Academic Foreign Legion Reunites at Adelphi Gathering

Just a year before UMUC’s 70th anniversary, members of the Overseas Marylanders―the academic foreign legion that traveled the world from the 1960s to the 1990s to bring education to American service personnel―gathered at Adelphi, Md., for two days in April to reminisce, provide support for each other, and hear how UMUC is faring today.

In welcoming them back, University President Javier Miyares said that since their last reunion at Adelphi in 2013, UMUC has undergone fundamental changes that have put it on a positive path for future success.

And the key to the university’s future success, he said, is based on the foundation that the Overseas Marylanders have built to create distance learning, service to the U.S. military, and the beginnings of online education.

“Now, as then, serving the military is in our DNA,” Miyares said.  “And I congratulate each and every one of you for the roles you have played in the long, proud history of UMUC.”

Those who gathered were among the second generation of Overseas Marylanders, Miyares said later.  The first generation, led by Dean Ray Ehrensberger, pioneered distance learning by taking the academic programs to the students instead of forcing the students to come to the institution.

Miyares credited this second-generation group, who took the risks to go into war zones, with expanding the university’s worldwide reach and pioneering online education. The third generation, the ones teaching now, are taking that tradition to new levels in adult education and online learning, he said

Speaking to UMUC’s present faculty just days after the reunion about all that the Overseas Marylanders have accomplished, Miyares said, “This is a source of pride and a standing challenge to each of us to uphold their tradition of service.”

But, perhaps, an even more fitting tribute than the president’s accolades were the moving testimonials of two former students who had benefitted during and after their military service from the efforts made by the Overseas Marylanders to help them achieve their higher-education dreams.

Speaking at a reunion luncheon, Rachael Shannon, a disabled Navy veteran, hardly was able to control her tears when she told the former professors how she earned two UMUC bachelor’s degrees.

“After my discharge in 2000, I struggled with maintaining, sometimes even [with] surviving, for many painful years,” she said.  “Studying and learning in a flexible classroom environment was my counterbalance and my refuge.  My teachers fostered a new and different identity and confidence in me.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Larry Gross, who is today the chief information officer for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, earned a UMUC bachelor’s degree while serving overseas and will receive a master’s degree this May.

“Often when I produce my military identification card for the procurement of services, I am told, ‘Thank you for your service,’” he said.  “Today, I would like to thank you for your service, because what you do and continue to do has led to my success and allowed me to become who I am today.”

In preparation for the 70th anniversary, several Overseas Marylanders and former students were interviewed on camera for a documentary that will explore the university’s rich history.

Former student Rich Blewitt said he ran across an Overseas-Marylanders outpost while serving in the Navy in Japan and signed up for classes.  That education gave him direction and purpose, and led to a successful public relations career in Washington, D.C., he said.

Blewitt, who became chairman of UMUC’s Board of Visitors, quipped that UMUC was the only place where someone with the military rank of E-5 could succeed an Army general, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in the chairman’s post.

Paula Harbecke, who had led both UMUC’s Asian and European divisions, gave details about what was required to get a professor to every far-flung UMUC classroom.

Joe Arden, who joined the faculty in 1967 and taught for 20 terms in eight countries―only once remaining in the same location for more than eight weeks―talked about the wanderlust that led him to his 40-year career with UMUC.

Hugo Keesing detailed the travails of a young, long-haired, anti-war psychology professor earning credibility teaching in Vietnam.

Throughout the reunion weekend, everyone told stories about their exploits and compared notes.

President Miyares explained the transformation UMUC has undergone since the group last gathered in November 2013. After more than a year of study and university-wide consultation, he said, UMUC devised and presented to its governing bodies a new business model that will help to better support the university’s ambitious mission.

The new model gives the university more flexibility in responding to market challenges, greater leeway in personnel and pay matters and new avenues for creating profit-producing subsidiary corporations.

The final recommendation was supported by the Chancellor of the University System of Maryland and unanimously endorsed by the USM Board of Regents on Feb. 13, 2015.

Since adopting the new model, Miyares said, UMUC has become one global university.  As of April 1, 2016, instead of having three branches in Asia, Europe and in the U.S. with different pay scales, all UMUC employees serving in similar positions will receive the same total compensation.

UMUC also has spun off its analytics unit to create a for-profit corporation called HelioCampus that will provide its data services to other universities while returning the profits to UMUC to provide more scholarships.

Miyares reported that after some difficult declining enrollments earlier in the decade, the University is growing again―not only because of better new-student recruitment, but also because of improved retention rates for existing students.

Despite the declines in the overall number of U.S. military personnel, UMUC is seeing significant increases in its number of military students, as well, he said.