UMGC Regional Staff Recognized with Special Commendation from Army Installation
One of UMGC’s great challenges is to create an environment that makes a diverse student body, made up of thousands of students of a wide range of ages, educational backgrounds, military service, and career stages feel connected to the institution, no matter where they are located.
UMGC’s military student population particularly is in a state of flux, living and serving on different bases around the world. When factoring in the effects of the global pandemic, the feeling of disconnectedness that some servicemembers are feeling can be acute.
That is why the efforts of UMGC advisors and education coordinators have grown in importance as a catalyst to keep students on track with their educational goals.
And it is why Amy Hoch and Cherie Aker were humbled and honored to receive a special commendation from the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) Army installation in northern Maryland for going the extra mile to guide a soldier along his educational journey.
Hoch is a team associate and Aker is the assistant director in the region. Both of them work directly with students on APG. They are part of a global team of representatives who foster success throughout the student’s journey in achieving their academic goals.
“They both have been so inspirational,” said Sgt. 1st Class Reginald M. Ross, senior religious affairs NCO at the Army Test and Evaluation Command. “Any time I needed anything, or I would come into the office or call, they are always helpful.”
Ross filed what’s known as an Interactive Customer Evaluation (ICE), which is a formal comment about services to the Army. More often than not, ICE filings are complaints, so when a positive report was filed and reached all the way to the garrison commander, it was noticed as a breath of fresh air.
In his ICE comment about Aker, Ross commended her for her help and positive attitude, even as she was battling cancer. “While going through treatment, she was still assisting me in my college preparation,” Ross wrote. “Her optimism and cheerful attitude are enough motivation to push anyone to excel and go forward. I am personally grateful that UMGC and the Aberdeen Proving Ground community has an exceptional leader that goes over and above to support students.”
In his comments about Hoch, Ross said she was able to understand what he called his “complex” educational background that included five college transcripts and his service in two military branches to come up with a plan that worked for him.
“Her countless e-mails and reminders really express that she genuinely cared for my future education,” he wrote. “Her excitement of education is infectious and motivating. Her professionalism as a counselor has motivated me to be a lifelong learner.”
In making a presentation to Hoch and Aker at the base’s Education Center, the APG Garrison Commander, Col. Johnny Casiano, praised them for, “their unwavering support of the soldiers.”
“Your expertise has proven invaluable and has garnered numerous praiseworthy, interactive customer evaluation comments,” he said. “Additionally, your contributions directly honor and support our servicemembers who seek to increase their education.”
Casiano said he strongly supports soldiers’ commitment to their formal education. “The combination of experience in the military and education is a valuable asset that can serve a soldier well as they move up the ranks or transition to a career outside the military.”
“The UMGC Aberdeen team is a clear example of the personal connection the university makes with each and every student,” said Nora Graves, UMGC’s regional director for Stateside Military Operations. “Military students, especially, need to feel connected, valued, motivated; Amy and Cherie are consummate, caring professionals who understand how personal this journey is and they are eager to provide a connection and motivate their students throughout their academic journey.”
In an interview, Aker said how rewarding her UMGC job has been both at Aberdeen and throughout her career, to include her work with Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed National Military Medical Hospital.
“I’ve had some students walk in here and they’re so lost, they don’t know what exactly they want to do,” she said. “It’s very rewarding to see the growth of a student.”
Aker explains that the personal, face-to-face relationship promotes a more distinctive, empathetic connection to her students allowing her to help guide and mentor. Aker’s personal journey with curative cancer treatments has added an even more layered connection with her students.
Hoch said, “Students all have their unique story about their educational goals or where they are on their life’s journey or their history in the military.
“They may have limited time left in the military, and they often want to complete a degree before getting out and facing new challenges in the civilian world,” she added.
Hoch goes through their records to see how many college credits they already have earned from their military training and other educational institutions. She may recommend advanced placement tests to help save time toward earning a degree. She works with students to find ways to pay for their out-of-pocket education expenses which may include other sources beyond tuition assistance, to include financial aid and scholarship options.
She said she is currently working with an entire family — husband, wife and daughter – seeking her help and using her as their collective resource.
“It’s just being able to find that unique way to help students based on their situation,” she said. “We want to do what’s best for the student and help them with their goals.”