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UMGC Achiever Magazine 2022 Education for the Ages

“Adult learner” is an increasingly broad term, as evidenced by two of UMGC’s recent—and remarkable—graduates.

UMGC President Gregory Fowler with graduate Nailah Gibson.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article appears in the 2022 issue of Achiever Magazine.

By Bob Ludwig

FOR 75 YEARS, UMGC HAS FOCUSED ON SERVING ADULT LEARNERS—but the definition of “adult” isn’t set in stone. For UMGC, it could mean almost anyone attending school part-time while juggling competing responsibilities—jobs, families, community leadership, military service, or more.

UMGC’s recent commencement exercises shone a spotlight on this broad spectrum of learners—from 19-year-old Nailah Gibson to 82-year-old Mae Beale.

Gibson became the first student to complete a UMGC degree under the groundbreaking Prince George’s 3D Scholarship program. While a student at Flowers High School, Gibson earned dual credit at Prince George’s Community College and earned her high school diploma and community college degree at the same time in 2020, just as the pandemic was taking hold.

She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice at UMGC and is setting her sights on law school—two years ahead of her peers and with no college debt.

Much of Gibson’s motivation to pursue the PG3D Scholar program came from her mom, who, she said, “didn’t want me to have any student loans.”

With that box checked, she persevered, juggling classes, working multiple jobs, and handling the many curve balls that life seemed to throw at her.

“The most challenging part was time management and just prioritizing deadlines,” she said.

Gibson had been scooping ice cream at the local Ben & Jerrys while in high school, started a second job in her senior year, and continued to work both while attending UMGC. It was all she could handle “trying to balance everything,” Gibson said.

She battled through a bout of COVID-19 in December, and in February she was in and out of the hospital with a kidney infection, “so keeping up with classes the whole months of December and February was hard,” Gibson said. She crossed the stage at Grad Walk in Adelphi on May 19, 2022, with her family cheering her on.

Greg Fowler (back left) and Mae Beale (center) with members of Beale's family.

Mae Beale, 82, also marched in Adelphi, after her in-person ceremony in 2020 was canceled because of the pandemic.

When she returned to school in her late 70s to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Business Management, she had already spent several years in a career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN). Of the decision to take on the extra work, the Howard County resident said, “I discovered that I had to be intentional about it and make it my priority.”

Beale’s dedication to putting her best into each class paid off. She made the Dean’s List several times and graduated with honors.

Even over the course of her degree program, Beale devoted much of her time to helping others, serving four years on the UMGC Student Advisory Council. She continued after graduation as an ex officio member until her term ended in December 2020.

Well into her retirement as a licensed practical nurse, and now as a community advocate with her bachelor’s degree in hand, Beale is busier than ever. She continues to run an event planning business she started in 1994 and has joined a few more local boards, including in Howard County, with Maryland Tourism and Promotion, the Restaurant Association, the Festival of the Arts, and the Columbia Bright Minds Association.

With her degree, Beale already feels a greater sense of respect. “I knew that if I had the degree, it would solidify things and make me feel more comfortable,” she said.