Student BlogsWelcome to Around the Grove, the official student blog of The Universities at Shady Grove! Students are able to blog about their college experiences, both inside and outside of the classroom. Read about their triumphs, trials and everyday lives that makes being a college student so uniquely life changing — and challenging. Feel free to connect with them by leaving a comment or asking them questions.

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Undergraduate Journey

As I finish the end of my undergrad that I have always been so excited to do I have become more and more emotional. These last five years have been the hardest but the most amazing time of my life. When I was 18 and just beginning at Montgomery College just getting through the first semester seemed impossible. How was I going to work full time, go to school full-time, and do well at both? As the semesters went on I of course learned how to make it happen, but even just an associate’s degree did not feel possible for me. 

After three years at Montgomery College, I finally graduated with my associate’s degree and it was time to go on to finish my bachelor’s. Finishing my associate’s degree gave me more confidence that I could finish my bachelor’s degree but I still had this weird small feeling that somehow I wouldn’t make it. Fast forward to May 2021, I am graduating with my bachelor’s degree and preparing for graduate school. Reminiscing about the last five years there’s a few things I wish I could say to myself back then. But because I can not turn back the clock may this find someone who feels similar to what I did five years ago. 

My brother and I at Montgomery College Graduation 2019
  1. You are stronger than you think. This sounds so corny. But even if you are not that strong you ARE strong. You have gotten yourself through every obstacle that has come your way. Every obstacle has prepared you for the next in some way even if you don’t understand it now. Pay attention.
  2. You are on your OWN timeline. If it takes you 7 years to do something that takes another 4 years it does not make it any less valuable. It took me 5 years to get my bachelor’s degree and it is just as valuable as if it took me 4 years. Speed means nothing just don’t lose your direction. 
  3. Be your own inspiration. You are tremendous. You are the only one who is going through your situation. You are the only one who understands the difficulties of it but still manage to make what you desire happen. You are amazing and be confident in yourself. 

I am wishing you all lots of luck and success on your finals this semester. Congratulations to all my 2021 graduates!

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An Open Letter to All Parents for Mother’s Day

To the Moms of USG Students,

Thank you for sticking by us in this unpredictable, draining, ridiculous year. It hasn’t been easy to be a student during The Quarantine, and having someone in our corner makes all the difference. And, to the moms who are watching someone graduate tomorrow, don’t worry. They may not be babies anymore, but they’re still your babies.

To the Students who Are Moms,

Thank you for showing your children what a role model looks like. I don’t know how you manage it all, but you do it anyway and I greatly admire you for that. Thank you for teaching resilience, drive, and responsibility.

Three Latina women, a mom and her two daughters, smiling.
A mom with her two adult daughters. Image Credit: Gabriel Tovar via Unsplash

To the Faculty and Staff who Are Moms,

Thank you for doing your best to give us the same quality of education that you would want for your children. Sometimes, it’s hard to establish a connection with students virtually, but we see you trying anyway. I promise.

To the couples made up of Mom #1 and Mom #2,

Thank you for showing your children that who they are is okay. Not just okay, but wonderful. Thank you for teaching your child what self-acceptance means and what support means all at once.

To the Mother Figures,

This one goes out to the grandmas, aunts, considerably older sisters, and beyond. I know that not everyone has a mom, and that your relationship may look completely different. So, thank you for showing that different can work just fine, too.

To the Dads,

I see you, too. Maybe you see yourself as mom and dad rolled into one, maybe you’re with another guy and being “the mom one” is too heteronormative, or maybe your situation is completely different. Either way, you love your family. I’m sure of it, and so are they. So, thank you for the love, however you define it.

A Black man in a gray sweater coloring in pictures. He is holding his baby daughter, who is wearing pink and a tiny hairbow.
A dad holding his baby daughter and coloring with her. Image Credit: Humphrey Muleba via Unsplash

To Those for whom “Mom” is Too Gendered a Term,

Thank you for showing that family is not defined by binary.

To Those For whom Mother’s Day is, Emotionally, Really, Really Hard,

You can get through this, and you don’t have to be perfect while you do it. Whatever you’re going through, you have more support than you might know. Thank you for doing your best.


To My Mom,

I love you much more than I could fit into a blog post. Thank you for everything. Happy Mother’s Day from Smidge.

