Friday, December 6, 2013
By BOB and JILL BLACKWOOD
SOUTH PORTLAND — We have read with concern recent editorials and articles in this paper, the tone of which characterized the University of Southern Maine as foundering. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Approximately 60 percent of Maine's population is served by USM's campuses in Lewiston-Auburn, Gorham and Portland. The university's student population is diverse, including many first-generation college attendees, commuters and nontraditional students holding jobs and raising families while pursuing their education one course at a time.
We were nontraditional students upon return from military service. While we had bachelor's degrees from other colleges, USM provided us the opportunity to obtain master's degrees. Like many USM alumni, we both found our USM courses to be well taught and very relevant to our careers in banking and K-12 education, helping us to advance professionally. These same opportunities, and more, are available today.
USM is a vibrant public comprehensive university. Part of USM's mission is to contribute to the intellectual, cultural, economic, political, and social health of the southern Maine communities it serves. To this end, USM faculty focus on applied research -- research designed to address the problems of the modern world -- with programs designed to be responsive to community needs.
Faculty and staff work in cooperation with local business and educational leaders to build course offerings that match current and projected workplace demands. Some examples:
• A School of Business concentration in risk management developed in conjunction with, and funded in part by, the insurance industry.
• Planning for growth in the computer/IT program to meet local business needs and reduce the need for area companies to outsource these functions.
• The development of an interdisciplinary course of study in tourism and hospitality at the request of members of Maine's Legislature and business leaders to prepare students for employment in one of Maine's largest industries.
• The creation of a cutting-edge simulation lab in the School of Nursing, Maine's largest nursing school, to better prepare nursing students for their fieldwork in hospitals.
• A School of Education that offers master's and advanced degrees in school psychology, producing many of Maine's teachers, principals and school superintendents.
• The development of four online degree completion programs to meet the needs of full-time workers who had to interrupt their studies to finish their bachelor's degrees.
• Creative and meaningful internships and real-work experiences for students in business, education, human services and the arts.
USM's continuing commitment to student retention and success is demonstrated by newly reorganized Student Success Centers on each campus that offer one-stop shopping for students who need academic advising, career counseling or simply register and pay their bill. Each campus library now includes a Learning Commons, offering space that facilitates group study and team projects while providing one-on-one tutoring and research assistance.
Realizing the economic challenges of Maine students, last fall an additional $1 million was committed to scholarships. This fall, another 12 new students enter the Pioneer Program, offering full tuition and paid internships for Maine's top high school graduates and focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.
USM is also home to a first-rate School of Music with alumni who have won Grammy awards, sing for New York's Metropolitan Opera and teach music in our local schools. Art alumni are enjoying professional success in graphic and computer design, photography, the fine arts and crafts. USM Stonecoast Master of Fine Arts alumni are published authors, novelists and poets.
USM is an excellent educational value located in Maine's most populous area. It provides the benefits of a full university with an excellent, dedicated faculty at reasonable cost, while making the most of its resources. Last year, USM graduated 85 percent as many students as the University of Maine while receiving only 50 percent of the funding from the Legislature as UMaine received.
The degrees we earned at USM contributed significantly to our careers. We believe the success of this region and our state depends in part upon USM. That is why so many people -- alumni like us, other community members and USM's faculty and staff -- are working hard to ensure that it thrives.
USM alumni Bob and Jill Blackwood are residents of South Portland.
– Special to the Press Herald