CSM to Celebrate 13th Winter Commencement Jan. 12

The College of Southern Maryland (CSM) will recognize 511 candidates for degrees and certificates during its 13th Winter Commencement beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 12 at the La Plata Campus.

            CSM will award 500 associate degrees and 242 certificates: 43 percent of the students receiving awards are from Charles County, 31 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 will be awarded predominantly in the fields of general studies, business administration, and arts and sciences, while general studies: transfer and advanced and basic accounting topped the list as the most popular certificates. Of the graduates, 67 percent are female. The ages of this winter’s associate’s degree and certificate candidates range from 18 to 64.

The most senior candidate for graduation is Susan Kruszka, 64, of Waldorf.

Kruszka earned an associate’s degree in arts and sciences and an associate’s degree in general studies. “It’s taken a long time,” she said of the academic journey she began in the 1970s. A cartographer with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency for nearly 40 years, Kruszka said that taking college math and science courses helped her advance in her career.

Years of taking courses at CSM, as well as transferred credits from Northern Virginia Community College and the University of Maryland, added up to not one but two degrees Kruszka learned when she met with her academic advisor.

It almost didn’t happen, though. Four years ago, Kruszka suffered a triple stroke—a ‘perfect storm,’ she said. “Most everything has come back now, but after being in a coma for two weeks, I had to re-learn how to read, how to do math and how to walk,” she said. With the encouragement and support of her husband, Kruszka returned to CSM. “He deserves so many kudos. He pushed me to excel when I didn’t think I could,” she said. “He deserves more credit than I could ever say.”

Through moves, children, career and a life-threatening stroke, Kruszka never lost sight of her goal of a college degree. She joins her daughter Teresa, son Steve and daughter-in-law Toni as an alum as well as shares a CSM connection with her grandson Vinnie, a graduate of CSM’s St. Charles Children’s Learning Center. Next, she plans to take up an equally challenging endeavor in learning to quilt, she said.

The most senior candidate from Calvert County for an associate’s degree is Nancy Gardner, 60, of Dunkirk. When Gardner headed off to the University of Maryland after high school to pursue a degree in elementary education, she didn’t anticipate the path she would eventually follow to graduation. “It was the height of the Vietnam War and there were protests on Route 1 and tear gas—and lots of distractions,” she said. After two years of college she left, got married and for the next 20 years raised her children, she said. During the 1990s, Gardner returned to work and returned to college—at CSM. She had first-day jitters worrying if she would fit in with students who were just out of high school. “I wondered if anyone would sit by me,” she said. “I was so intimidated that when my communication professor asked us to form groups for a project, I was sure that I would be left out. Instead, everyone sitting around me said, ‘I want you in my group.’”

“There is a great atmosphere at CSM,” said Gardner, adding that her younger classmates were very supportive. “They would tell me that I was over-thinking things and that I shouldn’t put so much pressure on myself—that I should ‘just relax.’”

Along with the support of her family and classmates, Gardner credits her advisor Alfreda Banks for her success. “I could not have made it through without her,” said Gardner. “She was amazingly helpful and quickly put me at ease.”

 “I’ve been working towards my degree at a snail’s pace,” said Gardner, who added that she now feels she has made it up to her father for initially leaving college before earning her degree. “He’s very proud of me.”

Gardner volunteers with Partners in Education through her work at the Commerce Department in Suitland and plans to return to CSM to take classes toward an associate’s degree in education. “I started in elementary education and want to return to it in retirement.”

Gardner said that she likes furthering her education and that her husband likes to say that he is ‘going’ with a college girl.

The youngest candidate for graduation is Alyson Dodson, 18, of Park Hall in St. Mary’s County. Dodson began her studies at CSM as a dual/concurrent homeschool student at the age of 16 and through the years attended classes at all three campuses and the Waldorf Center. A little nervous about being the youngest in her classes, Dodson said that she settled in after a month and appreciated the diverse student population at CSM. She completed the requirements for an associate’s degree in general studies in August and transferred to St. Mary’s College of Maryland where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She zeroed in on her field of study while taking sociology, geography and psychology courses at CSM and recognizing that the broad study of anthropology encompasses all those subjects. Among her favorite classes was history with CSM Professor Chretien Guidry. “He was so flexible. He would present material in ways that encompassed each student’s best method of learning—by seeing, hearing, reading or working on a project—which made it easier to grasp the material,” Dodson said.

When not in class, studying or working as a nursing assistant at Solomons Nursing Center, Dodson is filling out applications for summer internships at the Forensics Anthropology Lab in Tennessee. She wants to pursue continuing education classes at CSM toward becoming a certified medicine aide. “It will take a long time to accomplish my ultimate goal to be an anthropologist, so I need a skill that will allow me to pay for years of college,” she said.

For information about Winter 2012 graduation, visit http://www.csmd.edu/commencement/.