For University of Maryland Global Campus’s 75th anniversary, we spoke with Patricia Coopersmith about some of her favorite experiences and where she hopes to see the university in years to come. Coopersmith is the acting director of UMGC Europe. In this role, she leads the administrative and academic operations for faculty and staff at UMGC Europe headquarters and in 17 countries across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
How long have you been working with UMGC?
I began my career at UMGC in November 2016 as the associate vice president and deputy director for the Europe Division and am still here today (at the Europe Headquarters in Kaiserslautern, Germany). My connection to UMGC, however, goes back to 2003 when I began working at the Department of Defense's National Defense University in Washington, D.C., and had the good fortune to partner with several UMGC employees. Since June 2022, I have been the acting vice president and director for UMGC Europe.
During your time at UMGC, how have you seen the university evolve and change? What is the most significant change you have witnessed at the university?
Yes, absolutely. The level of global collaboration now is much greater than when I started nearly six years ago, and I love working with UMGC colleagues in both the Stateside and Asia Divisions.
What has been your favorite part about working at UMGC?
Watching our graduates cross the stage each year, both at our UMGC Europe Commencement in Germany in the spring and at various local commencement ceremonies in some of our 50 sites in 16 countries that compose the Europe Division. I also truly enjoy visiting some of our sites across Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa, meeting with staff, faculty, government representatives, and students, getting their feedback, and sharing ideas.
UMGC is celebrating 75 years of excellence in education. What does that history mean to you? Why is it important?
75 years of educating adult learners is an amazing accomplishment, especially through wars, pandemics, and other global tensions. UMGC has been steadfast in its leadership of providing classes and degrees to students whenever and wherever they are in the world, creating "warm hand-offs" between university divisions, and making sure each student has the best support possible. Doing this is no small task, and providing this incredible, personalized level of service to each student for 75 years is simply awe-inspiring!
Which of UMGC core values resonates with you the most and why? (Students First, Accountability, Diversity, Integrity, Excellence, Innovation, Respect, or People Always).
It is difficult to choose one, as they are all so important to UMGC's mission, but of course, we are all about “Students First.” That is "the who" and the rest of our core values are "the how." Together, our core values comprise a beautiful symphony and guide us in our daily tasks.
UMGC recently introduced its new mission “Inspire hope, empower dreams, and transform lives ... one student at a time.” What does that mean to you?
I love this new mission statement, as it says so much in just one, simple but powerful sentence. As humans, it is hope that keeps us going and makes us passionate about accomplishing something new. As children, we are taught to reach for our dreams, and if UMGC can help a student reach their dream, then we have transformed their life. Finally, "one student at a time" speaks to the personalized nature of the services we offer, from our staff members at military education centers around the world, to our faculty members working with students to help them understand the concepts being taught in the classroom, and finally to all our university administrators who provide resources and support to the field. Somehow, this mission statement captures all of that, and it truly inspires employees no matter what their role is at the university.
How do you feel about UMGC’s role in supporting the military, wherever they are?
UMGC's commitment to the U.S. military is second to none. The sacrifices military families make by moving all over the world, sometimes to harsh and dangerous locations, is amazing. The fact that UMGC has had faculty and staff at many of those locations for over 70 years, side-by-side with our servicemembers makes me so very proud. UMGC Europe is about to expand into Poland, Romania, and Saudi Arabia, and seeing first-hand how excited the soldiers and airmen are that they will have an opportunity to take classes, share ideas with others, and increase their opportunities through education is personally heartwarming and inspiring to me as a university leader.
If you had one word to describe your experience at UMGC, what would it be and why?
Rewarding. Being a leader at UMGC has meant a lot of personal growth as I have had to expand my own skillset to ensure I was giving my own personal best to the Europe team. Having to manage various challenges and situations, from modifying class formats and offerings due to the pandemic, adjusting operations due to unexpected military missions (Afghanistan and Ukraine), working with a globally dispersed employee group, and constantly improving processes and services for our students and our employees has been challenging at times but very rewarding. UMGC Europe staff and faculty always rise to whatever challenge we are faced with, and we have accomplished so much together.
Where do you hope to see UMGC in the next 75 years?
UMGC has always been a ground-breaking, innovative institution and that much will not change, even in the next 75 years. My hope is that UMGC becomes a household name, and that when people think of higher education for the military, they immediately think of UMGC. When adults across the United States wonder where they or their children should apply if they want the best online education, they apply to UMGC. And, in a sea of global universities and online education providers, UMGC continues to innovate, pull away from the pack, and truly set itself apart as one of the best-known and highly sought-after universities in the world.