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Ashley Finkes

Meet UI&U World-Changer Sonya M. Fultz, M.Ed.

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Sonya’s love for Guatemala started 16 years ago when she adopted her son.

“It was love at first sight. I knew he was my son when I set eyes on him,” says Sonya M. Fultz, M.Ed., Senior Director for Enrollment and Academic Partnerships at UI&U.

Since then she has led Guatemala adoptive families on Return to Guatemala trips, aiding them in connecting with their children’s birth country.


President of ALDEA

She also serves as president of ALDEA: Advancing Local Development through Empowerment and Action in Guatemala. ALDEA addresses the principal needs of rural, indigenous Guatemalans to strengthen communities and enhance the health and well-being of families. They work in predominantly Mayan communities in the Department of Chimaltenango in Guatemala.

Sonya was initially drawn to this organization’s vision for community empowerment and long-term sustainability. “I’m proud of how our work has evolved in recent years as we’ve learned together through experience and responded to the changing needs of our Mayan partners.

Right now, our commitment to locally led development and continued growth is taking us in exciting new directions. In response to community feedback during last year’s strategic planning process, our partners at ABPD have successfully engaged men in a new pilot program designed to complement our women’s empowerment work. They’re focusing more on addressing domestic violence. And, we have recently installed our first solar-powered potable water system!”

ALDEA is working with Information Matrix, a television program hosted by film star Laurence Fishburne, on a short-form documentary about ALDEA. It will air on public television stations nationwide along with a commercial.

“This is an amazing opportunity for us to raise awareness about issues in Guatemala and our approach to grassroots development.”

Sonya is a world changer and a representative of Union’s mission to transform lives and communities.


About Sonya M. Fultz

Sonya is the Senior Director for Academic Partnerships at Union Institute & University. She formerly served as chair of the Southwestern Council for Higher Education (SOCHE) Articulation and Transfer Committee. She also taught and served as Chair of Undergraduate Studies at Antioch University Midwest in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She has trained the Ministry of Education in Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago in Comprehensive School Conflict Management and is focused on classroom management and conflict studies. Her interest in Guatemala originated with her Guatemalan-born son. She has led Guatemala adoptive families on Return to Guatemala trips for the last 13 years, aiding them in connecting with their children’s birth country.


Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University degree program. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click here to learn more.

Marine Veteran Continues Quest to Help Children

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Mitch and Mindy Rivas are making an impact on the world of the medically fragile community through the Maryssa Mission Foundation (MMF). They created the foundation shortly after Maryssa was called to heaven in November 2015 at age two.


The Challenge

“We saw firsthand the challenges of a family with a medically fragile child. We often found ourselves living in a hospital room four hours from home. As doctors tried to understand and cure Maryssa’s uncommon diagnosis, we stayed by her beside constantly. Our stays at the hospital were met with financial struggles, periods of hopelessness, and a looming feeling of inadequacy as parents, because we were being split from our other three growing children who longed for their parents and sister.”


Partnership with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

The foundation partnered with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC), where Maryssa had been a patient, to create the Home Away From Home Initiative. To date, the foundation has raised $37,500, enough to provide temporary safe lodging to families for more than 280 nights.


New Initiative

New this year is Maryssa Family Lounge. The lounge will be part of the expanded critical care building on the corner of the old and new hospital segments. This unique location symbolizes the transition of Maryssa’s life and journey in the hospital to the amazing mission of her foundation.  Families will have access to this 40-person capacity room, a safe refuge to digest information regarding their child’s care plan. And, it’s within running distance of their child’s room, in case a situation requires immediate attention. A $100,000 donation will make this family lounge a reality. The Rivas Family hopes to cut the ribbon on the lounge around her 7-year angel-versary in November of 2022. She would have been 9 years old. Her twin sister Malinah will do the honor of cutting the ribbon.


Union’s Role

Rivas, a Marine Corps veteran and UI&U alumnus, used his capstone project to create the blueprints for the foundation to honor Maryssa’s memory.

“UI&U played a vital role in the progress of MMF. My capstone project revolved around the strategic planning for our foundation. As we celebrate our fourth year of incorporation we are grateful to share our accomplishments with the university. I am forever grateful of UI&U’s part in this wonderful journey,” said Rivas.


What’s Next?

Our largest fundraiser, the MMF Spring Banquet and Auction Fundraiser, just raised more than $53,000 to benefit the medically fragile community and continues to grow. But our mission remains the same: to honor Maryssa and “Be the Blessing We Prayed to Receive®.” For more information, please visit


About Mitch Rivas

Mitch is a world changer who is living the UI&U mission to change lives and communities. He holds a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) from Union. He is a United States Marine Corps veteran.


Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University degree program. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click here to learn more.

A Perspective on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Noted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. biographer, historian, and UI&U doctoral faculty member Stewart Burns recently gave an interview on Dr. King’s civil rights activism. The Sojourner’s Truth, Toledo, Ohio’s African American newspaper, ran it as a two-part series. Burns reflects on lesser known aspects of Dr. King’s inner struggles and the angst and depression he suffered as he traveled the often solitary road as a civil rights leader. You can read part 1 of the interview here, and part 2 here


Dr. Burns Describes Dr. King

Burns served as editor of the King Papers at Stanford University, and developed a documentary history of the Montgomery bus boycott (made into an HBO feature). Thus, he has unique perspectives on Dr. King’s life. He points out that, as a servant leader, Dr. King acutely felt the suffering of others. He withstood the daily onslaught of criticism for his stands on the Vietnam War and economic inequality.

Burns describes Dr. King’s last years: “For the last four and a half years of his life he was a wounded warrior. It does seem that from a psychological or emotional perspective, it is very often the case that activists or people who are leaders for social change find themselves not only on the edge of society in the sense that they’re really pushing for significant change in the society, but also that their minds and consciousness and spirits are somewhat on the edge of what’s considered normal.”

And yet, Burns says, “King himself was a real role model. He wanted a united movement of people of color and poor whites, which was the idea for the poor people’s campaign, but above all he wanted black people to be united.”


About Dr. Burns

Dr. Burns chairs UI&U’s Ethical & Creative Leadership concentration in the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. program and shares leadership of its Martin Luther King Jr. Studies specialization. He is a highly regarded historian of the civil rights movement, author or editor of eight books, former editor of the King Papers at Stanford University, where he also taught U.S. History before joining Union. He has been a nonviolent activist for most of his life, and for over a quarter century engaged in interracial healing in higher education. Learn more about Dr. Burns and his commitment to connect Dr. King’s legacy to current issues at this link.

Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University degree program. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click here to learn more.

portia simpson miller

“Journey, Break Every Rule” Docudrama Features Union Alumna

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The Honorable Portia Simpson Miller, Union alumna and former two-time prime minister of Jamaica, was featured in the docudrama “Journey, Break Every Rule.” The film premiered in Kingston in February. As Jamaica’s first female prime minister, she admits that she had indeed broken some rules as a fierce defender of the poor. Her three “p”s– persistence, productivity, and (putting) people first–led her to the highest political office in the land. Read more in this article from the Jamaica Gleaner.

As a leader in the Jamaican government, Simpson Miller has a track record as a fierce advocate for education. She strongly supports alternative models for those who are not well served by traditional forms of education. Often described as the “heart and soul” of her people, Portia has made remarkable inroads and contributions in her country. From her early days in the House of Representatives, in her positions as minister of a number of offices, to prime minister, she always met challenges head-on with a rare degree of integrity, focus, and positive vision for the future.


Voice of the Voiceless

A common refrain throughout Portia Simpson Miller’s long service was that she was the “voice of the voiceless in the corridors of power.” Her efforts and long-term commitment to address the concerns of women, the elderly, the poor, and the disenfranchised are renowned, as is her advocacy for social change, and her unwavering efforts toward peace in an increasingly violent world.

Portia’s deep understanding of community leadership, and her commitment to engage all citizens to be change agents, reflects her lifelong efforts to advance people’s lives through education and empowerment.

As prime minister, Mrs. Simpson Miller lived her creed and also breathed life into our university’s aspirational vision. During a visit to Union, Portia told the audience:

“One committed individual can influence an entire community to come together for a positive purpose. From strong, positive communities we can build strong, positive nations which can transform the entire world.”

Her abiding belief in our individual abilities to give back and to continually strive to make a difference, coupled with her heartfelt desire to improve the lives of her people, make her as an exemplary Union alumna, but even more so, as a citizen of the world. The university awarded her the university’s highest honor, the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2001.


Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University degree program. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click here to learn more.

thoughts on notre dame

A Union Ph.D Student Shares Thoughts on Notre Dame

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thoughts on notre dame

On April 15, 2019, the world watched in shock and dismay as flames engulfed Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral, burning the building’s delicate and recognizable spire and most of its roof. Luckily, the interior avoided extensive damage thanks to its stone vaulted ceiling. Also, many works of art and religious relics were moved to safety. With rebuilding already underway, interest in the structure and its history has increased. Art historian and Ph.D. student Bruce Maggi shares some thoughts on Notre Dame the significance of the iconic structure.


