CSM Celebrates 12th Winter Commencement

CSM’s 12th Winter Commencement processional was led by Lead Coordinator

Graduates, Academic Achievement, Faculty Excellence Honored

The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) recognized 385 candidates for degrees and certificates during its 12th Winter Commencement held Jan. 13 at the La Plata Campus.

“We are here to celebrate wonderful dreams and aspirations for what the future might bring,” said CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried as he welcomed the family and friends gathered to celebrate 139 of the graduates who participated in the evening ceremony. “This is just the first step, for you can never stop learning.”

Keynote speaker Dana Maurice Jones, president and chief executive officer for United Planning Organization (UPO), told graduates that their hard work, leadership and commitment have laid a foundation for success and that more than at any other time in our country’s history society needs the fruits of higher education.

“The great theologian Howard Thurman wrote that we are alive when we experience life through our senses; we touch, love, feel and embrace our being as a part of something greater than us,” Jones said. “It is from the human experience that we grow, dream, form expectations, face challenges and indeed, survive them. Your accomplishment being honored this day is no small feat. You are a winner. Yesterday’s tests, literally and figuratively have been passed. Those things that were once viewed as obstacles have become your stepping stones to success. You had to experience them to truly value this moment. You are alive; you earned the respect that comes with today. You are made of the right stuff to lead. “

            CSM awarded 357 associate degrees and 173 certificates: 44 percent of the students receiving awards are from Charles County, 30 percent are from St. Mary’s County and 23 percent are from Calvert County while 3 percent are from outside of the region.

Associate degrees were awarded predominantly in the fields of general studies, nursing and business administration, while general studies: transfer and advanced and basic accounting topped the list as the most popular certificates. Of the graduates, 70 percent were female and 30 percent were male. The ages of this winter’s graduate and certificate recipients ranged from 17 to 60.

Ben Doody, 60, formerly of Chesapeake Beach, received a certificate with honors in accounting basic. Following 20 years in real estate, Doody explored accounting as a possible second career. “I’ve always enjoyed learning,” he said, adding that he enjoyed the opportunity through online classes to work on his studies independently.

David DeGroot, 17, of Port Tobacco, was this winter’s youngest graduate. He graduates with high honors receiving an associate’s degree in general studies. DeGroot started taking classes at CSM in fall 2008 while continuing his high school studies through a home school program. He plans to continue at CSM this spring taking business classes that he will transfer to UMUC toward a bachelor’s degree in business administration. “I like it here at CSM and it is affordable,” he said. DeGroot participated in CSM’s Service Leadership Club, travelling to California to participate in an Alternative Spring Break program centered on community service. He also attended a three-day leadership seminar in Baltimore.

When not in class or studying, DeGroot is lifeguarding at the La Plata Campus pool, or working out in the fitness center. His long-term plans include working toward a career with the U.S. Secret Service investigating financial crimes. If the name is familiar it is because his older sister Trisha was CSM’s youngest winter graduate in January 2009 and January 2010.

Another family celebration occurred with mother and son Laura and Alex Kuchta graduating this winter.

Laura Kuchta, 40, of Callaway, received an associate’s degree in accounting after taking a several-year break to raise her three boys. When her oldest, Alex Kuchta, 20, graduated from Leonardtown High School, they both enrolled at CSM. Although they took some of the same classes, they never took them together. They did, however, share their books, according to Laura Kuchta. Taking half of her classes online gave her flexibility when managing work and school schedules. At home, her husband, who graduated from CSM in the 1980s, was “the most supportive person,” pitching in to help give her more time to study, she said.

Alex Kuchta, an information assurance analyst at Patuxent River Naval Station, received an associate’s degree in business administration while working full-time. He plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in information systems management through University of Maryland University College (UMUC). “My most memorable class was Mike Maloney’s sociology class,” said Alex Kuchta. “It was the best class I’ve ever taken. He does an impressive job of making the class interesting.”

 The Kuchta family and extended Kuchta family tradition of attending CSM includes Laura Kuchta’s mother-in-law and her sister.

Twins Lara and Michelle Lee, 19, of La Plata, graduate with highest honors—both have a perfect 4.0 grade point average. “We aren’t competitive,” said Michelle Lee. “We have different academic strengths and we are able to help each other in subjects where we may struggle.” Graduates of La Plata High School, the sisters were able to transfer advanced placement credits toward their CSM programs of study; Michelle Lee with 10 credits and Lara Lee with 28.

