Thank you for visiting Discover USG, the official news blog for The Universities at Shady Grove (USG). The Discover USG blog features news stories and guest posts from students, faculty, staff, program directors, and community members. We want you to have a voice and engage with us on the news and events that are happening at USG.

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A message from USG’s Executive Director, Dr. Anne Khademian in response to Jan. 6 events at Capitol

Dear Colleagues and Students in the USG Community:

I am sure that many of you were deeply saddened and impacted by the events that took place in our nation’s capital yesterday and I wanted to share some of my own thoughts with you via this short video. If you have a few minutes, I invite you to watch it below. As always, I hope this finds you well and I thank you all for making the Universities at Shady Grove such a wonderfully inclusive and supportive community.

Anne Khademian, Ph.D.
Executive Director, USG, & Associate Vice Chancellor, University System of Maryland

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Using Innovation to Navigate Today’s Job Market. Guest Post John Zuknick

In today’s unprecedented environment, the job market is challenging at best for anyone from a recent graduate to someone laid off to a career-changer to those reentering the job market. Due to the pandemic we’re in a global recession and looking for employment during a recession is difficult.

The five principles of effectuation (Image source: https://images.app.goo.gl/u8LvVwVEjsy2ZYPTA)

What can you do to better position yourself for success in these uncertain times?  I suggest you employ an innovative process that many entrepreneurs have used for years called effectuation.  The effectual thinking process works on the philosophy of, “If I can control the future, I do not need to predict it.” Some very successful serial entrepreneurs, including Michael Rubin, an e-commerce and sports entrepreneur, and Oprah Winfrey, an entrepreneur who built businesses based on her television audience following, each used effectual entrepreneurship.  Serial entrepreneurs are effectual thinkers.

To navigate through an uncertain job market, consider using what you already know.  Focus on the given means (what you know) and choices; and then, define your goal. Effectuation encourages creative, innovative and transformative tactics to control your future, and is based on the following five principles that can help you control the job market uncertainty:

John Zuknick is Director of Economic Development & Workforce Initiatives for the Universities at Shady Grove. He volunteers as an entrepreneur-in-residence and teaches marketing, innovation, and entrepreneurship at the University of Baltimore.
  1. Bird in Hand Principle  

The first step of effectuation is your means, not your goal.  Begin with looking at the resources you have at your disposal right now. Make an assessment by asking yourself:

Who am I?  Conduct a self-reflection and complete a value map exercise to determine your strengths, traits, and abilities. “Who you are” is something you likely take for granted, think of as obvious, and have never thought about memorializing in a written document.  However, defining your values is key when trying to explain your work to colleagues, superiors or hiring managers. When developing your value map, survey your supervisor, co-workers, professors, and peers.  Try to keep away from asking your mom, as she already knows that you’re brilliant, and BFFs are not always unbiased!

What do I know?  What value do you bring to the table with education, training, expertise, interests and experience that employers can use to solve their problems?  Here is where you want to uncover your value through a competence mapping exercise.  Use the results from competence mapping (what you bring to the table) to match your value to solving the employer’s requirements and needs.  Maybe you are applying for a social media marketing position and have been successful with social media marketing through a volunteer organization or club.  That’s great, and you are very qualified, but you also need to highlight what differentiates you from the other qualified applicants who are applying. 

Who do I know?  Target and segment your social and professional networks for employment opportunities.  This provides you with effective introductions via your network (e.g. colleagues, classmates, former employers and co-workers, professional acquaintances, friends, family, etc.).  You will find an excel spreadsheet works well for this task.  Research on how to best develop this process as there a number of books and websites with good information on identifying and farming your network.

After answering these key questions, you will be ready to create a personal value proposition (PVP).  A PVP is a summary of why an employer should hire you! It’s not about what you want, but instead, what value you bring to the opportunity. Usually the first question asked in an interview is, “Tell me about yourself.”  When answering this question, the first sentence should be your PVP! It’s extremely important to develop a strong PVP and a message map is an excellent place to start when developing your PVP.

2. Affordable Loss Principle  

By using this principle, you kill failures early and you cumulate successes by leveraging on what works. Ask yourself, “What can I possibly lose by taking this action and is that affordable to me?”  If it is an affordable loss and there are potential gains, go for it! Here are a few examples:  

Initiating contacts with other people has a very low cost but high upside.  

