A Bright Future for USG, With Your Help! Guest Post: Dr. Anne Khademian

Dear Friends:

As I recently celebrated one year on the job as executive director of the Universities at Shady Grove, I found myself feeling so thankful and fortunate – fortunate to be able to come to work each day on a beautiful campus with wonderful colleagues and the chance to serve so many incredible and dedicated students.

USG is truly a special and unique place, bringing together an array of in-demand undergraduate and graduate academic programs from nine outstanding Maryland public universities, all on one well-positioned campus in Montgomery County. Working in collaboration with our pathway partners in Montgomery County — Montgomery County Public Schools and Montgomery College — and our university partners, we provide students with an accessible and affordable education, along with the support services and career-ready tools to ensure they will succeed and excel as part of our regional workforce, and as future leaders of business and industry.

Put simply, USG is a groundbreaking, innovative, 21st century model for higher education.

At a time when our industry is undergoing its most transformative changes ever – in part, due to impact of the pandemic, but mostly due to the rapidly changing makeup of today’s college students themselves – USG is ideally positioned to lead the way. That’s why I’ve been so laser-focused on engaging our entire community in the development of our first-ever strategic plan, as we work together to shape “USG 2.0” and the future growth and direction of our student-centered institution.

For decades, higher education’s recipe for success has been built around the concept of serving traditional college students – those who come to campus, live in a dorm, and seek to earn a four-year degree. But today, 74 percent of students nationally are already being described as non-traditional. They come from diverse backgrounds. They are the first in their families to go to college. They work while going to school. They have families or children to take care of.

Before coming to USG, I spent more than 20 years in higher education at more traditional university campuses, which are generally geared to resident students looking for an on-campus college experience. While very successful models of higher education, I am honored now to be leading a higher ed institution that focuses on the many students who are not seeking a four year experience, but rather flexibility, close proximity to home, small class sizes, and more to get them to where they want to go, in order to build or enhance their career plans.

They need a higher education system that truly meets them where they are in life – one that is centered more on the concept of lifelong learning.

These are exactly the students we are so proud to serve each day at USG. And these are the very students who deserve and need our support – all of our support.

For so many of the students we serve, their ability to pursue their studies and earn their degrees comes down to money. Scholarships and financial aid can make all the difference in whether or not they will be able to successfully achieve their goals. And for many of our students who are working and helping to support their own families, the health and economic hardships of the COVID-19 crisis over the past 20 months have been particularly devastating.

Thank you to those of you who helped us in the early months of the crisis to establish a USG Emergency Assistance Fund. This helped many students to offset the various challenges they were facing, including food insecurity and lost jobs or wages.

Today, our focus is on bolstering the USG General Scholarship Fund, which provides much-needed tuition and fee assistance to all eligible students.

We appreciate your past support of students at USG and we ask if you are able to help once again at this pivotal time in our history. USG is truly the right solution for our community and for so many deserving students at just the right time, but in order to fully realize our and their potential, we need your help.

Please consider today making the life-changing gift of a USG scholarship. To designate where your gift will go, please select from the scholarship fund options on the pulldown menu. I know that the students we serve will make you so proud, as they do for me each day. And thank you for always supporting our institution as we move forward into a bright future for “USG 2.0.” Thank you.

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

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Buy Awesome Greeting Cards to Benefit the USG General Scholarship Fund! Guest Post: Shelby Speer from CSEF

Isn’t it great to discover life’s little win-wins? My name is Shelby Speer, and I am the Graduate Student Services Coordinator in the Center for Student Engagement and Financial Resources (CSEF) at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG). I am also the advisor of the USG Graduate Student Association (GSA), as well as a graduate student myself (with University of Maryland Global Campus). I am writing this blog post today to give you a heads up about an awesome fundraiser that is currently underway.

“Cards for a Cause” allows you to purchase a box of 30-50 beautifully designed greeting cards (birthday, holidays, thank you, blanks, etc.) for only $30 per box! The best part is, over 50% of the sales go to the USG General Scholarship Fund to help support the educational goals of students in programs at USG. You can order online, or when we (the GSA) are tabling during the week of November 8. The fundraiser closes on November 12, and the cards should arrive the following week to be picked up from campus.

