A post curated by the Women’s Center’s Program Coordinator, Jane DeHitta
At the end of every semester, the Women’s Center hosts a Graduation + End of the Year celebration for all of the Scholars + Affiliates in the Returning Adult Learners Program. (Read on to see a list of our graduating RAL Scholars) This event is a special tradition in the Women’s Center with its intentions rooted in creating celebratory space for both our continuing and graduating returning adult learners who are UMBC students seeking their first undergraduate degree.
These students are called “returning” because they often have various circumstances that have kept them from what our popular culture deems as a traditional college path and they are now “returning” to college to pursue their degree. Student scholars in this program not only receive scholarships to help financially supplement their tuition, but also benefit from tailored support and programming from Women’s Center staff through individualized meetings, programs, and events that meet the specific needs of older students on campus. Affiliate Scholars are also an important part of our program and community (and if you’re interested in joining, reach out to the Women’s Center!).
For the last few years, our pinning ceremony has been held over virtual calls, with graduating students receiving their pins in the mail prior to the event so that they can “pin” themselves on camera before sharing what it means to them to have reached their goal. This year, we had our first in-person RAL End of the Year Celebration since the lockdown, and it was a delight to welcome our scholars + affiliates into the Women’s Center space, joined by our newly inaugurated president, Dr, Sheares Ashby, and our new Women’s Center director, Lauren Allen, as well as representatives from the Newcombe Foundation and other campus members.
I have now had the honor of working with the RAL program for the last two years and it is always such a joy to come together and celebrate these students and to give them space to celebrate themselves. During our time, Dr. Sheares-Ashby eagerly asked each of our adult learners to share about themselves–What are you studying? What made you come back to school? What do you want to do after you have graduated? Hearing their stories always reminds me that no matter where you are in life or what you have been through, it is never too late to come back, change paths, or pursue something new. Adult Learners enrich our UMBC community and we are so happy for our students who are one step closer to completing their goal.
And now, it is with great joy and pride that I invite you to join me in celebrating these fantastic students and their accomplishments. Below are this year’s (Spring ’23 & Fall ’22) graduating Returning Adult Learner Scholars who in their own words* share what they were involved in at UMBC, what’s next for them after UMBC, and advice they wanted to share with other adult learners.
Megan Curtiss – Environmental Science & Geography BS, Spring ’23
What were you involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner? Working full time and going to school full time has certainly been a challenging experience. I was hopeful that as long as I continued to put one foot in front of the other and focus on what needed to be accomplished today, I could reach my goal of graduating. When I first transferred to UMBC, I had no idea what kind of resources were available to students or how to navigate the college experience as someone older than all of my classmates. There was a bit of a learning curve for me, but after talking to different people (classmates, professors, advisors, etc)about their own experiences I started to get a better idea of how I wanted to spend my time while at UMBC. A suggestion during an RAL mid-semester check-in prompted me to reach out to some of the professors in my department about possible research opportunities that I could become involved with. Sending a quick email and asking that question about research on campus allowed me to spend a lot of this time in my final semester before graduating gaining research and practical field experience that I can include on my resume. It has also given me the chance to develop my networking skills and strengthen my ability to represent myself professionally in my field.
What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)? I don’t have concrete plans just yet. I am giving myself a little time to breath before really commiting to my next steps. I have considered grad school and have been applying to jobs and internships in my field. I am waiting to see what opportunities present themselves over the coming months instead of stressing myself out over timelines of when things SHOULD happen. However, to celebrate completing my undergraduate degree, I have two trips planned for the upcoming months! I am going to go to Nevada for a week in June and Costa Rica for 10 days in September. So, I am very excited to get to travel and just enjoy life for a moment.
Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Adult Learners? My advice for current Returning Adult Learners is to utilize the resources within this program and at the university in general. I was intimidated by my lack of understanding when it came to how college ‘worked’. For example, I wasn’t sure how people got involved in research on campus and a conversation in my mid-semester check in provided the insight that it’s as simple as sending an email to a few people in your department and asking. Building relationships with professors and advisors is also a great asset. My experience has been that most of my professors want to see their students succeed. Cultivating those relationships helps in a lot of ways – from having academic references, letters of recommendation, or just being able to ask for help when you need it in a particular class.
What else do you want to share? It’s okay to work at your own pace. I struggled (and still do at times) with thinking I needed to rush through this process and that I am running out of time to accomplish my goals. By being so focused on reaching the finish line, it’s easy to miss out on the moments that can really shape and define the experience. Also, be patient with yourself! There were semesters where I knew the course load for specific classes would be heavier and going part time would be the best choice so I could devote the time I needed to be successful and maintain my responsibilities outside of school and my mental health. Everyone’s journey is different.
Kristy – Biological Sciences BA, Spring ’23
What were you involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner? I had a lot of worries and anxiety when stepping back into a classroom setting but knowing that there were programs like RAL and the Women’s Center made the reset so much easier. The support and friendships that I’ve had throughout my time at UMBC will always be so cherished!
What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)? I’m in the interview process for a data scientist position for the DoD, so fingers crossed that pans out.
Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Adult Learners? I think a lot of us are familiar with carrying more weight than we should. For me, branching out and asking for help is something I’ve always struggled with, especially when you feel like no one can relate or emphathize. At UMBC, the professors really are beyond supportive and there are countless resources to ensure that you’re getting the appropriate support to help you succeed. I hope future RALs don’t wait or hesitate to seek help when they need it.
