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.
Charles A. “Tony” Thompson’s wife has a bachelor’s and two master’s degrees. His oldest daughter has a degree, his younger daughter is graduating this spring, and his son is only nine credits short of his own degree.
So, when is Thompson going to finally earn his degree?
“I am so glad I had the courage to make this happen,” said the new graduate of University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC). “Now, I hope to inspire others to never give up on their dreams.”
Thompson grew up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and graduated from high school in nearby Harrisburg. No one in his immediate family had ever attended college. However, Thompson wanted something different. His father recommended that he join the Marine Corps to get GI education benefits.
His high school guidance counselor pleaded with him to let her find a way to make college happen without the military commitment. She had seen something special in Thompson. She helped get him tuition assistance, including a scholarship from the National Association of Black Accountants.
He enrolled at Pennsylvania State University then took a gap year to take advantage of a management opportunity at the restaurant where he worked as a busboy and cook through high school. He resumed his studies a year and half later at PSU.
Thompson became involved in university life. He served as a resident assistant, emerged as an activist for equality, and pledged a fraternity while studying toward his degree. But family challenges forced him to go back and forth from home to Penn State until, finally, he dropped out of school. After a two-year hiatus, he returned to his studies and interned for two summers with Pepsi Cola. He hoped to finish his degree and head toward a promising business career.
“I was trying to support a family and had to drop out again to work full time,” he said. “I ended up taking a couple of warehouse jobs and doing some labor work to make ends meet.”
He met his wife at Penn State, and when she went back for her first master’s degree, he followed her and landed a position with MBNA America, a credit card company, as a telesales representative. His hard work paid off, and after only five months he moved up the ladder without a college degree. By 2007, he was promoted to senior vice president. By then, he was the father of three children.
He explored going back to school but couldn’t commit the time because of his professional responsibilities. He made an attempt in 2013 but attending in-person classes while working full time and taking care of family responsibilities proved too difficult.
After 21 years with the company, his position was eliminated in a reorganization, but he was allowed to retire with full company benefits. He was confident he would easily find another job. He did but was laid off again due to downsizing. It was at that point where he found his job searches hitting a roadblock.
“I kept running into the same line: ‘You do not have a degree. You need a degree, you need a degree,’” Thompson said.
He had heard about UMGC through a niece who was attending the university. She told him the online program was much better than trying to physically attend classes. He planned to study at UMGC for a short time and then complete his degree at his first love, Penn State. However, he soon realized how comfortable he was with the UMGC learning system, the success of his efforts, and the affordability of the university.
He is graduating from UMGC with a degree in business administration and a certificate in management foundations.
Thompson liked his professors, some of whom he described as “absolutely fantastic.”
“I remember the one professor from the spring 2018 semester, Margo Ann Taylor who taught WRTG 394 – Advanced Business Writing. She was so very motivational and talked about how we needed to do this, and we could make it through. I felt like, wow, she was absolutely phenomenal. She made me keep going and want to finish school. She encouraged me not to give up no matter how hard it got and [said] that I had what it takes to make this happen!”
Thompson also had a golfing buddy attending UMGC. His story was similar in that he had gone back and forth between school and work without finishing a degree. He and Thompson made a pact not to stop until they made it.
“We committed that we were going to get it done,” Thompson said. “I sat down and developed a plan for my graduation that showed me the classes that I needed to take to graduate. I called it my path to a UMGC degree. That plan kept me encouraged. It gave me something to check off my list every time I finished a class. And I was able to make it through.”