The job market is challenging, should you stay in school to earn a Master’s degree? You already have $70,000 worth of debt from your undergraduate degree.  Is the additional debt worth it?  

There is a significant need for cyber security specialists. You could attend a cyber-academy, incur an additional $20,000 of debt and in six months have multiple certifications making you a candidate for a variety of high paying jobs.

A company you desire to work for has a non-paid internship. Can you afford to work free for three months to increase your chances of landing a paid position at the end of your three-month internship?

There is no “right” answer to the question of “What is an affordable loss?” The question is very personal and can only be made by you after careful consideration of your personal aspirations and financial situation.  

3. Lemonade Principle  

There is an old saying, “When you get dealt lemons, make lemonade.” I always use lots of sugar!  Leverage the possibilities by embracing the unexpected that arises from uncertain situations; be flexible rather than chained to your current goals. A great story I share with my entrepreneurship classes on the lemonade principle is the invention of the potato chip. George Crum invented the potato chip in 1853. Crum was a chef at a restaurant where French-fries were popular, and one day a diner complained that his fries were too thick. Mr. Crum cut the potatoes thin, salted the potatoes heavily and fried them up. Out of just one customer complaint, the potato chip was born! Learn to work with surprises and turn those surprises into opportunities. For example, if you have a business degree with a concentration in marketing but there is an opportunity at a large company as an accounting clerk, why not consider it? After getting your foot in the door, you’ll have a better opportunity to move towards that desired marketing position.

4. Crazy-Quilt Principle

Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships…create a personal “quilt” by forming partnerships with diverse people and organizations willing to make a real commitment to jointly creating the future with you. For example, you join a business civic organization and volunteer to serve on a committee. A committee member notices the hard work and skills you employed to ensure the success of the committee project. Her company has an opening and she recommends you for the position before the job is on Indeed (actual story). The Crazy-Quilt Principle can serve as a paramount resource in finding employment.

5. Pilot in the Plane Principle 

You are in the pilot seat of your career, which means you need to “Control vs. Predict.”  By focusing on activities within your control, you need to know your actions will result in the desired outcomes. Of course, not everything can be shaped or controlled, but effectuation encourages you, as the pilot of your career, to focus on those aspects of the environment that are, at least to a certain degree, within your control.

I hope you find the above points helpful as you take the next step in your personal and professional journey.  Looking for employment in a recession is difficult. However, working through adversity makes us stronger and produces great character traits that can lead us to great success.

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A Salute to UMBC’s First TLST Graduates. Guest Post: Dr. Annica Wayman

Since stepping into the role of Associate Dean at UMBC-Shady Grove in August of 2018 to oversee undergraduate and graduate applied biotechnology programs, time has surely flown by. I’m completing only my fifth fall/spring semester but this one is special. This semester, the first three students of UMBC’s new undergraduate biotechnology program, a Bachelor of Science in Translational Life Science Technology (TLST), are graduating.  

Dr. Annica Wayman, Associate Dean at UMBC-Shady Grove

I couldn’t be prouder of Charmaine Hipolito, Loic Soumani Mowa, and Titina Sirak. Because of COVID-19, we are unable to celebrate this milestone with them during commencement as we normally would. So I want to salute them here –– congratulations on completing your bachelor’s degree and being the inaugural graduates of UMBC’s TLST program at The Universities at Shady Grove

Along with the other students in the TLST program who will graduate over the next year, they have paved the way for future TLST students by being smart, hard-working, and gracious students who are passionate about science and its application in making life-saving medical products. We need your talent more than ever in the biotechnology workforce.

UMBC’s TLST degree uniquely prepares students for the many jobs in the growing biotechnology industry where medical products are made.  Among the 300-plus biotech companies in Montgomery County, there will be hundreds of jobs opening in the next few years to work on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, cell and gene therapy products, and other novel biopharmaceuticals. In the TLST program, students complete a hands-on, multidisciplinary program that includes cell biology, bioinformatics, epidemiology, and biomanufacturing courses, as well as internships at biotechnology companies or in the TLST lab doing research.  

