President David Flanagan laid out what his three focuses will be during his final months in office at Friday’s faculty senate meeting: recruitment, retention and transition.
Flanagan said that recruiting new students has been an arduous task for those involved and that while marketing and advertising efforts are likely to help enrollment, faculty need to keep recruitment and retention on their minds as well.
“Trying to attract new students is very important work,” said Flanagan. “Important not only to the people of Maine and this university’s students, but to you [the faculty] as well. If we fall behind, we already know that you are not isolated from the consequences.”
“We’re going to do everything we can to encourage students to enroll, but a lot of it is up to you, in being actively engaged in advising, supporting and counseling outside the classroom as well as in it,” he said.
The sentiment that faculty were responsible for enrollment and that their jobs may be at stake did not sit well with some members of the senate.
“It’s remarkable that your administration and Theo Kalikow’s administration has come in to this university and done as much as you can, much like Putin, turned us into junk bonds in terms of reputation and can take no responsibility for it, and actually come on to the floor of the senate and say that if we don’t do more, more of us will be fired,” said Shelton Waldrep, a professor of English and the Free Press faculty advisor.
“There is no way the reputation of this university can increase, which means attracting students, as long as the administration denigrates faculty and attacks tenure,” he said. “We are an international symbol for the battle over tenure in higher education. That is not a reputation created by the faculty, but one created by you, your predecessor, your chancellor and your board.”
Gary Johnson, an associate professor of history, noted that in his 26 years at USM, someone has presented a new retention plan nearly every year and that while advising and college structures plays a role, it’s young, new faculty and their course offerings that attract students.
“I have to say, we’re not attacking tenure, we’re attacking deficits,” said Flanagan. “And the truth of the matter is, we have been on an unsustainable financial course. You can sit in an ivory tower and say, well that’s not right, but it doesn’t generate any money.”
Bad publicity and the amount of bad press USM has seen recently was a topic of discussion throughout the entire senate meeting and Flanagan said, as he has his entire term as president, that internal conflicts have been the cause.
“You can criticize whatever we do in whatever form, and that’s great, but in a way, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it discourages people from coming here and that starts the death spiral,” he said. “When you attack yourself, when you criticize the university, when somebody getting paid by the university steps up and says we’re vocational, we’re no good, we can’t deliver, go to UNE, that’s ten times more devastating than if a competitor says it.”
Flanagan said that he expects a setback in enrollment and reputation from the faculty cuts he’s made this academic year, but that they have been necessary.
“It is our responsibility as public servants to let people know what is happening here, because we want our students to feel good about USM and we want students to come here,” said Waldrep, defending faculty who have spoken out against administrative actions, “But that will never happen as long as the administration is attacking faculty and the sanctity of tenure.”
“The reality is: we’re not attracting students,” said Flanagan. “We have a lot of negative publicity and it would be in everyone’s best interest to try and turn that around.”
Upper-class engineering students must take professor Ivan Most’s engineering economics class if they want to graduate. Part of their course work is community-based projects, assisting area schools solve their engineering problems.
The class was the brainchild of STEM partnerships coordinator Emily Mitchell, who works in the community engagement office at USM. Her job is to act as a liaison to area schools and USM and foster relationships between the two.
About 40 students are now part of that class working on problems such as energy audits and how best to heat the eight campus Windham school which, as of now, has no centralized heating system.
“Teachers freeze at 68 degrees and boil at 72,” said Bill Hansen, Windham’s school facilities director.
The engineering students will perform a cost analysis on Windham’s HVAC system and also see if a centralized wood-fired heating plant makes sense.
“Can we become a greener campus? Does it make sense financially?” Hansen asked.
It is Hansen’s job to efficiently heat the buildings, but to do so with a public school budget. The USM students will help meet his goals as economically as possible.
“No engineering project goes forward without someone paying for it,” said Most.
