A new group has been formed at USM in an effort to implement USM’s plan to become a premiere urban metropolitan university and redefine the university’s mission, an undertaking that President Theodora Kalikow has said might take years to complete.
The goal of the Metropolitan University Steering Group is to find ways to broaden the reach and impact of the USM community in the greater Portland area, create direct connections between students and professionals in the region and stimulate the growth of its programs. The group has been holding weekly community outreach meetings to share ideas, address concerns, outline challenges and gauge interest in potential partnerships with local companies and businesses in the area.
The meetings have included a variety of local higher education figures such as Southern Maine Community College president Robert Canter, faculty, staff and representatives from local businesses like L.L. Bean and the Hilton Garden Inn. The focus of last week’s meeting was to discuss possible engagement tactics that would help USM attract more young students and increa a shared vision of community.
Richard Barringer, a research professor at USM’s Muskie School of Public Service, is chair of the group and moderated discussion, urging attendees to encapsulate their ideas on sheets of yellow paper that were passed out at the beginning of the meeting.
“These yellow sheets will serve as a benchmark, as to whether the plan we come up with, will actually continue to work in 3-5 years,” said Barringer. “USM needs a new model, if it’s going to become sustainable.”
One of the ways the group plans to create this future is by increasing partnerships with local businesses in the public and private sector. According to Robert Caswell, the director of Public Affairs, USM campuses are located in prime locations to ensure that a student’s learning experiences continue even while off campus. Caswell said that these experiences included things like internships, volunteer opportunities, service learning courses and working one-on-one with faculty members.
“USM is located in a very special location compared to the rest of Maine and even the whole New England area,” said Caswell. “We have the potential to develop so many off campus partnerships in the Lewiston, Gorham and Portland communities.”
One of the ways Barringer plans on implementing this new vision is by introducing some community engagement and partnership methods from other universities.
“We’ve been looking at about half a dozen universities that have a stellar reputation for doing that well,” said Barringer. “We’ll use their best practice experience, in order to inform us on how to bring that to USM.”
The group is also tasked with making sure this new focus is realized in every academic department, especially when hiring new staff.
According to Caswell, if this vision gets successfully realized, USM will gain a more strategic niche community among other local colleges, which will make the university more attractive to candidates and applicants. Caswell said the final plan should be finished by Labor Day.
“It seems the consensus, both on and off campus, about this group has been very positive,” said Barringer. “So we’re going to spend less time justifying it and more time actually doing it and doing it well.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly noted that former USM President Robert Woodbury was in attendance. Woodbury died of cancer in 2009.