FARMINGTON — Kathryn Foster, who became president of the University of Maine at Farmington at the beginning of July, asked herself a question last summer that eventually led to her appointment.

“I woke up one day about a year ago and I said ‘I’m 53, and I have 12 to 15 years to go before I might think about retiring,” she said in an interview two weeks ago, in anticipation of Wednesday’s opening of the campus for the new school year. “What do I want to do? What mission is so important to me personally, that I want to commit the rest of my career to it?'”

The answer, she said, was university president. “I couldn’t think of any other field or position that would give me the ability to give back to the academy,” she said.

Foster addressed a series of questions about how her term as president might affect the campus and the region.

Q: What should faculty, staff, students and community members expect in terms of your personal style of administration?

A: Those on campus may already have seen some of my personal style, which involves high energy, high engagement, high expectations and high excitement. The campus has met me at every step with the same enthusiasm, as we all look forward to our most important work — helping our students succeed.

Q: In moving from D.C. to Farmington, how would you describe the differences between the areas?

A: Some of the differences are obvious. D.C. has more racial and ethnic diversity, traffic congestion, and hot and humid weather than Farmington does. Not surprisingly, far fewer D.C. residents relative to Mainers root for the Red Sox and Patriots. I have experienced a spectacular Maine summer these past two months, and I may never again summer anywhere else.

This said, a more ready comparison is with Buffalo, N.Y., where I spent 19 years before coming to Farmington. As with D.C., urban-rural differences pertain, but more striking are the similarities. Buffalo/Western New York and Farmington/Western Maine share similar socio-economies, creative and hardworking people, a strong sense of community and, of course, an appreciation for the beauty and opportunity that living in a state’s lake region can offer on a daily basis.

I feel at home in Farmington. Because it has the university, the Franklin Community Health Network and major government functions, Farmington plays way above its population weight class with an impressive and attractive set of businesses in downtown and beyond. I can readily get my fix for sushi, old and new books, and a good haircut. What else do you need?

Q: What role does UMF currently play in regional economic development, and what are some ways that an institution like UMF can play a more active role?

A: UMF is closely integrated into the region with a long history of meaningful and mutually supportive partnerships. For example, UMF’s interdisciplinary degree program in outdoor recreation business administration was developed in partnership with outdoor industry leaders in the state. The program combines outdoor recreation — one of Maine’s largest and most important industries — with the business administration skills our graduates need to help the industry flourish.

A second example is UMF’s Partnership for Civic Advancement, a new initiative sponsored by Bangor Savings Bank and other benefactors to provide substantive job experiences for UMF students while responding to the workplace needs and regional priorities of our community partners.

These and other regional economic connections start with UMF’s Board of Visitors, an advisory body of community and regional leaders and champions who provide counsel to the university and help identify and implement university-regional partnerships.

Looking forward, I hope to draw upon my background and interests in regional economic policy to put forth UMF as leader in the Network for Regional Economic Development, a collaboration of the region’s largest employers. The network seeks to apply the resources and capacities of the region’s major employers to regional concerns, collectively making an impact on our home region.

Let me add that UMF also proudly participates in the University of Maine System’s Combined Charitable Appeal, an annual effort in which employees may designate a part of their salary to one or more region-serving nonprofits, such as the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area or other community-serving organizations addressing issues of personal and hence regional prosperity.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing UMF right now? How accessible is UMF to financially challenged families in the region, and what factors might affect that level of accessibility over the coming years?

A: All public institutions of higher learning face similar challenges of affordability, accessibility and quality as the demand for state investment intensifies. As with other University of Maine System institutions, we have held tuition flat this year and are aggressively working to provide financial aid to our students. As public institutions, we have a commitment to be accessible to those who seek a college education, regardless of their means. Roughly 80 percent of UMF students now receive some form of financial assistance, through a combination of scholarships, grants, loans and work-study positions. Impressively, UMF itself employs 800 students in a typical semester.

Prompting our commitment is compelling evidence that higher education offers an extraordinary lifetime return on investment. I’ll be working to raise money for scholarships, facilities, classroom resources, and programming to deliver on that promise and ensure UMF students have opportunities to thrive.

One particularly exciting opportunity is to use our upcoming 150th anniversary to reintroduce UMF to our community, region, state and beyond. We will have a series of events to celebrate and look forward to connecting and reconnecting with our many communities, especially our 14,000 alumni, the large majority of which reside in Maine.

Q: You have a background in regional economic development. Will that be a special focus of yours, and where does that rank among other important areas that a president thinks about in a day?

A: Yes, this will be a special focus, not only for personal interest, but also to reinforce and deepen UMF’s role in and commitment to regional prosperity.

Thanks to several excellent guided tours and a continuing series of meetings with business, nonprofit, and philanthropic leaders, I am starting to understand the extraordinary opportunities and how UMF may contribute even more. It’s a rare day for me that doesn’t include some off-campus connection, which reflects how important this regional development is to a president.

Q: Where would you like UMF to be 10 years from now?

A: I arrived seven weeks ago, so 10 years is a long way off; but readers can be confident that UMF will continue its commitment to academic excellence, student success both in and out of the classroom, and a promise that every UMF student will graduate prepared for career success and civic engagement. We’ll also continue to be a place renowned for its strong student-faculty relationships and the equally strong relations between the university and the region. Specific majors will likely evolve to respond to societal, employer and student demand and need — new programs of study in Health Information Systems, Interactive Media, and Business Psychology, for example, illustrate the point. Regardless of major, however, whether in our stellar teacher preparation programs, our professional and pre-professional tracks, or our liberal arts and sciences degrees, every UMF graduate will be equipped with the skills, knowledge and capacity to learn broadly and think deeply for a lifetime.