“I like to have the teachers focus on teaching and forget about the building. That’s my nirvana,” said Hansen.
Another project the students are working on is building a greenhouse for Riverton Elementary here in Portland. According to Kathy Cole, the community coordinator at Riverton, the school grows a lot of its own food in a community garden and practices composting and recycling.
If it’s feasible, they might even build the greenhouse out of recycled plastic bottles. The students will need to keep in mind it has to be handicap accessible,be able to accommodate 24 students and have the durability to withstand possible vandalism. The idea of plastic bottles sounds promising but if there’s a cheaper material, or something that holds heat better, the students will use that.
“Riverton Elementary is a lower-income school where 75% of students receive free lunch, so money is a big concern,” Cole said. The school hopes to get a Lowe’s playground grant to pay for the project.
One of only four women in the class, Kenzie Sullivan, a junior mechanical engineer major, is working on the Riverton school project.
“It’s always been a male dominated profession,” she said.
Sullivan is excited to mentor little kids and hopefully get some more young women interested in engineering. She actually switched groups to work with the younger kids.
“It’s going to be a cool project for sure,” Sullivan said.
Also working on the Riverton project with her is Matt Araujo, a senior electrical engineering major who was also eager to get started on the project.
“The kids might not even know what engineering is,” Araujo said.
Araujo and others will work with the school kids teaching them what engineering entails by having them observe the projects happening in their schools.
“It’s a practice profession. You have to get out and practice,” said Most. People like Most look forward to teaching more students the economics engineering through real world experience and applications.
“I’m excited for the future of engineering at USM,” said Most.
Starting next fall USM will be streamlining academic advising by assigning every student both a professional and faculty advisor, each playing different roles in the process.
Professional advisors will guide students through the degree progress reports, making sure general education courses, required introductory courses and prerequisites for upper-level courses are met, while faculty advisors will assist students on a purely academic level, providing insight on course-specific issues students might have.
The division of work and goals within advising is meant to make the advising process more efficient and helpful for students, aiding the administration in fixing the university’s retention problem.
According to Joseph McDonnell, the provost and vice president for academic affairs, USM loses nearly 37 percent of students between their first and second year at school.
“We’ve been looking into a new advising model for a while now,” McDonnell told the faculty senate in a meeting last Friday. “Through surveying students, we found that some were served by student success offices, some through their college and others had not been advised at all.”
Some faculty members questioned the reliance on staff to help students navigate specialized degree requirements and more complex programs and speculated on potential issues.
“I’d be concerned about the integrity of these professional advisors,” said Donald Sytsma, an associate professor of psychology. “If there’s a big push to fill seats in classrooms, how do you stay away from an ‘everything is possible’ mentality you might impart to prospective students?”
Sytsma said that he’s had students who were advised one way by student success, but that what they were told was misleading and that he suspects that convincing students to pay money for classes, even though they might not help toward a degree, has been the goal.
McDonnell explained that USM has regularly used professional advisors and that their aim has always been to move a student closer to graduating.
“They aren’t recruiters,” said McDonnell. “They aren’t talking to students they need to convince to take courses. They’re assisting students who are already here.”
McDonnell admitted that he had heard from students about poor advising situations, but said that the advising is generally successful and that poor advising needed to be dealt with on a case-by-case, one-on-one basis.
Lucille Benedict, an associate professor of chemistry, asked if, in the new system, professional advisors would now specialize in specific programs, noting that an advisors lack of knowledge in a program could lead to a student losing interest as well.
“One of my concerns is that chemistry is one of the more rigorous degrees and people have misconceptions about it,” she said. “Students might encounter an advisor that goes, I can remember my chemistry course, and that conversation usually goes south. Advising that isn’t degree specific isn’t going to help anyone.”
According to McDonnell, a select group of faculty have been working in a committee to explore what changes would have to made in order for the new advising system to work well, noting that having advisors with expertise is a point that has been discussed.