What else do you want to share? To the entire Women’s Center staff who makes sure that the programs, physical office, and members are always up and running, there aren’t enough thank you’s to suffice. The financial support was a tremendous weight off my shoulders but the groups, check-ins, and discussions shared together are safe spaces and moments of peace for a lot of RALs who don’t otherwise get that chance. Forever grateful for everyone!
Erlinda – Modern Languages & Linguistics BA, Spring ’23
What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)? This fall, I intend to work as a Spanish teacher at a public school. I plan to use my degree and knowledge of the Spanish language to work with students, helping them learn and understand the language better. I am passionate about teaching a second language and I believe that it is important for everyone to know more than one language. I also plan to complete a master’s degree in intercultural communication at UMBC with a concentration on language and culture. This will give me a foundation in the field and help me better understand different cultures as well as language learning. I will become more culturally aware, and it will help me a lot in my teaching career because there are ethnic groups of students, and it is important to be culturally aware. My future career after completing my master’s degree is to become a Spanish instructor at a community college.
Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Adult Learners? My advice to current adult learners is to never give up on their studies; patience and persistence will pay off. It won’t always be easy, but it will be worth it in the end. Don’t forget to take care of yourself by getting plenty of rest and staying healthy. It’s important to remember that you are not alone in your journey and that there are many resources available to help support you throughout the process.
What else do you want to share? Thank you for letting me be part of this community and for supporting me financially and personally. I am motivated and excited to be able to keep learning and growing in my field as a Spanish teacher. With your help, my dreams of obtaining a bachelor’s degree have come true.
Cai – Social Work BA & Psychology BA, Spring ’23
What were you involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner? I did a lot of networking
What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)? Work in the field and contemplate grad school!
Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Adult Learners? Make use of the resources and always always ask for help
What else do you want to share? It’s been 10 years since I dropped out of school and got sober, so this is a hug achievement for me!
Ashley – Social Work BA & Psychology BA, Fall ’22
What were you involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner? As an adult learner at UMBC I tried my best to get involved as much as possible. I was the co-vice-president of the Phi Alpha Social Work honors society. I also had the opportunity to participate in research with a wonderful mentor, Dr. Kerri Evans, from the social work department. I was able to work as a research assistant, during which time I worked on a few academic publications. Additionally, I worked with a team to develop a board game to be used for cultural sensitivity training towards immigrant students in K-12 schools. I was able to present one research paper at URCAD 2022. I was able to co-present our game project at the CSWE Critical Conversations conference 2022.
What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)? After graduating I plan to complete a masters degree in clinical social work. I’m not sure about which population I would like to work with yet!
Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Adult Learners? My advice is to appreciate the kind community of people who offer support at the women’s center. Make as many friends as possible. Don’t be afraid to confide in them if you are struggling. This is a great place to be.
What else do you want to share? I am super appreciative of the team in the women’s center who have shown me nothing but kindness and support. It was a huge blessing in my life to be a part of this community. I have gone through so much during my time at school, but I knew I always had support with the RAL scholar staff members. Love them :).
Lejla Heric-Safadi – Public Health BA, Fall ’22
What you were involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner? My involvement was with the Women’s Center and as a member of AMWHO.
What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)? I started a full-time position during my last semester, so I will continue working while applying to graduate programs.
Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Adult Learners? Do not be afraid to challenge yourself. Ask for help because you are not alone. Build connections with the people in your classes as you might gain new friends like I did.
What else do you want to share? UMBC and Women’s Center were crucial to my success as a returning student. I could not have found a better place for me, as I felt supported and encouraged, even during struggles that Covid brought on. I fulfilled all my academic goals and then some, as I added two minors and a certificate to my major, which will not only be helpful to my career, but have also helped me clarify the focus of my further studies.
Jency Suresh – Social Work BA, Fall ’22
What you were involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner? As an adult learner, it was hard for me to find time for clubs or any other activities in the campus. Through, women’s center services I was able to meet with the students who were adult learners. I was able to talk to them and have conversations with them on so many topics. During COVID, the Women’s Center helped me to grow strong because I know they were there for me no matter what the situation was. Ms. Jess, Sandra and Jane were very supportive whenever I had a concern or a problem. They were there to listen to me and help me sort out my concerns. Ms. Jess always went beyond her role and helped me. I am very grateful for everything the women center has offered me!
What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)? I am planning to pursue my Master’s degree in Social work
Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Adult Learners? Please do not hold back your questions. The Women’s Center has answers for you!
What else do you want to share? I want to encourage all the hard working students to get out there and push hard to accomplish their dreams.
Jackie SJ Kim – Acting BFA, Fall ’22
What you were involved in at UMBC and/or what was your experience like as an adult learner? Acting BFA – professors needed to work more on learning different ethnic backgrounds of their students and how they’re being treated between their faculty and staff members.
What are your plans after graduation (grad school, work, etc.)? Move to ATL and eventually LA
Looking back on your experience, what is your advice for current Returning Adult Learners? Don’t give up. Age is just a number. Everyone’s journey and chapter is different. Do not compare yourself to others. You don’t know what they’ve gone through and they don’t know your story either. You deserve that much grace and love towards yourself.
What else do you want to share? We did it