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From Hands on Hospitality Classes to a Rising Star in Hotel Management

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Cindy Rivas

Cindy Rivas always wanted to work in the hospitality industry, and knew she wanted to work at the management level. To get there, she recognized that she needed to go back to school to pursue a degree, but she needed a program that was flexible and allowed for an easy commute so she could maintain her full-time job. Cindy found a match in the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s (UMES) Hospitality and Tourism Management program, offered locally at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG).

Another main reason why Cindy chose to pursue her UMES Bachelor’s Degree at USG was its affordability. Cindy applied for and was awarded a full scholarship through the USG Kendall Scholars Program, which not only allowed her to focus more time on her studies, but propelled her into leadership positions within other campus organizations. “The #1 thing that I took away from being part of the USG family are my leadership skills.”

While at USG, Cindy was the founder and first president of the National Society of Minorities in Hospitality, a student-run organization that promotes diversity of leaders in the hospitality industry. Cindy was also an active member of Campus Kitchens Project (CKP), a community service organization that provides food to homeless and low-income families in Montgomery County.

“One of my happiest memories is learning how to cook, and then delivering that food to a low-income family with CKP,” says Cindy. “At USG, I was constantly doing things that were bigger than me, bigger than just 9 universities and 1 campus. It was all about how can we make a difference in the community and what we can do outside once we graduate.”

Cindy’s leadership prowess wasn’t confined solely to the USG campus. She was one of two students selected to be part of the Voyage Program at Marriott International, a highly competitive 12-18-month leadership program within the regionally headquartered hotel chain company. “UMES at USG was a big help in getting me ready for the Voyage Program. I was confident I would get in because I had so much help every step of the way.” Participation in this program is what set Cindy on the path to becoming the General Manager of a local branch of the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott, where she now manages an 8 million dollar asset portfolio and more than 140 people.

“Who I am as a person and who I am as a leader is because of the experience I gained here on campus.”

Today, Cindy is a guest lecturer at USG, where she shares her knowledge with a new group of students who are pursuing a career path just like hers. She encourages students to take advantage of all the opportunities on campus, like she did. “I stepped on campus bright eyed and bushy tailed, I didn’t really know what to expect, but I took advantage of the opportunities and made good memories. I left with a lot a knowledge and as a confident leader with the ability to give back to my community.”

Find your transformation at powerof9.org.


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Come Celebrate Grammar Day: Frustrating Grammar Fails and How to Fix Them!

Adam Binkley

By: Adam Binkley

Grammar Day? No, I’m not talking a day during which we binge watch Frasier (that’s Kelsey Grammer, with an er).

I’m talking about grammar, that crazy system that governs the way we use language to express ideas.

National Grammar Day drops every year on March 4th. As that is a Saturday, the Universities at Shady Grove is celebrating on Tuesday, March 6th—and you’re invited!

Maybe you are the type of person who is unsure as to what makes sentences sensible. You find spelling and grammar scarier prospects than skeletons and ghosts.  Misplaced modifiers create mayhem in your life and drive you to madness.

On the other hand, you might find commas as calming as chamomile tea.  You search for improper grammar on street signs like it is your own personal Waldo. Exclamation points actually excite you!

Maybe you fall somewhere in between these two extremes—a grammar goldilocks wanting to taste that just right porridge of punctuation.

No matter who you are, grammar day will have something for you. We’re offering up games, food, prizes, and workshops on grammar.

Now, I’m guessing there might be a skeptic or two out there who just can’t get excited about grammar. If that’s you, I humbly offer up these frustrating grammar fails (and how to fix them!)

  1. The comma splice. It’s sunny, wear sunscreen. What’s wrong with that? Well, comma splices occur when you use a comma to connect independent clauses. The simple fix for this one is to separate the information into two sentences. Do the sentences still make sense? It’s sunny. Wear sunscreen. You’ve turned your comma splice into something nice!
  2. Commonly misused words. There dog sleeps over their. Did reading this sentence make you a little bit (or a lot of) mad? If so, chances are commonly misused words already grind your grammar gears. To fix this one, slow down! Type that email out in a word processor. Read over your sentences a few extra times after drafting—and after reviewing a list of commonly misused words.
  3. Apostrophe catastrophes. Remember that “it’s” from my first example? That means “it is” or “it has.” Without an apostrophe “its” is possessive. This is one of those quirks of grammar, virtually every other time you see an apostrophe before an s it will indicate possession. Learn the rule for it’s and its. Then reserve the apostrophe for indicating possession. What about contractions, like “can’t”? Your best bet is to not even use them in academic writing!

