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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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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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What Leadership Means to Me. Guest Post: Mariam Yaldram, UMBC History Student

Mariam Yaldram, UMBC History Student at USG

I have learned a lot about leadership, and the process of becoming a leader. I have been a part-time UMBC disability student at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) since Spring 2017. I am a History major with a minor in Public history. I am passionate about getting involved on my campus and learning from others. While I was at Montgomery College (MC), I had over four years of leadership experiences that included:

  • Vice President: Germantown Student Senate
  • Vice-Chair: Student Council (Representing College-Wide)
  • FYE Ambassador: Germantown Campus- Representing First Year Students
  • History Club: President
  • MC Leads Team leader
  • New Student Orientation Leader
  • YMCA Leadership Retreat
  • Activities Board Team Leader
  • Alternative Breaks Team Leader

As a student leader at MC, I learned about leadership responsibilities and management skills. By attending the various training workshops for leadership and conferences, I was able to hone in on my leadership skills and gain confidence. I became a role model to my campus and thereby accelerating my self-growth. On the other hand, I had many challenges with my leadership roles and learning how to work with different personalities. However, I was able to learn from my experiences and better understand conflict resolution, time management, and expand my communication skills. The experiences I have gained from my leadership roles at MC have prepared me well for the leadership roles I acquired at USG:

  • History Student Association (HSA) Officer
  • Peer Advisory Team Leader (PAT)
  • Orientation Student Leader (OSL)
  • Student Advisory Board Member (SAB)
  • Student Council Representative at Large for UMES
  • USG student blogger

With these new leadership roles, I have learned how the USG community operates and how I can help make a difference in ensuring student success.  As a student leader, I have been involved in numerous leadership events and activities. By participating in these leadership opportunities, I can better assist and contribute to the USG community.

The reflections from my leadership badge activity has further contributed to my emerging leadership skills by helping me identify the skills I need to improve on, what I value and what my passions are. My reflection on leadership has shown that I have grown tremendously as a leader but you are never done bettering yourself a leader. Learning new things and acquiring new skills is a lifelong accomplishment.

To conclude, leadership means the ability to lead and influence others. I strongly believe that for a leader to be efficient, one must have passion and dedication in their work. I plan to achieve my leadership future goals by continuing to be involved on campus, to utilize the services that are offered, and to apply for more leadership roles.

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Sign Up. Stand Out.

Shelby Speer, USG Graduate Student Services Coordinator

Not all leaders stand behind podiums and speak in front of thousands of people. In fact, there are many ways to be an effective leader, and everyone has leadership potential. There’s no time like the present to enhance your skills!

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 co-facilitator of the USGLeads Emerging and Expanding Leadership Programs at USG. If you are not familiar with USGLeads, it is a free, self-paced, completely online program open to all students taking classes at USG. After you complete a brief application and are accepted into the Emerging Leadership program, you will have the opportunity to engage, learn, and reflect via a variety of themed modules. At the end of the program, you will write your own leadership statement, and receive a variety of accolades. To further practice your skills, you will then be invited to pursue the Expanding Leadership Program.

Mimi Yaldram, a UMBC History student, recently completed both stages of the program. When asked to look back upon her experience, she wrote: “This program allowed me to learn development skills such as different leadership styles, ethics and morals through TED Talks, leadership values and philosophy, oral communication, social activism, and teaching others. All these skills helped me to become a better leader and thereby helped me to become the person I wanted to be, a role model for others. I believe this program encouraged me to be a better citizen as I think about social justice issues and how I can help my community and what my purpose is in life. This leadership program taught me to understand myself personally and intellectually. I highly encourage every student to take this opportunity to be part of this program. I am so glad and honored to have done this and it was an amazing experience.”

If you are interested in applying, please click here for more information. You are also encouraged to attend the Entrepreneurship Lab Leadership Speaker Series, which was featured in the previous blog article. We can’t wait to assist you on your leadership journey!

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Interested in Entrepreneurship? Check out things you can do this semester!

The Lab for Entrepreneurship and Transformative Leadership seeks to provide resources and mentorship to students, empower local entrepreneurs, and support emerging startups in the DMV. The Lab has planned [virtual] events ranging from speaker events to hackathons in the Fall semester. Here is a sampling:

Speaker:  Thursday, September 10, 2020 at 3PM featuring Jordan DeCicco, Kitu Super Co and Shark Tank Entrepreneur, RSVP HERE.

Hackathon: Our first hackathon is a Retail Hackathon Event with the winning student team receiving  $3,500. Please email Director Marc Steren, at msteren@umd.edu for more information.

