Members of the Direction Package Advisory Board largely agreed that USM’s future should be as Maine’s metropolitan university, as the group’s meetings come to a close this Friday.
The board met for a preliminary roll-out of the work that had been done in the three sub-groups for the past two months last Friday. While each group had different tasks, they found a lot of overlap in their findings when they presented to each other for feedback. The board identified the student experience, location and community engagement as critical aspects of USM that will be important for the future of the institution.
These ideas were first presented by the vision group, which was tasked with finding and distinct identity for USM.
Student Body President Kelsea Dunham has been working with the group and making sure that students’ interests and goals align with the work the group has been doing. In November, Dunham organized a meeting in Gorham to field student responses and concerns on the university’s direction to be included at an early stage of the process. While the turnout wasn’t large, Dunham felt that a lot of great ideas resulted.
“We whined a lot for a minute, I’m not gonna lie,” said Dunham. “We talked a lot about the things that we don’t like, but when we got down to it, we talked about the things that we love and the things that we are doing well that we don’t talk about.”
According to Dunham, students want to be much more involved in the community than they are and that they’re looking for situations where their skills and knowledge can be applied.
“For many students, Portland stops at I-295. It doesn’t extend into this university, which is a sad reality at the moment,” said Dunham.
In a survey conducted by the CORE (Creating Operational Responsibility and Excellence) group, the location of USM was ranked as the most influential factor for students in their decision to attend, followed by cost and future career opportunities in the area.
“When I explained the work that we’ve been doing [in the vision group] in some of my classes and the groups that I’m involved with, students’ eyes lit up,” said Dunham. “When I said the city is going to be our lab, students got really excited in a way that I hadn’t seen happen in my four years here. [Students] do not want to feel like they are in a degree-mill.”
“If we are going to be the hub of a vibrant community, why are we looking at ourselves as just a student graduation machine?” said Jeanne Munger, an associate professor of business administration.
“One of the things that has been clear is that the people of southern Maine love this university, and they want us to be successful. We need to capitalize on that. We need to do something about that,” said Monique LaRocque, executive director in the Office of Professional and Continuing Education and co-chair of Strategic Plan Implementation.
The group raised questions about how the university could take steps toward creating this identity. According to LaRocque, the group was instructed at the beginning of the process that they needed to think about USM’s identity within the context of the system –– with emphasis on differentiating USM from its seven sister universities.
“Our thinking has evolved over the past few months, but we have been exclusively focused in on this idea,” said LaRocque.
Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Lynn Kuzma stressed that the university needs to make community engagement a priority in its mission.
“We have so many connections with the community, we’re doing all this work, but none of it is intentional, none of it is directional or sustainable,” said Kuzma.
The group discussed the role of a metropolitan university, listing possibilities for internships, research projects, service learning opportunities and field experience that students could have access to if the university worked to make ties with local businesses.
The vision group has been focused on the long-term direction of the university, and while the ideas put forth by the group cannot be implemented immediately, the majority of the board agreed that the concept is moving in the right direction.
“We need to connect very closely with our schools, with our municipalities, with our businesses, with community services and with many cultural organizations,” said La Rocque. “Those interactions will be critical to us as we move forward. We need to interact with the community, because place matters.”