More than 1,100 earn degrees from UMUC Europe
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 1, 2016
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Each of the men and women milling about in caps and gowns at the Gartenschau downtown on Saturday had stories about grit, sacrifice and sleep deprivation.
Many balanced careers and parenting with their studies while plugging away for years at a college degree.
This weekend, all their hard work was recognized as some 200 graduates walked the stage at the University of Maryland University College Europe commencement ceremony, celebrating their academic achievements with hundreds of family members, classmates and professors.
“I feel like today is all about me,” beamed Jeremiah Wilson. “It’s awesome.”
Wilson, 35, a former Air Force firefighter, earned a 4.0 grade point average after being a “2-point low student” in high school. He managed straight A’s in computer and information science even while his family grew by two — sometimes typing out papers after midnight while cradling a sleeping baby.
Tammy Husted, 36, spent 18 months deployed to Iraq when she was in the Army. A bigger challenge may have been the hours of standing, waiting and sitting just to walk the stage on Saturday while eight months pregnant with twins. Though she looked about to burst even under the drape-like graduation gown, she maintained a sense of humor.
“There’s three of us crossing that stage today,” she laughed, relieved to be completing her master’s degree in information technology before the late-night diaper changes — times two — begin.
More than 1,100 students were expected to graduate from across Europe, Africa and the Middle East this spring, making them part of UMUC Europe’s 64th graduating class. The number of graduates this year held steady: About 1,125 graduates earned degrees from UMUC Europe last year.
The college expected to confer 497 associate’s degrees, 560 bachelor’s degrees, and 84 master’s degrees. Business administration, once again, was the most popular degree. About 43 percent of this year’s graduates are active duty, and 60 students earned degrees while downrange.
Like Wilson, most graduates have children. But Wilson wasn’t average when it came to pacing: He finished his bachelor’s degree in just under four years, much faster than this year’s average of seven years.
Credits gained from technical expertise he acquired in the Air Force coupled with a deeper appreciation of education helped spur him along, he said.
“I’m going to encourage my kids to get some life experience” before going to college, he said. “You’ll appreciate your schooling even more.”
Natasha Crumbles-Mitchell, 42, of Vogelweh was at the other end of the spectrum. She started her first class for her bachelor’s in psychology 18 years ago, while stationed in South Korea for the Army.
The accessibility of UMUC classes worldwide, both online and face-to-face, allowed her to keep plugging away through subsequent moves to Hawaii and Germany.
“It’s a long road but it feels good,” she said, “because I never gave up. I just kept going, like a little train, ‘the little train that could.’”
Many graduates said they used the Post 9/11 GI Bill to pay for school.
“I didn’t have to pay a cent,” Wilson said, figuring the benefit was worth between $30,000 and $50,000 over four years.
Tech. Sgt. Mark Bergmann, 35, used Air Force tuition assistance and grants to cover most costs for a master’s in business administration, after deciding to transfer his GI Bill benefits to his two daughters.
Time was more of an issue than money.
“A lot of late nights, a couple hours every day, almost, doing research, reading, writing papers,” he said. “It took a lot of dedication, a lot of time.”
Rachele Love, a special education paraprofessional from Wiesbaden, could relate to the time crunch while finishing a demanding load of upper level online classes for her bachelor’s in psychology.
“Your day consists of wake up, go to work, come home, take a nap, do homework, skip dinner,” she said, eyeing her husband, Andrew Love, an Army master sergeant who misses home cooked meals.
“I promised to start cooking again,” Rachele Love said, laughing.
But first, there are a few academic loose ends to tie up.
“We have one more week, actually, of classes,” said Andrew Love, who also earned a bachelor’s degree, his in business.
“I still have two papers to write,” Rachele Love said. “And one that’s due tomorrow, that I’m really stressing about.”
But after it took Andrew Love 27 years and his wife 17 years to finish their degrees, not much could ruin sharing the stage on graduation day for the couple.
“After the graduation party, we’ll figure it out,” Rachele Love said, laughing again.
Maria Lozano of Kaiserslautern, Germany, earned a bachelor's degree in finance from University of Maryland University College Europe on Saturday, April 30, in Kaiserslautern. Lozano, who's a native Spanish speaker, overcame the language barrier to become the first person in her family to earn a college degree. She's pictured with her husband, Luis Morales.
JENNIFER H. SVAN/STARS AND STRIPES