Michelle Lee graduates with a degree in arts and sciences and plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in business administration this fall, hopefully at University of Maryland College Park (UMCP). Lara Lee graduates with an associate’s degree in arts and sciences: art and hopes to transfer to UMCP this fall to pursue a degree in graphic design. This spring Michelle Lee will continue working part time while applying for scholarships, while Lara Lee will work on her portfolio at a local marketing and graphic design company in La Plata. Both hope to continue their studies at the same college, but “it’s not a deal breaker,” said Michelle Lee.

In a perfect scenario the sisters will go into business together, Michelle Lee said, adding that she would love to open a fashion boutique in the D.C. metro area. “I could handle the business side and Lara could handle the creative side.”

Lawrence Van Tassel, 24, of Prince Frederick, received associate’s degrees in math/physics, applied science, general studies and general studies: transfer, and he’s not done taking classes at CSM. He is registered for the spring semester and plans to transfer for a bachelor’s in a math or science degree that will lead to work in aerospace research and development. After a few years exploring careers, Van Tassel zeroed in on a field that he is not only passionate about, but one in which he excels: mathematics.

“I started at Towson University with a major in psychology then transferred to CSM switching majors to computer science and then teaching,” said Van Tassel. “In 2009, I took my first calculus class and I found a sure thing.”

Van Tassel said that with the support of his parents he was able to explore different fields of study until he found one that was right for him. “CSM is a good place to try things out at a low cost and excellent quality,” he said. Mathematics professor Susan Strickland stands out as an instructor who inspired Van Tassel. “She really knows her stuff and she’s really into [math].”

Tyrrell Jenkins, 20, of Pomfret, had considered majoring in psychology until he took a criminal justice course with adjunct professor and retired police officer Katrina Robertson, then he was hooked. Graduating with an associate’s degree in general studies: criminal justice, a certificate in general studies: transfer and a letter of recommendation in criminal justice and personal trainer, Jenkins will be working toward a bachelor’s in criminal justice at UMUC. He received the Peter Murphy Delegate Scholarship and has worked as a personal trainer to help pay for tuition. He has applied to the Office of Naval Intelligence for a summer internship.

CSM’s seventh winter class of nursing students participated in a recognition ceremony earlier in the day. Health Services Chair Dr. Laura Polk presented an Academic Achievement in Nursing Award to Kimberly M. Burroughs of St. Leonard, who graduated with highest honors. Lauren M. Hall of California received the Achievement in Nursing Award which is given by CSM faculty to a student who has demonstrated advanced clinical competence, service and dedication to the community, leadership within and outside of the classroom, and academic excellence.

            Nursing  student, Stephanie Rivers, 33, of Lexington Park spoke about the experience of being a nursing student, recalling how while many other students enjoyed snow days during the storms last winter, nursing students logged in to WebCT to hear lectures by Associate Professor Mary Fey.

            “We are not the same people we were before we started the nursing program,” Rivers said, adding that family members will have to  be understanding if while out in public they comment on how nice a stranger’s veins are.

            In 2007, after the birth of her second son, Rivers decided to begin working toward a degree in nursing—initially taking one class at a time. After she completed the core courses, she petitioned and was accepted into CSM’s nursing program. “It is not easy doing clinical with a family,” Rivers said of the mandatory full days working in area hospitals alongside registered nurses. Once a week she and her 7-year-old son went to the Lexington Park library together to study. “It is our quality time together,” she said of their routine of quizzing each other with flash cards.

            In recognition of the role that faculty play in the college’s continued success, the Faculty Excellence Award Honoring Adjunct Faculty was presented to Dawn Richards who teaches sociology, world regional geography and Western civilization.

Faculty Senate President Michael Green announced the award, recognizing Richards for her commitment to higher education and her enthusiasm in fostering critical thinking skills in her students by “encouraging them to be active participants rather than passive ‘zombies.’”

“I vary my teaching methods to include class discussions, experiments, lectures, films and even television commercials,” said Richards, who is a member of CSM’s Adjunct Faculty Development Committee, the Diversity in Education Institute and Social Scientists Without Borders.

