Following a record low semester of 1004 students living on the Gorham campus, the University of Southern Maine is taking strong measures to retain and boost residential enrollment. In addition to an extra $88,000 of housing grants USM awarded to 56 students for the spring semester, a Gorham Task Force appointed by USM President Selma Botman last fall has created several recommendations to improve the campus and make it a better destination for students.

Jessica Harris, a freshman psychology major, is one of the students who received a housing grant for this semester. Without it, Harris said she would have to move back home and forgo an education in Gorham, where she has also developed a new social life.

“I wouldn’t have met half the people I’m friends with if I didn’t live on campus,” Harris said.

Other students like Jess Rogalus, a freshmen history major, and Lorna Schenck, a freshmen biology, said that making new friends has been a major benefit to living on campus. However, because of lower costs among other things, Rogalus and Schenck said they are considering an apartment in Portland for next year — an issue USM is trying to address.

“It’s nice living on campus, but there’s more stuff to do in Portland,” Rogalus said.

This is one of the main issues the Gorham Task Force was faced with solving: how to keep residents involved on campus.

“We have to make it an attractive place for students to live and learn,” said Director of Public Affairs Bob Caswell, chair of the task force.

With one-third of all beds empty on the Gorham campus last semester, Caswell said this is an issue USM has been tackling for a long time. Low enrollment this fall left several floors empty at USM dorms — one of the reasons, Caswell said, for the task force’s immediacy.

The final report they created, titled the “Gorham Task Force Report,” was based on six meetings between 17 members spanning across student, staff and faculty bodies. The report is a list of several recommendations to improve campus life, collectively known as “The Gorham Experience.”

“The Task Force Report is not a strategic plan. It is a foundation upon which to develop initiatives that could lead to improved living,” Caswell said.

Director of Residential Life Denise Nelson, who was a member of the task force, said lower room and board costs is a goal for next year, but the recommendation — like most of them — is subject to Botman’s approval and other vetting processes. She said that while most of them are pending, three of recommendations have already been set into motion.

The development of new learning communities is already underway. According to the task force report, the new learning communities will be formed around different themes and areas of study — much like the existing communities.

“Our goal is to have every student living in a community floor,” said Student Body President Chris Camire, who was also part of the task force. “I don’t like to use the word ‘mandatory,’ but I want to give students a long list of choices.”

Nelson said the creation of two community floors is also already in progress: one for teacher education and one based around the idea of “who we are, relative to nature and society,” according to Nelson. Not all of them will necessarily revolve around a particular dorm, though she said the development of living-learning communities are inherently easier to create.

Nelson also said 20 general education classes were added to the campus, in order to better serve Gorham students. Most of these classes were previously exclusive to the Portland campus.

In addition to the new learning communities and migrated courses, construction of a new intramural sports area is set for this spring. A half basketball court, tennis court and sanded volleyball area will go in the place of the old basketball courts that were torn down last fall.

“It was a thing that needed to happen for 10 years,” Nelson said.

The remainder of the list includes recommendations that could be implemented from as early as fall 2012 to as late as fall 2016. This includes the construction of an on-campus restaurant/pub; the construction of gathering spaces in hallways, dorms and lobbies; the construction of a campus recreation center with a pool; and the development of new cultural programs. Nelson said all of the recommendations are subject to change or rejection, and as the task force report notes, recommendations like a new recreation center wouldn’t be implemented until at least fall 2016.

Before most of this could happen, Caswell said the task force recommends special leadership to lead the way. The exact nature of this position is still in talks with Botman.

“We need a go-to person on the Gorham campus who can prioritize and suggest initiatives for development,” Caswell said.

In addition, Caswell said: “We need to take into account the fiscal environment before we make any decisions.”




Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here