August 1, 2011

Selma Botman: Community involvement is the foundation of USM

External advisory boards keep bonds strong and vital between the school and those whom it serves.

I have often said that community involvement provides the very basis of the social foundation of a public university.

At the University of Southern Maine, more than 300 individuals serve on 16 external advisory boards affiliated with our various colleges, schools, and programs. (A list is available at

They believe in the importance of a public comprehensive university to our region and state.

They employ our graduates and recognize that USM makes a profound difference in our students' lives, and by doing so contribute to the health of our community, economy and democracy.

I have found this level of community interest in, and support of, USM to be one of this university's truly remarkable characteristics.

Wright Express Chairman and CEO Mike Dubyak, former chair of the USM Board of Visitors and new member of the USM Foundation Board of Directors, is someone who supports an expansive and ambitious definition of a 21st-century, public university.

Mike sees and understands the link between a vibrant public university and Maine's successful transition from what he terms "a natural resource-based economy to a human capital-based economy."

As he puts it, "A strong university system is critical to our success. Any strong economic region of the country is endowed with strong higher education institutions. We need to make sure we are enhancing the higher education institutions of Maine, especially USM, which resides squarely in the center of the state's economic engine."

Chris Emmons, president of Gorham Savings Bank, is chair of the USM School of Business Advisory Council and former chair and current member of the USM Foundation Board.

"We have always supported USM for its excellence in educating Mainers, but now more than ever," Chris says.

"This recession not only slowed down the economy, but we're now seeing that it has changed our employment picture permanently."

New programs, he adds, will be required to address emerging needs that will help keep the state competitive.

As an example, he cites USM's graduate certificate programs in software systems and the role of the School of Business in educating "high-performing employees willing to stay in Maine and build successful careers. Prosperity begins with education, and USM deserves business and community support for their leadership in southern Maine."

School of Music Advisory Board Chair Mary Nelson works tirelessly to advance the interests of our world-class School of Music.

"The USM School of Music is a wonderful asset to our community in so many ways," Mary says. "It educates superb musicians and music educators, supports musical activities for youth, provides varied and wonderful musical performances for the public to enjoy, and collaborates with the Portland Symphony and other musical groups in the area."

I should note that Mary also serves as a member and former chair of the Osher Library Associates, a group founded in 1990 to support and promote a jewel in USM's crown, the Osher Map Library and Smith Center for Cartographic Education.

In the early 1980s, Kenny Nelson was among the first southern Maine business leaders to make the case for the link between a strong university and a vibrant economy. He and others were successful in advocating for the establishment of a stand-alone electrical engineering program at USM.

Today, electrical and mechanical engineering, along with our School of Nursing and others are housed in our new College of Science, Technology and Health.

"STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is becoming a national priority in order to ensure the future of our national economic base," says Dennis Eagleson, president of the Baker Company in Sanford and a member of the College's Advisory Council.

"USM is leading the pack by stressing STEM education at the university level."

These and many other advisory board members are critical to the success of USM.

Their advocacy of university-wide initiatives and guidance to individual programs enrich and sustain us.

Our board members have encouraged us as an institution and given us confidence as we emerge from the challenges of recent years, revitalized and refocused, to play a pivotal role as Maine's only public comprehensive university, located in the economic, intellectual and cultural center of our state.

Working together with a sense of common cause and the public good, we will make our mark on the 21st century.

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


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