There are four rows of tables in Professor Tom Richardson’s Case Management class, but there are five rows of students.

Four rows of students sit at the tables as Richardson teaches this Behavioral Health & Human Services course on our South Portland Campus. From a large TV screen in the back of the room, Catherine Seminatore is watching from a classroom on our Midcoast Campus in Brunswick ― essentially putting her in the fifth row of the class.

Thanks to our innovative use of technology, this course is being delivered to students on both our South Portland and Midcoast campuses at the same time. As part of a pilot project, three Behavioral Health & Human Services classes have been live-streamed to students in Brunswick this fall while they are being taught in person in South Portland.

For Catherine Seminatore, the live-streaming is the difference between taking and not taking the class.

Catherine is working toward a degree in hopes of becoming a case management social worker, working with either geriatric or homeless populations. She lives and works in Brunswick, but her car is unreliable (she calls it a “clunker”) and she doesn’t trust it to get her to and from South Portland.

Taking a bus from Brunswick to South Portland and back is time-consuming and an all-day endeavor, she says. So being able to take classes offered in South Portland without leaving our Midcoast Campus could mean the difference between earning or not earning a degree.

Catherine, in fact, is taking two classes that are live-streamed from South Portland to our Midcoast Campus. She is the only Midcoast student in Richardson’s Case Management class, but there are four Midcoast students who are enrolled in a Trauma class that she’s taking.

“This has given me the ability to take my classes – period. I wouldn’t have been able to take these classes otherwise,” she says. “It has allowed to have the time to tend to other things in my life, work and also take care of personal stuff. It’s been a life-saver for me.”

During the Case Management class, Richardson and the other students can see and hear Catherine on the screen in the back of the room, and she can hear and see them. She participates in class discussions and takes part in group exercises. She can see PowerPoint presentations and other materials that are flashed upon other TV screens in the classroom. For the most part, Catherine is simply another student in the classroom ― even though she’s 35 miles away.

For Catherine and thousands of other students, SMCC is a pathway. We offer pathways to college, pathways to graduation, pathways to four-year schools, pathways to the workforce, pathways to promotions, pay raises and advancement.

But as a college, we must do more than simply offer all these pathways. We must do what we can to ensure that students succeed along the way.

It’s a complex world, with students juggling work, family, academic and other responsibilities. We’re doing what we can to facilitate their pathway to success.

Richardson, who is chair of the Behavioral Health & Human Services program, says only small numbers of students have taken part in the pilot program this fall. But as word spreads, he expects more students to take live-streaming classes that are taught in South Portland but delivered to classrooms on our Brunswick campus.

Besides allowing her to take classes she otherwise wouldn’t, the live-streaming makes Catherine feel like she’s part of the larger SMCC community on our main campus in South Portland.

“This makes everything seem like a large community ― rather than the South Portland and Midcoast campuses being two separate entities,” she says. “It provides a kind of connection that wasn’t there before.”

At SMCC, we’re building bridges and creating connections through technology.

Joe Cassidy is the president of Southern Maine Community College.

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