“I hope every one in the faculty and administration can agree that, in terms of addressing our retention issue, everyone needs to be building toward attracting the strongest students we can toward the university,” said Wayne Cowart, a professor of linguistics. “Giving bad, misleading advice is not in anyone’s best interest.”
With the financial aid deadline past, students have either completed the appropriate online forms or still have yet to start them. USM’s director of financial aid Keith Dubois urges students who haven’t submitted their FAFSA to do so immediately in order to obtain an appropriate financial aid package.
“Priority deadline was on February 15, which basically means any students who submitted by the date would be on the top of the list to receive financial aid,” said Dubois. “The actual deadline was on March 1. We give these different deadlines because we understand that not everyone has the ability to submit the necessary forms on time.”
Dubois says that financial aid packages vary from student to student. The order of awards starts with grants and scholarships, which is essentially free money given to students for their education based on financial needs. Work study is put in next. Anything that cannot be covered will usually be aided by federal direct loans to cover the rest of the tuition cost.
According to Dubois, the average financial aid package is about $7,796 per student.
“Students need to understand that by filing for financial aid on time, they have a much better chance of having their tuition covered much better than someone who submits late,” said Dubois.
Junior health sciences major Jordon Henry explained that although he hasn’t filed for financial aid yet, he plans to do so very soon because he knows that the longer he waits the smaller his financial aid package will be.
“Often times my parents help me file for financial aid because they both work for colleges. They give me the heads up for when to file and are extremely helpful throughout the whole process,” said Henry. “It’s complicated enough as it is, especially with taxes being done at the same time.”
Dubois points out that the coinciding tax season can be especially difficult for a lot of students, because not everyone has their taxes done in time to file for financial aid and therefore have to go through the process of submitting an estimated income and then have to go back once their taxes have been completed.
“This time of year creates a lot of stress for students and puts a lot of pressure on families who are attempting to juggle both financial aid and tax returns,” said Dubois.
For senior health sciences major Mary Macaluso, filing for financial aid has always been a relatively easy process, however the amount of money she receives from her financial package seems to only get her by.
“I don’t usually receive financial aid because my parents are able to pay for some of it. It’s been difficult but I work two jobs to keep me afloat,” said Macaluso. “I take out loans and my parents pay the rest of my tuition, which is hard because I never get any money in a refund check.”
Dubois points out that although it is uncommon, some students are not eligible for financial aid due to a variety of reasons. He explained that in situations like these, the student accounts office has a variety of payment plans so that instead of paying everything up front, students have the option to pay over a longer period of time. With the financial aid awards anticipated to be sent out by mid-March, Dubois urges students who haven’t filed yet to do so immediately.
“We try and exhaust every option that there is to help a student budget how they will pay any excess charges on their accounts,” said Dubois. “The best option to combat this stressful situation is to simply submit your financial aid on time. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t submit it if you haven’t already, but it’s something to consider for the next time you have to file.”
To drop some must-have sexual knowledge on USM students, social work graduate students Christina Cook and Sarah Milnor organized the first ever ‘Sexpo’ in the Woodbury campus center last week.
“We just wanted to throw a sex positive event and maybe start some conversations,” said Milnor.
Some of the activities students could engage in was a taste test of flavored lube and edible body butter. Several tables provided students with information about engaging in safe sex and awareness pamphlets about sexual assault, rape and stalking.
One hosted table was set-up to show students all the latest sex-related apps available on digital marketplaces. The first app, called “Sex Positive” allows you pick body parts and then a drop down menu will tell you the sexual risks associated with that body part and how to prevent against these risks. The second app, “Circle of Six,” has you to enter six of your friend’s contact information and if you are ever in an emergency situation you can just tap one of the icons and messages will be sent out to your friends, alerting them that you need help.
“All of those options are really helpful,” said Ben Marine, who was manning the table. “If you are in an emergency situation, you can just tap one of the icons instead of fiddling around with your phone, which you might not be able to do.”
