UMUC Hosts Scholarship Appreciation Dinner. Recipients share inspirational stories.
In the words of University of Maryland University College President Javier Miyares, Victoria Kelly is a reminder of just how extraordinary UMUC’s ordinary students are.
Like many of her classmates, Kelly, who was one of two guest speakers at UMUC’s Scholarship Appreciation Dinner on May 29, pursued her degree while balancing a multitude of life commitments. In Kelly’s case, this included becoming engaged, blending two households, raising three children, handling full- and part-time jobs simultaneously and doing volunteer work. The recipient of a scholarship from the Lyn and Barry Chasen Scholarship Fund said life’s “aha” moments helped her make it through. And her artful tale of accomplishment and self-discovery was one part grateful tribute to the power of philanthropy, and one part poetry slam.
From the very beginning, Kelly has always had a passion for knowledge and, literally, for the adrenalin and over-caffeinated pursuit of battling timelines while downing a third cup of coffee at 5 a.m. She said she loves “pulling an all-nighter with the birds chirping outside and my hair tangled into lopsided ponytails, my eyes bloodshot and sore from the constant gaze at a computer screen.”
Her first aha moment during her educational journey was the instant she realized she was never going to know everything―and didn’t need to. “Aha! That made the journey so much better. I could pile on the experiences, I could read the books, I could do whatever I needed to do and it was totally fine,” she said.
A syllabus excites her. Her heroes are the professors who give access to class materials two weeks before class starts so students can get a jump start. Kelly describes school as an amazing race. “And at the end of the day the race, itself, is the most delightful reward.”
Withdrawing from classes is a painful prospect for someone who so thoroughly relishes learning. But when money was at its tightest and her car broke down and needed a costly repair, that’s exactly what Kelly logged into her UMUC account to do. “Part of me ached because I was so close to graduation and so short on the finances to finish the journey,” Kelly said.
To her surprise, her account had changed. “Aha!” She had received a scholarship, enough to pay her tuition and books, and she would absolutely be able to graduate on schedule.
“It’s my hope when you look at me, you are affirmed in your heart that there is no greater act than providing opportunity for people to empower themselves,” Kelly told her benefactors at the dinner. “There is no greater contribution to your community or this world than to directly impact the dreams of the people in it.”
Alumnus Pays It Forward
President Miyares suggested that the many donors present at the Scholarship Appreciation event clearly understand the late poet Maya Angelou’s missive: “Be a rainbow in somebody’s cloud.” Nancy J. Slomowitz, UMUC Class of 1998, certainly gets it. The easiest thing she’s ever done is to set up the Gilbert Slomowitz Business Scholarship Fund in her father’s name to help others achieve the college degree they need in order to overcome their career barriers, she said.
Slomowitz, a successful entrepreneur who has built her company, Executive Management, into a multi-million dollar consulting organization, knows what it’s like to be stuck on the career ladder. “I was an accountant, and I thought I had taken all the courses I needed to do my job … Accounting one, two, three, four and advanced,” she said. She had progressed all the way up to vice president at the nonprofit where she worked, a remarkable feat considering she lacked a degree.
But when she set out on a quest for something more, something different, she struggled. “I suffered. I sent out resumes and I got nothing back. I was stuck, and I had a pity party … for a really long time,” she said. Until, a chain of events transformed her life.
Her brother saw something in a magazine about a book that described nontraditional ways to get a degree, and they found UMUC in a very round-about way. “And my brother encouraged me to get a degree, to just do it,” Slomowitz said. “I was working full time. I was very far on in my career. Getting the degree was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
It was also one of the most rewarding. Her classes were amazing. The people were amazing. “They took me by the hand and said, ‘You can do this, and here’s how we’re going to make it happen,’ and they supported me. It was an awesome experience,” she said.
No longer stuck, Slomowitz said she progressed very rapidly from working for someone else and getting her degree to immediately starting her own company, because the degree meant freedom―freedom from barriers, freedom from excuses. “I could really move forward and, so, I did!”
Slomowitz can’t think of anywhere other than UMUC where she’d rather extend her philanthropy. The recipients of scholarships from the fund she supports will benefit in ways that honor both her father’s memory and her own accomplishments, she said. “I am so proud to be a UMUC graduate. Giving scholarship funds to this amazing university gives me back one hundredfold whatever I give to it.”
In the last year alone, UMUC granted more than $6 million in scholarship to over 5,600 students. The scholarships are made possible by institutional funds from UMUC, corporations, organizations, and individual donors and alumni.