When graduating from the TLST bachelor’s degree program, students will have an applied understanding of the many facets of science and engineering used to make medical products and relevant experience to lead them into a secure and impactful biotechnology career.

With Charmaine, Loic and Titina, I had the pleasure of witnessing their growth in knowledge, experience and professionalism in the TLST program. They not only understand the science, engineering, legal, and organizational aspects of making a medical product, they have also gained excellent laboratory, computer, critical thinking and communication skills. They acquired work experience from UMCP’s Biotechnology Research and Education Program (BREP), GeneDx, AstraZeneca, Kite Pharma and American Gene Technologies, which solidified their classroom learning, improved their professionalism, and grew their network. They now have many options to consider for their postgraduate plans.

Whatever Charmaine, Loic and Titina decide to pursue after graduating, I know they will leverage their education in the TLST program to achieve successful careers in biotechnology.  I wish them and the soon-to-be TLST graduates all the best!

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Thankfulness during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Guest Post: Obioma (Obii) Akaigwe

Hello, I’m Obioma (Obii) Akaigwe, Manager of the Auxiliary Services department at USG. Day-to-day I manage several operations at USG that many of you enjoy on campus (in normal times!), including food service, vending, the campus rec center, the copy center, parking & transportation, Mobile Market Mondays and the bookstore. I enjoy enriching the campus experience for students, staff, faculty, and visitors.

Obioma (Obii) Akaigwe, Manager, USG Auxiliary Services

It has been seven months since the pandemic rocked our world – literally! By that, I mean switching from our usual way of life to adopting new ones, like Work-from-Home (WFH) and Virtual Learning (VL). It has been a struggle adjusting to the new norm of doing pretty much everything, from Zoom calls to mask wearing! But, it is what we must do to kick this virus far, far away. As I was thinking about my plans for the holidays under this new norm, I can’t visit or host friends or family (according to the CDC, social distancing helps slow the spread). Well, I did not want that to dampen my holiday plans or spirit, so I started thinking of the many things I am thankful for; I had a long list, but narrowed it down to these few:

• I am thankful for health and life (when many are sick from and have died of COVID-19)

• I am thankful for family and friends (even though we can’t see each other in person just yet)

• I am thankful to have a job (even during a time when many people are unemployed)

• I am thankful for hope (because it helps me look forward to the days ahead when we can once again stay close to one another, talk, smile, and laugh together)

What are you most thankful for? Make your own list and consider these tips for making this holiday season a memorable one.

After reviewing my thankfulness list, it inspired me to make the most of the coming holiday season, and I wanted to share my plans hoping that others may find it helpful. First, let’s adjust our mindset; you don’t need to feel bad and dampen the holiday spirit just because we are socially distancing! We may have made various plans for this time of the year, places to go, people to see – but we must make lemonade with the lemon life has given us! So, with that, I encourage you to try one or more of the following ways to celebrate and make this holiday season just as memorable as the past ones:

1. Turkey drop-off (or bird-drop off) – Instead of gathering, try cooking and dropping off the meals to your family/friends if possible. If you were supposed to host this year, consider cooking the meals, packaging them, and dropping them off on Thanksgiving Day, or the day before.

2. Curb-side or front door pick-up – Similarly, if you were intending to host this year, consider staying at home and letting your guests drive to you to pick up their meals by the curb or by your door as they arrive for pick up.

3. Break-bread virtually – Dine together on a video call – simply set a time, and everyone will gather to eat together just as if they typically would.

4. Reach out those near and far – In addition to our family and friends, it is equally important to reach out to classmates, co-workers, and neighbors to check in and see how they are doing – and maybe, surprise them with a meal, with a turkey drop-off or front door pick-up offer. It is the season to spread joy, love, and hope in the midst of what is happening in the world and we have the power to lift each other up in these difficult times.

5. Burn holiday calories virtually – If you’re looking to get ahead of burning those calories that have yet to be consumed during your big Thanksgiving meal and drinks – join our weekly virtual fitness classes hosted by the USG Rec Center! Classes are scheduled for Thanksgiving week, too!

I hope that sharing these tips bring joy to your hearts and hope in your souls. Consider trying any of the options above this holiday season and let me know how it went, or if you have any other ideas for safe, socially distant celebrations this year, comment below to share. I wish you all a very joyous, cheerful, laughter-filled, safe and healthy holiday!

