In his words, Brian Tarbox was an indifferent student who didn’t have much faith in his academic abilities in high school. As he approached graduation in 1969, he had no idea what he was going to do.

Joe Cassidy is the president of Southern Maine Community College.

His outlook – indeed, his life – took an about-face when a friend told him that Southern Maine Community College (then Southern Maine Vocational Technical Institute) had a vessel that was used for hands-on learning on the water. He hurried to our admissions office the next day and enrolled in what is now SMCC’s marine science program.

“If I had gone to a university and had to sit in a 200-person freshman class, I never would it made it through the first month,” Tarbox recalled. “But at SMVTI, I found faculty who were inspiring and approachable. Another surprise, I actually got good grades!”

As SMCC celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, we are hearing lots of personal stories from alumni and students about how SMCC inspired and motivated them, changing their lives and their futures. That’s something the college has been doing since we opened in 1946 in Augusta to train veterans returning from World War II.

SMCC has come a long way since that first year, when we had about 80 students, 10 faculty and staff, and four academic programs: automotive, electrical, machine and radio.

Today, we have more than 40 academic programs and nearly 6,000 students who take classes on our South Portland, Brunswick and online campuses, and at satellite centers in southern Maine. Our Midcoast campus in Brunswick is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.


We also have an active Workforce Development Department, which holds numerous training programs that provide students in-demand skills while helping Maine businesses meet their workforce needs – all of which benefit the Maine economy.

To commemorate our proud past and celebrate our exciting future, we are inviting current and former students, faculty and staff, community and business partners and anyone with a connection to SMCC to join in our celebration. We encourage all to visit our 75th-anniversary webpage and share their stories, and we’re planning a series of special events for the months ahead, culminating with a 75th anniversary gala in the fall.

We are having a 75th-anniversary kick-off event this week, when we’ll have students, alumni and community partners plant flowering shrubs and trees on our South Portland and Midcoast campuses. You are welcome to join us as we livestream the planting ceremony on the SMCC Facebook page at noon on Friday, April 30.

The world has changed dramatically since Tarbox was a student more than 50 years ago, but one thing has remained the same: our commitment to transforming lives and communities through education and training.

Zach Bower, who is graduating this fall, was extremely shy and had low self-esteem upon arriving at our Midcoast campus in Brunswick two years ago. But now, Bower is brimming with confidence after taking on leadership roles with the Student Senate and other student organizations, making friends and excelling in the classroom with the aim of becoming a high school art and history teacher.

“SMCC has given me an affordable education,” Bower said. “But more importantly, SMCC has made me feel that I am a good person; I’m worth something.”


In Alex Nadeau’s case, his life was changed when he took a manufacturing technician workforce training course that SMCC offers in partnership with Bath Iron Works. The program taught him valuable manufacturing skills, landed him a job at BIW and provided him a promising future.

“Being exposed to the trades opened a whole new world for me,” Nadeau said. “I feel like I finally found my calling, I feel like I’ve found my career.”

As for Tarbox, he eventually returned to SMCC as an instructor after going on to earn a master’s degree in zoology and then enjoying a successful career both on the water as a commercial fisherman and underwater as a diver. As a marine science professor at SMCC, he is inspiring today’s students in much the same way instructors inspired him all those years ago.

“After a long association with the school, I find so many students like me who just need to be shown they have the abilities and they can excel,” he now says. “I think that is where we shine.”

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