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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

Armen 250x250

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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The Great Responsibility of Leading a Diverse Community


By Dr. Stewart Edelstein

Anyone who lives or works in Montgomery County can attest to the rich diversity of our population. On all scales—from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, economic status and sexual preferences , I have long been proud of our county’s commitment to recognize and embrace the contributions of all residents. And plenty of others are picking up on it too. In a report issued earlier this year, four Montgomery County cities—Germantown, Gaithersburg, Silver Spring, and Rockville– placed in the top ten “Most Ethno-Racially Diverse Cities in the U.S.”

There is great responsibility in holding such a leadership position, especially considering that the U.S. won’t be as diverse as Montgomery County is today for another 30-plus years, according to this New York Times calculator.

To me, it’s personal. At the Universities at Shady Grove (USG), we boast one of the most diverse student populations in all of Maryland’s higher education institutions.

Across our nine university partners, half of the students are the first in their families to go to college, and most come from families with incomes much lower than the county’s $99,000 median household income. USG students like Nadia, Antoine, and Sumaiya—all featured in this video—remind me of the importance of keeping diversity, equity and inclusion at the forefront of what we do. But there is still much work ahead to eliminate the disparities that exist, especially regarding access and affordability of higher education and career attainment and success for all.

Putting issues of diversity on the table, and more specifically putting equity in the center of decision-making, starts with recognition and conversation. Which is why earlier this fall, I had a unique opportunity to host representatives from the student body, business, education and community organizations, during a one-day retreat and discussion at USG on creating more equitable and culturally competent workplaces, which we appropriately called Diversity by Design.

Diversity by Design 2

At the Universities at Shady Grove, we saw an opportunity to bring this unique cross section of leaders together to talk about one very specific moment of transition: from college graduation to the workforce. Despite major initiatives to address diversity and inclusion in the workforce, there remain significant barriers to entry especially for students of color, with some reports noting that on average African American candidates are 16% less likely to get invited to a job interview, as compared to their white counterparts.[1]

This reality highlights how important and pressing our conversation on workforce diversity is. As my esteemed colleagues from regional businesses reminded us, there is a very real business benefit of promoting a diverse pipeline and intentionally building diversity in the workplace. Sodexo, for instance, trains its hiring managers to seek more gender-diverse talent from new and refreshing places, instead of always hiring through the same schools and job fairs. Why? Because Sodexo discovered that diverse work groups make better decisions.

But, business policies are not the only thing that requires attention. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics projects that students of color will make up the majority of growth in higher education over the next decade. It was clear in our October conversation that institutions that have a diverse and inclusive environment will be better positioned to capitalize on this growth.

At the Universities at Shady Grove, we work collaboratively with our nine university partners to prepare students of all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds for a variety of careers through degree programs, experiential opportunities, and leadership development. At USG, diversity is in our DNA, but there is always more to do at the transition points—attending college and graduating—to ensure that all students have the greatest chance of succeeding in the workplace and in community life.

I believe that what happens here at USG is as important as what happens beyond the degree, which is why we’ve launched a series of conversations, under that headline, on similar topics in the coming months. From STEM education and cybersecurity, to building an entrepreneurial mindset, we believe that the best formula for success beyond college is in a well-rounded education with 21st century skill sets.

This is the start of a broad and inclusive community conversation, and we need all voices at the table to help us shape the future. Learn more and join us at www.shadygrove.umd.edu/Powerof9.

[1]  Whitened Résumés: Race and Self-Presentation in the Labor Market

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Suite News: Tips to overcome the “Holiday Blues”


Dr. Jonathan Kandell

The “holiday blues” … a bit of an oxymoron, no, given our emphasis on “holiday cheer?”  Yet many people will tell you that it’s all too real.

My name is Dr. Jonathan Kandell, and I’m a psychologist and Director of USG’s Center for Counseling and Consultation. The holiday blues, unfortunately, are a pretty common occurrence in our society. The way I see it, there are at least two psychological factors that contribute to “holiday blues.” First, there are the natural cycles of the world as winter begins. Winter is the season that symbolizes death (with rebirth occurring in Spring), people are continually reminded of endings, and the sadness they can bring, including the falling leaves, dying plants, cooler temperatures, and perhaps most importantly, less sunshine. Sunshine has been shown to produce Vitamin D in people, and lack of Vitamin D has been linked to depression. Most people feel the lack of sunshine to some extent, but some people are more sensitive and may develop Seasonal Affective Disorder at these times.