We are very excited about this fundraiser because it is a great opportunity to give back to our community while receiving something cool for ourselves. We hope that you will consider purchasing a box (or two!). You can learn more about the five different box options by visiting our online store.

About the USG Graduate Student Association
The USG Graduate Student Association (GSA) was launched in summer 2017 as a means of promoting awareness of the graduate and professional student population at USG; facilitating feedback between graduate students, USG, and our institutional partners; and increasing graduate student involvement in the USG community. You can find out more by visiting our website or emailing us at usg-gsa@umd.edu

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Classroom Conversations: Your Academic Experience at USG. Guest Post: Adam Binkley from MCAS

Adam Binkley, Senior Coordinator at USG (Macklin Center for Academic Success)

Growing up, I experienced some unique ideas of what a classroom might be. My mom was an elementary school teacher for the public schools in our not so well-off county. Technology in the classroom was a bulky blue and white Mac that took up most of her desk. One year that desk sat next to a shower, my mom teaching from a converted gym locker room. And don’t get me started about portables, those oblong husks of siding and wood—perpetually too hot or too cold depending on the season. If you haven’t heard this term before, it’s a trailer outside of the school building that hosts overflow classes. I’ve come a long way since my time in those structures that were more box than building. Now you’ll find me in the Biomedical Sciences and Engineering building (BSE). Every classroom in this beautiful building is equipped with technology that allows us to interact with one another in unique and dynamic ways. The BSE is a testament to Montgomery County’s investment in students, providing a state-of-the-art experience at an affordable cost. This semester is an exciting one for me as I get to wear two hats in working with students here at the Universities at Shady Grove. By day, I get to assist students from the Macklin Center for Academic Success (MCAS) supporting students one-on-one through writing support, collaborating with faculty to create customized workshops, and participating in campus wide endeavors. By night (well, Thursday nights), I will be teaching the Public Health Capstone writing class (PHSC497) for the University at Maryland here at USG.

This is an important time to have critical conversations about public health issues. The global pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, while social justice issues frame systemic discrimination and racism squarely in public health conversation. UMD Public Health is invested in engaging in these issues head on, particularly through the PHSC Strong initiative, where diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism are being included directly in the curriculum. For PHSC497, the role anti-racism plays in the research and writing process is critical. To get to share in this awesome work with a group of invested and energized students is an opportunity I am eager to take on.

This semester, I am looking forward to using my experience as a staff member to enrich my teaching experience by incorporating all the numerous resources USG has to offer right into the curriculum. Thinking about it, the meeting of these two roles is a fulfillment of the promise of USG—to provide access to a high quality, equitable education with a variety of services supporting you along the way. I will be checking back into the DiscoverUSG blog to share some of the interesting ways different parts of the USG community are connecting with our class to enhance our learning experience. If you find yourself on campus or in one of our virtual spaces, I invite you to check in with me to have a conversation about USG, public health, and what makes our academic journeys here unique. These days I feel like we could all use a few more good conversations. After all, whether we are in portables or classrooms with touchscreens adorning the walls, isn’t the purpose of academic research to have conversations with our peers that advance the way we see the world?

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UMBC’s TLST Bioinformatics Track Goes Live. Guest Post: Dr. Robinson from UMBC at USG

Dr. Robinson is a UMBC undergraduate alumni (‘99), and has been involved in genomics and bioinformatics-related research since 2002. He designed the Bioinformatics Track curriculum, and is the current instructor-of-record (and content creator) for BTEC330, BTEC350, BTEC362, and BTEC395, and course developer of BTEC423 and BTEC424 which begin running in 2022

By: Dr. Jeffrey Robinson

There is a high demand in industry for workers with formal training in bioinformatics and bioinformatics-related roles in the biotechnology and healthcare industries. 

The demand comes from both ends of the Translational Science spectrum – from healthcare IT to computational genomics, and everything in between.  Major healthcare providers, clinical IT companies, and health insurance companies are all incorporating advancements in cloud computing, health-records interoperability standards, and AI into their operations.  These organizations are in a race to incorporate such ‘eHealth’ systems as the fundamental infrastructure for the new healthcare industry.  On the other hand, Omics-level datasets from NextGen sequencing, RNA-seq, Proteomics, Metabolomics, Metagenomics (and all the other -omics), have become the norm for both clinical and basic research laboratories, with many such laboratories facing a bottleneck due to a lack of skilled bioinformaticians.

