A Hopeful Future for College Students in the UMS

     College students at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and throughout the entire University of Maine System are very excited for their future next semester in the fall of 2021. In a press release on March 10, Chancellor Malloy and the UMS presidents announced, “Faculty and staff to prepare to provide students with traditional, in-person college experience and a return to near normalcy in fall 2021.” This announcement gives UMPI and the rest of the UMS universities a sign of hope, which is much needed considering the difficult year it has been. 

The University of Maine at Presque Isle campus clock.

    Students at UMPI will experience fall 2021 similarly to what is was pre-pandemic. The UMS will do its best to give students a great college experience, despite the circumstances. Students, faculty and staff members will still be requiring people to social distance and wear masks. COVID-19 asymptomatic testing will also continue. The announcement stated that faculty and staff throughout the UMS should plan for in-person classroom instruction, an increase in residence hall occupancy and campus-based activities that involve outside community members.

     The entire country is moving forward with the pandemic and that includes the state of Maine. With more and more people getting the COVID-19 vaccine, the country is beginning to feel hopeful. Universities and colleges around the country are also moving forward. UMS and other state college systems are doing their best to offer their students a quality college experience. 

     “I think it will be nice to have campus opened up more normally. I am not really a fan of classes over Zoom because I have a hard time with online classes,” UMPI student Bethany McAvoy said. “It will be nice to have more activity on campus because it seemed so quiet this year.” 

     The 2020-2021 school year was not ideal for many people. But despite this, the UMPI community worked together to make it a great experience. Students, faculty and staff members at UMPI dealt with a lot of changes to campus, but they still persevered. The fall 2021 semester is looking very hopeful for the UMPI community, which is something that everyone has dreamed about since the beginning of the pandemic. 

     “I am beyond thankful that the appropriate precautions were put in place to make UMPI such a safe place to work and learn these past two semesters. With that being said, I am ready for a normal return in Fall 2021,” Danielle Pelkey, assistant director of financial aid, said. “I am hopeful students, staff and faculty can experience a more normal environment for in-person instruction, dorm room occupancy and more in-person events.”

Financial Dangers During COVID

    Just after the one-year mark of COVID-19 hitting the United States, many are still suffering from the impacts of job loss due to forced closures throughout the country. Fraudsters have found new ways to take advantage of less-than-ideal situations. From PPP loan fraud to retail banking, scams are at an all time high. It is important to protect yourself, as scammers are evolving with the pandemic.

     Meredith Hanson is a 68-year-old retired teacher who was not expecting fraud when she received a call from a scammer. Meredith shared her experience, hoping others will not fall for the same scam. “It seemed like it was the bank. They knew some of my information, and the number on the phone was registered to the bank. I gave them the code that was sent to my phone…. After I gave it to them, I noticed the top of the text said, ‘We will never ask for this code.’ So, I hung up.” Meredith’s quick thinking saved her life savings. She called her bank, and they were able to stop any charges from coming through. “I am so thankful. I bank with my small-town credit union and they’re great.”

     Michele Gagonway, a local bank representative, has been seeing this more frequently since the pandemic. “I’m seeing it several times a week now. People are vulnerable–people are on lay off or too scared of the virus to work in public. It puts a financial strain. So, when a scammer calls and says they can help, they want to believe them.” So how can you protect yourself?

     In a virtual world, be cautious with information you post online. It has become common to see online “quizzes” on Facebook that ask the same common questions as security questions. “What’s your favorite color?” may seem harmless, but it could be one of the last lines of defense before a fraudster accesses an online account.

     Many banks now require two-factor authentication to log in to online banking. The codes sent to your phone will never be asked for verbally. If someone asks you to repeat this code, hang up and call your bank immediately.

     Most reputable financial institutions will not place outgoing calls to ask you for personal information. If you are ever unsure, hang up and call the phone number on the back of your card. This will ensure you are speaking with the bank and not an imposter.

     Ultimately, the best practice is to be cautious. If you are ever in doubt, call your bank. 

Learning in a Pandemic: What Has Changed?

     A year into the pandemic, schools are still struggling to safely meet student needs. Like many school systems, Waterville continues to follow a hybrid learning model. The schedule has pros and cons according to students. Many are looking forward to a full return next fall. 