Cook commented that one reason for hosting an event like this was to start conversations around positive sexuality, because some students may be uncomfortable with the event’s subject matter.
“By doing an event like this we are trying to reduce discomfort around talking about these issues,” Cook said. “When many people are participating, it helps reduce that discomfort.”
“I think part of the definition of sex positivity is being okay with what your definition of sex is,” said Milnor. “So if you’re slightly uncomfortable with some of this stuff, that’s totally fine. That’s part of the whole event, just letting people have their voice.”
According to Center for Disease Control, one in four college students will contract an STD and 80% of those cases the person won’t even exhibit symptoms. The students volunteering at the tables, passed out condoms to passersbys while reiterating the importance of practicing safe sex.
“Students are going to have sex,” said Rachel Cormier, a student at USM. “I am so much more relieved that they have information and materials that are going to help them be safer and healthier in their own bodies.”
“I would like to hope that these types of programs really encourage students at the university to have safe sex and to be healthy with themselves and their partners,” said Cormier. She also expressed that she would be in favor of more events like this in the future.
At the end of the day, Cook and Milnor felt that the event had been a success, reaching out to an estimated 100 students that passed through. As Milnor looked around, she said it appeared that students were having fun and enjoying themselves.
While they are no confirmed plans for another event such as this in the future, both Cook and Milnor expressed interest in hosting more events such as this one.
Volunteers marched 8 miles through the streets of Portland last week, carrying stones bearing the names of fallen soldiers from Maine, before securing them in a wooden case in the Abromson center.
The march, and subsequent ceremony were part of The Summit Project, a national organization that honors Maine’s fallen soldiers by engraving their names on family-picked stones, and hiking with them all across the state. Along the way, the hikers learn the stories and experiences of the dead men they’re honoring and share them with others, in hopes that people will not forget the price they paid.
Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, 67 Mainers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan while serving a branch of the United States military. According to Ted Coffin, a civilian volunteer at the Summit Project, 47 stones have been donated by affected family members, some of which have travelled as far as the peaks of Everest, Kilimanjaro and the more close to home Katahdin.
“What means the most to the hikers is the connection to the stone and furthermore to the soldiers and families attached to them. It’s a bond,” said Coffin. “After two months at USM, the stones will move on and continue their journey.”
Coffin said that there are more stones held at the military entrance processing station (MEPS) in Portland, that anyone can check out and go on tribute hikes with, just as long as the volunteers follow three rules. To participate in the Summit Project, one must learn about the fallen, endure some kind of physical challenge with the stone, and write a letter of reflection to the affected family.
“It brings it full circle and lets the families know that we are getting the word out and their loved one didn’t die in vain,” said Coffin. “The ultimate goal is to make Maine a smaller state, with everyone knowing each others stories.”
Rebecca Tannous, USM’s student body vice president, walked in tribute carrying one of the 12 “spirit stones,” stones that aren’t attached to a specific soldier, but rather a theme that they embody. The words honor, courage, commitment and endurance emblazoned some of the stones. Tannous carried a spirit stone that read “duty.”
“We’re not just carrying stones; we’re carrying memories,” said Tannous. “When looking into what duty means, I discovered that it’s about more than just accepting responsibility, but it’s also about seeking opportunities to improve oneself.”
15 others carried stones symbolizing specific deceased soldiers and marched through the Portland skywalk for the last leg of their journey. They were greeted by a large audience made up of veterans, active duty soldiers, families of the fallen and USM students. In attendance were President David Flanagan, organizer Gregory Johnson and Portland police chief Michael Sauschuck, all of whom spoke to the crowd, thanking the tribute hikers and honoring military servicemen both living and dead.
“USM will take the job of guarding the memories of our fallen soliders very seriously,” said Flanagan.
“I’m proud to be here as an American, as a Mainer, as a former Marine and as a USM graduate,” said Sauschuck. “These people paid the ultimate price on behalf of all of us.”
