Eight members of the USM class of 2015 are the inaugural students in the new Pioneer Program, an honors program for exceptional students in the “STEM” fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Each student in the program receives a full four year scholarship to USM, a computer, special housing on the Gorham campus and paid summer internships.
The students, drawn from high schools all over Maine, were selected from forty-nine applicants. To be eligible they had to display leadership skills, have a 3.50 high school grade-point average.
The program is directed by Michael Wing, director of external programs for the science and math departments. Wing said the students were chosen based on their leadership qualities in addition to academic excellence. “We’re looking for Maine’s future, what we want to see is these incoming freshmen leave USM with new skills, and become leaders in these industry” he said.
The program was originally funded by a $158,000 start-up grant from the strategic investment fund from the University of Maine System chancellor’s office. This fund is available for academic programs aiming to take initiatives to move the state of Maine forward. The program was originally announced in a university press release in the fall of 2010, which announced the initiative as part of a wider goal to align USM programs with the needs of the Maine economy.
According to Wing, Maine is in need of more talented college graduates with technical knowledge and experience. “We are seeing a big shortage in the STEM, science and math fields” he said.
USM President Selma Botman wrote in a recent “Maine Voices” column in the Portland Press Herald about the benefits of the STEM program. “Maine needs more college graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” she wrote. “These very talented young people represent the future of our STEM work force, our innovative economy and our competitiveness as a society.”
This would not only be important for the state but would benefit the university, Wing said. “It would bring to light the quality of the USM education and help to grow interest in the school.”
Ideally, the number of students enrolled in the program will continually increase. Botman said in her column the goal is to have 40 students in the Pioneer Program in four years, adding ten new students per year.