UMBC Mic'd Up

Military Service to Community Leadership

August 19, 2023 UMBC Mic'd Up with Dennise Season 3 Episode 57
UMBC Mic'd Up
Military Service to Community Leadership
Show Notes Transcript

Join us for an inspiring episode of UMBC's Mic'd Up podcast, where we delve into the empowering transition journey from military service to community leadership.

In this insightful conversation, Dennise Cardona from the Office of Professional Programs at UMBC sits down with Vickiana Franco, a current Community Leadership Certificate program student, and a military member. Vickiana shares her experiences, wisdom, and profound insights on life in the military, her decision to pursue graduate studies, and her remarkable path.

Discover how Vickiana's hiatus from her program, prompted by the arrival of her baby girl, became a pivotal moment of reflection and growth. Learn how the UMBC community, spearheaded by the program director Dr. Sally J. Scott, offered unwavering support and guidance during this transition, making UMBC feel like a second family. Vickiana's story embodies the essence of community engagement, grassroots advocacy, and the power of education to transform lives.

Explore the dynamic exchange as they delve into topics like work-life balance for military members, the significance of skills-based classes, and the role of UMBC in nurturing meaningful connections within the community. Vickiana's journey is a testament to the profound impact of education on shaping purposeful futures. 

To explore UMBC's Community Leadership graduate programs and more, visit us here.

Dennise Cardona  0:00  

Welcome to this episode of UMBC Mic'd Up podcast. My name is Dennise Cardona from the Office of Professional Programs at UMBC. Today we are joined by Vickiana Franco. She is a current student in the community leadership certificate program here at UMBC. She is also a member of the military, and she is going to share her experiences and insights on life in the military and in graduate school. I hope that you enjoy this episode. Welcome to UMBC's MIc'd Up podcast, Vicki, it's wonderful to have you here with us today.

Vickiana Franco  0:39  

Thank you so much. I love being here and having conversation with you about UMBC.

Dennise Cardona  0:43  

Yeah, we talked during the pandemic, I had you in an interview. We talked a little bit about your military background, we talked about the fact that you are in the community leadership graduate program, and a little bit about your experience and all of that. So it's really great to see you again, to catch up and see where you are now. So you are enrolled in the community leadership graduate program, I understand you took a little hiatus because

Vickiana Franco  1:13  

I needed to because I had a baby girl and Dr. Scott Sally, the program director, she assured me that I needed to take the break. And I couldn't do raising a child, a newborn and the program at the same time. It'd be too much work. So I took a step back from the program for a little bit.

Dennise Cardona  1:30  

Yes. And sometimes in life, we need to do that. And I think it's really important for professionals to understand that we guess we have superhuman to a certain extent right when it when you really have to be. But we need to respect that kind our ability to be able to just balance, have that work life balance, and definitely be there when your new family starts. That's wonderful. Congratulations to you. 

Vickiana Franco  1:58  

Thank you. And I will say it was hard, it was a really hard decision because I had so much momentum, and I only have one more class for my certificate. So it was a really difficult decision. But I will say even with the break, the program has still made me feel very much a part of the program and involves me until I do make my return.

Dennise Cardona  2:16  

Oh, that's fantastic. I know the community leadership is rich with the community itself, obviously, because it is really focused on that. But I think we really see that day to day we see the interaction between the program director, Dr. Sally J. Scott, and how she just brings a community together the community of graduate students in with the community itself. And so anyone who's really looking for that sort of rich community experience is really going to get that with this program at UMBC. That's for sure.

Vickiana Franco  2:46  

Yeah, absolutely. I agree.

Dennise Cardona  2:50  

So can you tell me a little bit about what motivated you to enroll in the community leadership graduate program when you did?

Vickiana Franco  2:59  

Yeah, I guess I would say COVID gave me a little bit of a pause to think about where I wanted to go after the military approaching the end of my military career. And I know, it's really common for people to just follow on and do on the civilian side of things, the same type of work you did in the military. But again, COVID just gave me time to think about what is it that I actually do want to do with my future, and I was already getting involved in a lot of volunteer work. And it gave me the step to at least do the research to say, is there a program out there that can help me get into nonprofit and community based work? And UMBC came up as the first Google option.

Dennise Cardona  3:35  

That's great. That's we're glad to hear that from a marketing perspective. I guess we're doing our job good. Getting on that first page of Google. So what are you doing with the military? That's very interesting, I'd love to hear about that experience. My husband is a former military, always a Marine.