One of these brave souls was Andrew Hutchins from South Portland, who died four years ago in Afghanistan at the age of 20. According to his father, Jeff Hutchins, he was stationed 10 miles from the Pakistani border and died after being caught in a firefight and shot by the enemy. Due to the laws of engagement, Hutchins was not allowed to fire back, an order that his father believes costed him his life. Hutchins said that his biggest fear, is that his son’s story and sacrifice will be forgotten. But now he feels less lonely, knowing Andrew’s stone, which has travelled over 2,000 miles, is impacting people in a meaningful way.
“He never got to meet his daughter Alyssa, but he did hear his baby’s heartbeat over the phone,” said Hutchins. “All of the families here have a story to share. It’s tough and there will be tears, but if a few people can hear it, it means a lot.”
It’s this combination of physical toil and active remembrance of the lives and deaths of Maine’s soldiers, that inspired David Cote, an active duty Marine, native Mainer and current employee at the Pentagon, to make the Summit Project a reality. Cote got the idea three years ago when hiking Mt. Whitney in California with some Navy Seals.
“I wanted to take the idea of a living memorial and make it a tradition,” said Cote. “Mainers are veterans. We need to match their service with equal measure of passion and devotion.”
Cote said that 1 in 7 Mainers are veterans and it’s important to keep their memories and legacy alive. Cote believes that honoring veterans both dead and alive, can have a positive impact on anybodies psyche.
“These heroes who left Maine can continue to inspire us today,” said Cote. “They push us to make better decisions, be more generous, and put others needs before your own.”
Cote spoke last to the audience and ended with a quote from the speech former U.S. President Abraham Lincoln gave on the freshly bloodied battlefields of Gettysburg.
“It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us. That from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.”
If you’ve used a restroom on campus in the past week, you’ve likely been complemented by USM’s Bod Squad.
Last week was national eating disorder awareness week and the body-positive student group has been raiding campus with informational materials and leaving inspirational messages on mirrors in public restrooms.
The messages are simple. Stay positive about your body. Believe in yourself. You’re beautiful.
Ann Conley, a nurse practitioner with health and counseling services, hopes that the efforts of the group get students talking about eating disorders.
“We’re hoping that getting information out into the public will help reduce stigmas around eating disorders, help students recognize what constitutes a disorder and let them know that we’re here to help if they need anything,” she said.
According to statistics from the National Eating Disorder Association, 35 percent of “regular” dieters eventually develop eating disorders. Conley said that the rate for college students is slightly higher.
“People don’t always know that they have an eating disorder,” said Conley. “It starts as a habit and then, through a variety of different factors depending on the individual, it can become more serious.”
Students on-campus responded positively to the signs on campus, saying that it was a great reminder to be comfortable with their body.
“With all the modeling shows on TV and in magazines and sex being used in advertising, it’s no wonder that people can sometimes feel uncomfortable in their own skin,” said Sarah Worthington, a freshman marketing major. “Sometimes it’s nice to hear someone say, don’t worry about it, just do your thing.”
“It’s a big problem in our country that needs to be looked at more often,” said undeclared freshman Chelsea Moyer.
Of American elementary school girls who read magazines, 69 percent say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape and 47 percent say the pictures make them want to lose weight according to reports used by NEDA.
While eating disorders are more regularly attributed to women in the media, it has been reported that roughly 30 percent of cases are in men.
Conley said she hopes that spreading information about eating disorders will help prevent those at risk, urge those with eating disorders to seek help and to help the public get educated.
“There’s a fair amount of shame associated with having an eating disorder and a lot of people will deny having one,” said Conley. “I hope anyone in that position will see that it’s okay and that there’s help out there for them.”
Despite good intentions and efforts from both Aramark and USM Sustainability, dining services wastes about 3,500 pounds of food a week in the Portland and Gorham kitchens.
