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University of Maryland University College enters its 2015 commencement season on the heels of receiving two national awards for educational excellence from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA). The honors—for Excellence in Advancing Student Success and for Outstanding Continuing Education Student—were conferred on March 31 at the UPCEA Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.

The association's awards program, begun in 1953, singles out individuals and institutions alike across UPCEA's membership to recognize achievement in a wide variety of areas, including community development and services, research and publications, and innovative programming. Marie Cini, UMUC provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, received the UPCEA Award for Excellence in Advancing Student Success, which recognizes an individual or program for furthering student achievement in both credit and noncredit programs.

Student success is a critical component of UMUC's academic model, Cini said. "As an open institution, we have to do more than simply accept students; we must find new ways to help them succeed and thrive."

One such way is UMUC's Gateways to Success project, supported by a grant funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Implemented by faculty at colleges nationwide in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative staff, Gateways to Success addressed performance and retention issues in undergraduate STEM courses.

The Undergraduate School committed to redesigning several key general education courses using innovative learning approaches to improve student success and graduation rates by developing deeper learning experiences to prepare underserved populations for the 21st century global workforce. And results indicate improved engagement, persistence, and student satisfaction.

While winning the award was a "huge honor," Cini said that she "absolutely cannot" say that she did it alone. "The award really recognizes our outstanding deans, vice deans, program chairs, faculty, and students, who were all part of this project."

Cini also thanked Dr. Candace Thille of Stanford University, "whose work on the Open Learning Initiative and partnership with UMUC has been invaluable in helping us learn much more about how students truly learn."

UMUC graduate student Gita Seleh was also honored by UPCEA. After a national candidate search, the education association voted her recipient of its Outstanding Continuing Education Student Award. Seleh, who is working toward her Master of Science in Biotechnology with a focus on Bioinformatics, received UPCEA's regional award in the same category in October. In her notification letter, UPCEA's 2015 Awards Committee Chair Carla Morgan cited Seleh's dedication, which provides a model to which her colleagues can aspire. "This is an award of the highest distinction and honor in our profession and, in particular, recognizes outstanding student achievement in professional and continuing education."

James Coker, PhD, director of UMUC's bioinformatics program, said he has been witness to Seleh's "commitment to education, drive to succeed, and friendly demeanor. She is definitely an exceptional student and truly deserving of the award."


UPCEA is the leading association for professional, continuing, and online education. Founded in 1915, UPCEA now serves more than 400 institutions, including most of the leading public and private colleges and universities in North America. The association serves its members with innovative conferences and specialty seminars, research and benchmarking information, professional networking opportunities, and timely publications. Based in Washington, D.C., UPCEA builds greater awareness of the vital link between adult learners and public policy issues.