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Election is Over, But Issues Remain. Guest Post: Mariam Yaldram, UMBC History Student

Mariam Yaldram, UMBC History Student at USG

The 2020 Presidential Election is nearing its end and its journey has been important. I do not want to get too political and/or controversial, but wanted to share some noteworthy information.

In the campaign, both former Vice President Biden and President Trump had focused their issues on Covid-19, the economy, the environment, health care and racial unrest. Other issues that were unique to the 2020 election were impeachment, foreign interference, and the Supreme Court vacancy. Knowing each opponent’s platform was important because it reflected your values and core beliefs.

I gave my vote as it was my duty as a citizen of the United States to participate in this crucial election, but also it was important for me to vote because I am a first-generation immigrant who cares about these issues. This election has demonstrated many perspectives. For one thing, it gives insight to the issues that many people care about. It showcases how American citizens are willing to vote for the candidates and how it will impact their lives.

For example, the concern over Covid-19 is one that many people are worried about. How will the candidates address this issue and how will it be solved? Regardless of your political party affiliation, I think America needs to address these issues and come to an agreement on how to approach this challenge. Another issue that concerns America and citizens like me is the economy. Right now, the economy is not doing so well. We are in debt more than ever. Will the candidates fix this debt and will there be more employment since so many people lost their jobs due to Covid-19, including me?

Also, will the government continue the stimulant checks and how will raising taxes will impact someone like me? Let’s not forget about the environment. It is not looking good, especially for the younger generation who care and believe in climate change. Is there a balance to addressing the issue of climate change and industries who rely on carbon?

Our health care is also at risk, as millions of Americans depend on the Affordable Care Act. Is healthcare a right or should it be privatized? I want to know how it will affect my insurance because I rely on Medicaid.

Finally, the issue of race is problematic. How will racial disparities be approached and will the justice system be reformed? All these are a concern for many Americans.

I am not sure what the future holds. I hope that all the issues above are taken into consideration. This election was, indeed, a close one but we have so much work to do. I am pleased to know that my vote counted in this year’s election.    

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Trailblazers Student Organization’s Upcoming Events. Guest post by Larisa Ketcha, UMD Biological Sciences student at USG

Larisa Ketcha, UMD Biological Sciences
student at USG

My name is Larisa Ketcha and I major in Biological Sciences with University of Maryland, College Park at the Universities at Shady Grove. I am a first generation Cameroonian and the first in my family to go to college. I went to Montgomery Blair High School where I obtained my Diploma. I began my college career at Montgomery College Takoma Park Campus where I received my Associates in Biological Science. I then transferred to University of Maryland, College Park at USG where I will earn my bachelor’s in Biological Sciences. My goal is to become a Physician in Pediatrics.

As a first-generation student, I was surrounded by students who have different economic backgrounds. I had to explain to my parents and friends why I had to fill out so many financial forms or join programs that assisted with tuition. My parents thought I was devoting most of my time to these programs instead of focusing on schoolwork. Without parents or siblings who have attended college, I had to make sense of the school finances especially as a STEM student. I sometimes felt like I did not belong in school, yet I kept striving. I felt so much pressure to succeed and make my family proud. Luckily, programs such as ACES and CEO helped pay for school. I am proud of being a first gen student because I am taking the advantage of the opportunities that my parents did not have when they were younger. First gen students have scholarships that applies to them. Apart from being a student, I am the Chair of Communications for Trailblazers and a member of Student Ambassadors. Getting involved at school helped me get involve and engaged in workshops such as networking, resources, connection with Staff members and resume building.

I am excited to share that my student organization along with staff at USG are planning an exciting event celebrating first generation students. The First-Generation event will feature speakers that will share how they succeeded as first gen students, overcame obstacles and how they are succeeding as professionals.  The event will also share accessible opportunities and resources for first gen students to help us on our way to obtaining our degrees. The event will also include games and prizes!

Here are some upcoming opportunities to get involved!

Event: Lunch with the Trailblazers!

