In April 2008, two months before I moved to Maine to become president of USM, I appeared before the Portland Regional Chamber commenting that community involvement provides the basis, the social foundation, of a public university.

I was reminded of those words at the recent annual meeting of the USM Foundation, an independent, non-profit organization established to raise funds in support of the university’s mission. The focus of the evening event was to celebrate the success of this year’s “Creating Maine’s Future — The Campaign for Scholarships,” which raised more than $900,000 for new, merit-based scholarships.

It was an extraordinary event during which I had the opportunity to thank a number of business and community leaders for investing in USM and, more specifically, in our students. Today’s column allows me to thank them in a more public forum, and perhaps to engender a greater appreciation for how their efforts benefit our students and this state.

Mike Dubyak, chairman and CEO of Wright Express and chair of the USM Board of Visitors, was the first to fund our new Presidential Scholarships.

COLLEGE MONEY HELP

Recipients of these scholarships receive $5,000 in tuition assistance per year for four years. They are reserved for Maine high school graduates who demonstrate exceptional achievements. More than 100 graduating seniors were nominated for the four available scholarships.

Others — Chris Emmons, president of Gorham Savings Bank, a director of the USM Foundation and current chair of the USM School of Business Advisory Council; members of the Lewiston-Auburn College Community Advisory Board; and the USM Foundation Board members — also embraced the Presidential Scholarships campaign.

The leaders of Androscoggin Bank, Auburn Savings Bank and Mechanics Savings Bank in the Lewiston-Auburn region together established the “Community Banks of Androscoggin County Scholarship Challenge.”

Under the terms of the program, the banks will match up to $24,000 in community donations. On a pooled basis, the scholarship fund will generate up to $48,000 in support of Androscoggin County students who attend USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College. The $48,000 will provide 12 scholarships of $1,000 each per year for four years.

Then, there is my old friend Massachusetts native Charlie Hoff, a longtime summer resident of York Beach, who has quietly helped hundreds of Massachusetts students earn a college degree. Charlie and his family have now decided to invest in Maine students through the Charles J. Hoff Scholarship Program at USM.

The Hoff Foundation will donate $180,000. With matching funds from USM, the Hoff Scholarship Program will award up to 44 $3,000 renewable scholarships over four years, beginning in 2011. Additional scholarships will be awarded as the endowed portion of the gift grows in value.

Their generous support — and the support of time and money from many others — underscores how strongly our community members believe in the transformative power of a baccalaureate education, and in USM’s ability to help our students realize their dreams and aspirations.

A SPECIAL STUDENT

One student, Kim Lim, of South Portland, is a recipient of one of USM’s new Presidential Scholarships. Kim moved here from Cambodia with his family nearly three years ago.

He had virtually no familiarity with the English language, yet graduated in the top 10 percent of his class at South Portland High School. We invited him to speak at the USM Foundation celebration, and with his permission, I want to share a few of his thoughts.

Kim’s parents grew up under the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and consequently were denied many things we take for granted, including access to even a rudimentary education. They worked hard to immigrate to America, where they knew their children could have a chance for a better life.

Kim, who was also a Mitchell Scholar, told us, “I know that with my degree I can achieve so many wonderful things. I could not be more grateful for this opportunity that I can assure you, will help change the course of my life. ‘Thank you’ does not seem like enough, but I hope you can appreciate the sincere gratitude in my heart.”

He concluded with a compelling testament to the benefits of community and university partnerships. Kim prevailed upon us to never give up but rather to continue to support hardworking students, “with the support and kindness of those who always stand beside us, whatever we dream of will be accomplished.”

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

[email protected]