Editor's Note: This profile is part of a series that features the stories of more than a dozen graduates whose outstanding journeys have culminated in a UMGC degree.
Mubarak Ibrahim was three classes into his Master of Science in Cybersecurity Technology degree at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) when his wife, Hellen, decided to enter the same program.
The decision was a heavy lift for the military family. Mubarak already had a full plate with his job in logistics for the Navy Reserves and his work as a cybersecurity consultant for a federal government subcontractor. Hellen also worked full time for the same subcontractor. The couple was raising four young children.
But once they committed to the UMGC program, they pushed straight through, both collecting 4.0 grade point averages and even growing their family with two more children.
“My husband and I are both cybersecurity professionals and we wanted to solidify and expand on our knowledge and experiences,” Hellen explained. “We also had a lot of goals together for our family. First and foremost was to set a good example for our kids, to show them to aspire higher.”
Mubarak and Hellen will receive their diplomas together on Dec. 16 with a small group of friends and family in attendance at the UMGC commencement ceremony. The next day, their house will fill as people from across the country arrive to help the family celebrate. The festivities will include the couple’s six children, who range in age from 8 years to 3 months.
Mubarak may have achieved his academic aspirations for now, but not Hellen. She’s thinking about a Ph.D. program in cybersecurity and information assurance.
“We are an African American immigrant family, originally from Ghana,” Hellen said. “As first generation students here, we believe we have a lot to offer and this country has given us the opportunity to take advantage of that.
“I am ready to do as much as I can to improve myself and to give back to this country,” she said. “For me, the sky’s the limit.”
Hellen was pregnant with the couple’s fifth child when she enrolled in UMGC’s master’s program.
“I was in my last trimester when I started,” she explained. “I had a big paper due the same day the baby was due. I submitted the paper and just a few hours later I was in the hospital pushing the baby out.” The scenario repeated itself with her last class in the program: She was pregnant again and both the baby and her last paper were due on the same day.
With experience comes wisdom. This time she submitted the paper a week early.
Mubarak’s undergraduate degree from Ghana, where they both grew up, is in economics. Hellen’s bachelor’s degree carries a double concentration in psychology and information studies. Although they studied at the same university at the same time—even living in the same resident hall—they met for the first time 12 years ago in New York.
Both Hellen and Mubarak have numerous certifications in their fields. But Hellen said lifelong study is crucial for cybersecurity professionals.
“With new technology and AI [artificial intelligence] and all sorts of other new things every day, it is very important that cybersecurity experts always stay up on the trends,” she said, adding that she and her husband found the UMGC program carried especially relevant courses for the work they do.
The couple does not sugar-coat the hard work toward the degree. Although they were in the same program, they were never in the same courses at the same time. Nonetheless, they spent a lot of time tossing ideas off one another. And they watched each other’s back, which made all the difference.
“It’s been strenuous. It’s been a long journey,” Hellen said. “It would have been easy to say, ‘We should take a break from this,’ but we have a saying in this house: We never give up.
“We kept pushing. And I feel very proud of what we accomplished,” she said.
Both Mubarak and Hellen said their 8-year-old daughter was a big help with the younger children as the household kept to a demanding schedule. The parents paid tag-team in caring for the children. Mostly, though, they studied at night when the children were asleep.
“I worked 9 to 5 and then I’d take a break and relax for a bit,” Mubarak explained. “By 8 p.m. the children were off to bed and between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Hellen and I were up studying. Sometimes—when we had deadlines on homework—we didn’t sleep at all.
“Then by 7 a.m. we were getting ready for work and getting the kids ready for school,” he said.
Both laugh about one of the hidden joys of completing their degrees: a full night’s sleep.