Q & A with Bruce Maggi

Q: Can you give us a brief history of the cathedral? 

A: Notre Dame de Paris is more than 800 years old. It sits on a small island called the Ile de la Cite in the middle of the River Seine in the heart of Paris. The cathedral was built over the course of 200 years; it was started in 1163 during the reign of King Louis VII and was completed in 1345. It was built on the ruins of two earlier churches, which were themselves predated by a Gallo-Roman temple dedicated to the Roman god, Jupiter.

Notre Dame was, at one time, in a stage of total disrepair and close to the point of being demolished, but was later saved by Napoleon who himself was crowned Emperor in 1804 inside the cathedral.

The cathedral was one of the earliest structures built with exterior flying buttresses. These buttresses allow for the tall walls and large amount of stained glass windows. The buttresses act basically as an exoskeleton that takes the weight of the room off the walls and directs it out of the main building.


Q: What attracts people to visit the cathedral? 

A: Notre Dame de Paris is visited by approximately 14 million visitors per year, even more than the Eiffel Tower. Notre Dame has been visited since its completion. It falls as part of the Reliquary route that worshipers would use across Europe during the Middle Ages. The cathedral houses numerous relics that are very important to the Catholic Church, including the Crown of Thorns of Christ and piece of wood said to be from the cross on which Jesus was crucified.


Q: What should people know about the cathedral that they don’t know?

A: Numerous cathedrals and churches share the name Notre Dame. Notre Dame means “Our Lady,” for the Virgin Mary.

The cathedral contains one of the oldest surviving wood timber frames in Paris, involving around 52 acres of trees that were cut down in the 12th century. Each beam is made from an individual tree. For this reason, the lattice of historic woodwork that burned in the fire was nicknamed “the Forest.”

If you look at a photo of the cathedral from before the fire, you’ll see a rooster on top of the spire. This rooster was not a purely decorative bird. In 1935, three tiny relics—an alleged piece of the Crown of Thorns and some bits of Saint Denis and Saint Genevieve (the city’s patron saints) were secured inside the metal bird’s body. The idea, the story goes, was to create a sort of spiritual lightning rod to protect the parishioners within.

All 20 of the bells in the cathedral except for Emmanuel (weighing 13 tons) were melted down to make canons during the French Revolution.


About Bruce Maggi

Maggi is a Ph.D. student with a concentration in Humanities & Culture at Union Institute & University. He is also an art history professor at Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Conway, SC. Maggi earned a M.Ed. in 2006 and a M.A. in 2014, both from Union Institute & University.


PHOTO: Pixabay / CC0 Public Domain

law enforcement career

CJM Degree Impacts Law Enforcement Career

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law enforcement career

Union is saluting our Bachelor of Science Criminal Justice Management (CJM) students, staff, and alumni through the month of May in recognition of National Police Week, celebrated nationally from May 12–18, 2019.

This week we spotlight Sergeant Brian Kinney, Homicide Investigator, a CJM alumnus. Sergeant Kinney discusses the impact his CJM degree has on his life and law enforcement career.


Q & A with Sergeant Brian Kinney

Q: How does a CJM degree benefit the community?

A: The CJM degree benefits the community by providing a better-rounded officer who has been exposed to contemporary techniques within a justice organization, interpretation and analysis skills, and better communication tools. I also believe the degree makes for a more empathetic officer.

Q: How does a CJM degree benefit a Law Enforcement Officer?

A: I believe the degree provides an officer with better decision-making skills. In addition, the degree allows the officer to be eligible for promotion.

Q: What has your degree meant to you personally and professionally?

A: My degree has given me a sense of accomplishment. I am the first male in my family to graduate from college. I am also a role model for my children. They watched me work full time and still complete my degree.

Q: What quality do you admire most about your alma mater?

A: Union allowed me flexibility and the ability to schedule classes around my work schedule. The program advisers understood that I worked full time and my classes had to be built around my work schedule.

Q: If you could give advice to a Union student, what would it be?

A: Stick with it. Don’t quit. Your degree will open up professional opportunities that didn’t exist before.

Q: What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?

A: My greatest accomplishment is my family. My wife and two children have supported me every step of the way professionally and personally.

Q: What is your passion away from work?

A: My passion away from work is to spend as much time with my family as possible.


Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University degree program. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click here to learn more.


Oh, the Places They’ll Go! Union Graduation 2019

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Graduating from college is one of life’s significant milestones. On May 5, 41 adults celebrated this achievement with their families, the president, faculty, administrators, and staff from Union Institute & University.

“We couldn’t be more proud of our graduates. Earning a degree is life changing, and we know that Union graduates are world changers,” said Dr. Jay Keehn, executive director at Union’s Florida Academic Center in Hollywood. “What makes Union unique is we know each student. We understand the struggle of working full-time, raising a family, and completing a college degree. Now they will go out and impact not only their lives and their families, but also make a difference in their communities.”

Uplifting Words from Dr. Webb

Dr. Karen Schuster Webb, president of Union Institute & University, welcomed the graduates and elevated them with these words: “To all our students: We trust that your Union education has – in the words of our mission – engaged, enlightened, and empowered you to become change agents and leaders. We look to each of you – in your own ways – to continue to make a difference in your own communities and to carry the Union legacy forward.”

Union Institute and University graduatesDr. Webb acknowledged the sacrifice of the students, and also the families – the mothers, fathers, grandparents, sons, and daughters who supported each student along the journey. She congratulated the students on earning their degrees by borrowing time from family and friends, by balancing their time and energy between jobs and community commitments, and through sheer discipline and hard work.


Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University degree program. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Call 800-861-6400 or 305-653-7141 or visit the Florida Academic Center located at 4601 Sheridan Street, Suite 400, Hollywood, 33021. To learn more about course offerings, admissions and financial aid resources, visit

criminal justice management

Criminal Justice Management Degree Benefits Community

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criminal justice management

Union is saluting our Bachelor of Science Criminal Justice Management (CJM) students, staff, and alumni throughout the month of May in recognition of National Police Week, celebrated  nationwideMay 12–18, 2019.

This week we spotlight Glenn Cadwell, Law Enforcement Site Coordinator and Criminal Justice Management (CJM) alumnus.


Q & A with Glen Cadwell, Criminal Justice Management Alumnus


Q: How does a CJM degree benefit the community?

A: The Criminal Justice Management degree benefits the community in multiple ways. The Union degree gives officers more education and a global perspective. Students connect to a community of law enforcement personnel across the country. This offers the opportunity to find out how other departments handle community situations. Today’s officer must be community-minded and know how to talk with people.

Q: How does a CJM degree benefit a Law Enforcement Officer?

A: The CJM degree benefits the officer in two ways. First, many departments offer a financial incentive to complete a bachelor’s degree. Also, in many departments an officer has to have a degree to be promoted.

Secondly, for most officers, law enforcement is their dream job. It’s a calling, yet half will be forced to retire early due to an on-the-job medically related problem. They have to find another career path, which can be difficult in today’s world without a degree. If an officer is injured on the job and can no longer work in law enforcement, they have a degree to segue into another career. I always ask my recruits what they would do if they could no longer be in this line of work. Because Union’s CJM degree is a management degree, coupled with the officer skill set and training, they can find that next career.

Q: What excites you about being a part of higher education?

A: Watching officers obtain their degree is so exciting for me. They call me and let me know they have been promoted because of their degree. The best thing is when officers tell me that they have set an example for their children. They have worked full-time, mastered time management and goal-setting to graduate. Now their children don’t have an excuse to not complete their education.

Q: What attracted you to become a part of Team Union?

A: I’m an alumnus of Union’s CJM program. I think our degree program is the best in the country because of its emphasis on management skills.

Q: If you could have any job in the whole world, what would it be?

A: My career as a law enforcement officer was my dream job. It is a calling to be in this profession. It was always interesting because no two days were the same. A cop has to be able to solve problems on the spot, help people, talk with people, have medical training, have an understanding of the law, and be able to interact with the community.

Q: What surprises people about you?

A. That I can play basketball. Let me explain. For a number of years, my department sponsored a Saturday night basketball program named “Night Hoops” to give young people an alternative to hanging out in the streets. The league was open to ages 8 – 30. Many times the kids would say to me, “Wow, you can play basketball!”

Q: What is your favorite book, and why?

A: Two of my favorite books are The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner and Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom.

Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University degree program. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click here to learn more.

Union Salutes Military Appreciation Month with a Feature on an Alumna Who Specializes in Traumatic Brain Injury

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Dr. Mary Lee Etsy

May is Military Appreciation Month, when Americans are reminded of the important role the U.S. Armed Forces have played in the history and development of our country.