Vickiana Franco  3:56  

Yeah, I started off my career as an Arabic linguist in the intelligence field. And I've continued that work on the analysis side, and now more into leadership and management. And I will say, I think that, you know, I've kind of struggled to wonder if those skill sets and the things that I spent the last 20 years doing could translate into this career pivot. And the programs really helped me to identify that, yes, I have value. I have skills now. And that is all able to be leveraged and translated, because it's a scary decision to make a career adjustment honestly this late in life at this point.

Dennise Cardona  4:29  

Absolutely. Especially putting 20 years into something, something that you're comfortable in. And it's really uncomfortable to go beyond that. And to stretch beyond that and do that on purpose. Put yourself purposely in the sea of discomfort for the sake of being able to expand and just enrich your life as you move forward. I'm interested we have a lot of viewers, listeners who are military members, and they may be on the fence Oh gosh, can I really do school graduate school while I am in the military? How does that work? And so could you talk a little bit about that?

Vickiana Franco  5:10  

Yes, one thing I had to, I have to say is that I did have conversations with my leadership, I did say this is a plan I want to go forward with, I talked to the program directors, here's what I know, classes might be. So they could accommodate because some of those things for 4:30pm is maybe a normal workday for other people. But we're sometimes on call later. And it was just a conversation to make sure that my team and also my leadership understood that those were the days, you know, where I was going to do self development and those types of classes. And they were really supportive of that, especially laying out the plan. And what I wanted to do post military as well. 

Dennise Cardona  5:47  

What advice would you have to other members of your military family when it comes to deciding if they should go to graduate school or not?

Vickiana Franco  5:55  

Yeah, I would say, do if you have the opportunity, you have the benefits, take advantage of it, take advantage of it as much as possible while you're in, plan financially to be able to do that. And I reached out to have conversations with the veterans support person at UMBC. Just to understand, is it smart for me to leverage my GI benefits now? Or should I wait until after? And then from my own finances? Could I support doing something like that right now? And what would I want to do now versus wait until I can use my full benefits. So I looked at all of that, just to understand, do I want to make that start now. And for me, the decision was I want to get a jumpstart on building the skill set and the expertise and building my networks with the community that I hope to eventually work with. And then when I'm out in leveraging my full GI Bill benefits, because I decided not to I decided to use tuition assistance, and then pay out of pocket. But when I'm out afterwards, I'm able to use other degree plans. So for instance, for me, I decided to focus on the Community Leadership certificate. And then when I get out and do a nonprofit track and look at the full community leadership master's program, it's just really looking at again, what are all your benefits? And what's the right plan for you to set you up.

Dennise Cardona  7:07  

So it sounds like the people at UMBC, who deal with the veterans really helped you out with that decision in terms of laying out your options.

Vickiana Franco  7:16  

That and also talking to Sally, the program's director. So it's, I mean, I think they're really helpful of at first I didn't really know where to start. So we've been having the conversations, and she was very willing to have conversations about my interests, and different options, because she knows the school, she knows programs that are available, And to help me map that out so I can make the best decision for me.

Dennise Cardona  7:36  

I'm really happy to hear that you had that support. And because I think it's just really important. And I know my husband, like I said He's former military and transitioning from military life to civilian life can be a real challenge. And I'm talking even 30 years later, kudos to UMBC. Kudos to Dr. Sally J. Scott, for being that support in helping you to think through that transition as it begins to happen in your life.

Vickiana Franco  8:03  

Absolutely. So I can't say enough good things about the program. It's like another family in the military family. And this feels like another family, the UMBC family.

Dennise Cardona  8:11  

Great. So what are your expectations when it comes to the graduate certificate and community leadership? What are you hoping to gain out of that?

Vickiana Franco  8:23  

Yes, for me, I really wanted because my experience with community community volunteer work, and leadership is from what I saw growing up, and it was just women, who are my neighbors, stepping up and doing things, being a part of programs and bringing children's programs and showing them things and reaching out for opportunities. So I didn't really know where to start. And what I hoped was that the program would help me to understand what this work is, what are the things that I should be known should know and think about entering into this work? And then also, what do I have to offer? What skill sets do I have? And what can I learn to be able to be of benefit, but also, you know, when I'm looking at employment, valuable prospects for employers, and those are all the things that I was expecting, and I think I could say, I got that and more, and I'm continuing to get things out of the program, even on my break, as I mentioned. Yeah.

Dennise Cardona  9:13  

I think it's something to be said about military members or people just listening in on this who are considering graduate school but aren't ready to take that big huge commitment leap into a full graduate program, a certificate program can really be a great leverage point, really test the waters, make sure it's really what you want to do. And I think there are four courses in the certificate program. And so it gives you that real good feel for what the work is like, what the field is, and then eventually, if you wanted to transition into the full graduate program or even a different one, then you're able to do that and it just gives you that chance to be able to test those waters.