            Commencement keynote speaker Jones is a native of Southern Maryland. He has dedicated his adult life to bringing services to neighborhoods and citizens. He served as president/CEO of the Southern Maryland Tri-County Community Action Committee and as special assistant to the executive director for Shore Up, Inc., a community action group in Salisbury.

            Jones is a graduate of the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore and has furthered his studies in graduate work at Salisbury State and Bowie State universities, and is currently studying for a master’s in divinity at Howard University.

CSM’s Board of Trustees recognized Constellation Energy Nuclear Group’s Director of Workforce Development Jim Rzepkowski with its Distinguished Service Award for his work in preparing a local workforce for skilled craft jobs. In partnership with CSM, Rzepkowski worked to provide resources to implement trades programs, specifically welding, to address the critical shortage of skilled trades workers to build, maintain and operate new structures, and to establish a Nuclear Energy Technology (NET) Instrumentation and Control associate degree program.

Rzepkowski served as an outstanding liaison for CSM’s partnership with Constellation and has been the point person for the company which has donated $150,000 to CSM specifically to set up a welding lab and an additional $195,000 toward the NET program for equipment and scholarships.

“Thanks to Jim and Constellation, CSM students are being educated and trained in both programs for lucrative careers and promising futures,” said CSM Board of Trustees Chair Mary Krug.

CSM’s Board of Trustees presented its Distinguished Service Award as well to Steve and Dianne Proctor, CEO and COO respectively of G.S. Proctor and Associates, for their contributions to CSM and their community. Steve Proctor, who heads the largest minority-owned government consulting firm in Maryland, has served for four years on the CSM Foundation Board and for more than a year as the co-chair for the Development Committee. He and Dianne Proctor have pledged $50,000 to the CSM Foundation to establish the Proctor Promising Futures Program, a scholarship fund for financial need based students from Charles County. Steve Proctor helped CSM land its largest gift of $1 million two years ago during the college’s 50th anniversary major gifts campaign. “Steve and Dianne are passionate about providing access to education to all,” said Krug.

CSM’s Board of Trustees also recognized Tom Mattingly Sr., a CSM alumnus, with its Distinguished Service Award for his relentlessly advocating for CSM as an advisory board member and as a St. Mary’s County commissioner. As a representative for the Community College of St. Mary’s County more than a decade ago, Mattingly and a few other visionaries had the idea that the St. Mary’s, Charles and Calvert campuses should unify as one regional college to better serve its residents, while also benefitting financially from more state support. Mattingly helped to push legislation for a regional community college, which has allowed CSM to move forward in many ways since 2000, including the most recent addition of a new Wellness and Aquatics Center at the Leonardtown Campus. Mattingly supported the college and the Leonardtown Campus from its first building to its fourth, said Krug. He also worked with his colleagues to establish the St. Mary’s County Scholarship Fund, which has provided scholarships to 120 students in St. Mary’s County. “We are thankful to have friends and supporters like Tom,” said Krug. “He will be missed as a commissioner as his term limit was reached this year, but we hope to keep him as a supporter and advocate of CSM.”

The following students were recognized as candidates for associate’s degrees or certificates at the commencement ceremony:

The following students at the College of Southern Maryland were recognized as candidates for associate’s degrees or certificates at the 12th winter commencement ceremony held Jan. 13 at the La Plata Campus:


Anne Arundel County


Samantha C. Riley


Calvert County


Chesapeake Beach


Erica L. Bliss

Lisa R. Brooks         

Christopher J. Chipouras

Ben A. Doody

Jennifer Nicole Graf

Danielle Emma Harrington

Heather Kelley

 Zachary R. Landis

Garrette Walton Peck

Brittany Sanville

Lisa West




Gavin Matthew Bodenhorn

Erik K. Brotherton

Michael S. Gotsis

Mary Ashley Jaskulski

Brian Lee Landon

Casey L. Schade




Jennifer A. Brady

Christopher James Connor

Matthew G. Dodd

Steven N. Halterman

Shelley M. Jenks

Shannon Marie Kyer

Colleen Margaret Lohmeyer

 Nancy C. Ludka

Jessica Pearl Moser

Gabriella Marie Reed

Sierra B. Stewart




Rachel Elise Adams

Deborah Billings

Cindy D. Bomgardner

Monalisa M. Braxton

Ashley Nicole Caldwell

Victoria H. Closson

Joseph R. Dawson

Jeremy Gott

Ashly Marie Gray

Christina R. Haifley