in my own undergraduate journey. Once I heard it, I typed it up and printed it out to tape to the mirror in my residence hall room. It moved from room to room with me during my undergraduate journey, ragged and worn, reminding me to enjoy the journey as much as the final destination of graduation.

I stumbled upon this very worn paper last week and immediately knew I wanted to read it at the Returning Women Student Scholars + Affiliates graduation celebration. 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 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.

And, while the quote above spoke to me as a traditionally-aged student going to college right after high school, I felt that this quote would even more so resonate with the non-traditional and often non-linear path of an adult learner. So I read the quote after the graduating scholars received their scholars pin to commemorate their time as a scholarship recipient. As I assumed, the quote did resonate with them and their journey to get to this week’s undergraduate commencement and it felt important to share it again in this post intended to highlight and celebrate these graduating students. As you read some of their stories I know, you too, will also understand why this quote about one’s personal journey to reach the final destination is one fitting of the returning women student’s experience.

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Returning Women Students at this year’s end of the year celebration and graduation event.

It is a joy and honor to work with these students and in my role as director of the Women’s Center, I want to 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!!!

 

 

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Cynthia Colon

My first semester at UMBC was in the Spring of 2015, and I admit I did not see a finish line in sight since I was only taking two classes. None the less I knew I would get there in time. In beginning the Social Work program, I knew the day would come where I would have to be in field two days a week but told myself I would cross that bridge when I got there. I was worried how I would be able to work to support myself and my family and attend field. In the fall of 2016, I met my boyfriend who has supported me in my journey and has been a great help with my children. In the summer of 2017, it was time to notify my supervisor that I would only be able to work three days a week. The prior year I had also passed my certified medical coder exam and thought if worse came to worse I would look for a medical coder job. To my surprise, my job worked with me and I agreed to work three ten-hour days in order to keep my benefits. I was relieved. At the end of July my family and I went on vacation to my home, Puerto Rico. A vacation I was looking forward to before starting my fall semester and my rigorous work schedule.

A few days after we returned from Puerto Rico I was not feeling myself and knew that something was not right. I took a pregnancy test and found out I was pregnant. So many things ran through my mind. Here I was, two semesters shy of graduating, something I had worked so hard for in the past two years and I was pregnant! How would I get through field, working three ten-hour days and taking a class? But I did it, and I will graduate Magna Cum Laude!! My son Aayan was born on April 9th, 2018 and I only missed that week of class. [italics are Jess’ emphasis because wow wow wow!!]

During my time at UMBC- USG campus I was part of the Social Work Student Association. I held the title as secretary for two semesters and then was elected vice president last semester. In addition, I was also a Phi Alpha Honor Society member. My plans after graduation are to continue working at my current job as a surgical scheduler. In the fall I will apply to the advanced standing Social Work program at the USG campus and go from there. As a Newcombe Scholar in the Returning Women Student Scholars program and a Kendall Scholar, I am proud to have shown my older children ages 14, 19, and 20, that it’s never too late to return to college and graduate.

Sage advice –  It is never too late to return to school and graduate. As long as you have the drive and determination you will succeed!

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Marie Pessagno

My name is Marie Pessagno, and I transferred into UMBC as a full time student in 2015. I will graduate as a double major in Social Work and Gender and Women Studies, and have been accepted as a Title IV-E student in the Advanced Standing program at UMB School of Social Work. I hope to combine the two modalities that I have had the opportunity to study, as a social worker in the field of family and children with an emphasis on trauma-based recovery.

As a full-time single mother of two small girls, the thought of quitting my job and returning to school was daunting, to say the least. Through the Women’s Center and the Returning Women Students program, I have been able to successfully complete my undergraduate program with an abundance of support from so many levels. I have been able to find a home within the UMBC campus that allowed me to feel as if I were a part of the college community. I have had the privilege of working for the Women’s Center this past year, helping with the Returning Women Students program which allowed me to form connections and friendships that will last outside of UMBC.

My sage advice would be to become involved on campus. There really is something here for everyone. The Women’s Center and the events hosted by the Women’s Center, are great ways to become involved and to meet and make friends on campus. The connections that I have made through the Women’s Center has totally changed my college experience, and has given me an opportunity to meet a group of diverse people that I am honored to call “lifelong friends!”

Marie was featured in UMBC’s Class of 2018 student profiles. You can read her featured profile here

Marjan Beikzadeh

As a returning woman early on in my college experience, I endured many hardships. Being far away from my home and living in this country all alone, there were times that these circumstances made it difficult for me to go on, and days when I thought that I would not make it another day, let alone to graduation. Graduation from UMBC was a huge challenge for me and I wanted to quit and take the easy way out. It was at this time, my second year at UMBC that I found out about Returning Women Students programming, and in their meetings I encountered other returning women students and heard about their life stories. Some of them had to work full time while attending college. Others had families to attend to while they still were responsible for their studies. And then there were those very strong women that had families to raise and jobs to work and school all at the same time. It was not until I witnessed their amazing courage and strong character that I found in myself the will and determination to go on. I realized that being so focused on myself and my situation prevented me from paying attention to the way that those women are going through the struggles that I was experiencing, in addition to holding multiple other responsibilities outside of the college.

