Right opportunity, right time: Entrepreneur returns to finish her UMBC degree

Published: May 16, 2022

Sheila Abellano. (Marlayna Demond '11/UMBC)

Sheila Abellano

Degree: B.A., Psychology
Hometown: Silver Spring, MD
Plans: Master’s in clinical psychology

“I didn’t feel judged for being an older student at UMBC—I felt like I belonged.”

Sheila Abellano ‘22 never doubted she would return to finish her UMBC degree one day, but when she received a letter in the mail about the university’s Finish Line program, she knew it was time. After leaving UMBC in 2009, she raised a family and started two small businesses. Reading that Finish Line would waive her readmission fee and offer support with enrollment, financial aid, and academics, she saw a great opportunity.

Woman smiling standing at a table with plant-themed art and jewelry
Sheila Abellano at a local market promoting her business, Plant the Culture. (Image courtesy of Abellano)

Just prior to her return in fall 2021, a therapist diagnosed Abellano with ADHD, which helped her better understand her earlier academic struggles and feel more prepared to take advantage of the opportunity to return to the classroom.

Debbie Paul, Abellano’s academic advisor, and the Finish Line team connected her with both a community and resources. “The Finish Line team constantly reached out to remind me that they were available if I needed help,” says Abellano. “Just knowing that UMBC had created a program for returning students like me, gave me the motivation I needed to keep going.” 

Abellano was also encouraged by the welcome she received from faculty and students, which helped her feel that she belonged at UMBC. She notes that Thomas Robinson, assistant professor of Africana Studies, was “amazing,” in going out of his way to ensure she felt engaged and comfortable in his class.

Abellano’s advice to other prospective returning students is to follow their dream, and know that the UMBC community is here to help make that dream happen. Next, Abellano hopes to become a therapist and work to reduce the stigma associated with mental health challenges, especially in her Filipino community.

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