Virtual Office Hours: Have an idea or want to talk business?  Drop into our virtual office every Wednesday from 3-4PM to discuss your Hackathon or business ideas.

Lab’s Innovator Program:  Want to become a Lab Innovator to add to your resume?  email msteren@umd.edu for more information.

Mentorship: Receive mentorship from this amazing Entrepreneurs in Residence

Classes: A class is coming this Spring on how to launch your own startup using design thinking and lean methodology.

Visit our webpage for more information on program and events.

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About the Director, Marc Steren:

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Prior to joining the Universities at Shady Grove, Marc served Georgetown University as the co-director of its Summer Launch Incubator, as an adjunct professor and Entrepreneur in Residence. His students have gone on to present their business proposals on ABC’s Shark Tank and Tech Stars of London, participated in the Chobani Incubator and Halycon Social Incubator, won Leonsis Prizes and Georgetown’s Entrepreneur of the Year competition. Entrepreneurs participating on his incubator teams have received venture capital and are valued at over $200 million, combined. Marc has also been an adjunct professor for the Horn Entrepreneurship program at the University of Delaware. He is currently an adjunct professor for the University of Maryland’s Academy of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.  In addition, he has been a guest speaker at Johns Hopkins University, American University and various conferences.

Marc was also the founding Director of Entrepreneurship at the Bullis School, where he earned the National Federation of Independent Business’s National Educator of the Year award and was the winner of the David S. Stone for Teaching Excellence. He is the co-founder of University Startups for Social Entrepreneurship, a program dedicated to teaching students about social entrepreneurship. Marc has a B.A from Johns Hopkins University, a J.D from University of Pennsylvania Law School and pre-admission for a Masters in Management at the Harvard University Extension School.

In business, Marc founded multiple companies and received investments from celebrity investors and venture capitalists.  He sold his latest company in 2012 and since then has dedicated his time to teaching entrepreneurship. Marc has been featured in the Huffington PostThe Washington Post, and Washingtonian Magazine and was recognized as an Entrepreneur Expert by Georgetown University, named to Young CEOs of Washington, DC and Mindshare (an invite-only group for entrepreneurs). He currently coaches local entrepreneurs and has consulted for an NGO.  

He is the author of two books; The Student’s Guide to Entrepreneurship and Stories from Connie.  His third book, School Culture Fit will be out in December 2020.

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Virtual Volunteering

Volunteering is often pictured as serving at a soup kitchen, visiting the elderly, or helping to improve a community space. All involving in-person interaction. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread throughout communities, in-person volunteering is rare, and limited if so. But service is still possible. Just as our homes have become our workspaces, classrooms, and gyms, they can be our community service sites as well. 

Serving from home, or “virtual volunteering”, can take many forms. Volunteers can help build websites, strategize solutions to organizational problems, make calls to fundraise or provide outreach, and more. With the assistance of a computer or phone, nonprofit organizations can still utilize the skills of volunteers who are stuck at home and looking for meaningful experiences. 

Those stuck at home can also utilize virtual volunteering to build their own experience. In a time where jobs and internships are harder to obtain, virtual volunteering is an opportunity for students seeking to explore their interests or gain experience applicable to their career goals. During the week of August 17th – August 20th, students in the Achieving Collegiate Excellence and Success (ACES) Program participated in reachOUT, exemplifying how serving virtually can benefit local nonprofit organizations and provide valuable career exploration experience.

ReachOUT is a service-learning event for ACES students in conjunction with reachHIRE – a week of signature summer programming for rising ACES high school seniors traditionally underrepresented in higher education. In collaboration with some of my generous colleagues from the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) and Montgomery College (MC), and multiple local organizations, we executed four virtual service-learning projects. 

The projects included creating a community asset map, writing letters and creating artwork for isolated older adults, designing persuasive flyers about the importance of wearing masks, and drafting a proposal to meet challenges faced by local organizations fighting food insecurity. Over 80 students attended the optional week-long program, with many students participating in multiple service projects. Students not only completed service but learned about opportunities for continued service with reachOUT’s nonprofit organization partners and potential career paths in each sector. 

For example, students who wrote letters and created artwork for older adults met Dr. Lori Marks, the founder and executive director of Link Generations. Link Generations is a local organization dedicated to educating students about aging and facilitating intergenerational programs that connect youth and older adults. Dr. Marks introduced students to the field of gerontology; 81 percent of students had never heard of it prior to participating in the project. Since completing this project, two students have already connected with Dr. Marks about exploring internship opportunities at Link Generations. 