Students entering the job market for these types of informatics-intensive roles are required to have specialized training in a range of related subject areas. These include a basic foundation in computer science, common software productivity applications, information technology, programming fundamentals, biostatistics, data science, cloud computing, machine learning & AI applications, and bioinformatics.

In order to fulfill this demand, the TLST program developed (and received Undergraduate Student Council approval in Spring 2021) for the “Bioinformatics Track” for students in the TLST program. 

UMBC’s Translational Life Science Technology (TLST) curriculum foundational-level classes in the Bioinformatics Track are required by all students in the program, and provide a fundamental background into the field: BTEC330 (Software Applications in Translational Science), BTEC350 (Translational Biostatistics), and BTEC395 (Bioinformatics).

Highlight of UMBC TLST student projects

In addition, students in the TLST Bioinformatics-track will add a course in Python programming (BTEC 362), one of two advanced-level capstone courses, either in Machine Learning with applications for bioinformatics (BTEC423), or Deep Learning with applications for biomedical image analysis (BTEC424). 

The TLST Bioinformatics Track curriculum is also rounded out with bioinformatics or healthcare informatics-focused independent student research internships (BTEC495) — these can be taken either with on-campus faculty, or at local biotech/biomedical organizations.

The TLST program welcomes and invites students with an interest in computer technology, programming, and biotechnology/health IT-related interests to join the Bioinformatics Track.  The future is bright, and individuals with this very portable skillset are in high demand.

The TLST Bioinformatics Curriculum: https://shadygrove.umbc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Bioinformatics-Track.pdf

TLST program description: https://shadygrove.umbc.edu/program/translational-life-science-technology/

Application of Bioinformatics in Pharmacy, Medicine & Health - Leverage Edu
Image source: https://images.app.goo.gl/zrSJZKYkkPVJnnv48
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Opinion: Pandemic has underscored how crucial the life science workforce is. Guest Post: Dr. Annica Wayman

By: Dr. Annica Wayman (Original article published on July 17, 2021 in Bethesda Beat)

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

Doctors, nurses, and other health care workers have demonstrated heroic efforts on the front line of the fight against COVID-19. As a result, many students are even more motivated to pursue these careers.

However, the heroic efforts of health care workers is enabled by another group of superheroes — the scientists, engineers and other professionals working in the life science biotechnology industry to produce diagnostic tools, drug treatments, and vaccines for COVID-19 and other diseases.

Yet, students don’t realize the broader impact they can have by pursuing a career working at a biotechnology or biopharma company and the enormous job demand that exists right here in our region.

The D.C./Maryland/Virginia region, commonly known as the BioHealth Capital Region, is number four among biopharma clusters in the United States, according to the 2020 ranking of Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News.

Warren Palmer, UMBC, Translational Life Science Technology
Read My Story

There are over 500 biotech companies in Maryland and the majority of those are in Montgomery County.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, job opportunities in life sciences were growing quickly. Job growth between 2013 and 2019 in Maryland was over 15%.

News from businesses like the gene therapy company Vigene on hiring up to 245 jobs in four years had become commonplace.

Moreover, with the rapid development and manufacturing of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines, the demand for talent is quickly rising. The Montgomery County-based company Novavax, whose COVID-19 vaccine recently showed 90.4% efficacy in Phase 3, plans to hire up to 300 people at its new facility by the end of this year.

Jobs at these companies provide students interested in science and engineering, with a tremendous opportunity to pursue an impactful, health care-related career right in their backyard. 

Coupled with that are the educational opportunities here in Montgomery County in biotechnology to prepare students for these jobs.

Phyo Thant Oo, UMBC, Translational Life Science Technology
Read My Story

As an example, Montgomery College has a biotechnology associate’s degree, in which students can then obtain an applied biotechnology bachelor’s degree at the University of Maryland Baltimore County’s location at The Universities at Shady Grove.

This applied biotechnology degree, a Bachelor of Science degree in Translational Life Science Technology (TLST), teaches students in a practical and interdisciplinary nature about the translation of biomedical research to approved medical products to prepare them to work at a biotechnology company.

Students can also pursue a professional master’s degree in biotechnology at UMBC-Shady Grove.

