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Haitian Immigrants Reconnect in U.S. and Find Educational Success at UMGC

Gil Klein
By Gil Klein
  • Commencement |
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Editor's Note: This profile is part of a series that features the stories of graduates whose outstanding journeys have culminated in a UMGC degree.

The education quest of Judlie Pierre-Jacques and Jean Luc Blanc goes back to their native Haiti, which both left in search of stability and a chance to succeed. But that was before they even knew one another.

They had crossed paths in Haiti, and they reconnected as immigrants in the United States. After marrying, they studied side-by-side, helping and encouraging each other, even as they worked full time and went through the loss of a baby, the birth of a son, and Judlie’s mental health issues. They will be side-by-side again as they accept their degrees this month from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). Judlie graduates with a bachelor's degree in social sciences, with a minor in business administration, while Jean receives a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

Judlie said the encouragement she received from UMGC faculty and her success coach, Madison Onithan, helped them persevere.

Judlie graduates cum laude with membership in four honor societies—Pi-Gamma-Mu International Honor Society in Social Sciences, Alpha Sigma Lambda, National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and the National Society of Leadership and Success.

Jean Luc graduates magna cum laude.

Judlie was 14 years old when her mother moved to Maryland in 2007. Her father stayed behind in Haiti. Judlie graduated from high school with the intent of going to Prince George’s Community College (PGCC).  

But her father, Jude Pierre-Jacques, was killed in the 2010 earthquake that devastated Haiti. She did not seek counseling help to deal with that loss, and she sank into depression that led to a mental breakdown. She couldn’t deal with college work at all.

Judlie had known Jean Luc while she was growing up in Haiti. He came to the United States in 2015 as an intern, then decided not to return to Haiti. They started dating and married in 2017.

Jean Luc saw her potential and encouraged her to return to college. At the time, she was working for a family, and her employer, Dr. William Gilbert, also urged her to pursue a degree. She put him off with a “someday” reply. But he told her something that changed her attitude: “If not now, when?”

When Jean Luc took Judlie to PGCC to reenroll, he told her that if she resisted, he would enroll with her and they could study together. That’s how their joint college education started. After their son, Gabriel, was born, she took a hiatus from PGCC. That’s when they found UMGC. Its online classes made their college journey possible.

Judlie said her first PACE course—short for Program and Career Exploration—opened her eyes to what she could accomplish at UMGC. PACE helps students lay out their academic and career roadmaps, connecting them to one another and their instructors. PACE also is designed to help them build the habits they need to succeed in an online education environment.

“I remember when I officially started, I watched the welcome video,” she said. “It made me feel good because I didn't know that I had this much power, not only as a woman, but as somebody who's coming from another country that has dealt with many issues. I left all of this behind me, and so I was able to succeed.”

She said one of her professors, Donna Maurer, played an especially important role. Maurer taught a Psychology of Family course that Judlie took  

“She actually impacted my life,” Judlie said. “She told me gently, ‘Do you know that you could publish your paper in a social sciences competition?’ And when I joined the Pi Gamma Mu Association for the Social Sciences, she cheered for me on my initiation day.”

While they studied, Jean Luc worked 12-hour shifts, and Judlie had a full-time job, most recently as an activities director at a dementia care facility. Judlie’s mother, Marie Dite Jacqueline Moise, came to live with the couple, working an overnight job so she could help care for her grandson, Gabriel, during the day.

When Judlie and Jean Luc were home together, they sat side-by-side as they did their schoolwork.

“We would say, ‘OK, you sit here, and I sit here. Let's go,’” she said. They would read each other’s papers and throw around ideas on how to complete the work, reminding each other about due dates and discussion post replies. She became so interested in his business administration program that she took enough classes to get a minor in that area.

“It has been a phenomenal team, my husband and I,” she said.

Her advice to other UMGC students?

 “They have immense potential that is currently hidden, like a precious diamond buried deep in the ground,” she said. “Once they are discovered and given the chance to shine, their true value will be revealed. 

“They can do it if I could do it while being a mother, a full-time employee, and dealing with all my mental health issues,” she continued. “They should not give up on their hope and continue and fight for what they want to have in life because they are the future of America and the future of the world.”