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.
Studying at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) is sometimes a family affair. Married couples, brothers and sisters and even extended family members can all be working at the same time toward their degrees.
At UMGC’s December graduation ceremonies, at least two mother-son teams will receive diplomas on the same day. Carolyn Patton and her son, Immanuel, said that studying in tandem was a bonding experience. Cindy Velazquez-Chhim and her son, Enrique Pineda, agreed.
The Pattons said their journey took a lot of faith, perseverance and mutual support. When they take part in UMGC Winter Grad Walk 2022, they will be celebrating a promise that goes back about 20 years.
“When I was as young as kindergarten, I heard my mother talk about all these people getting college degrees,” Immanuel said. “I said, ‘I will make sure you get your degree at the same time I get mine.’ I had to be a man of my word so, from kindergarten through middle school until now, that was a 20-year promise.”
As they studied, each of the Pattons had moments where they would become discouraged and want to stop, but they bucked each other up to keep the promise.
“The most important thing for my son and me is the driving force of our faith and our relationship with the Lord,” Carolyn said. “We pray together, we laugh together and we stick together as a family. That’s what drives us to excel in life.”
Carolyn raised two children as a single mother. Immanuel is 18 years younger than his sister, who earned a degree years ago. The family moved to Maryland from Mississippi when Carolyn’s daughter was 5 and has lived there ever since.
It’s not that Carolyn eschewed higher education. She got her first associate degree in electronic technology from a Mississippi community college and a second one from Anne Arundel Community College in transfer studies, a customized study program that positions students to transfer to four-year universities. She tried on two occasions to complete a bachelor’s degree program but, as she said, “unfortunately life happens.”
Immanuel had his own problems getting started in higher education. He, too, earned two associates degrees—from Anne Arundel, where he and his mother work.
When both Pattons decided to enroll at UMGC, they became cheerleaders for one another.
“Along the way, I had a meltdown and I said, ‘I just can't do it,’” Carolyn recalled. Her son told her she had to keep going.
“He was my coach. He was very firm,” Carolyn said. When she balked, he was encouraging. “He said, ‘Mom, you are almost to the finish line.’ And so sure enough, August came and we were completing that last course.”
Immanuel, meanwhile, had his own rough start. His grade point average dropped to 1.0 and he found himself on academic probation. With help from UMGC’s success coaches, who contacted him regularly, he was able to realign how he approached his classes.
His mother told him he had to get at least a 2.0 grade point average—and he did. “And then he took off,” Carolyn said, “making A’s and turning it into a 3.0.”
They both ended up with GPAs over 3.0. Immanuel’s was a bit higher than Carolyn’s, but who’s counting.
Carolyn completed a bachelor’s degree in humanities and is using the academic credential to enhance her pay at Anne Arundel Community College. Immanuel, meanwhile, hopes his degree in public safety administration will open new opportunities. He also is thinking about going into academic advising, leveraging what he learned while working with his mother on their degrees.
The dual-degree story of Velazquez-Chhim and the oldest of her three sons, Enrique Pineda, has similarities to the Pattons’ story. This mother-son degree path was also forged years ago—as a result of a rude comment Pineda made to his mother while working on his seventh-grade math homework.
“I told her you don’t have the answer because you don’t have a degree,” Pineda recalled. “I know my mom took that as a sign to finish her associate degree. Without her doing that, I wouldn’t be in a position to want to go for my bachelor’s.”
Velazquez-Chhim had put her college ambitions on hold to be a full-time mother when Pineda was born. She eventually landed a job with Navy Federal Credit Union, which enabled her to start thinking about completing her bachelor’s degree.
Her son was not convinced he wanted to go to college. He had taken courses at Anne Arundel Community College but he had a fairly good paying job at Navy Federal and was reluctant to take on debt to finish college. Plus, he wasn’t sure if he could do the work. But his mother kept pushing him, he said.
“In December of 2019 something clicked, and I wanted to finish up my school,” he said. “It seemed possible through UMGC, and I told her on Christmas.” Pineda said his spring enrollment came with a commitment to finish the degree.
Then, in early 2021, he took what he describes as a big leap of faith. He left his Navy Federal job and persuaded his academic adviser to let him to take 16 credits in one term so he could finish all 66 credits by the end of August 2022.
“I was able to not only take care of my finances, but I passed all the courses [with] A's and B's. I walked away from UMGC without having any debt,” Pineda said.
With a bachelor’s degree in psychology, he is now thinking about a master’s degree in industrial organizational psychology.
Pineda’s success encouraged Velazquez-Chhim, but it was her father’s death that provided the “fire in my belly.” She wants to use her new degree in management, with a minor in human resources, to advance a career in employee relations or recruiting.
Pineda’s happiness also motivated her to finish her classes before the December graduation ceremony, even if it meant taking the two toughest classes of the program together in the final semester.
Velazquez-Chhim sees her legacy to her three children as the lesson to “never stop trying.”
“Even if you take a break, just keep it going,” she said. “There’s no right or wrong in this life. Just keep moving forward and be the best you can be.”