With the recent signing of the Montgomery/Maryland Life Sciences Education and Innovation Partnership memorandum of understanding, opportunities to pursue life science education and experiential learning will significantly increase.

However, students and their parents may not be fully aware of the many interesting and impactful job opportunities in biotechnology and the life sciences.

Advising and career activities in the high schools and middle schools should include more dialogue on jobs in the life sciences that go beyond being a doctor or dentist and instead include those jobs in biotechnology.

Sean Deleon, UMBC, Translational Life Science Technology
Read My Story

Local media outlets and social media could possibly expand their coverage of biotech and biopharma to describe the interesting projects and people in the industry. And, of course we need the biotechnology companies heavily involved. 

Furthermore, more focus needs to be placed on building a more inclusive biotechnology workforce that reflects the diverse demographic of our society.

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities like African-Americans because of racial health disparities underscores the importance of ushering in a more diverse biotechnology workforce unafraid to share their perspectives and ideas on the design of drugs, delivery devices, clinical trials, labels, and other components of the product.

We desperately need the next generation of aspiring scientists of all backgrounds to join the superhero group of biotechnologist.

Annica Wayman of Rockville is an associate dean for the University of Maryland Baltimore County at The Universities at Shady Grove.

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“Wait, why are all those schools listed here?” Guest Post Michael Schlitzer, UMBC Data Science Graduate Student

Michael Schlitzer, Graduate from UMBC’s M.P.S. Data Science program at USG

Now, I’ve already stated in this blog that, until I enrolled in classes at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) two years ago, I did not know exactly what USG was.  But, after two years of taking remote classes at USG, and hosting the Graduation Celebration earlier in May, that was the FIRST question both my parents and my wife had when watching the introduction video for USG.  So, I explained the benefits of USG with passion, and it dawned on me that you might be investigating higher education opportunities in the DC area, or maybe the mighty Google algorithm has randomly served this blog up and here you are. You might be asking yourself the same question my family was asking me: “Just what exactly is the Universities at Shady Grove?”

First of all, it’s not a University in and of itself, it’s a non-residential campus that houses programs from 9 universities from the University of Maryland System. So, you get accepted into and enroll in one of the 9 universities, but you go to USG to take your classes. It’s sort of like a timeshare for schools.

But USG is not a “satellite campus” like many universities have (University of Virginia – Wise or University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, as examples); it is simply another location where students can take classes from their home institution.  If you take classes from Salisbury University at USG, your degree won’t say Salisbury University – Shady Grove, it just says Salisbury University.  You’re not a “sort-of” Seagull, you’re a fully-fledged Seagull (I hope you see what I did there, ornithologically speaking!).

Second, USG is much richer because of that diversity. To some extent, we are all prisoners of time and physical geography.  University of Baltimore (UB) has a great program in Forensic Science and Cyber Investigations, but if you live in Montgomery County and work in Northern Virginia, the fact that Baltimore is “only” 40 miles away from DC is cold comfort.  It can take hours to make that drive during rush hour, so that great UB program might as well be in Boston.  And forget about traveling between Salisbury University or Towson University and Montgomery County for a Tuesday night class!  USG solves that problem by providing in-person instruction from the best programs in the University of Maryland system close to where you live and work.

The third reason that USG is so valuable is because it is a physical campus.  Now, during COVID, we have all had to adjust and adapt to full-time distance learning, but there is something really useful about in-person instruction.  If you have the ability to receive instruction, ask your questions, and interact with your peers in-person, most people would pick that as an option.  It’s a great value for your investment.

The fourth reason that I think USG is such a great value is that it is not a residential campus.  Let’s face it, paying money to live, eat, and spend money someplace else for 8 months out of the year is an unthinkable luxury for many people.  For most families it involves taking on a pretty significant amount of debt, and that’s often out of reach. Other people have family commitments that prevent them from leaving home for such a long period of time, and some people may simply need the support mechanisms that their home environment provides in order to reach their full potential at their own pace.  I think we all know of people who “went away” to college, incurred a substantial amount of debt, and left that school without a degree.

Education is almost never wasted, but that model of spending a lot of money without a tangible return on the investment is not particularly cost effective, and it is really only sustainable for lenders, not borrowers.  For those reasons alone, USG may be the best value in higher education in the State of Maryland. The pathway from Montgomery College to any one of nine universities all across Maryland all without needing to leave Montgomery County, is a road that can give you all the riches that higher education brings without the risks to your family’s finances and, let’s face it, your own ego.