Still hungry for more grammar (or just plain hungry)? Come see us at grammar day on March 6th and we’ll feed your mind and body.

Chances are there is a reader of this blog who has found a grammar mistake or two—come by and correct me!

Grammar Day 2018 Full Poster


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From Video Game Enthusiast, to Educational Game Developer

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Brian Doyle

Reflecting on his time in higher education, Brian identifies himself as a perennial college student. While at Montgomery College (MC), he worked various jobs and took classes on and off, unsure of what he wanted to do. One job he had was working as a freelance writer creating business development proposals for a government contractor, and he noticed he had the qualifications and experience to do that as a full-time employee, except for one aspect: he didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. It was then that he decided to continue his education and earn his bachelor’s degree.

While at MC, he learned about the Universities at Shady Grove’s (USG). He realized the University of Baltimore (UB) offered a B.S. in Simulation and Game Design at USG.

“It was great option for me, to have a campus so close to where I lived, especially since I needed to continue working to support myself while pursuing my degree,” said Brian.

At USG, Brian thrived in the state-of-the-art campus and fully equipped computer labs. He really enjoyed the diversity of the student body. He was able to enroll in a few interdisciplinary classes with students from other majors, which allowed him to view gaming in a new way. “I was able to get perspective and input from people who weren’t like me, who don’t think the way that I think, and had different needs and wants related to the product that I was trying to learn how to create,” said Brian. “It helped me design better gaming products.”

Not only did the diverse student population allow Brian to grow as a game designer, but it was essential in developing his professional network. “With nine different schools at the Universities at Shady Grove, it’s a great opportunity to network,” said Brian. “You meet people from all kinds of different industries and jobs, and you make great connections. Even today, I continue to reach out to those contacts to help me with projects.”

As part of his program, Brian completed an internship with Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS) during which he was required to design an educational game. His idea was selected by BCPS to move forward to the next phase, so Brian led a group of interns to develop their environmental science game, “My Own Biome.” BCPS funded further development of the game and it was later implemented in the curriculum for middle and high school students.

In a two-year span, Brian went from taking courses at USG, to teaching courses at USG, to running his own company using some of his students as interns. Now, he works at Coley & Associates, Inc. as an Instructional Games Designer, and he credits the experiences he had at USG for helping him achieve his success.

“The Power of 9 is the opportunity to make the best out of yourself.”

Learn more at powerof9.org.


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From Building His Skills to Building the Region’s Most Innovative Spaces

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Muhammad Ahmad

When most people think of a construction site, they think of the hard hats, bright yellow vests, and tall scaffolding. But, there is another equally important behind-the-scenes part of construction – the project managers who play a critical role in getting projects started and completed on time.

And it’s that career path that captured the passions of Muhammad Ahmad. “I wanted to become a business major, but I also felt the desire to work with my hands,” said Muhammad. “For me, construction management was the best of both worlds.”

But, pursuing that path proved challenging. As one of the oldest of 9 siblings, Muhammad played a critical role in supporting his mother at home in Montgomery County. That meant he couldn’t take the time to move away for school, nor could he spend hours at a time commuting to a campus far away from home.

When he learned that he could pursue a B.S. in Construction Management Technology from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES), on the campus of the Universities at Shady Grove (USG), he enrolled right away.

“My USG experience was invaluable. I don’t think I could have gone to school and completed it in the time that I did without USG being here,” said Muhammad. “To me, the Power of 9 means opportunity and collaboration. It’s the unique collaborative effort between these 9 universities to provide an education opportunity to the community that everyone can benefit from.”

