This semester I celebrate my seventh year at the University of Southern Maine, where I currently am an associate professor of history.

You may ponder at my choice of the word “celebrate” if you’ve been keeping up with the news in the Maine papers and elsewhere, which is full of conflicting and often contentious reports of declining enrollments, contract disputes, program cuts, uncertainty and anxiety.

This is not an op-ed about any of those things, though all of those things are part of my day-to-day landscape as a professor working in a regional, comprehensive university funded by the state and its residents. I celebrate this anniversary because of the students, colleagues, local cultural institutions and the K-12 teachers with whom I have worked closely over the past seven years, and the tremendous opportunities I’ve had since moving to Maine to connect my working and intellectual life with the cultural life of my community.

I teach at USM because I know that the work I do with students both in and out of the classroom makes a difference – in the lives of the students I teach, in the lives of their families and communities and in my own life. I enjoy watching, and helping, students learn.

I love hearing the ideas of my students, their critiques of the books and articles we are reading, the photographs we are evaluating and their questions as they work to grasp new concepts and reimagine old patterns of thought and behavior.

I love trying to convince people who profess no interest in history why they should embrace the discipline.

I love marking up an essay and, three or four essays later, seeing an improvement in a student’s written communication.

I enjoy taking my students on field trips, inviting them to connect with local history and stories and watching, week after week, as they adopt the methods of my discipline – critical inquiry, analysis and synthesis of opposing viewpoints.

I like seeing how an internship at a local archive or historical society becomes an application to graduate school in library science, and then a career. I like answering questions about graduate school, career opportunities and the frank discussions that emerge.

I relish the many opportunities I have to work closely with institutions that work tirelessly to improve the cultural and intellectual life of all Maine’s residents – the Maine Humanities Council, the Portland Museum of Art, the Maine Historical Society, Northeast Historic Film and others.

And I like that many of my colleagues at USM, across the disciplines, are locally, nationally and internationally recognized in their fields for their research and intellectual and cultural work, and yet what we share in common, despite our disciplinary boundaries and silos, is the fact that we teach undergraduates and graduates here in Maine and that our work always circles back to our teaching and our commitment to the classroom.

I teach at USM because I relish the fact that no two days are ever the same. Every day, there are new issues, new questions, new ideas and new challenges. And every day, despite frustrations about issues over which I have no control, I get to talk about the things I am most passionate about – history, Maine, photography, reading, writing, American culture, technology, etc. – with students and colleagues who are also passionate.

I get to solve problems, help students navigate the often slippery path to higher education and a degree, and I get to hear feedback, sometimes out of the blue, about how one moment in a classroom, one reading assignment, one afternoon practicing a musical instrument or one day of field work helped someone figure out what they wanted to do with their own lives.

I believe in public higher education because I believe that everyone who wants it should have access to knowledge to put to whatever use suits them best, for the sake of learning, for career discernment, for professional development.

In southern Maine, USM is a critical point of access. If you come to my classroom, either in person or online, I’ll meet you where you are, fresh out of high school, as a working parent trying to expand your professional horizons, a retiree coming back to study what you’re interested in after a career in another area, someone working full time and trying to get a degree, and I’ll try to help you get where you want to be.

Because, despite the challenges we’re facing together, USM is where I want to be.

— Special to the Press Herald