As the University of Southern Maine evolves and fine-tunes its academic program, its objectives are to be responsive to student, business and community needs; be innovative; and remain student-focused.

These principles are especially important as we design and implement new academic programs.

A case in point is USM’s new tourism and hospitality degree. In 2011, state Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, called for the creation of a hospitality and hotel management baccalaureate degree program within the University of Maine system.

USM took Sen. Katz’s appeal seriously. In less than a year, and with the strong support of the business community, USM developed Maine’s first comprehensive, four-year program in tourism at a public university, and we will begin delivering the major in the fall of 2012.

Kreg Ettenger, a professor of geography and anthropology at USM, adopted a creative, multidisciplinary approach to this new tourism degree and will lead the program.

In addition to coursework in business management, marketing and planning, students will be exposed to tourism’s role in promoting cultural identities and will study tourism’s impact on the environment as well as the economy.

Increasing numbers of undergraduate students wish to major in a discipline — mathematics, biology, chemistry, history, French or sociology, for instance — and at the same time earn a teaching certificate through a minor in education. USM is pleased to return to its proud history of offering undergraduates the opportunity to gain a teaching credential while pursing their degrees in a discipline.

USM is also an institution that embraces not only traditional-age but also adult students, offering all our undergraduates the opportunity to expand their horizons, deepen their knowledge and perfect their skills.

In order to better support the aspirations of thousands of adults in southern and central Maine, ages 25 and older, who have some college but no degree, we seek to be the public university that helps those citizens achieve those aspirations and complete their degrees.

For that reason, we have developed new online degree-completer programs, including a bachelor of science in business administration, with a major in general management; a bachelor of arts in liberal studies, with a focus in the humanities, and a bachelor of science in applied technical leadership for individuals who have associate degrees or other technical training and expertise.

USM’s new online offerings also include a certificate program in gerontology that will prepare health and human services professionals to serve Maine’s aging population.

This certificate ideally complements the other health care offerings for which USM is so widely known. These programs, which will go live this fall, will accommodate the busy schedules faced by many adult learners.

Some will be offered in seven-week sessions, allowing students to work toward their degree one class at a time. All will reflect USM’s high academic standards.

In addition to our undergraduate offerings, USM is attending to the evolving marketplace demands and educational needs of graduate students.

This fall, the Muskie School of Public Service will be offering a master of public health degree. This highly desirable degree is a direct response to our state’s and nation’s critical need for well-prepared leadership within the field.

The master of public health degree will provide graduate students with broad population health and health systems perspectives while preparing graduates to work effectively in health-related and disease prevention fields.

USM’s Board of Visitors and the advisory boards of our colleges and programs regularly remind us of emerging needs of our region’s employers, and academic programs across the university consider this advice and respond creatively.

USM’s current strategic plan, “Preparing USM for the Future: 2009-2014,” identifies “serving the needs and aspirations of 21st-century Maine” as one of its top goals.

Expect to see more exciting new offerings emerge regularly at USM, not only in our professional schools but also in areas such as STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), the humanities and the social sciences.

Our state’s future depends upon increasing the number of Mainers who earn high-quality baccalaureate and graduate degrees that will prepare them to compete in the rapidly shifting global economy and to lead personally fulfilling lives.

As a public university, USM has an obligation, even in tough times, to ensure that our students leave our university with the intellectual skills essential for a lifetime of personal and professional success.

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

[email protected]