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Final Weeks

Image by Sven Lachmann from Pixabay

I’m in awe at the very moment; Is this really happening? Am I close to the finish line? Did two years really go by this quickly? I guess the idea that time goes by quickly really does apply to this moment. One moment I was stepping onto campus for the first time excited and nervous about what was to come; and then the next I’m in my bedroom attending classes through Zoom so that we can all be safe from COVID. If you had told my 11 year old self that I was going to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree during a pandemic and have a full ride to study for my Master’s in journalism at UMD, I’d probably think you’re crazy and….who are you? Yet I’m glad I made it to this point so I want to share some memories I hold dear and will remember when I leave USG.

Getting a part time job: The Center for Recruitment and Transfer Access was the first job I’ve ever had. I got to work with a lot of amazing people like Mrs. Jessica Diaz Council, the ACES Coach at USG, Melissa Herrera, the CEO Coordinator at USG, Jennifer Riehl, the Student Ambassador Program Supervisor(Mainly helped with the orange sheets that held prospective student’s information to join our campus) and many more. It prepared me to take on a future job and I’m sure the experience here will help me once I start my fellowship at UMD.

Friends: I came here thinking I wouldn’t make as many friends but boy was I wrong. I became close with 3-4 people in my major and they’ve been one of the driving forces that helped me persist through stressful times. We all know the struggle and always had each other’s backs through thick and thin; I’m very grateful to them for being by my side these past two years! It was an honor and blessing to have met them along the way!

Classes: Classes are something to remember. Some were easy, some were difficult, some were alright, but they all had something to teach us. Many of the professors here have been wonderful and it was amazing to have been part of their classes. I’m grateful that I could take some courses outside my major to expand on my interests like criminal justice and solidified what I want to do after I finish my undergraduate studies; to study journalism and become an investigative journalist.

USG has been such a blessing and it has been an honor being a student and a soon to be alumni. I never would’ve made it without the USG community; for that, I am eternally grateful to you all and it has been an amazing two years with you all. I don’t think I’ll ever find a place just like USG, you are truly a one of a kind place! I will continue to blog with USG once I’ve graduated so stay tuned for the next blog! 🙂

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Book Recommendations

I enjoy reading! BUT I often start a book and don’t finish it. Maybe people can relate? I definitely go through phases where I enjoy sitting down and diving into a good book. Typically, during the semester I am too busy and more invested in school readings and homework. I look forward to the summertime when I have a bit more spare time and can to pick up a non-textbook book.

My book recommendations consist of books that I have been recommended, have enjoyed (so far) and have been meaning to finish!

The Four Agreements, The Alchemist, Untamed, Greenlights, The Henna Artist

Summer Reads:

  • The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

I gifted this book to my mom for Mother’s day one year (which is coming up btw! Sunday, May 9th). I was in Barnes & Noble trying to find a book and asked for good book recommendation from an Barnes & Noble employee – she took me straight to this book! My mom loved it and I decided to give it a try. I would recommend this book to anyone no matter what stage or point in life that they are at. It’s a super quick read. The author, Don Miguel Ruiz, reveals the core source of self-limiting beliefs that steal happiness and creates suffering. The four agreements are based off ancient Toltec wisdom. The book offers a practical guide to reflect on and improve your belief system. This is a book I have read, reread and referred back to. I would definitely recommend!

  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

This another quick read. If you are looking for a short, adventure, fiction novel – The Alchemist might be good for you! The book is based around the story of a shepherd boy, named Santiago. He meets a gypsy who interprets Santiago’s dream as a prophecy telling Santiago that he should travel from Spain to the Egyptian desert to uncover a treasure. Santiago has multiple trials and tribulations in his travels and we see how he maneuvers these challenges.

  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle

This is another book I gifted to my mom and ended up borrowing after she finished. I heard Glennon speak on a podcast where she spoke about her new book at the time. I am a bit picky when it comes to self-help books… but Glennon’s stories and struggles are relatable and empowering. In the book, Glennon explains how she “quit abandoning herself and instead abandon[ed] the world’s expectations of her. She quit being good so she could be free. She quit pleasing and started living”. I tend to be a people pleaser and can often put others needs and wants before my own – I found her story/memoir relatable and helpful in creating boundaries in my own relationships.

“Glennon is church… [Her] humor, warmth, and honesty are profound reminders that there is beauty in our struggle.”

-Brene Brown, PhD
  • Greenlights by Mathew McConaughey

I have always been a big fan of McConaughey movies (Failure to Launch and The Wedding Planner… to name a few)! I have listened to interviews and podcasts he’s been on. His book is full of his experiences, insights and life events leading up to becoming a well-known, big time actor. The book is told in chronological order from McConaughey’s perspective. McConaughey describes ‘Greenlights’ as “an affirmation of our way. They’re approvals, support, praise, gifts, gas on our fire, attaboys, and appetites”. And his stories and experiences lend as a guide to catching more greenlights.