Date: Monday, November 2, 2020

Time: 12:00-1:00pm

Register: tinyurl.com/NovTrailblazersLunch

Event description: Come have lunch with the Trailblazers and meet other first-generation students on campus to discuss how the semester is going (highs and lows) and learn about the resources and tools other students are using. This is not a lecture; it is an opportunity to create community with other students! Bring your own lunch

Event: First Gen Celebration

Date: Friday Oct 6, 2020

Time: 2:00-3:30pm

Register here!

Join other first-generation students and professionals to learn keys to success, how to find and access resources and celebrate what it means to be FIRST! This event is in collaboration with the Trailblazers – a first gen student organization at the Universities at Shady Grove and it is open to everyone!

Trailblazers Student Organization (USG)

The trailblazers are a first-generation student organization (first to attend college in their families) and their goals are to support other generation students by providing community, mentorship, and resources. Do you want to join?! 

Contact us at trailblazersusg@gmail.com

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Social Activism and Volunteerism. Guest Post: Mariam Yaldram, UMBC History Student

Mariam Yaldram, UMBC History Student at USG

Have you ever wondered what social justice is all about? What comes to your mind when you hear these words. In this time of age, more than ever, we need social activists and more volunteers. You hear it on the news—activists protesting about social justice such as institutional racism, health care, and low-income. And you say, “So what” and “why bother,” “it’s not like I will make a difference.” But certainly you can make a difference in yourself and someone else’s life. Thus, social justice is important for us because “It informs all that the basic human needs of the poor matter less, and it therefore fails to display concern for all community members. Social justice therefore requires action to preserve human dignity for all, particularly those who suffer from systematic disadvantage.” You should also care because it feels good when you help someone who is struggling. I care about social justice because I want my fellow human beings to have equality and dignity. Furthermore, according to Manish Gaur, explains the importance of social justice. For example, he argues that, “Equal human rights; fairness, equal treatment, and equal opportunities to obtain jobs, healthcare, and the like. While society tries to focus on their “rights” of all humans, it’s an evident fact that, unfortunately, equality doesn’t come for all. When it comes to human equality, some situations and circumstances prevent us as humans from experiencing equal treatment within our current society. The categories of religion, race, and gender (to mention a few) are where we typically tend to see the social injustice that keeps us from living in a society where all humans are treated and deemed as equals. From healthcare to education and employment, here are a few reasons why working toward obtaining social justice is essential in our society.”

What can you do to actively fight for social justice? The answer lies in volunteerism. You not only participate in hands-on activities but you learn about social justices and its practices. For example, I had the privilege of participating in Habitat for Humanity with Montgomery College and learned about homelessness and environmental disasters. Volunteering for Habitat for Humanity was a great experience, not only did I make friends, I learned to build houses, how to use construction tools and meet with families whose houses were destroyed by disasters. Another volunteerism that I participated in and was meaningful to me was volunteering at the Steinbruck Center in D.C. This organization works with the homeless population in D.C. specifically women and helps them with rehabilitation. From this I learned about social justice issues such as gentrification and institutional racism. Both these experiences at Montgomery College were pathways for me to learn about social justice and volunteerism.

But as a UMBC student at the Universities at Shady Grove student, you too can learn about social justice and volunteerism. For example, there is a series titled, “Diversity Learning Series” which is a workshop and activity based series where students will have the opportunity to make new friends, share their thoughts, discuss social justice issues, think critically about their social identities, diversity, equity and inclusion, engage in fun activities and learn new skills. I have attended this series for over two years now and I have learned a lot from it. I learned to be out of my comfort zone, to challenge my bias and stereotypes as well as reflect on my own thoughts and thinking. Though the deadline for the series ended, you can still participate in social justice and volunteerism by creating your own club or organization that reflects social justice issues. You can also volunteer your time with Center for Student Engagement and Financial Resources (CSEF).

Here are some social justice organization you can volunteer at:

  • American Civil Liberties Union
  • Planned Parenthood
  • Council of America-Islamic Relations
  • United We Dream
  • Big Brother Big Sister

These are just some of the organizations you can volunteer for. But you can also volunteer at your local chapter and find local organizations that participate in social justice. You can also contact your main campus for volunteer activities. For example, I am a UMBC student and my contact for volunteer opportunities will be at the Shriver center.

If you know a good organization for volunteering in social justice issues, please email me at mariam8@umbc.edu. I would love to hear from my fellow peers. 

