OBERSUELZEN, Germany — Weeks before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a 4.0 GPA on Saturday, Maurice Alsing saw something new: the faces of his classmates and his teacher.
Face masks recently became optional in Alsing’s first in-person class this spring at the University of Maryland Global Campus Europe since the pandemic began.
“It was amazing,” he said of being able to sit in a classroom and engage, face-to-face, with other students and his instructor after two years of Zoom classes and in line.
Alsing, 22, was one of 165 graduates to graduate at the start of UMGC Europe in 2022 – an outdoor ceremony held on a football pitch in a village east of Kaiserslautern , in the German wine region.
The temperatures were chilly, prompting some attendees to wrap themselves in blankets, a gift to every UMGC Europe graduate. And umbrellas came out during a brief downpour that threatened to put a damper on the festivities.
But the rain held back as the graduates and their families celebrated a journey marked by many challenges, such as balancing studies with demanding military deployments and operations and the shift to virtual classrooms during the pandemic.
From supporting the evacuation and temporary housing of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees last fall at US bases in Europe to the ongoing war in Ukraine, “these are difficult times,” Col. Charles Fisher said. , Chief of Staff, 21st Theater Sustainment Command. graduates.
“I’m sure your current schedule hasn’t been easy, but you’re here,” he said. “How proud you must be of yourself – and you should be.”
Of the 1,193 graduates from UMGC Europe this year, 51% are on active duty, representing the Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and, for the first time, Space Force .
“We have a space cadet – just kidding – a Space Force graduate walking today,” said Tony Cho, vice president and director of UMGC Europe.
sergeant. Lyubomir Grigorov studied Computer Networks and Cybersecurity, one of 609 in the class of 2022 from UMGC Europe to earn a bachelor’s degree. Of the rest, 440 received an associate’s degree and 144 a master’s degree. Worldwide, nearly 14,000 graduates earned a UMGC degree this year.
For most of the past two years, UMGC Europe faculty have been teaching students at home and in their barracks from their own homes, Cho said in an interview ahead of the ceremony.
“We are back there now; students are starting to come back,” he said.
But UMGC is trying something new: “connected classes,” where an instructor teaches a class in person and students have the option of attending onsite or joining via Zoom, Cho said.
This flexibility helped a student who recently deployed to Eastern Europe. “He didn’t want to give up on his class,” Cho said. “He was in the woods, with night vision goggles, zooming in on the classroom with his cell phone.
“We try to adapt and understand what they are going through,” he said of the UMGC students.
This year’s graduates have attended courses in 24 countries, including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Poland, Turkey, Japan, Qatar, Iraq, United States, Japan, Korea, Djibouti, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Uganda.
Air Force Master Sgt. Donnel Carney, 35, started his bachelor’s degree in business administration five years ago at Spangdahlem Air Force Base. A land transport specialist, he completed his studies while assigned to NATO headquarters in Belgium, persevering despite four interim deployments.
“There were plenty of times where it felt like, ‘Oh, man, where’s the end?'” he said before receiving his degree. He was like, “Keep pushing, keep fighting.”
Carney was typical of this year’s bachelor’s graduates, whose average age was 34. But he finished faster than the typical 6.8 years.
Others were outliers, like Nicole Via. At 43, Via earned a bachelor’s degree in social science after becoming an empty nest with her husband, Air Force Master Sgt. Kenneth Via. She completed 120 credit hours in 2.5 years while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
“I surprised myself, to be honest, that I could actually do it,” Via said. “The first six months or so, I read an article 10 times before returning it because I was so nervous.”
Her husband, 45, an intelligence analyst at Ramstein Air Force Base, earned his master’s degree in cybersecurity technology.
“It’s really good to see her do this because she didn’t think she could do it,” Kenneth Via said.