  • The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi

I follow Reese’s Book club on Instagram and this was a book that Reese spoke highly of. I started The Henna Artist last summer on a beach trip and I am looking forward to picking it back up this summer. The storyline follow seventeen-year-old, Lakshmi, who escapes from an arranged and abusive marriage. Lakshmi finds her self living in the city of Juniper, working as a henna artist. It’s a story about going against the grain, perseverance, and finding fulfilment in life. Lakshmi struggles to find purpose and fulfilment in a society that is shifting from traditional (old-fashioned) to modern – definitely an eye opening book!

Hope these recommendations inspire you to pick up a good book this summer and get back into reading! I’m always looking for good books to read – please leave book recommendations/suggestions in the comments 🙂

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Student Engagement Awards Night

Getting involved on campus during college can sound overwhelming. College is hard enough why should I add more stuff to my plate? There are so many benefits to getting involved on campus. Benefits of getting involved include finding new interests, building confidence, strengthening your leadership skills, making new friends, and more. 

At the Student Engagement Awards on Friday, April 23 an amazing amount of students were given awards for Leadership, Service, and more. Passionate and motivating speeches from our Student Council President Tiffany Flowers highlighted how getting involved in student organizations and clubs can allow students to find leadership and confidence in themselves. In addition to the motivating words of our fellow leaders, simply seeing so many students receive awards for their hard work was moving as well! Some of my favorite people I saw win awards were my fellow bloggers! 

I am so grateful for being awarded the Student Organization Officer of The Year award. I have always felt honored to be Vice President of the Social Work Student Association and to be awarded an award for it means the world to me. In my role of Vice President, I was able to grow my outreach skills and find new ways to connect our very own students to resources they need even virtually. Student Ambassadors and Social Work Student Association also won Student Organization Collaboration Award. Student Ambassadors and Social Work Student Association worked together to run a COVID relief drive. We collected items such as sanitizer, tea, water, batteries, and more. On behalf of the Student Ambassadors and Social Work Student Association we are so grateful or everyone who nominated and voted for us! 

My Student Organization Officer of The Year Award and I

Student Engagement was very influential on who I am today. I will always encourage students to get involved on campus, the benefits are just too high not to. If you’re looking for ways to get involved on campus check out USG’s student engagement page!

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Summer Schedule Solutions

It’s April already. I know, I can’t believe it either. But, here we are, and it’s time to start making plans for summer! Here are a few ideas.


I love museums. They make learning interactive (the way it should be) and there’s one out there for every interest you can think of. At the time of this writing, most of the Smithsonian museums are still closed for COVID-19, but here are a few museums that are excited to welcome you.

Working Out

I never thought I’d get tired of sitting on the couch and watching TV, yet here we are. If you’re in the same boat, Gaithersburg has you covered. You can try the Cardio and Core workout at the Gaithersburg Concert Pavilion, play a round of mini golf, make an appointment at the Bohrer Park Fitness Zone, or, if you have your own equipment, spend an afternoon at the local skate park.

A hiking trail surrounded by trees, meant to represent some of the available trails in Maryland.
A hiking trail shaded by trees. Photo Credit: Oscar Portillo via Unsplash.


For the outdoorsy type, check out one of Maryland’s several state parks. Depending on the park, you can try hiking, swimming, camping, and many more activities. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is also working to make the parks disability accessible, and has even organized the parks on their website based on how far along they are.


Of course, you can’t have summer fun without the right fuel, and locally grown food tastes the best. This summer, stop by the local farmer’s market for the freshest food available. There are going to be markets at Pike and Rose, Northern Virginia, Bethesda, and Montgomery Village. Yum.

For food with a more global twist, visit The Mansion at Strathmore for their cultural Afternoon Tea. May events include Scottish, Israeli, and Chinese Tea, and check back to see what they’re up to in June. Each tea time comes with musical accompaniment, and seats fill up fast!

This list is just the beginning. With the COVID vaccine open to any Marylander aged 16 and up, opportunities are finally coming back. Let’s make the most of it! Happy summer!

