Skip Navigation
Skip to Menu Toggle Button

UMGC Celebrates National Military Appreciation Month

Philip D. Adams
By Philip D. Adams

May is National Military Appreciation Month (NMAM), and, as always, University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) gratefully acknowledges both the achievements and the dedicated service of all the members and veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. May is also the month we celebrate Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day.

We particularly want to salute our military-affiliated students and their families, who pursue their education while they continue to serve. We at UMGC understand the unique challenges they face as well as the unique benefits they bring to the classroom. That understanding comes from more than 75 years serving the higher education needs of military personnel, and from the collective knowledge and dedication of UMGC’s Stateside Military Operations (SMO) professionals.

We spoke to a few members of SMO to get their insights on NMAM and of the role they play in the success of our military-affiliated students.

Kristin Byerly, Maryann Andrews, and Renetta Watts

Meet the SMO Professionals

Kristin Byerly is the director of veterans initiatives for SMO, where she oversees programs that directly benefit our veteran population. She has experience as a military education coordinator (MEC) and is the spouse of a 30-year veteran.

Maryann Andrews is an advanced military educational coordinator at UMGC's Fort Bliss location and an adjunct faculty member out of El Paso, Texas.

Renetta Watts is SMO's assistant director for the Western Region, assigned to UMGC's San Diego facility.

Q: What, in your estimation, is the value to those inside and outside the military of celebrating National Military Appreciation Month?

KRISTIN BYERLY: For those in the military, there is value in knowing they are not alone in understanding what it means to be military-connected. Because so many of our staff, faculty, and administration are connected to the military, we work every day to ensure that our programs, services, and pathways serve the needs of this unique population.

For folks outside of the military, it's important to stop for a moment and think about how their own lives and those of their families are impacted by the military and their families. Everyone appreciates being appreciated!

MARYANN ANDREWS: Active-duty servicemembers choose to serve our country and make sacrifices to defend it. Celebrating and honoring military members' service shows them that their service is not in vain and that we "see" them. Participating in National Military Appreciation Month celebrations can help those not in the military to gain a better understanding of how few people answer the call to serve and that there is something noble in choosing to serve.

RENETTA WATTS: I am extremely proud of our active-duty and veteran servicemembers and their families for the sacrifices they make to keep our country safe. UMGC’s focus in 1947 was to serve our military across the globe, and that has not changed. We have gone to places that other schools would not have even considered to serve these exceptional people and to help them achieve their goals. I am thankful that Congress has officially designated a month to honor them, but UMGC honors and appreciates them every day.

Q: How has UMGC, and particularly the office of SMO, evolved over the years to better serve military-affiliated students?

KRISTIN BYERLY: At UMGC, we are always looking for ways to ensure each generation achieves the goals they need to advance in their careers. Twenty years ago, that meant earning a degree, and while that is still the case in many scenarios, today certifications and non-degree credentials are an additional path to career success. At UMGC we recognize this and work diligently to ensure that we meet all the needs of our military-connected students, including active-duty servicemembers, military spouses and dependents, and veterans.

Understanding this role allows us to adapt our services. Initiatives such as extending the reduced military tuition rate to dependents while their parent is active-duty, the UMGC-NMFA scholarship for military spouses, credit for military rank, credit for military training, and the Pillars of Strength Scholarship Program for caregivers, are just a few of the ways that we have grown and expanded our services to meet the needs of the military-connected student.

MARYANN ANDREWS: SMO has increased the number of on-base locations and Military Education Coordinators (MECs) to better serve our active-duty students and their families. UMGC has put systems in place to ensure that students needing assistance can reach a staff member who’s familiar with the needs and challenges unique to military-affiliated students.

RENETTA WATTS: When I started with UMGC 14 years ago, our stateside team was very small. We had about 15 field representatives outside the state of Maryland with a small support team on campus. Europe’s and Asia’s teams were student-facing, and we saw the importance of having a physical presence on the bases in cities with a large military and veteran population. At that point, our expansion began.

Having the option to physically walk into an office and sit down with an advisor is very important to many of our students, as is having someone who understands their location and is working in the same time zone. Our increased presence has led to significant growth in students and a department of more than 200 to support them.

Q: In what ways does UMGC's global presence serve our military and veteran students?   