Now, none of that is to say that a university education comes easy – whether you are an undergraduate or a graduate student, the USG campus doesn’t offer a substandard education.  You are going to have to work hard, maybe harder than you have ever worked before, but for many of us, it’s easier to focus and work hard on school when those other things that would cloud our minds and distract us with worry can be managed.  

So, why, indeed, are all of these schools here?  It’s really because the State of Maryland had the foresight to put the best that they have to offer in one place at USG. 

USG is your education, served on a silver platter.

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Data Scientists Break Down the AI Universe. Guest Post: Alyssa (Wolice) Tomlinson from UMCP

Alyssa (Wolice) Tomlinson, Assistant Director of Communications, Fischell Department of Bioengineering & Robert E. Fischell Institute for Biomedical Devices – University of Maryland, College Park

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning will undoubtedly shape the course of technology across fields, ranging from health care to self-driving cars, to financial investing. Data scientists and statisticians remain the oft-unsung heroes of the AI boom as they play a key role in extracting insights from complex datasets to design the algorithms and data processing methodologies that – put simply – make AI more intelligent.

But what draws someone to data science in the first place? Is a childhood love of math enough to drum up dreams of data mining and analysis?

Probably not.

“If you talk to middle school kids and ask them what they want to do when they grow up, surprisingly, nobody [would raise] their hand and say, ‘Data scientist!’ It’s not necessarily on their radar,” said Delfi Diagnostics co-founder and Head of Data Sciences Robert Scharpf during a recent webinar hosted by the University of Maryland’s Biocomputational Engineering degree program at the Universities at Shady Grove campus. “I started out more in traditional biology in basic science research and became more interested in data analysis than in laboratory experiments that were used to generate the data. And, that led me to a biostatistics program.”

Delfi Diagnostics is a Baltimore-based company committed to developing high-performing, affordable blood tests for early detection of cancer across multiple tumor types. Delfi’s technology utilizes low-cost, widely available sequencing technology and taps cell-free DNA fragments in the bloodstream for clues about whether a person may have early-stage cancer.

As manager of biomedical engineering & sciences at Exponent Christie Bergerson described in the same event – artificial intelligence represents the wider universe, and machine learning a portion of that universe. “Machine learning can be what’s considered supervised, unsupervised, or semi-supervised depending on the algorithms,” she said. “‘Unsupervised learning’ is where you let the algorithm find patterns for itself, and it’s potentially the scariest because it is the least controlled. But, it is also potentially the most useful because computers see things differently than humans. They have access to different data points.”

Portrait of Axel Krieger, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, pictured with students, working in the Medical Robotics and Equipment Lab.

Want to learn more about how Drs. Scharpf and Bergerson describe the future of AI in health care? Watch the full webinar online.

For those looking to branch into the world of AI and machine learning, a degree that merges biology, data science, and programming could be the gateway.

“The foundations of machine learning have their roots in statistics and computer science,” Bergerson said. “I encourage people to think beyond their bachelor’s degree about what would present them with the most opportunities for collaboration and mentorship from faculty – such as [deciding between] in-person and online programs. [Students in the latter] might miss out on those opportunities.”

If you’re interested in enrolling in a program that could set you on the path to a career in AI, the University of Maryland’s Biocomputational Engineering B.S. degree program may be the perfect fit for you!

By enrolling in this cutting-edge program, you’ll work toward your University of Maryland bachelor’s degree while studying at The Universities at Shady Grove campus – home to the new, state-of-the-art Biomedical Sciences and Engineering Education Facility. Here, you’ll not only work at the nexus of biology, engineering, data science, and computer programming, but you’ll network with STEM students and researchers from dozens of University System of Maryland programs.

The best – and easiest – way to initiate the Biocomputational Engineering degree application process is to book a meeting with our program coordinator, Emily Bailey, who can walk you through your personalized pathway – especially if you’re interested in enrolling in the fall of 2021 or spring of 2022.Apply to the University of Maryland’s B.S. in Biocomputational Engineering degree program to jumpstart your career today!

