Have you ever had a teacher who believed in you, encouraged you to pursue your dreams, offered you a pathway forward? Those among us fortunate to have worked with mentors remember them with appreciation and affection.

As an undergraduate, I was privileged to work with a faculty member who was an inspirational instructor, an accomplished researcher, and, by the way, also a new mother.

She provided me with the confidence to follow my heart and my academic interests, and I modeled my life after hers. In graduate school, my beloved adviser supported me and helped shape me into the academic I eventually turned out to be.

USM’s faculty are our greatest asset, and their expertise is at the core of this institution. Because they are dedicated teachers, active researchers and accomplished practitioners, faculty educate and train generations of graduates who subsequently contribute to this state and beyond.

May I introduce Ellen Chickering, a talented opera singer and brilliant teacher at USM? For many years, Ellen has worked inspirationally with countless students who have gone on to become performers and teachers. This summer, she played a cameo role in PORTopera’s “The Daughter of the Regiment.”

Ellen shared the stage with her former student Ashley Emerson, who returned to Maine to sing the lead role. Ashley also sings with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, the pinnacle of operatic success. It is no secret that Ellen is credited with playing a major role in Ashley’s success.

Or consider Andrew Coburn, research professor and chair of Health Policy and Management at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service.

Andy has studied the American health care system for more than 25 years.

A national expert on rural health, he has also examined the unique challenges faced by states like Maine, where many residents live far from needed health services.

Andy’s students not only have the benefit of his knowledge but also observe, firsthand, the methods he uses to study and resolve real-life problems.

Would you ever think that a discussion of English grammar, of colons and semi-colons, could mesmerize a class? I was skeptical — until I visited the classes of Nancy Gish, a professor of English.

Erudite and highly cerebral, Nancy dazzles her students by discussing the power of punctuation.

That she peppers her classes with critiques of literature’s finest writers is one reason why she has her students eager for more.

What distinguishes teachers like Professors Chickering, Coburn and Gish is their fundamental love of teaching and respect for students. How else can we get the best out of our learners?

Then, there are faculty whose laboratory is Maine itself. For example, this summer, cultural historian Libby Bischof co-curated a show at the Portland Museum of Art on “Maine Moderns,” artists who came to Maine at the turn of the century.

What they found here — the landscape, the sea, the people, and the culture — inspired and transformed them, as well as the history of American art.

For Professor Rachel Bouvier, an environmental economist, the outdoors provides the setting for her investigations.

Rachel looks at the impact of environmental regulations upon tourism and local communities. She endeavors to understand how three separate but key drivers of Maine’s economy — natural resources, technology, and the environmental “quality of life” — intersect.

Daniel Mart?z, a professor of environmental science, worked with colleagues to develop a new minor and a certificate program in applied energy.

Thanks to their expertise and a National Science Foundation grant, we will provide opportunities for students to measure energy efficiency, map wind and solar resources right here in southern Maine, and test more sustainable biofuels.

Finally, there is Distinguished Professor of Art Rose Marasco, who has made a profound impact on the fields of photography and photography education.

For more than three decades, Rose has been a prolific artist, exhibiting her work in group and solo exhibitions in the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University; the Portland Museum of Art; the Bowdoin College Museum of Art; the Farnsworth Museum of Art; The New York Public Library Photography Collection; the Museum of American History; and the Smithsonian Institution.

A consummate scholar-teacher, Rose transfers to her students not only her love of art but also her multifaceted experience with photography.

Of course, there are many more examples in business, education, law, nursing, the sciences and other disciplines.

Thanks to all of USM’s faculty, our graduates are well-educated, conscientiously trained, and ready to make their mark on the world.

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

[email protected]