On behalf of the University of Maine at Presque Isle, it is my great pleasure to welcome all of you, new and returning students, community members, faculty and staff (old and new!) to the start of the 2018-2019 academic year.
This is a particularly exciting time to be an Owl (hoot hoot!). Last year, we continued our streak of greater and greater recognition from national organizations for our academic excellence and affordability. We jumped up several spots in U.S. News & World Report’s top regional public schools ranking (to lucky #13 in all of the North!). We’ve been ranked in Forbes’ “best value” list, received multiple “Best Value School Awards” and just this summer were noted as the most affordable college in all of Maine and New England (public or private) by Student Loan Hero (https://studentloanhero.com/featured/ranking-most-affordable-colleges-in-northeast/ ). It’s particularly gratifying to be recognized for your value—which to my mind is always a combination of academic excellence and cost, particularly what students have to pay back in loans when their undergraduate careers are over. That’s why such recognition is so important, as it shows that we truly are being successful in putting our students’ futures first.
In what looks to be our biggest incoming class in half a decade, hundreds of new faces are joining us this year, both in person and online, in our university classrooms as well as our early college courses in high schools across Aroostook County and beyond. We’re also welcoming many new staff and faculty to the UMPI Owl family to teach, mentor and support our students, and we have many new programs and initiatives underway to better guide their professional and academic achievement. These include our Campus to Career Program, directed by Nicole Fournier (firstname.lastname@example.org), which through the development of professional portfolios, advising and career preparation in internships and research programs assists students in actively developing the post-college outcomes that they desire. We have a new set of Academic Commitments–ones we pledge to you, and ones that you pledge in return–to ensure clear and attainable goals for each course you take in every program, so you know what you need to know and when you need to know it. Finally, we’re continuing to accelerate our “Finish in 4” initiative, to help ensure all students know their personal pathway, from their first day on campus to their last, to finishing their degree in four years or less. (And, as both a parent and a student who paid off loans for 20 years, I can attest to how important all of that is!)
As of this September, I’ve spent more than 20 years at UMPI and filled more roles than I can sometimes keep track of—from professor to advisor to chair to vice president to provost and now president. Much has changed over the course of those years. Frankly, we’ve learned a lot as an institution, and there are many things that I believe we do better now than we did back in 1997.
But much at UMPI—especially our values as an institution—have remained consistent. Faculty knew then, as they do now, that college students who connect both inside and outside the classroom are more likely to achieve a higher degree of success in both their professional and personal lives. UMPI then, as now, strove to provide outstanding opportunities to challenge you intellectually and expand your cultural and cognitive comfort zone in preparation for the world that follows. In addition, co-curricular experiences and hands-on learning—from internships and study abroad programs, to research opportunities and experiential learning, to conferences and distinguished lectures—were and are recognized as critical to student success.
In the past several years, UMPI began the process of transforming itself beyond a state university that provided northern Mainers with an excellent education, beginning its journey as a nationally recognized leader in education which, simply put, was determined to guarantee that all of its students, regardless of their major, would be ready for professional or graduate careers—that all students, regardless of discipline, would be guaranteed to have mastered all of the skills and knowledge necessary for success in today’s world. These are our Commitments to you (which you’ll find posted in every classroom and available on our websites): in which you, as students, have multiple opportunities and venues to show your mastery of subject matter, receive the support you need to achieve that mastery and are provided a guaranteed pathway to complete your undergraduate degree in four years (or less!). This is truly the Way it Should Be, both inside and outside the classroom.
One more thing that hasn’t changed: success in college remains a partnership between the university and you, its students. For our faculty and dedicated staff members are only as effective as the relationship that they develop with you and that you, in turn, develop with them. As president, I am often asked what advice I have to offer new students. Much of it seems like “common sense”: (1) go to class; (2) get involved, inside and outside your classes; (3) get to know and make friends with people ahead of you in your program; (4) learn how to balance and prioritize; (5) ask for help early and as often as necessary. But some may seem less so. Such as (1) don’t be afraid of mistakes but rather learn from them; (2) keep in touch with family and old friends, as they are the ones who often know you best and can keep you grounded as you face new challenges; and (3) get to understand how college “works,” identifying both strengths and weaknesses for you. Perhaps most important of all: push yourself outside of your comfort zone, as that’s often when the most powerful learning happens. At UMPI, we provide you the opportunity to take risks, to not have to get everything right that first time out, but rather to develop your skills and abilities over time—all because, since we started doing this work back in 1903, we’ve learned a few things ourselves. Like guaranteeing that you’ll end your journey with us prepared for what comes next…no matter where and how that journey began.