Successful SMCC student to speak at commencement

A Southern Maine Community College alumna who has overcome challenges to achieve personal and career success will be the featured speaker at SMCC’s 72nd commencement on May 12.

Alyssa Turnbull earned a pre-engineering degree from SMCC and now works as a research and development technician at Jotul North America, a leading manufacturer of cast-iron wood and gas stoves located in Gorham.

When she was studying welding in high school, Turnbull had to overcome a learning disorder while ignoring people who told her welding was the wrong career path for a girl. Instead, she went to work as a welder for Jotul while still in high school and later earned her degree at SMCC to advance her career prospects. She is now working toward a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Southern Maine while working at Jotul.

“Alyssa’s experiences can serve as an inspiration to all of us,” said SMCC President Joe Cassidy. “Despite the challenges of people discouraging her from choosing her own path, she is enjoying success in meaningful ways. Her story has the ability to resonate with Mainers of all types and open our eyes to the opportunities before us.”

Turnbull studied welding at the Portland Arts and Technology High School while attending Scarborough High School, from which she graduated in 2008. School was hard because she had a learning disorder and people told her there was no future for her in welding, even though she had a passion for it.

But Turnbull, now 29, was determined and told people that she would succeed and even buy her own house by the age of 25. Not only has she advanced in her career at Jotul, but she also ended up buying a home in Freeport at age 24, is happily married and has no college debt. She earned her degree from SMCC in 2017.

“My general message to people is to be true to yourself,” Turnbull said. “If you know who you are and where you want to be, you’ll make it there if you stick to your core beliefs and values.”

Riverton students create mural for the Portland school

Riverton Elementary School students recently unveiled a colorful mural they created for the lobby school that celebrates the diversity of the school.

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest and most diverse school district and Riverton is one of the district’s most diverse schools. The new mural, unveiled March 14, says in English that “Everyone is welcome at Riverton School” and also says “welcome” in numerous other languages. It also includes a depiction of a table filled with special foods that people from different countries typically serve to welcome their guests.

“This mural changes the experience of entering our school,” said Riverton art teacher Chad Hart, who spearheaded the project. “It brightens up the entrance with color, pictures and its message. It completely transforms your mindset and attitude when you come through our doors.”

Hart, the district’s art coordinator, won grants from the Maine Arts Commission, the Foundation for Portland Public Schools and the Riverton PTO to create the mural. Visiting artist Laurie Downey, a local visual artist/designer and educator, worked with fourth- and fifth-graders during the fall and winter to generate ideas and design the artwork. 

Creating the mural was a learning experience in many ways for the students, Hart said.

“They learned about other cultures and about customs to welcome people to a community,” he said. “They learned how to write out the stories of their families and how they welcomed others and were welcomed through food, gifts and celebrations.”

Students worked together in small groups to get their drawing and writing down, and painted pictures and words to help create it, Hart said.

“They talked about what diversity means at Riverton and throughout the globe, and the importance of inclusion and acceptance in our society,” Hart said. 

Fourth- and fifth-graders at Riverton Elementary School in Portland celebrate diversity at their school with the creation of this mural. Turnbull