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Greetings from Dr. Anne Khademian, New USG Executive Director

Dear Colleagues:

As I start my first week at USG as executive director – with the chance to work with outstanding new colleagues and to impact students working hard to better their own lives and the community and world in which we live – I begin with a range of emotions.

Mostly, I feel… Excited. Honored. Privileged.

Anne Khademian, Ph.D.
Executive Director, USG & Associate Vice Chancellor, University System of Maryland

Privileged to join an educational community that is uniquely positioned at this unprecedented time to positively transform a rapidly changing world. The energy and talents of the extraordinarily diverse graduates who emerge with career-launching degrees from our nine university partners will be part of the solutions.

I pursued the opportunity to serve in this role because I love everything that the USG mission stands for: access and affordability in higher education, equity, inclusion, innovation, partnership. I also have to admit that as a longtime Montgomery County resident, where my husband and I have been proud to raise our children (our two, now adult daughters, that is), the chance to directly serve the community in which we live is an absolute bonus.

Over the past few weeks since my appointment was announced and as I was wrapping up my duties at Virginia Tech after 17 wonderful years, I’ve heard from so many folks within the USG community who reached out with warm, welcoming and encouraging well wishes. I appreciate all of them so much and I am truly looking forward to getting to know and working collaboratively with all of you.

If these were “normal” times, I would be looking forward to the chance to meet as many of you as possible, in person, on our beautiful campus. But rest assured, for those of you who I may not be able to see in person for some time, as most of you are continuing to work or teach remotely, I look forward to our upcoming, virtual interactions.

I look forward to working together with all of you to define and discover the next chapter for USG, building on the incredible legacy of its first two decades under the able and visionary leadership of Dr. Stewart Edelstein. I would be remiss if I did not sincerely thank Stew and the USG leadership team, the Board of Advisors, University System of Maryland (USM) Chancellor Jay Perman and leadership across the USM, and so many others for all of the gracious support they have provided as I begin this transition.

There is no question that these are very challenging times for USG, for USM and our partner universities, for our county and state, and for our nation and our world.

We are in a severe budget crisis, not entirely caused by, but certainly exacerbated by the economic impact of a global pandemic. We find ourselves navigating unthinkable health and safety challenges, and hardships associated with the Covid-19 outbreak. We are in the midst of a long overdue, but much-needed awakening to the painful realities of the systemic racism that has plagued our nation for centuries. And given all of these colliding events, we are just weeks away from a national election that may well be the most consequential one in our recent history.

Any one of these challenges would be daunting on their own. But combined, together, they speak to just how important it will be for all of us to reimagine, redefine and roll up our sleeves to determine just how we will all need to conduct our lives and our livelihoods in a post-2020 world.

This is especially true for us as educators – as those who are entrusted with shaping the next generation of leaders, health care workers, first responders, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, business professionals, public servants, and yes, the educators of the future.

There are many problems to be solved, but what is exciting for us is that we are part of the solution. Maybe the most important part.

So let’s get started. I am excited. I hope you are too!

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Showing Solidarity for the LGBT+ Community

Shelby Speer, Graduate Services Coordinator

What does solidarity mean? According to GLSEN’s website, “Solidarity is a voluntary collective action by different people based on finding common objectives and solutions. Solidarity work happens when you show up to help and support others experiencing some form of harm by centering their leadership, decisions, needs, requests, and ideas.” A little solidarity certainly goes a long way!

Hi, my name is Shelby Speer, and I am the Graduate Student Services Coordinator in the Center for Student Engagement and Financial Resources at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG). I am also the unofficial coordinator for LGBTQIA+ efforts at USG. For the past few years, USG has recognized the second week of October as USG Spirit Week, adapting the celebration that GLSEN has established for K-12 schools for our community. This year, GLSEN has evolved the program to Solidarity Week, and we have followed their example.

GLSEN wrote that “Solidarity work happens in many forms and on many different issues. The important part of understanding solidarity work, is that collective action is powerful in enacting change, in fact, solidarity can either be the biggest threat to oppression, or one of the biggest allies in upholding and reinforcing it. How you show up…or don’t, makes all the difference”. In today’s social and political climate, this is more important than ever.

