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UMGC Alumni AssociationFrom Student-to-Scholarship Donor: Walter Somerville ‘70

When you sit down to talk with Walter Somerville ’70, at first his experience mirrors that of many other UMGC students and alumni. 

“While I was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, I recognized that I needed to get a college degree in order to be competitive on the outside,” he says. At UMGC, he could work during the day and attend classes at night, which made it possible for him to achieve his educational goals. 

It isn’t his story that’s unique. After all, accessibility for working students is why many choose to pursue their degrees at UMGC. What is remarkable, though, is that Somerville was a nontraditional student several decades before the concept became mainstream.

Improving his life through education

Just like students today, Somerville credits his degree with helping him succeed in his professional life. While he was a student, he worked as a personnel management specialist—the lowest-level position in human resources in the Federal government. Within several year’s time, he had advanced to what is the equivalent of a senior human resources manager-level position. 

After he graduated with a degree in business administration in 1970 and retired from the U.S. Air Force, his career really took off. “That experience helped me to really develop confidence in myself and prepared me for competitive jobs in the Federal government,” he says.

He continued to gain momentum in his career, and in 1983, he became the assistant commandant for civil rights in the United States Coast Guard. “I held the protocol status of senior rear admiral in the U.S. Coast Guard, the sixth-highest ranking official,” he explains.

In this role, his job was to diversify the U.S. Coast Guard, and he was responsible for policy development, budgeting his program and resource acquisition, among other duties. “In that job, I was given the opportunity to develop an outreach program for historically black colleges and university, along with predominantly Hispanic colleges and universities,” he says.

Somerville had tapped into the GI Bill to pay for his education, but in his new role, he encountered many young people who struggled to pay for their schooling. “It was so difficult for them to get an education,” he recalls. 

When he retired from the U.S. Coast Guard in 2004—after an impressive 54 years of public service—he knew he wanted to help students who were struggling to access higher education. 

“I had a strong commitment to do what I could to help people who wanted to complete their education, earn a degree and go to work,” Somerville says. 

Supporting students through his own scholarship fund

Over the years since he graduated, Somerville had often made contributions to UMGC. In 2006, though, he decided to formalize his donations by developing a scholarship fund. In 2007, the paperwork was complete and the "Walter R. Somerville, Jr. School of Undergraduate Studies Business Students Endowed Scholarship Fund" was officially established.  

Since then, he has made contributions to UMGC each year. His scholarship supports students pursuing a degree in business administration. Although UMGC has a process for selecting scholarship recipients, Somerville had one request for his fund that aligns with his focus and passion during his time in the U.S. Coast Guard.

“I want to ensure that there is some diversity in selecting candidates for this scholarship,” he says.

Over the years, he has had the opportunity to meet two of the scholarship recipients in person, hear their stories and see the impact his gift is having on their lives. These recipients also expressed their gratitude, which moved Somerville, who finds fulfillment in being able to support students in the way the GI Bill helped him get his start.  

His scholarship will leave a legacy that will help students for years to come. “I do it out of my heart, to try to help people by giving them an opportunity to make a positive difference in their lives,” says Somerville.

Read more Alumni News.