Beverly Poyer was one of three women selected to receive a Pillar of Strength scholarship to University of Maryland University College. She plans to use the full scholarship, awarded to partners of wounded service members, to complete a bachelor's degree in military-family social work. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / April 24, 2013)

Two weeks after Beverly Poyer married her husband in 2007, he was deployed to Afghanistan. When he came home a year later, she was thrust into a role she hadn't expected: caregiver.

Army Spc. Max Poyer, exposed to frequent mortar blasts in Afghanistan, suffered brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Now the life the Southern Maryland couple had planned — to finish college, buy a house and have more children — had to be redefined.

That's when Beverly Poyer, 32, found a new calling: helping military families overcome emotional battle scars and transition back to civilian life.

Poyer is one of three recipients of a new scholarship at University of Maryland University College for partners of injured service members. She plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in military-family social work.

"It's an amazing blessing," said Poyer, who was honored with the other two Pillars of Strength scholars during a ceremony last week at UMUC in Adelphi. "It's a game changer for us."

Also selected were Emily Ball of Winston-Salem, N.C., and Danielle Kelly of Cedar Falls, Iowa. Both relocated to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda after their partners were wounded.

The scholarship strengthens the long relationship between UMUC and the military, school spokesman Bob Ludwig said. UMUC, founded in 1947, provides online courses, distance learning and remote classes to some 93,000 nontraditional students.

As a contractor to the Defense Department for more than 60 years, UMUC has offered on-site instruction to United States service members in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bosnia, Vietnam, Korea, Japan and beyond.

"Serving active-duty military is in our DNA," Ludwig said. Providing opportunities for military families, he said, was a natural extension of UMUC's work.

"Clearly, we see the support of caregivers as extremely important," he said. "These are folks who often have to interrupt their education to provide the care to an injured service member."

Poyer left her career as a photographer to care for her husband and their daughter. She plans to enroll at UMUC this fall.

The full scholarship will cover the cost of the credits she needs to complete her degree — in Poyer's case, about $10,000.

"When I became a caregiver, everything was poured into the well-being of my injured soldier — every decision, action, and part of our lives has revolved around my husband," she wrote in an application essay.

"During this journey, I've found that I've lost who I was before the injury and sometimes feel I am defined simply as a caregiver to a wounded warrior. Completing my degree would give me a sense of pride and accomplishment independent of my role as a wife and caregiver."

Bell and Kelly plan to use their scholarships to pursue master's degrees in business administration.

Bell was working in business development at a law firm in 2011 when her fiance, a Marine, lost both of his legs and several fingers in Afghanistan. She moved to Walter Reed to help care for him.

"I most likely will become the 'bread-winner' of the family now and would like to further my education to gain an executive level position one day, a goal I had always wanted for my personal benefit, but one I feel like I need now," Ball wrote in her essay. "Being able to provide for the two of us is important to me and I wanted to do it well and not worry about scraping by or having to live minimally."

Kelly dreamed of becoming a real estate mogul before her partner, a sailor, lost both legs and portions of his arms.

"I was scared of the moment I would see Taylor for the first time," she wrote. "I didn't know if I would want to run, break down and cry, get sick or how I would react. But honestly, when I saw him I felt an overwhelming sense of relief.