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Virtual Speaking Experience

I’ve been quite busy lately despite that there’s less than a month left of school. One of the things I’d been busy with is getting prepared for USG’s Graduation Celebration on May 7th. I say this because…I was selected to be the student speaker for USG’s Graduation Celebration! I honestly was very surprised that I was chosen to have this position since I was sure another student was going to have the position; and for the fact that it took me about a day or two to come up with a draft for the position. Due to the pandemic, our graduation celebration has to be virtual; so we had to find another way to ensure that we can get everyone’s speech into the virtual ceremony. So here’s the behind the scenes of the student speaker speech.

Image of Shady Grove Campus along the pathway to Building III

I had the privilege to return to the USG campus and honestly…I was overwhelmed. Being back on campus felt so strange, yet very nostalgic to me since I spent a semester and a half at the campus. I was joined by Steve Simon and Jeff Kenton at the Priddy Library so that the speech can be recorded there(yes we followed COVID Protocols) Again, the nostalgia got to me and had me thinking of the times I spent at the library to do assignments while waiting for either class to start or for my mother to pick me up. Now it was time to start recording the speech.

The Set Up for the Recording.

They had put a microphone on me so that they could hear me and adjust how I sounded in the tape. I had a teleprompter in front of me that displayed my speech and Steve, who you see in the left side of the picture would control the tempo of the speech so that it was linked with my tempo.

Another angle of the set up with Steve Simon on the controller.

However, during the middle of the recording, the teleprompter malfunctioned and became slower than my tempo. This threw me for a loop and made me stumble on my words. Steve and Jeff were able to fix it and we continued around the time that the teleprompter began to malfunction. In the end, the recording went smoothly and we were able to get a recording in. If that teleprompter hadn’t malfunctioned, I probably would’ve done it all in one taping both Steve and Jeff said to me. I even had a partial look at how I was during the recording.

Jeff Kenton and I reviewing the tape after the recording.

It was truly a wonderful experience to come back to USG and record a speech for the Class of 2021; I feel honored for being the student speaker this year. Thank you Steve and Jeff for assisting in this process and for helping ensure that our ceremony comes out strong and wonderful. More information about the Graduation Celebration will be out soon! Remember to RSVP by May 1st if you plan on attending! If you have any questions, concerns, or suggestions, please let me know and I’ll get back to you on that! Thank you for reading my blog and I’ll see you on the next one! 🙂

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Are you a dog or cat person?

I have always considered myself a dog person. I grew up with dogs and always had them around. They’re always happy to see you, you can take them places and they’re full of energy. What’s not to love? I was four years old when my family got our first dog, a black lab puppy who we named Lucky – I was absolutely thrilled! Ever since getting our first first family dog, I have considered myself a dog person… BUT this past year I have a new found appreciation and love for cats.

I decided to get a cat for one reason; that being I currently live in an apartment and the pet fee is $20 (each month) less to have a cat than a dog. I got Olive right before the start of the COVID shut downs on March 8th, 2020 from the Montgomery Animal Service Center. I first went with my mom and boyfriend to the shelter on March 7th, 2020 to just look around and found “Moo” (who is now called Olive!). I fell in love… I decided to put her on hold and went back early the following day to pick her up. I didn’t know I would be picking up a pal for quarantining. We were able to go into the shelter without masks, but if we would’ve waited another week – masks would’ve been required to enter. Crazy.

This is a bit of a photo album dump of my cat Olive 🙂 (She’s a great emotional support pet for writing papers, class assignments, etc.)

Correlation Between Personality & Pet: Dog vs. Cat Person

I’ve always thought being a dog or cat person says a lot about you as a person. Dog people are active, easygoing, friendly, enjoy companionship and enjoy being outdoors. Cat people on the other hand are home bodies, maybe a bit catty and are content with alone time. With these assumptions, to me being a dog person is more desirable. I don’t know how much truth there is behind these assumptions, but according to the internet a lot of people have similar beliefs…

  • According to Mikel Delgado, a postdoctoral researcher and applied animal behaviorist at the UC Davis veterinary school, “found that respondents who said they preferred cats tended to be higher in openness and neuroticism, while self-identified dog people tended towards more extroversion and agreeableness” (Popular Science, Eschner, 2020). Dogs and cats have very different needs, attachments, training behaviors – that are more or less compatible with human needs and behaviors.
  • In a slideshow post by WebMD, “Truth About Pets and Personality,” dog people are 15% more extroverted than cat people (outgoing, enthusiastic, positive and energetic). While cat people were 11% more open than dog people, according to a survey (Openness meaning curious, creative, and artistic.)

For fun: If you, are unsure whether you are a dog or cat person Buzzfeed has a quiz that tells you which one you are based on what you eat in a day —–> Buzzfeed Quiz: Dog or Cat Person?