Union is honored to feature alumna Dr. Mary Lee Esty, LCSW-C, Ph.D. in recognition of Military Appreciation Month. Dr. Esty is a clinical social worker and founder of Brain Wellness and Biofeedback Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Dr. Esty specializes in neurofeedback for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Her published research documenting the efficacy of neurofeedback (NFB) for recovery from concussion/TBI and post-traumatic stress appears in Military Medicine, and Jrl. of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience, among others. Results from a study of NFB treatment with wounded combat veterans conducted in collaboration with the Traumatic Injury Research Program at the Military Medical School in Bethesda awaits publication.

She co-authored the book Conquering Concussion, Healing TBI Symptoms with Neurofeedback and Without Drugs, which won a Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2014.  It is a collection of neurofeedback treatment outcomes through case histories from young children to wounded and suicidal veterans. One combat outcome was also published in the American Psychiatric Association book, Complementary and Integrative Treatments in Psychiatric Practice, 2017.

Dr. Esty is a Senior Fellow in Biofeedback and Neurofeedback in the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance and a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. Her interest in the field began in 1996 with a National Institute of Health grant.  She credits her Union degree with elevating her career. Find out more in the Q&A below.


Q & A with Dr. Esty

What has your degree meant to you personally and professionally?

It would have been impossible to accomplish the things I have without the Union degree. I doubt that I would have been able to increase the impact of this branch of alternative medicine without this degree.  The entire Union experience opened my thinking to new ways of evaluating information, especially as I was just starting to use NFB. This therapeutic intervention continues to expand in health care, opening multiple fields for researchers and practitioners.


What quality do you admire most about your alma mater?

The excitement shared with fellow learners. In many fields there are people who fear change and say what won’t work. I never heard that at Union. While developing the learning agreement for my degree, my association with UI&U opened doors into programs that would have been otherwise impossible. Saying I was a Union student worked magic. I can’t imagine that I would have had as much fun as I still do without Union’s influence.


If you could give advice to a Union student, what would it be?

Whatever you do, hold your beliefs lightly because they may change. A Union professor said this in the colloquium. Its message has never left me.


What would you say has been your greatest accomplishment?

Professionally, it is seeing people recover and being able to live productive lives. Personally, it is seeing our children and grandchildren thrive with bright futures ahead. My husband made this journey possible and he continues to support my efforts. Retirement sounds boring.


What is your passion away from work?

I was a violinist but can no longer play. However, our grandchildren carry on the musical tradition, giving me great pleasure. I love hiking in the Colorado mountains and never have enough time for reading.


Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University degree program. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click here to learn more.

Florida's 2019 principal of the year

Professor Named Florida’s 2019 Principal of the Year

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The Union community is sending their congratulations to UI&U faculty member Michelle Kefford who was named Florida’s 2019 Principal of the Year.

The award reflects her commitment to students and her belief in lifelong learning.

“Working with all ages in the pursuit of knowledge is my passion,” said Kefford. “I tell all my students it is never too late to learn. I know the sacrifices my Union students are making to return to school after a long hiatus, and to juggle work and family responsibilities, but we are never too old to learn.”

Kefford has worked in Broward County schools for 19 years, all at the high school level. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Florida State University, a Master of Science in Science Education from Florida International University, and a Master of Education in Educational Leadership from Florida Atlantic University.

Kefford has held various positions on district committees. She is credited with school improvement initiatives including a mentoring program called Kefford’s Kids, and the creation of Falcon Flyers, a pathway for middle school students to earn high school credits. Her efforts have resulted in the school earning an “A” for six of the last seven years.

Dr. Thomas Frederick, who chairs UI&U’s General Education program, sees the connection between Professor Kefford and Union’s mission to transform lives and communities.

“She is the principal of a large senior high school, a community leader, a college professor, and a wife and mother. Yet, she still takes time to make each of her students feel special and valued.”

Teaching at Union is a family affair for Kefford. Michelle follows in her mother’s footsteps. Reta Smith also taught at Union as an affiliate faculty member.

The 2019 Principal of the Year award carries a cash prize of $3,500 and was presented to Kefford by the Florida State Board of Education and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. She has been principal at the Charles W. Flanagan High School in Pembroke Pines since 2011.

Read more about Michelle and her award in the Miami Herald.


Be the world-changer you’ve always wanted to be. Enroll now in a Union Institute & University bachelor’s degree program. It all starts with You! And it all starts at Union Institute & University. Click here to learn more.