     In hybrid learning, students attend in person classes only part time. They are expected to attend virtually when they are not at school. This schedule began in the fall of 2020 in order to reduce student contact. As a result, there have been fewer cases of COVID-19 in schools. 

     A typical remote day for students at Waterville might include longer lunch breaks and more time in between classes. Many students also say they can attend class from the comfort of their couch. Prior to the pandemic, most students spent upwards of six hours in class with minimal breaks.

     Colette Carillo, a junior at Waterville Senior High School, said she enjoys her current schedule. “Since my school has a hybrid schedule, I almost get a built-åin break every other day,” she said. Other students have agreed that they have more time on their remote days. This is a huge change for students who are used to a full day of classes and after-school activities. 

Cade Rogers, age 14, attends Waterville Junior High School classes from the comforts of his couch.

     With these advantages come many disadvantages. Cade Rogers, an eighth grader at Waterville, said learning is harder from home. “The teachers don’t ask as many questions. They just talk the whole time because classes are shorter. I get less help with school work,” Rogers said. Classroom discussions are shorter as well. Because of this, students have fewer chances to learn from one another. 

     COVID-19 restrictions have made other classes nearly impossible. Gym and music are much different this year at Waterville. Social distancing and masks make it difficult to play sports or sing. Many students report that they miss this part of the day. They look forward to returning to these classes next year. 

     Another complaint from students is lack of motivation. Jacie Richard, a senior, has struggled with this. “I use small rewards to push me to work hard. Homecoming, prom and athletics have all been taken as a result of the pandemic. It makes it difficult to be the same driven student. There is no activity as a reward,” she said. 

     No official announcements have been made about next year. But many students at Waterville are hoping the schedule will return to normal. “There are definitely some aspects of the corona schedule that I will miss,” Carillo said. “But I’m excited to be able to spend time with people the way we used to.”

Perspectives of Preschool Teacher Moms During COVID-19

     Paula Brousseau is a single mom with two children. She’s also a classroom support aide for the Early Head Start program at York County Community Action.  When COVID closed schools, she worried about her children, and her children that she Zoomed with for a half hour each week.

     In March 2020, when the Head Start program closed, Paula was able to focus on her family for two weeks while the program tried to figure out the next steps. The school decided that the teachers would Zoom with the little ones. 

     Paula’s students are all under the age of 3. Paula said that it was rough at first. “We did a lot of strange ideas to keep them occupied.” She said, “We did a lot of crying…. We have kids at home, and these are our work kids. There’s no difference in how we treat our kids at home and our work kids…. It was really hard to say ‘Bye’ every week and not seeing them for a week.” Neglect was not a concern, but she worried about any financial burden that parents might have.

     Paula worried because she shared the parents’ experience. She received her regular pay for 20 hours per week, but she consistently worked 30 before COVID, so she had a deficit in her regular budget. Paula understood what the parents were going through and could empathize. With housing, MaineCare and food stamps, she said that she was able to budget and get by. 

     Restrictions made her dependent on her boyfriend. That was hard for Paula, but things were tough enough without taking two children into stores to buy essentials if she did not need to.

     In addition to the weekly half-hour Zoom with her students, Paula did hours of training. Paula’s son has an Individualized Education Program and Zoomed with his specialist, but she knew he needed more. She supplemented activities for her son on her own. 

     Before COVID, her daughter lived with her father in New Hampshire and attended school there, because Paula had to work during the week.  Her daughter was able to stay five weeks at a time with her and return to her dad’s for two weeks.  Paula said that it was frustrating to homeschool and plan around everyone’s Zoom meetings. They went outside a lot.  Even when the parks were closed, they took picnics and played in the fields.                                                                             

     Paula is grateful for being home with her children during the summer. By mid-August, the time came for her to return to YCCA, but her children were still home. She was able to stay home on the Family Medical Leave Act under the CARES Act until her children went back to school.  It was a financial hit for her as the amount she receives is three-quarters of her pay. Paula said that she was angry with her employment for a while because she felt there was an alternative that could have been worked out. 

     When Paula returned to her class, it was with half enrollment, based on priority. She continues to have Wednesdays off under FMLA because her son is home.  Her daughter is back with her dad while Paula is working, but with ADHD she is having a hard time.  

     One of the biggest challenges of COVID is not seeing her family in Massachusetts until the recent lifting of the governor’s mandate. She said that it hurts, but that isn’t her biggest loss. Paula said it’s “Freedom…. When I’m not allowed to take my kids to the park…. When I’m looked at funny because I’m a single mother and I’m bringing my kids to the grocery store.”