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UMD minors are coming to USG! Guest Post: Dr. Wendy Stickle from UMD at USG

Dr. Wendy Stickle, Director, UMD Criminology and Criminal Justice at Universities at Shady Grove

Senior Lecturer,
Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Maryland

By: Dr. Wendy Stickle

The University of Maryland, College Park (UMD) Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCJS) and the UMD Information Science Program are excited to be offering three new minors at USG this Fall! You may be asking, why should I complete a minor? There are so many reasons, including:

  • Being more purposeful in filling elective credit, which will be reflected on transcript;
  • Opening up doors to additional career and graduate study options;
  • A quick way to specialize in a specific field without the longer commitment of a major;
  • A way to study a topic that students may be interested in but do not want to pursue a career in.

All UMD students at USG are eligible to add a minor. It is possible to complete minors within two years. If necessary, minor courses can be completed during the summer and winter sessions as well.

If you are a UMD student at USG, you will have three minors to choose from this Fall:

  1. Minor in Criminal Justice: The Minor in Criminal Justice offers non-CCJS UMD majors at Shady Grove the opportunity to learn more about the criminal justice system and the challenges it faces. Students who complete the minor will have a better understanding of how the criminal justice system, including police, courts, and corrections, operates, its strengths and weaknesses. Students will also have the opportunity to be exposed to emerging topics such as forensics, homeland security, elder abuse and human trafficking. This minor is perfect for anyone looking to better understand the criminal justice system, a topic so commonly brought up in the media, in elections, etc.  Questions? Email: ccjsusg@umd.edu
  2. Minor in Technology Innovation Leadership: By combining creative leadership, design thinking and understanding socio technical challenges, this undergraduate minor prepares students to tackle large scale problems relating to technology innovation. While using innovative thinking approaches, students will learn to create new ideas and energy and solve socio technical challenges through leadership experiences. Questions? Email: infoscisg@umd.edu
  3. Minor in Information Risk Management, Ethics, & Privacy: This undergraduate minor prepares students to evaluate major information and big data privacy and security issues that businesses and individuals encounter. Students will focus on practical strategies to mitigate risks and explore the ways emerging technologies benefit in the context of risk management, ethics, and privacy. Questions? Email: infoscisg@umd.edu

Join us for an info session to learn more on April 29, 2021! Register for the Info Session here: HTTPS://GO.UMD.EDU/UMD-SG-MINORS.

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Driving Change Through USG’s Graduate Student Association. Guest Post: Abi Shitta-Bey, UMCP, MBA Smith School Student at USG

Abi Shitta-Bey, UMCP, MBA Smith School Student at USG & Member of GSA

My name is Abi Shitta-Bey and I am a second-year MBA student studying at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) at the Universities at Shady Grove (USG) campus. As a Double Terp, I also studied at UMCP during undergrad, graduating with a double degree in Marketing and Supply Chain Management. I remember first learning about USG during a Smith school event during my freshman year in undergrad, and thought to myself how beautiful the campus was. Fast forward nearly 10 years, and here we are!

As an undergraduate, I was extremely involved, serving on various executive boards for both social and academic clubs, joining Greek life, serving as an ambassador for the Smith school, and even working as a Resident Assistant. Being involved on campus was important to me because I wanted to take advantage of the “college experience” — personal freedom, relationship-building, personal growth and trying as many new things as possible.

After graduation, life took a turn and I actually joined Teach For America (TFA), teaching in Texas for four years, which included an additional two years beyond my TFA commitment because I loved everything about teaching.

It’s interesting how we follow a path that makes us happy, but we also realize that there are other paths in life that may provide a different sense of happiness, hence why I decided to pursue an MBA. Through USG, I’ve been exposed to more than I could’ve imagined.

In the time I was teaching, I was so focused on working and my school community, so I vowed to myself that when I started my graduate program, I would be as involved as I could handle as a part-time student. That eventually led me to USG’s Graduate Student Association (GSA), which has been absolutely fantastic.

With USG’s nine associated universities, the GSA was created as a means to increase graduate student involvement, and foster connections with students at these different universities. Through the GSA, I’ve been able to attend women empowerment events, serve as a member of the Graduate Student Association Advisory Board, providing input and feedback on the USG campus, and being in spaces with other GSA leaders, serving as a voice for the students and possessing the ability to make change. One of my favorite experiences as a GSA member was serving as the liaison between the Diversity Learning Series and the GSA. The series provided us with an opportunity to have real conversations about our identities, where we come from and discuss hot topic issues in a safe and welcoming space.