In addition to USG’s close proximity to home, Muhammad was able to pursue his degree at USG because he was awarded a full scholarship through the USG Kendall Scholars Program. He began working closely with other scholarship recipients and staff advisors, and felt his personal transformation taking effect. “Through working with that team and all of the other representatives at USG, I found my inner voice,” said Muhammad. “I found my ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds and vantage points, and my ability to connect with people through speeches and community efforts.”

One of the requirements of his UMES construction management program was the completion of two externships. After completing his first externship, Muhammad landed his second externship with Coakley & Williams Construction, Inc., which then turned into a full-time job offer. He’s now been a project manager with the company for seven years, and credits UMES at USG for his success.

“UMES at USG is the main reason why I received my externship and then a job with Coakley & Williams, but it also helped me hone my social and technical skills that have propelled me as a leader in both my industry and my community,” said Muhammad.

“When I think about how far I’ve come since starting my classes at USG to when I graduated, the amount of growth was immeasurable. Looking at me then versus me now are two very different people, and that’s all thanks to the Universities at Shady Grove.”

Muhammad says the day in the life of a project manager means hard work, long hours, and a lot of team effort. In many ways, it feels similar to his time at USG, because he’s constantly relying on the tools and people around him. “I think that my experience at USG is the reason that I push for success every day,” said Muhammad. “It’s why I’ve been at Coakley & Williams for seven years, and why I am going back to USG for my graduate degree with UMUC. USG taught me to be my best self.”

Find your transformation at the Universities at Shady Grove. #Powerof9



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From Raising Her Children to Becoming a Child Therapist

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Yancy Padilla

Yancy Padilla’s academic path started differently than most of her undergraduate peers. As a mother of two young children, Yancy had big responsibilities that delayed her from starting her higher education, ultimately choosing to pursue her degree at the request of her children

Yancy searched for an academic program that would be local and affordable so that she could continue to spend time with her children, while maintaining her then-current job. With a passion for helping people, she found the social work program she was looking for at UMBC, but the commute to Baltimore was a real deterrent.

Then, Yancy discovered the Universities at Shady Grove (USG), which offered the same exact UMBC Social Work program, right in the same county where she lived and worked. She jumped at the chance to enroll in a university that not only put her on the career path she wanted, but also allowed her to balance school with work and family.

“USG helped me at my job, because the school is embedded in the community that I was working in,” said Yancy. “Plus, I took advantage of all the resources that the campus had to offer, and even recommended some of USG’s services to those that I was working with.”

For Yancy, affordability was also a major factor. She earned enough scholarships to pay for her tuition in full. “One of the big benefits of being at USG was that I had access to several different financial supports, including the seven scholarships I received from USG as well as those from the UMBC main campus,” said Yancy. “Had I not come to USG, I don’t think that I would have had the financial support I needed to get to where I am now.”

Because she chose attend UMBC at USG, Yancy was able to continue working, pursue her desired career, and complete her evening homework side-by-side with her children. She thrived in the small class size setting which provided personalized attention from professors and a close cohesion with her cohort.

“Before USG, I was a single mother raising two beautiful kids. Now, thanks to UMBC at USG, I am also the social worker that I had always wanted to be.”

Her educational experience at USG was so positive that Yancy chose not to stop with her undergraduate degree. She went on to receive her MSW from the University of Maryland School of Social Work and now works as a Transitional Trauma Therapist at The Tree House Child Advocacy Center of Montgomery County Maryland.

“It was USG that paved the way for me, and I continue to be a therapist here in the area,” says Yancy. “USG is where transformational things happen. It happened to me and it can happen to you, too.”

Find your transformation at the Universities at Shady Grove. #Powerof9


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From Discovering His Passion for Science, to Working Towards Discoveries in Cancer

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Armen Ghazarian

By the time Armen Ghazarian started taking courses at Montgomery College (MC), he was certain that he wanted to be a doctor. So, when it came time for him to decide where to transfer after his two years at MC, the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) rose to the top of the list because of its Biological Sciences program; but the location and price tag made it hard for Armen to see himself there.

That’s when he learned about the Universities at Shady Grove (USG). Having just opened its doors in 2000, USG was a new model that was changing the way education was delivered in Montgomery County. As a regional campus, USG offers degree programs from 9 Maryland public universities in Rockville – one of which was UMCP’s B.S. in Biological Sciences program.