Spring Cleaning at Gentile Hall!

     Spring is such a great time of the year for mud and water!!  We sure have a lot of it with all the snow melting.  So here at Gentile we have decided to stop cleaning the facility until mud season is over.  So we welcome all to come on in and wear their muddy, wet shoes in the facility for the next month.  

     I know this is the time of year that everyone is getting beach body ready with summer right around the corner.  So we have decided that it’s OK to go shirtless in the fitness center.  We find it very entertaining watching people take selfies and flexing in the mirrors.  We encourage our weight room users to slam the weights as much as possible. We have all decided that we miss summer and enjoy listening to the sound of thunder throughout the building.  Not only is it great for the plates and barbells, but it marks the floors in beautiful patterns.  We also challenge anyone willing  to use copious amounts of chalk in the fitness center because we have decided that it looks good on the black mats.  

    It should be a wonderful spring here at Gentile and we challenge everyone to a window decorating contest.  Feel free to put your sweaty hands and foreheads on all our windows and doors because we think it will make the facility look prettier.  

     Due to COVID 19 concerns, I feel it would be best if everyone workout in HAZMAT suits.  This will be a great way to lose extra water weight and it will protect everyone and you against the deadly virus.  Workouts with HAZMAT suits are better than Fitbits!  For any questions or concerns, feel free to contact me at keli.marston@maine.edu.

How Students Can Cope With Mental Health

     The COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging for everyone, especially college students who are continuing to pursue an education during this stressful time. The devastation and uncertainty of the Coronavirus has affected everyone’s livelihood and mental health this past year. College students have had almost every component of their lives changed in 2020, including their academics, athletics and social life. The pandemic has been hard on all college students’ mental health and how they relieve stress. Despite these lifestyle changes, there are still many ways for college students to cope with their mental health and ways to live a healthy life during this historic pandemic. 

Fred Thomas talks with student Madi Exferd.

     Although there are many ways college students can maintain their mental health, with COVID-19 guidelines in play, it can be much harder. There were substantially fewer human interactions in 2020 and many college students suffered. There have been higher rates of depression and anxiety among college students due to social isolation, stress and the feeling of uncertainty. Mask wearing, social distancing and the avoidance of large gatherings has played a role on the connections and friendships students have. Through this pandemic, it is important to maintain those relationships and friendships. Students can maintain these friendships digitally through phone calls or Zoom. 

     It is extremely important for students to take care of their bodies so that they can be healthy both physically and mentally. Students should maintain a healthy sleep schedule and set a goal to get about 7-8 hours a night. It is always beneficial to eat healthily and get plenty of exercise. A healthy lifestyle starts with exercise, even if it something small. It is very good for your mental health to get some fresh air by going for a walk or bike ride. 

NAC Conference Meeting Overview: Spring Athletics

   Usually the North Atlantic Conference meets every year so that the athletic directors from all the schools can come together and create their schedules for the season ahead.

     This season is unique. As everyone already knows, COVID took the world by storm last year and all spring sports were canceled. The advantage we have this year is that we know that COVID is still a pretty big deal. Thus, we can plan for it.

Escaping to the Mountains Amidst a Pandemic

     Nestled in the heart of Maine’s Lakes and Mountain region is Pleasant Mountain. The ski resort first opened its slopes to visitors in 1938, having only a 1,100-foot tow rope that served lower parts of the mountain’s slopes. By the mid 1950s, Pleasant Mountain installed Maine’s first T-Bar as well as the state’s second chairlift. The 4,300-foot double chairlift brought skiers from near and far to the top of the north peak of the mountain, overlooking Bridgton’s Moose Pond. By the late 1980s, new ownership of the mountain brought changes. Of the many improvements to the slopes, lifts and facilities, the owners also renamed Pleasant Mountain to Shawnee Peak. 

View of Shawnee Peak from Route 302 in Bridgton.

     Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Shawnee has worked diligently to meet and comply with CDC recommendations, as well as orders per Maine’s Governor Janet Mills, in order to ensure visitors’ safety. Sam Fleck has worked at Shawnee Peak for three years as a barback, working closely with the bartender. “Shawnee Peak has taken many precautions for the pandemic to keep both the customers and employees safe,” he said. “The amount of people inside has been limited and only a certain amount of people are allowed in a room at a time.”