Based off my quiz results I am officially a (proud) cat person!

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Your Own Timeline

Life can feel short and long. It’s easy to fall into a mindset that everyone is ahead of you or doing better than you. You must try to understand that everyone is dealt different cards, different circumstances, even different environments. You are where you are supposed to be right now even if it feels otherwise. As we grow into our 20’s it’s easy to get confused about where our life is meant to be because there are people going in so many different directions at different speeds. Some people our age are hitting milestones that we want to hit earlier than us and it can make us feel behind and even as failures. It can make us feel lost. You’re on your own timeline. Let’s talk about how to handle feeling lost and behind in life. 

Immerse yourself in the activities you enjoy and bring you happiness and peace. Enjoy the present because the future will always be there. If this means spending more time with friends and family or if it means taking more time for your hobbies. Diving into teaching myself a new baking recipe always makes me feel happy and productive. 

Think about where you want to be. This may trigger a feeling of feeling behind a little further in the beginning, but think of using this as a guide. Write down your goals with a reasonable timeframe. Give yourself time to have bumps in the road. When writing down your goals and timeline also write down how you can achieve these goals. If one of the goals is to pay off student loans maybe working more hours over the summer. If the goal is to get straight A’s next semester, make a study schedule that allows you to spend more time on your studies. Maybe you will wake up an hour earlier a few days a week to allow 2-4 more hours a week of study time. 

Photo by Estúdio Bloom on Unsplash

Feed your mind. It’s so comforting to know that you are not the only one who has felt this way or even feels this way. Feed your mind with reassurance from yourself and books about what you are going through. I personally am really enjoy reading books about self building. 

Remember that your direction is more important than your speed. If you fall track or hit bumps in the road it’s okay don’t let it compromise your destination. It may take some time, but you will fulfill all your dreams.

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Inclusion 101

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network recently published a research paper outlining how colleges can best help Autistic students. As an Autistic student myself, I decided to see how well USG is doing.

Let’s look at ASAN’s guidelines:

Show that you think disability is important.

Colleges can say they accept Autistic people until their mouths go numb, but if nobody implements initiatives to help Disabled students or funds the programs we need, then it’s just empty words.

USG offers plenty of services that help all students (workshops for study skills, the Center for Counseling and Consultation), and since those services also help Autistic students, I’d call it a win.

Make spaces in college that Autistic students can feel welcome to use.

I’ve been a virtual student since I got to USG (yay COVID), so I can’t speak for the accessibility of the campus. However, Zeta Sigma Disability Honor Society and the various USG services have been blessings, even virtual.

A round logo featuring the words "Zeta Sigma Honor Society," the Greek letters Zeta and Sigma, and the colors of the 9 universities at USG
The Zeta Sigma Honor Society logo, designed and created by yours truly!

Provide appropriate accommodations.

This is trickier at USG, since students have to go through our home institutions to get accommodations. Fortunately, our DSS office collaborates with those home universities so us USG students are taken care of.

Give Autistic students the chance to make friends.

USG has loads of clubs, and students can even start their own. It would be nice if clubs had their own page on the USG website, rather than being divided by major, so they’d be easier to find.

Make a place to learn about accommodations.

Thank you, Center for Academic Success.

Make sure Autistic students can get what they need to be at college.

Getting support from colleges (tutoring, counseling, resume reviews) shouldn’t cost extra money. USG is fantastic for this; the writing center, counseling center, and career center are all free.

Different college groups should work together.

Intersectionality is so important! Zeta Sigma is always happy to team up with clubs for LGBTQ+ students, groups for students of color, and others. Allies rule, so please feel free to reach out!

Improve services to help Autistic students.

Whatever USG does not have in place to help Autistic students be independent, let’s do it!

Make sure all Autistic people feel welcome.

A lot of Autistic people get left out, and it’s important to make sure all Autistic students feel welcome, including Autistic students of color and nonspeaking students. (I am neither of those things, so I can’t judge how well USG does this, but I’m optimistic.)

A bucket of gold glitter to represent autism acceptance.
Gold glitter. Gold is one of the colors of autism acceptance. Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash

Make sure to talk to Autistic students.

Nothing about us without us!

Overall, I give USG a A- for Autism acceptance, which is amazing. If you want to see USG make it to A+, share your ideas in the comments. And, if you want to see how you can support the Autistic community, tune in to Zeta Sigma’s Autism Acceptance Month panel on April 22nd from 12-1 pm. I’ll see you there!

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