Ilaria Dana, a member of the Southern Maine Community College class of 2016, will soon be moving on to Smith College, an elite women’s school in western Massachusetts.

When she enrolled at SMCC two years ago, Smith wasn’t on her radar. But with the support of faculty and staff, she excelled and was able to transfer all her community college credits there, while also receiving a generous scholarship offer.

“I thought that if I worked hard, the opportunity would be open to me. It’s amazing,” said Dana, who earned a degree in education. An honor roll student, she served as vice president of the Student Senate, an officer in the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and as managing editor of the student newspaper.

Dana’s success is part of one of the college’s newest initiatives – encouraging students to attend traditional four-year universities following their time at Southern Maine Community College. The initiative is just one of the ways the state’s oldest and largest community college has evolved since its founding 70 years ago.

On Thursday, June 2, it will celebrate its 70th year of changes and growth with a special event, “A Light on the Point,” to be held on the South Portland campus. The event will includes talks by campus president Ron Cantor and academic deans, a video presentation of the college’s history and a recognition ceremony for the Grondin family for its contributions to the college through the years. The family company, R.J Grondin and Son of Gorham, has given more than $150,000 to an endowed scholarship fund and helped build a new pier, among other donations.

Throughout its history the college has “played a vital role educating Maine people and strengthening the Maine economy. It’s important to recognize our 70-year milestone to celebrate the tens of thousands of students who have attended (the college), the businesses we’ve collaborated with throughout Maine, and (everyone) who’s helped make us what we are today,” said Cantor, president for the past five years.

Cantor said the college is “a special place in countless ways. (Most) importantly, we provide people from Maine, many other states and from abroad with the skills they need for bright futures, while supplying Maine businesses with the skilled employees they need to remain competitive in the global marketplace.”

What’s also been important to the college’s success, Cantor added, is that it has “remained flexible to meet the changing needs of students and the marketplace. In the future, we will continue collaborating with businesses to determine their needs while opening new pathways to opportunity for students.”

Overall, he said, 94 percent of students continue their education or enter the workforce within nine months of graduation. This year it sent off the largest class in its history, with 1,091 receiving diplomas.

Begun in 1946 to train returning World War II soldiers for the modern workplace, the college orginally was founded as the Maine Vocational Technical Institute in Augusta. It moved the the historic decommissioned Fort Preble site on South Portland’s waterfront in 1952 and changed its name to Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute. Since 2003, when the Legislature approved the creation of the Maine Community College System, the school has been known as Southern Maine Community College.

Initially enrolling 80 students in a single building, the college now has an enrollment of more than 6,500 and more than 50 buildings on 80 acres. It offers more than 45 degree programs at two campuses and 10 satellite locations, as well as online.

Early programs included metalworking, electronics and auto repair. Now in addition to a variety of technical degrees, Southern Maine Community College also offers a full liberal arts degree. Other programs offered these days include nursing, culinary arts, law enforcement and fire science.

David Pratt, who taught photography, graphics and computer technology at the college for 35 years, said this week that what makes the school special, even today, is that “we knew how to do anything with nothing. The mission was trade and technical education. (Giving students) tools in the toolbox, along with job skills.”

What Pratt most enjoyed about his time at Southern Maine Community College were his colleagues and the students, as well as the beauty of the oceanside campus in South Portland, which offers easy access to Willard Beach and the Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse.

The Light on the Point event will honor those, like Pratt, who have made the college what it is today.

“It provides the opportunity to reflect on who we are and all we do, while giving recognition to those who contribute to our success,” Cantor said.

South Portland City Manager Jim Gailey said the school had an important role in the city.

“Southern Maine Community College is a strong partner with the city of South Portland on many initiatives benefiting the students and the community,” he said Tuesday. “The city congratulates SMCC on their 70 years and wishes many more to come.”

A closer look

Southern Maine Community College, based in South Portland, is celebrating its 70th anniversary with a special event, “A Light on the Point,” Thursday, June 2, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., in the Oceanview Dining Hall. Tickets are $35. See www.smccme.edu/lotp to register or for more information.

Southern Maine Community College, based in South Portland, is celebrating its 70th anniversary with a special event on June 2. Starting in a single building in Augusta, the college has now grown to an 80-acre oceanside campus with more than 50 buildings.

The campus of Southern Maine Community College in 1958.

The Southern Maine Community College graduating class of 1955. On Sunday more than 1,000 students received their degrees.

These days Southern Maine Community College is well known for its culinary arts program.

 

Today’s students at Southern Maine Community College are engaging in a variety of cutting-edge programs, including genetics.


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