Vickiana Franco  9:57  

You're so right thank you for framing it that way because that's exactly my decision. And my that's exactly what led me to do this certificate and to try it out before I went to the full program. And it just again, I know that I want to do the full program, but this is what I'm able to achieve now and get started now.

Dennise Cardona  10:14  

Yes. So I understand that you took one of the courses that you took was grass roots advocacy? Yes. Can you talk a little bit about that experience in terms of what was the biggest takeaway from that course?

Vickiana Franco  10:27  

Yeah, absolutely. So it's one of the skills classes that are offered, it's the one credit courses based on feedback from the students who have actual applied skills and learning rather than some of the other ones other courses, which are more academic, still useful, but just different. And so for grassroots advocacy, that's what I want to get involved in. So when I saw the class in this description, I signed up. And so some of the things that they teach there is really, first of all, it's people who do this work in the community, right. So it's not there, actually, not only are the instructors already doing the work, and continuing to do grassroots advocacy work, but all of the people that they come and have speak to us, as a class are doing that work within the Baltimore surrounding communities. So getting the feedback, and the experience from people who, you know, are dealing with issues dealing with communities dealing with media here that we might continue to work with was really valuable. And then for me, what I was looking to get out of that is again, just what is this? It's a word, it's a hard word. For me, it was a hard word to understand, like, how do I get started? How do I get into this type of advocacy and support? And I expect to learn what is it all about? What do I need to be prepared to do? And then how do I get started with this. And that's exactly what they laid out. It was strategies, it was approaches from different community members, literally people who are teachers who are moms, dads, who are maybe lawyers and professors themselves, but really a lot of it was just again, from my experience growing up the woman down the street, who saw something that needed to happen in their neighborhood. And it's all the different steps and approaches to be able to advocate for your community and get issues resolved. And I personally have been able to use that, to get an organization that I volunteer with the League of Women Voters to start their advocacy efforts in housing issues in Baltimore City. So learning about it, getting over some of the internal mental hurdles that I had impostor syndrome about getting started and then actually doing the work.

Dennise Cardona  12:27  

Whoa, that's powerful. And being able to really, I think just learning the stuff, learning the theory of it in a classroom setting, and then going out there and applying it is such a rich learning experience, and one that it's just unparalleled, it's the way to learn, it's the way to let it sink, resonate and just put it into long term memory so that you can then go out into the world and continue to do that work after the classroom.

Vickiana Franco  12:52  

Yeah, and one of the interesting things is every time I reach out to someone in the community here or start to work with them, and it all comes back to Dr. Scott or UMBC, there's a connection that this university has with the community and with organizations that really do have some credibility being a part of it to go out and, again, continue to build relationships and do good work.

Dennise Cardona  13:13  

Yeah. What would you say is one of the things that a student going into a graduate program, a certificate program, or even really a skills class? What can they do? In your opinion, to get the most out of that experience?

Vickiana Franco  13:32  

I would say be fully involved. For me, I'm very comfortable with saying what I don't know, and being very open to learning from others and being a participant. And that's what will get you the most out of this is some sometimes I don't there's no dumb question. It's a free open and safe space to talk about issues to ask questions about why are we here? Why did this happen? Why do I feel this way? And what are the ways that I can do something about it? So I think that is being open to, to participate and to learn not just from the instructors, but from the other students that are in the class as well.

Dennise Cardona  14:07  

That's really good advice. Really good advice. Do you have anything else that you can think of to say about this that I have not asked you when it comes to community leadership, graduate program, certificate, program, work life balance, being in the military.

Vickiana Franco  14:24  

If you are still on the fence, please reach out to me or the university has a lot of virtual events, but I've gotten I have nothing but good things to say about the program. And even if you start with one class and change your mind, try it. I don't think it'll stop there. It's not just the program and the relationship with the professors. It's the relationships with the students and the relationships with the community that you build along the way. So again, there's always free events to attend to to ask questions to hear from alumni to talk to the professor's it's reach out, I would say if you have any doubts, just ask.

Dennise Cardona  14:59  

Yeah. That's a really great summary of our discussion and really great advice. Vicki, this has been a really great conversation. I've enjoyed it thoroughly. And thank you so much for sharing your insights with us about the community leadership graduate program and your experience with the military and transitioning from military to students who eventually out there in the civilian world, working within the community making a big difference.

Vickiana Franco  15:27  

Yes, thank you so much. I'm always here to talk about UMBC Thank you.

Dennise Cardona  15:31  

Thanks for tuning in to this episode of UMBC's MIc'd Up podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. If you'd like to learn more about our offerings, do a quick search for Community Leadership graduate programs, or simply click the link in the show notes.