USG is beginning the conversation by providing community members with resources, information, and statements of solidarity on CSEF’s Facebook page throughout the week of October 5-9. There you can learn more about the five LGBT+ focus days: Black and African-American, Disability Justice, Intersex, Native American and Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants/First Generation Students. You are encouraged to take further steps to enact change in our community! Want to be a part planning LGBT-related events and activities at USG? Please send me an email!

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These Times. Guest post by Adam Binkley, Macklin Center for Academic Success

I study words by trade. I believe in the power of communication and am fascinated by the beauty that grows out of language as it tries, and often lovingly fails, to capture the complexities of human experience. Considering this, I struggle to think of any words we are asking to do more than the two at the beginning of this post, these times. They are vexing, seeming to lurk on the edges of each conversation, looking for a prime opportunity to enter as they carry the weight of all we are collectively going through. When I sat down to write this, I wanted to avoid them but found out that they wouldn’t let me—unwanted guests determined to overstay their welcome.  

Higher Education, like everything else, is experiencing a great deal of challenges because of these times. I don’t need to convince anyone of the urgency of these challenges, but they aren’t necessarily new issues for educators. Innovation in online and remote learning has been shaping our educational models well before a pandemic opened the door for these times to take up permanent residence in our imaginations. For many of us who work in education though, addressing these challenges feels like survival mode—how do we keep going on, providing the same services—the same quality education—we provided before?

I was thinking about this the other day, when meeting with a student to discuss her paper for a psychology class. As we were closing out the session, she thanked me for my feedback and laughed saying, “my mom recommended you.” A look at her last name connected a previously unconnected dot and caused a bright flash of warm memory. Her mom was one of my regulars when I first started at USG. I most vividly remember her red spiral notebook, and the time we spent parsing through her ideas in the clustered but vibrant space inhabited by Student and Academic Services. There is something visceral about working with handwritten text. Someone is sharing their own words with you, carved into the page. It wasn’t always as easy as working with a freshly printed Word doc, but it somehow felt more real—growing up on farms in Tennessee it reminded me of getting my hands covered in soil.

I have to admit, I had a moment where I really missed that red spiral notebook and the sensation of sitting close by someone, deciphering their handwriting.

But that quickly passed. As different as this meeting was, the core of the work was the same. My hands might not have been covered in soil, but the seeds of ideas were still being planted. While I didn’t have handwriting to parse over, all of the words appeared on a virtual whiteboard and our ability to play with the language itself was enhanced by this in real time. And, just like my meetings with her mom years ago, I find myself today looking forward to my new sessions with this student each week, approaching the challenge of each new assignment, each new idea, each new part of the journey towards a dream.

At every level, teachers are resourceful. This is my life story, as my own mother and both of my sisters made their careers in the school system back home in Tennessee. When I think of my mother, I can’t help of thinking of similar spiral notebooks and the long nights I remember her working at our kitchen table. I think of myself then—a wild, clingy, energetic child. I have seen a few like that over the past few weeks, popping up in ZOOM backgrounds, insisting on saying hello while climbing over furniture and demanding snacks. For the moms, this interruption can sometimes be frustrating. For me, it is a welcome spark of joy and a reminder of why our work is important.   

These times are certainly altering lives in very real and impactful ways. Higher Education must change and adapt to continue to thrive, even after this pandemic ends. If the lessons we learn about online learning don’t stick, we are as doomed as spiral notebooks in an increasingly virtual world. The core of the work we do though—the empathy, the human connection, the generational change education can create—remains a constant. The mechanism through which we meet might be different, but the power of language and the beauty of our stories, our persistence and our triumphs, will endure.

If you find yourself pursuing a degree at USG, look me up. I look forward to being a part of your story—no matter what meaning we ascribe to those two pesky words.

About the Author, Adam Binkley:

Adam was born in Springfield, Tennessee, where he lived until pursuing an undergraduate degree in English at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. Following his time at UTC, he came to Maryland to complete an MFA in Poetry at the University at Maryland, College Park. At the Macklin Center for Academic Success at USG, Adam provides individual writing consultation and academic coaching, coordinates and develops workshops and peer support programs, and generally strives to help students meet their academic goals on their journey towards degree completion.

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