Being in this program helped me stay motivated and appreciate the hardships and sacrifices of all the women who went through this path, and were brave enough to endure these strenuous circumstances to provide better lives for themselves and for their families. My advice would be for other returning women students to take advantage of this program while at UMBC.

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Whitney Pomeroy 

When I applied to UMBC, my husband and I had a four year old daughter and a one year old son. We were trying to figure out how long it would take for me to complete my degree plus certification to get my bachelor degree and become a teacher. We were struggling to find ways to pay for everything, including tuition, on one income as I commuted almost an hour to campus. However, I knew I wanted to teach, and I wanted to be a stronger role model for my kids. I started my first semester at UMBC in fall 2014, and though it’s been a long and bumpy road personally, I’m graduating with a degree in Environmental Studies, a Certificate in Elementary Education, and a GPA of 3.87! On my journey I was lucky to find the Women’s Center and the support they provided to returning women students (really to anyone who visits), in the form of encouragement, an out-of-the-way place to study or sit for a few minutes, and also financially. Now that I have completed my internship student teaching, graduation is next week and more big things lie ahead for me. We’re expecting baby number three at the beginning of July and I’m so excited to have been hired in my home county as a third grade teacher!

Looking back, my advice to returning women students is to let your challenges be your fuel and a reason to push harder toward your goals; and when you haven’t had enough sleep in weeks, stop by the Women’s Center for a cup of coffee to help compensate. As much as I hate to hear it, it applies to both good things and bad things, ‘this too shall pass’ and you’ll be better than okay.

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

Christina Allen
Samantha Bushee
Desiree Porquet
Mariah Rivera
Emily Wolfe

 

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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(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!

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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!

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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! 

Graduation: A Decade-Long Journey

Carrie Profile PicA final reflection from Carrie Cleveland as a undergraduate and Women’s Center staff member

In the fall of 1996, I started my college journey at Douglass College at Rutgers University.  I spent a brief three semesters at Rutgers, mostly floundering around and hating my choice of major (pre-business).  In December of 1997, I left college and began working at Starbucks.  I managed to support myself, but barely.  I spent a few years at Starbucks, but knew that this was not what I wanted to do with my life.

When I decided to leave the retail/restaurant world, I had a hard time finding another job that would pay me a living wage.  I was told that my lack of college degree made me “highly unemployable” in the words of one recruiter.   It was then that I tried to get back to school.  I could never figure out how to pay for it and cover my living expenses.  I had no idea what I was doing in terms of financial aid and loans.  I never asked for help. I just kept on working low paying jobs that had no professional opportunities for growth and thought I would go back to school later.

Time passed. I got married and had a baby.  We then picked up and moved from New Jersey to Maryland.  In my new home, I felt isolated with a husband who worked A LOT, a newborn baby to care for, and no nearby family or friends.  I convinced my husband that it would be a good idea for me to go back to school, even if it was just to have some social interaction with people who could form complete sentences.

In the fall of 2007, I re-started my college journey at Anne Arundel Community College.  I still had no idea what I wanted to be when I *grew up* (mind you, I was almost 30 at the time), but I walked through the door thinking I would get my general education credits done and figure it out from there.  In the meantime, I  would go on to have another baby, find my calling (social work), graduate from AACC, and have ANOTHER baby.

While my story is uniquely me, it isn’t necessarily a unique story. Continue reading

Working Mom: A New Adventure

A blog reflection written by Women’s Center student staff member, Carrie Cleveland

For the past ten years I have not had a paying job.  For the past ten years I have been home raising children.  For the past ten years my boss (or bosses) were little people who required me to tend to their every need. That is not a job where anyone gives you money.  There are performance reviews, bonuses, deadlines, and a ton of stress, but no monetary paycheck.

This week I started my first paying job in ten years.  I am the newest student staff member at the Women’s Center.  I am helping to program the Peer Connections Program for Returning Women Students for the next academic year.  Day one was perfect.  I was here on time, got my work done and went home without any drama.  Day two, well that is a different story.

Two hours into my five hour shift I got a phone call from my daughter’s school.  Luckily my husband was home so he could handle the situation, but he seems to forget that I am a work.  I am here to do a job and I am not available to answer every question immediately.  Now, I am not a globe-trotting mechanical engineer like he is, but this is a job and something that means a great deal to me.  So, after a quick little vent to my supervisor, Jess, I realize I may need to set some limits with him.

As I enter the world of a working person again, this means that some things in my home life will change.  I feel like it is a good build up to when I have a full time job as a social worker in a couple of years.  I also think it is great that my three daughters see that mom can do things that are important to her and that my life does not completely revolve around their lives.  So here I am.  A working mom.  Not a title I ever envisioned for myself, but I kinda dig it.