A second factor contributing to the holiday blues has more to do with people than Mother Nature. Although the holidays can be a joyful time of reconnecting with loved ones near and far, businesses and popular media have created a set of expectations that even the most joyful group can’t achieve. To start, some people are unable to be with their loved ones during the holidays. They may not be able to make it to the gathering place, or they may not feel connected enough to anyone to be invited. For these people, it can be painful to watch others enjoying the company of others, especially when it’s a false, idealized version.

Those who are able to make it “home,” whether with family or friends, can find their happiness interrupted by the emergence of long-simmering conflicts.  Some families, and even groups of friends, may get along better when there is the physical and psychological space available to take a “break,” if needed.  Getting together for the holidays, particularly when in relatively tight surroundings, can lead to stress, awkward conversations, and even the eruption of old anger and bitterness. While the stress of reconnecting with others is real, even with people you very much want to see, the results can be especially disappointing if you are expecting the perfection you see on TV.


If some of the words above remind you of your own situation, all is not lost.  Here are a few tips to make it through the holidays and leave the blues behind:

  • Take Vitamin D capsules each day to maintain the needed level in your system.
  • Go outside, get what sun you can, and engage in exercise (even a walk) while out there.
  • Keep calm and prepare yourself for the stress of the holidays, especially holiday gatherings.
  • If you know a gathering will be highly stressful, pretend you are an anthropologist. Study the people and environment rather than getting caught up in the dynamics.
  • Don’t be disappointed because others aren’t mind readers. If you really want a particular gift, tell someone, or get it for yourself.
  • Most important — don’t get caught up in trying to make everything perfect! It won’t (and can’t) be.

Peace and joy for the holiday season!


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Suite News: This Holiday Season, Be Grateful for Your Grind

Adam Binkley

Adam Binkley, Senior Coordinator, Center for Academic Success

Regardless of what seasonal traditions you and yours choose to celebrate as a holiday, a theme of thankfulness arises this time of year. We are thankful for our friends and family, our communities, the support and resources that empower us to be successful.

Hi, my name is Adam Binkley, and I am the senior coordinator at the Center for Academic Success (CAS). Around USG, I’ve noticed another theme that emerges: busy-ness. To borrow from Rihanna, it’s a time of “work, work, work, work, work, work” (there’s six works in that song, right?).  Final papers and exams. Projects and presentations. Cramming before cranberries, writing before wrapping — putting in the time and energy to get to that finish line.

And trust me, finish line fatigue is real. Honestly, a lot of y’all look miserable out there. So I’m here to pump you up with a simple reminder: it’s okay to be grateful for your grind.

Yes, I’m talking to you – the you spending your lunch break breaking down accounting problem sets and you over there in the library, writing lesson plans instead of weekend plans. You’re at USG so often that we’ve started getting your mail. You’ve got white board markers in your pockets, glove box, sock drawer, and cookie jar. After practicum, field placement and work you are back in that empty classroom — laptop with less battery life than your cellphone — swimming in a sea of note cards.

We see you. Humble is a word that describes you but so is another “H” word —“Hungry.”

Power point is your new spirit animal. You see APA like John Wall sees a fast break. In the parking lot, while the kids are at practice, you’re practicing exam questions. When you walk into Starbucks, your name is already on the cup and spelled correctly — you need fuel. Like Batman and infomercials, you are no stranger to 3:00am. The food on your Instagram has, by now, expired and made way for the most used app on your cellphone — USG Mobile.

You’ve put the haters that would doubt you on your academic naughty list, right next to the person who took up two spaces in the parking garage and those folks who are talking during class (zip it!).

If you are reading this, and any of it sounds familiar, I want you to hold your hand up and accept the metaphorical high five I’m giving you. Yes, life as a student can be a grind. But the resilience, persistence, and work ethic that comes out of it is a gift.

So take a little time to be grateful for it. Appreciate your bad self. At USG, we appreciate you and all of the work (work, work, work, work, work) you do. So instead of happy holidays, let me wish you fruitful finals. May all of your hard work shine through.

Speaking of letting you shine through, I’d also like to take this opportunity to invite you to participate in the Blackout poetry event happening now! An end of the semester collaboration by the Priddy Library and CAS, Blackout poetry will allow you to de-stress and create unique works of art from found material. There will be a Blackout poetry creation table from November 27th  through December 8th. As an added bonus, we are also featuring an International Poetry Workshop on December 4th and 5th, and a Poetry Slam to cap things off on the 6th.

I look forward to creating with you!

Blackout Poetry Poster


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