What might it take to attract new technology-dependent businesses to Maine? What might Maine-based high-tech companies need in order to expand their work force? Why is Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen working so hard to revise the science curriculum for K-12 students?

The single answer to all these questions is straightforward: Maine needs more college graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the so-called STEM fields).

And the University of Southern Maine is leading the way by launching the Pioneer Program, our state’s first STEM honors program.

This fall, USM welcomed to campus the inaugural class of eight Pioneer student scholars.

Our successful Pioneers had a 3.72 high school grade-point average and SAT comprehensive scores that averaged 1320.

USM awarded each Pioneer a full, four-year scholarship, a computer, special on-campus housing, paid internships and opportunities to work directly with USM faculty on research projects.

These very talented young people represent the future of our STEM work force, our innovative economy and our competitiveness as a society.

I would like to introduce these gifted young people as they embark on a course of exploration that will prepare them to employ technologies not yet imagined, discoveries not yet anticipated, and jobs that do not yet even exist.

Patrick Doherty, a 2011 graduate of Biddeford High School, is majoring in mechanical engineering with a concentration in biomechanics. He enjoys reading about math and calculus as well as postmodern literature. Patrick was also a member of Biddeford High’s lacrosse team and performed community service.

Dustin A. Denbow, a 2011 graduate of Caribou High School, is studying biology and hopes to attend medical school. While at Caribou High, he completed training to become a certified nursing assistant and worked at the Caribou Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. Dustin was a member of the Caribou High chess team, civil rights team, orchestra, and golf team. He also is a talented musician and composer, playing both violin and piano.

Raisa S. Luck, a 2011 graduate of Gorham High School, plans to pursue a double major in biology and engineering. Raisa, who was very active in Gorham High dance, drama, and music programs, was named to the International Thespian Society. She speaks several languages and has been playing the piano since preschool.

Cody Poland, a 2011 graduate of Georges Valley High School in Thomaston, is majoring in electrical/computer engineering. Cody was a member of the school math team since he was in sixth grade, played soccer and baseball all four years of high school, and served as an assistant coach of children’s soccer and T-ball.

Hampden Academy’s Nathan J. Thurlow, class of 2011, is a mechanical engineering major. In addition to various academic pursuits, Nathan’s other interests include camping, hiking, reading, gaming, and community volunteerism.

We have two Pioneer Scholars from Waterboro’s Massabesic High School class of 2011.

Collin Sage, a computer science major, was on the soccer team since ninth grade and a member of the tennis team his junior and senior years.

Deedra Zeeh, a physics major, says she hopes to make a direct impact on Maine by one day spreading scientific innovations across the state. She also raises and trains horses.

And electrical engineering major Ryan Turner, a 2011 graduate of Winslow High School, was active in track and field, and cross-country. Ryan credits the book “The New Way Things Work” by David Macaulay with inspiring his interest in engineering.

The semester is only a few weeks old, but this group of budding STEM scholars has already developed a sense of camaraderie and an affinity for our campus. Dustin Denbow told us, “I was really attracted to the overall community at USM. It’s small and friendly, which is what I am used to. USM just fit with what I wanted and needed in a college.”

Cody Poland commented, “It’s nice to be able to be in a program where I can be around people like me and who are interested in the same things I am.”

And Deedra Zeeh appreciates “the freedom to push your studies as far as you want to. The teachers are welcoming and friendly.”

These young Mainers and their paths of discovery exemplify our state’s best hopes for a prosperous future. That is why our partners in the private sector have begun investing so generously in this new program.

In just four years, there will be 40 USM Pioneers. Imagine the difference this program and other STEM initiatives at all educational levels will make in our state and in our communities. I am so proud that USM will have had a role in launching them. 

Selma Botman is president of the University of Southern Maine. She can be contacted at:

president@usm.maine.edu