Thomas College in Waterville will have the largest incoming class in its 122-year history this fall and plans a new dormitory in the near future to handle the increasing number, and Thomas is just one of several central Maine colleges that have more students, new administrators or new programs as the academic year begins.

The private college welcomes 320 new students this weekend in addition to its 550 returning students who hail from 15 states and seven countries, a spokesman said Friday. Enrollment is so strong that the school plans to build another residence hall that will house 82 students in the next few years. Freshmen arrived Friday and classes begin Monday.

Thomas College credits its enrollment increase to “branding and recruiting changes that increased the number of students in programs for low-income or first generation programs,” according to a press statement from the college.

The University of Maine at Farmington also has a “very strong” incoming class size in comparison to recent years, spokeswoman April Mulherin said Friday. The freshman class of 550 students, which is moving onto the campus this weekend in advance of classes beginning Monday, brings UMF’s current enrollment total to about 1,800 students.

Mulherin said the class of 2020 brings to UMF a “record-breaking” number of students who have not declared a major, which she said is a good thing, given that UMF is a liberal arts college.

“That’s a great way to start your college years – trying to find the best fit,” she said.

Earlier this month, Unity College, which focuses on sustainability science education, announced it’s also welcoming the largest class in its 51-year history, for total enrollment of 700 students.

“There is a hunger out there for well-rounded education, grounded in science and informed by the humanities and liberal arts,” President Melik Peter Khoury said. “By offering small class sizes, individual mentoring, transdisciplinary research and hands-on field work, we are in high demand.”

STARTING WITH OPEN MINDS

Thomas, which offers a business and professional degree focus as well as liberal arts courses, is joining forces with Collaborative Consulting Waterville, sending two professors to its new employee training sessions “in an effort to learn how to better prepare Thomas students for jobs upon graduation,” according to a news release.

This week and next week, Thomas professors Anne-Marie Thibodeau and Donald Cragen are “expanding their knowledge of information management, software quality assurance, business analysis, SQL, Oracle and Tableau” at the software consulting business, which opened an office in Waterville late last year and plans to have 200 employees in the city within a few years.

The professors are being considered by the company for possible corporate trainer roles in future training sessions and may assist and advise in expanding the college’s professional development offerings to other area businesses, according to the release.

Several recent Thomas graduates already have been hired by Collaborative Consulting, and it intends to provide four paid internships this year to students attending Thomas, Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield and Colby College in Waterville.

Thomas is also expanding the Kiest-Morgan Program, which allows students to finish their degrees in three years by taking extra courses during the semester and summer, which saves them time and money, the school said in a news release. The program now will cover all of the school’s academic offerings except the education track. The school also has hired five professors in criminal justice, education and sports management in response to the increase in enrollment.

MORE CHANGES

At UMF, the 2016-2017 academic year also marks the first full year that a recently completed biomass heating plant will be used to heat almost 90 percent of the school’s campus. The $11 million biomass plant was completed last winter and is the largest biomass hot water heating plant in Maine. The plant will burn 4,000 tons of locally sourced wood chips annually to heat hot water, replacing 95 percent of the 390,000 gallons of fossil fuel that was burned annual to heat the campus.

Through a system of over 2 miles of underground piping, the plant will provide heat and hot water to 23 campus buildings.

Kennebec Valley Community College also has news, as the year starts with two new deans and a new coordinator for its sustainable-agriculture program.

Erica Mazzeo, formerly curriculum director for Falmouth Public Schools, was named academic dean over the summer. She has nearly two decades’ worth of experience in domestic and foreign education and previously worked at the International School of Krakow in Poland.

“While much of my early career was spent overseas, my family and I returned to Maine when my children were young so they could grow up here,” Mazzeo said in a news release. “Returning to Maine has been incredibly meaningful, both professionally and personally.”

Monett Wilson began as dean of finance this week after working as an accountant for 20 years. She was previously a fiscal officer for the Maine Community College System, where she helped community colleges invest in large-scale information technology infrastructure and programs.

FOCUSING ON THE FARM

Benjamin Crockett, a Maine native who will be an instructor and coordinator for the sustainable-agriculture program, which includes a student-run working farm, returns to the state after working on farm operations in Vermont and New York.

“I’m looking forward to teaching at KVCC,” Crockett said in the release. “It seems like there has been some great work over the last few years, and I’m hoping to capitalize off of that momentum, as well as work with the farm manager to increase student time spent on the KVCC farm.”

Crockett most recently managed a 300-acre incubator farm in New York’s Hudson Valley, teaching new farmers management skills and efficiency. He said he’s looking forward to connecting students with local resources like the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and local dairy farms.

The class of 2020 at Colby College arrives Sunday, and will get adjusted to Maine by exploring their way through the state – hiking, backpacking, canoeing, farming, fishing and more. The activities are all part of the Colby Outdoor Orientation Trips next weekend. Classes begin on Sept. 6, after Labor Day.

Sentinel writer Lauren Abbate contributed to this story.

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

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