Through virtual service, individuals can safely give their time and abilities to benefit their communities, while also building their career experience and enhancing their skillsets. As we’re stuck at home with more time on our hands for the foreseeable future, take advantage of that time to support a local organization or movement you’re passionate about. In our 2020 world, we could use some extra goodness, and our communities can use our service more than ever. 

About the Author: Mary Kate Luft

Mary Kate Luft dedicated a year to service as an AmeriCorps VISTA in 2019. As an AmeriCorps VISTA, she came to USG to serve the Achieving Collegiate Excellence & Success Program (ACES), a select Montgomery County college-access program for traditionally underrepresented students in higher education. Through her service, Luft supported the creation of high school career readiness curriculum for ACES students. Luft now serves as the Interim ACES Success Coordinator at USG, supporting 130+ USG ACES students through their baccalaureate degree completion.

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Guest Post: Sara Wells, ACES Summer Bridge Program – reachHIRE

“I was hopeless coming into this program, but I learned all the options I have and it regained my hope” – MCPS High School Senior.

For a week in August, 2020 – isolation was replaced with hope for a group of high school seniors.  Along with a handful of my talented Universities at Shady Grove (USG) colleagues, I had the privilege of leading the first ever virtual summer bridge program for students in the Achieving Collegiate Excellence & Success (ACES) program.  For years – this signature summer programming has been delivered on the USG campus to local students who are traditionally underrepresented in higher education.  Transitioning to a virtual format was an exercise in creativity, critical thinking, and teamwork – ironically the exact career readiness skills that we seek to impart to students during our summer bridge program – which we call reachHIRE.  The results far exceeded my initial expectations.

Over 300 students participated in reachHIRE, rivaling the engagement level for our in-person program.  Every morning students received a link to an interactive, self-paced learning module on a topic such as Writing an Elevator Speech, Exploring Careers, and Building a Professional Reputation.  There was even a virtual scavenger hunt which highlighted the many benefits of pursuing a degree offered at USG (a student favorite!).  Students appreciated that they could complete these modules at their own pace, and they raved about the fun and “gamified” features such as videos, quizzes, and at-home science experiments. 

While these independent modules had a measurable impact on learning – they couldn’t replicate the peer social connection that so characterized our in-person reachHIRE event.  The USG team responsible for putting this event together sensed that students would be yearning for connection after months at home, so a daily live Zoom session was added.  Each live session had its own flavor.  On one day students practiced elevator speeches to the praise of peers – the chatbox was an explosion of caring and encouragement.  On another day, students were able to ask questions of ACES students currently enrolled in programs at USG.

My favorite live session was a culminating professional panel event which allowed students to demonstrate the career skills and increased confidence developed over the course of reachHIRE.  Over 25 regional employers and many staff from university partner programs at USG participated in industry panels, employers included: Allied Health, FDA, NIH, Westat, Shapiro & Duncan, NASA, Interfaith Works, Mid Atlantic Federal Credit Union, Children’s National Hospital, and the U.S. Public Health Service. Students asked thoughtful questions of regional industry leaders who matched with their career interests.  In a time when students have been prevented from participating in many formative career experience that characterize summer– we were able to deliver quality career experiential learning in a virtual format. 

I often find myself wondering how we will remember the challenging season of 2020 when we reflect back 10 years from now.  We will almost certainly remember the pain of lives lost, isolation, and a struggle for equity – but I am confident that I will also remember a moment of brightness and hope that was reachHIRE.  The task of delivering a meaningful learning experience to students in a virtual landscape was daunting – but we delivered.  I believe this reachHIRE student participant said it best –

“Coming into reachHIRE I was very skeptical because I thought it would be the same old talk that I need to go to college and I need to do this and that. Surprisingly, it wasn’t like that at all, the staff understood that everyone has a variety of interests and they spoke about options for each of those interests. I even related to many students. I have a new viewpoint on colleges now and I have an idea of what career I might go into. Thank you reachHIRE for this wonderful experience.”

Author: Sara Wells, Manager

Sara Wells has been working on issues related to career and youth development for over a decade.  She came to USG in 2016 to coordinate the Career Experience Opportunities (CEO) Program – a pilot career intervention for 100 college students hailing from underserved high schools in Montgomery County.  Based on the program’s success, Wells was able to work with colleagues to design a strategic plan to apply best practices from CEO to a much larger audience of students in the Achieving Collegiate Excellence & Success Program (ACES).  Wells now serves as the ACES Career Readiness Manager, overseeing career related programming for thousands of students across Montgomery County’s academic pathway.  Her work now impacts students at Montgomery County Public Schools, Montgomery College, and USG.

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