Being on the GSA has connected me with wonderful students, amazing staff members, and a wide array of services that exist solely to support us as graduate students.

If what I’ve mentioned about the GSA sounds like it would be a great fit for you, definitely consider applying for the 2021-2022 academic school yearthe priority deadline is May 31, and we’d love to have leaders on board who are looking to grow, connect and ultimately drive change!

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“This is Fine.” Guest Post Michael Schlitzer, UMBC Data Science Graduate Student

I don’t know if you’re like me or not, but I’m a bit of an introvert, so the isolation that has been required by this pandemic hasn’t been too terrible for me.  I am very fortunate that I still have my job, classes, a family that is an endless source of amusement, a Netflix account, and my bicycle.  As an optimistic realist, I have sort of adopted this meme as my personal mantra as I have marched through each of the past 390+ days since campus closed: “This is fine”.

I had a chance to go back to the USG campus this week to record my part in this year’s USG graduation celebration ceremony — you definitely want to attend because we’ve got some great speakers! And then, it really hit me. This has not been fine! This has really been terrible! USG is such a beautiful campus and I felt like a sailor, seeing land again after a long, arduous sea voyage. I accomplished what I wanted to do, differently than I wanted to do it, but I did it!

I felt a wave of personal accomplishment, but then also a real sadness for what was lost due to COVID. I don’t think that my education suffered much, if at all, but I’ve been so consumed with trying to make it “fine” that I never even considered giving myself a moment to grieve, even in a small way and that bill came due this week.

Steve Simon and Kelly Le, the amazing marketing team at USG who bring you this and all the other blogs and communications from Shady Grove, have been vital human connections for me during this pandemic. They’ve made me, a boy from Baltimore, who, when I met a woman from Montgomery County at school in UCLA, said, in all seriousness — “I’ve heard of Montgomery County, but I don’t know that I know how to get there” — think and write about the impact that USG and Montgomery County have had in my life.

I purposely took the long way to campus, coming through Montgomery County through Frederick County and I paralleled the C&O Canal, and as my time at USG comes to a close. I’ll encourage you to get out and see that most unique National Park. The Park is 186 miles long and runs along a canal that was built before the railroad from Cumberland, MD to Georgetown in Washington DC; it’s a snapshot of American history from 230 years ago.

I’ve enjoyed it for years on two wheels, having ridden the entire thing, starting in the middle of the night in Cumberland, inadvertently chasing a beaver along a stone bridge abutment in the pitch black (you have NEVER seen a beaver move so fast in your life, I promise you), and having pounded out countless miles along River Road out to Poolesville, and on the climbs in and out of Riley’s Lock with my best friends of 20+ years.  But you don’t have to ride hard or throw a leg over a bike to enjoy this national treasure.

If you do get out to the C&O, I’d suggest that you get off your bike and take a look at one of the locks and walk around the lock keepers house and think about what it must have been like all those years ago.  Another place that I’d really recommend that you visit is the Monocacy River Aqueduct https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monocacy_Aqueduct.  An aqueduct is a bridge that carries water over another body of water, and, while there is no water in the aqueduct today, as you look down at the Monocacy, it’s hard to fathom the engineering ingenuity that allowed them to build that long before there were computers.

Now, my wife wanted me to tell you that it is technically possible to explore the C&O Canal without a bicycle and she tells me that it can even be fun.  But, I’m just going to have to take her at her word on that one.

Michael Schlitzer, UMBC Data Science Graduate Student and Dr. Anne Khademian, Executive Director at USG

Many of you will finish this semester, take a break, and then return to USG next year.  When you do get back on campus, be sure to seek out and say hello to Dr. Anne Khademian, USG’s new Executive Director. She started at USG in the middle of this pandemic and, while she’s been very busy and has done a great job, the emptiness of the building is just impossible to miss. I know that she’ll be really glad to see and hear you in the Fall when campus re-opens.

I’m just picturing that first day like a reverse “Good Night Moon”:  “Hello classroom!”  “Hello elevator that takes me to the third floor!”  “Hello Priddy Library!”  “Hello security guards!” “Hello USG!”.  I’m excited for you.

And I sort of envy you.

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