So, Armen applied to UMCP and selected to take his classes at the USG campus.  He was among the first set of students to attend the new Montgomery County campus.

“USG was a lot closer to my home, which was great for me because at the time, I didn’t have the financial resources to live on campus in College Park,” says Armen. “Plus, it was awesome to learn about so many programs from the state’s top universities housed right here in Montgomery County. It was exciting to be part of that.”

Like most students interested in a medical field, Armen started on the pre-med route, until an elective course in epidemiology – the study of disease and its determinants amongst specific populations – changed his path.

“Looking back, I didn’t know what epidemiology was. It was just an elective that sounded interesting,” says Armen. “As soon as I started the class I realized I had found the start to my career.”

“It was exciting to see so many electives offered here, like the epidemiology course that changed my career path.”

Armen credits the wealth of electives, small class sizes, and personalized attention from professors as contributing factors to the success and personal transformation he experienced at USG. With the help of one of his advisors, Armen received an internship in a lab close to campus, which confirmed his passion for epidemiology and research.

Now, Armen is an epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute, where he looks at various data sets to try to find a link between certain risk factors and cancer types.

To Armen, the Power of 9 is success. “I can’t believe that I’ve made it this far, and I have USG to thank for the beginning of my success,” says Armen. “I was introduced to epidemiology through a course at USG which shaped my future.”

“To me, the Power of 9 means an opportunity for students who don’t have the resources or time to commute to all of these institutions to come to something that is close. At USG, there are so many programs offered through different institutions that your opportunities are truly endless.”

Find your transformation at the Universities at Shady Grove. #Powerof9


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The Power of 9 by Dr. Stewart Edelstein


Dr. Stewart Edelstein

Dr. Stewart Edelstein

Recently, I had the opportunity to reconnect with Armen Ghazarian, a 2008 graduate of The University of Maryland, College Park at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG), and a current epidemiologist at the National Cancer Institute. Before Armen found USG, he didn’t think his goal of becoming a doctor was possible. But, the location and cost of UMD College Park’s Biological Sciences program at USG put him on the path to success and introduced him to a new career path, in which he now thrives.

Armen is an example of what we call The Power of 9: the transformational effect that students experience when they pursue advanced degrees offered at the Universities at Shady Grove. As part of the University System of Maryland, USG’s collaborative model provides students the opportunity to access top-rated undergraduate and graduate degree programs from across 9 Maryland public universities, all on one convenient campus. Of the 10,000 students who have graduated from programs offered at USG, nearly 9,000 have remained in Montgomery County and are active participants in the workforce. It’s one of the many statistics that make me especially proud.

The transformational effect that Armen experienced at USG is like the stories I hear from students and graduates nearly every day. As I walk along our campus, I know full well that I am in the presence of our region’s future social workers, engineers, data scientists, hotel and restaurant managers, business owners, healthcare providers — each actively transforming their own futures through the innovation and creative collaboration of our university partners through The Power of 9.

This week, USG will launch an exciting new campaign around The Power of 9 which will feature Armen as well as several other rising stars who transformed their futures at USG. The campaign includes prominent advertising on Metrorail, on bus routes in Montgomery County, across social and digital platforms, and in a new on-campus event series, called Beyond the Degree.

Our new campaign is designed to celebrate, support and grow the qualities that set USG’s model of higher education apart and is timed with a fresh new rebrand of our look and logo. Together, these exciting changes signal just a bit of the positive momentum that we have planned for the year ahead.

This momentum will be significantly advanced by the opening in Fall 2019 of the Biomedical Sciences and Engineering (BSE) Education facility at USG. The BSE will bring new degrees into the region from our university partners in medical, technical sciences, engineering, computational and information sciences that will open up career opportunities for students and grow our local talent pool in these important fields.

This campaign is for students as much as it is for our regional business community. Our collaboration with business and community leaders, working closely with our university and regional education partners to prepare students beyond the degree has powered the region’s economic development, but we are just getting started. Our hope is that this campaign further inspires students and businesses to consider what’s possible when they tap into the Power of 9.

Over the next several weeks, be on the lookout for USG’s ad campaign, and in the meantime visit powerof9.org to learn more and to get involved.

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