     Fleck shared several other changes Shawnee has made, including more food options offered outside and the Blizzards Pub deck being renovated to provide covered seating, complete with heaters. Bethany MacKay, 45, observed these changes on her recent trip to the mountain. “They’re really trying hard to make it accessible in a safe way. I do hope that they follow through and continue that,” she said. “Having that outdoor space makes it a lot easier and it’s nice. People can gather within their own group and there’s still plenty of space.” 

     The mountain’s central location makes it a hub for school ski teams and families not looking to drive too far for a day of skiing. Maya Vanhise, 14, started skiing when she was in third grade. Vanhise enjoys Shawnee for both its size and its friendly atmosphere. Vanhise feels the changes made have had a minimal impact on the overall atmosphere. “I feel like things are pretty similar,” she said. “Like, people are pretty nice just because we’re all going through the same thing.” 

A Thank You to All UMPI Employees

     Despite the difficulty and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Maine at Presque Isle has stayed strong due to the hard work and resilience of its employees. From the university’s president to the custodial workers, the entire institution has dedicated this past year to keeping its campus and community safe. UMPI is one of the few universities in the country still holding in-person classes. The university’s faculty and staff members have dedicated a large portion of their time to keeping UMPI’s environment safe and healthy. This pandemic has shone a light on the generous and hardworking people working for this institution.  

     UMPI students were able to make a safe return last fall when campus reopened. Faculty and staff members of UMPI spent the summer working on a strategic plan for students so that they could return. UMPI was able to reopen, but it did come with some changes. With COVID-19 regulations in place, campus looks very different from what it used to. 

Dick Gardiner measures some exercise equipment in Gentile Hall.

     When people walk onto campus, they will immediately notice some changes. Masks need to be worn at all times when people are on campus. The Campus Center, one of the most popular spots on campus, also looks different. A large portion of the seating area in the Owl’s Nest was taken away to encourage social distancing. The Kelley Commons cafeteria in currently serving food through a takeout system. Students can still eat in the cafeteria, as long it is one person per table. Many larger onsite classes are being held in the Multipurpose Room. In the Campus Center and throughout the rest of the campus, there are arrows placed on the floor in order to regulate traffic flow. COVID Testing is taking place in the MMG Center throughout the semester. 

COVID-19 Leaves Lasting Impact on Local College

    In March 2020, a brutal tidal wave hit York County Community College in Wells, Maine. Now, almost a year later, silver linings are emerging. 

     YCCC’s academic dean, Doreen Rogan, D.A., believes in some ways the college was ready for the impact of COVID. “We lucked out….  Community colleges in general, and YCCC in particular, we’ve been doing online instruction for over 20 years.” Forty percent of students took online classes before COVID. The college had an eLearning support specialist in place. Instructors were using a new online learning program better suited for smartphones. Despite luck, challenges made an unexpected and lasting impact.

Student Success Commons’ tutors Zoom to welcome students to spring semester, York County Community College, Wells, Maine, Jan. 19, 2021. (Photo by YCCC)

     YCCC was on spring break at the beginning of March 2020 when safety concerns began to surface in Maine. Rogan said, “It was like every moment there was breaking news and we were all trying to figure out what to do and how to react.” Students and instructors were traveling. A canceled conference stranded culinary chair and chef, Krista Marvel, M.B.A., in New Orleans. With anxiety increasing, the college extended break for a week. 

     On March 16, one email ended all in-person instruction. Rogan remembers that a tidal wave hit online support. Marvel worried about the hands-on culinary students. The college scrambled to get computers to students and instructors in need. 

     Rogan said, “In parts of this county, we may think of ourselves as fairly affluent.” She continued, “From town to town, that’s not true for every individual in it. But it’s also not true that we all have the same Wi-Fi access or internet access in different parts of the county.” YCCC made Wi-Fi available in the parking lot. Rogan described it as heartbreaking to see students, but not be able to interact with them. 

     Rogan said that COVID changed everything. “We really wanted to acknowledge that not only instruction had changed, but everyone’s lives had changed. Students no longer could pay attention to school in the way they thought they could.” The college offered an optional grading process. No one received academic probation or dismissal. Grades were incomplete for months. Labs continued in the summer.