KRISTIN BYERLY: One way is our scholarship opportunities that are open to all three UMGC divisions—Stateside, Europe, and Asia. For example, we've awarded two Student Veteran of the Year scholarships to students from Okinawa, Japan. Another is our “warm handoff” process that allows military students to make a seamless transition from overseas to stateside and vice versa. We also have dedicated teams such as our veteran certification, portals, and military degree plan teams that work for the global community. We are one university with three divisions that all have the same goal: your success.

MARYANN ANDREWS: UMGC has a robust global support system with advisors stationed all over the world to assist our students. Whether they are deployed or are PCSing, we are there to support and guide them every step of the way. This global presence ensures that our students never feel alone, no matter where they are. When they leave one duty station, they know someone will be ready to assist them upon arrival at the new duty station, whether or not a physical office is available.

Grad Walk events are held stateside and overseas. On-base graduation recognition ceremonies and graduation open houses are hosted to celebrate and recognize their accomplishments, further reinforcing our commitment to their success.

RENETTA WATTS: Our three divisions work together to provide a seamless transition for students that may relocate to another division. Our processes are the same, so the students get the same high-quality customer service wherever they are. Students can find a regional representative to assist them so they are confident that they can continue their education with our support.

Q: What kinds of military events is SMO involved in, and how do they demonstrate that we appreciate our students’ needs?

KRISTIN BYERLY: One of the main military events is the annual Military Veterans Networking event (MilVet Net), an event hosted by UMGC for military-connected students across the DMV, not just UMGC students. This year, MilVet Net was held on April 23, 2024, at UMGC’s Adelphi, Maryland, location. The event featured more than 50 employers, entrepreneurial resources, and Veteran Service Organizations on site. In addition to these vendors, we were fortunate to have the Honorable James D. Rodriguez, U.S. Department of Labor’s Assistant Secretary for Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS). Other guest speakers shared information on military transitioning and the Federal hiring process.

There are also open houses on military bases across the globe, cyber competitions, Veterans Day celebrations, and the annual FUNd Run to benefit the Veterans Assistance Fund. There are just so many opportunities to connect!

MARYANN ANDREWS: Members of the SMO team actively participate in a variety of military events, demonstrating our commitment to understanding and meeting their needs. Our Grad Walk (commencement) events are held both stateside and overseas. On-base graduation recognition ceremonies and graduation open houses are hosted to celebrate and recognize their accomplishments, further reinforcing our commitment to their success. We also travel to education fairs at a variety of bases and present at unit briefings, newcomers orientations, and credentialing assistance fairs.

RENETTA WATTS: San Diego is almost 2,700 miles from the Adelphi campus, and most of our students are not able to attend the commencement in Maryland, so we host a graduation recognition reception every June and invite all the graduates from the prior year to attend. We plan light refreshments and have a UMGC backdrop for photos with their friends and family. We get to hear stories about challenges, successes, and how their degree is going to change their future. There is a lot of laughter, a few tears, and many hugs. It is by far our favorite day of the year!

Q: How is UMGC's approach to outreach and advising unique?

KRISTIN BYERLY: From the time students submit their applications to UMGC to the day they graduate (from “app to cap,” as we say) UMGC is working to ensure that our military-connected students get everything they need to succeed. This means having locations across the globe where a student can walk in, call, text, email, or whatever it takes to ensure that their specific needs are being addressed. It also means working with organizations, such as American Council on Education (ACE) to recognize military training as appropriate college-level credit.

MARYANN ANDREWS: UMGC's approach to outreach is individualized and holistic. Many of our military advisors are veterans or spouses of servicemembers who bring a unique understanding of the challenges that come with pursuing a degree while moving every few years. Outreach campaigns are scheduled to address students' needs, share resources, and encourage them to schedule a meeting with a dedicated military advisor. Online advising is available to both military and civilian students.

MECs and success coaches form a partnership with each student to develop a plan for success. When talking with students, we consider their education goals, how they will fund their education, the type of support they have at home, their time-management skills, and their training/deployment commitments. We encourage students to take ownership of their education and to maintain ongoing communication with their instructors and MECS. We address individual challenges that come with deployment, PCSing, and any other situation that impacts student success.

RENETTA WATTS: We value the importance of a personal relationship with our students. Continuing to maintain a physical presence at over 175 sites worldwide and regularly visiting surrounding bases gives our students a chance to sit down with us and discuss their goals. They know we care about them and understand the challenges a military student can face.

Reference on this webpage to any third-party entity or product does not constitute or imply endorsement by UMGC nor does it constitute or imply endorsement of UMGC by the third party. 

Learn More About How UMGC Serves Military Students

A UMGC admissions advisor can answer your questions and help you get started.