Monica Quimby from Scarborough is only 25 years old, but she already has multiple degrees, an impressive resume and even a title — Ms. Wheelchair Maine.

The cheerful young woman will travel to Grand Rapids, Mich., in August for the Ms. Wheelchair America competition, before assuming her new position this fall as director of education at Northeast Technical Institute in Scarborough.

Ever since a 2006 skiing accident left her in a wheelchair with a spinal chord injury, Quimby has been an inspiring activist and role model for people with disabilities. Her leadership skills and many accomplishments earned her a spot on MaineToday Media’s list of Forty Under 40 emerging leaders.

“Five years post-injury, here I am,” said Quimby. “I have never let people tell me ‘no.’ “

Quimby graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology, having discovered two of the ancestors of the strawberry through her research into mitochondrial DNA.

“I was published as an undergrad,” said Quimby. “It was surreal.”

She later earned an master’s in higher education from Kaplan University and has spent the past year and a half as an adjunct biology professor at Southern Maine Community College. Quimby has also been a spokesperson, advocate and fundraiser for people with disabilities.

“Statistically, only 30 percent of people with disabilities get a higher education,” said Quimby. “That’s my big thing that I’m trying to change.”

She said she wants to transform the way disabled students think about their potential and encourage them to set goals. “That means changing the way parents think, too,” said Quimby. “And society in general. Basically, change the world!”

Quimby’s boyfriend, Jared Adams, nominated Quimby for the Forty Under 40 list.

“She’s just amazing,” said Adams, who also lives in Scarborough. “Her personality is so positive despite her disability. It focused her life and made her strive to be successful and help others. “

Adams said Quimby never ceases to push herself to try new things and expand her horizons. “She’s not afraid of anything, which is crazy, but enviable. I don’t know how she juggles everything, but she does.”

Quimby has worked with organizations such as Pine Tree Camp, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Outward Bound and the Alpha-1 Association, to reach out to young people with and without disabilities. She also organizes fundraisers such as comedy shows to get people involved and raise awareness.

“I’m one of those people who always puts 125 percent of their energy into everything,” said Quimby.

Quimby’s immediate aspirations include increasing the number of scholarships specifically for disabled students and turning Ms. Wheelchair Maine into a sustainable nonprofit.

Ms. Wheelchair America, founded in 1972, is not a beauty pageant. Rather, contestants compete to be recognized as “the most accomplished and articulate spokeswoman for persons with disabilities.” This year, 26 states are sending representatives to the finals in Michigan, where they will give speeches, do interviews and attend workshops about leadership.

Quimby said she can’t wait to meet the other titleholders next month. “To learn about these women and the incredible things they’ve accomplished — that’s the most exciting part. The crown would be a cherry on top.”

Quimby said she is thrilled about her new job. Jim Liponis, president of Northeast Technical Institute, said he interviewed 20 candidates for the director of education post.

“We needed someone organized who could connect with all instructors and take each of our programs, from medicine to truck driving, to a better level,” he said. “(Quimby) seemed dynamic, outgoing — a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of individual,” he said.

Quimby may have lofty goals — a Ph.D. in neuroscience, for example — but she has proven that determination can move mountains.

“A disability is obviously a big hurdle to overcome, but it’s doable,” she said. “I don’t let it get to me or control my life.”

Indeed, when this accomplished young woman isn’t vying for the Ms. Wheelchair America crown, teaching biology or volunteering, she’s making lists on her favorite multicolored post-it notes, relaxing at the beach or debating with her boyfriend — does the iPhone have better coverage on Verizon or AT&T?

“It’s definitely Verizon,” said Quimby.

Staff Writer Sophie Gould can be contacted at 791-6354 or at:

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