This information comes from Steve Sweeney, the resource recovery supervisor, who said that about 3,000 pounds of that food waste comes from Gorham because a buffet service is offered there.
“The all you can eat style set up in Gorham, results in a ridiculous amount of food waste,” said Sweeney. “We need to encourage students not to eat in excess.”
Sweeney said that, in light of all the budget problems, he’s happy with their process because it’s one of the most cost effective methods for dealing with several thousand pounds of food waste. The University pays a local farmer $200 a month to pick up food waste every week from both a Portland and Gorham location, regardless of the amount. The farmer then uses the waste as pig feed and the coffee grounds as compost.
While this is a good method of eliminating the food waste on campus, Sweeney believes we should search for ways to reduce that waste in the first place. According to Sweeney there have been recycling competitions in the dorms to encourage students to practice good habits surrounding food wastes.
Chris Kinney, the general manager of Aramark on campus, agrees and said that accurately predicting how many customers will arrive and adhering to strict rules concerning food shelf life are strategies to minimize the amount of food that gets tossed.
“Our team monitors how much food we’re wasting every day,” said Kinney. “I’m happy with our strategy; we have the right people working to execute it.”
While Kinney said that Aramark at USM has more training, tools and experience than a lot of food establishments in the area, there’s always room for improvement.
“Part of my job is to never be satisfied,” said Kinney. “If one kitchen produces 35 pounds of food waste, I’ll challenge them to bring it down to say 27 the next week. I’m always trying to get the team to further reduce food waste.”
Aramark, the dining services company on campus, that also provides food to hospitals and prisons across the country, tries to eliminate food waste by making sure employees follow the standardized recipes when preparing menu items. For Pamela Almodovar, a culinary arts graduate from SMCC and sandwich maker at the Woodbury dining hall, that means when you order a BLT, she’s not allowed to meet your request to add hummus, or slap on extra bacon slices.
“The menu, the schedule and the structure is down to the T here,” said Almodovar. “They say sticking to the Aramark strategy eliminates food waste, yet we throw away a lot of food.”
Despite genuine attempts from the staff of chefs to minimize food wastes, like keeping close tabs on the freshness of produce and slicing vegetables in a specific and economical way, some employees at Aramark are concerned about their full waste bins.
“I think Aramark is wasting too much food,” said Almodovar. “It seems to be a growing issue that bothers the employees the most. The food costs here are getting out of control.”
Almodovar said that during one shift she personally threw away over 25 pounds of food just from the small food station in Luther Bonney. When casually asking a supervisor if she could put a sandwich and chips into her pocket instead of the wastebin, she was met with fierce opposition.
“My supervisor said I could be terminated on the spot,” said Almodovar. “However we’ll also have employees that are enforcing these rules take unpaid food and eat it in front of us.”
Due to liability issues surrounding food borne illnesses, all Aramark employees have to sign a document stating that they won’t sell, donate or eat any out of code food product.
Issues surrounding liability are the main reason a strategy involving donating leftovers to food banks and soup kitchens hasn’t taken off the ground, despite attempts from the USM Eco Reps and the Food Recovery Network.
Joy Grandbois-Gallup said that it took a while for Aramark to respond to the Eco Rep’s request to recover food and when they did they said that students shouldn’t be involved in the process. The reason why: food safety issues.
“We do have an eager group of students who would like to bring this project to life if at all possible,” said Grandbois-Gallup.
Over February break, USM Health & Counseling services sent out two emails to update students about the measles outbreak that has occurred, starting in California and has started to make its way eastward across the United States.
Measles is a viral illness that causes symptoms similar to the flu, and shortly after these symptoms arise a rash appears. The disease is airborne with high transmissibility because of its incubation period of two to three weeks.
Lisa Belanger, director of health services said that the point was not to cause a hysteria or fear of measles among us. “It was more to make students conscious and aware of the fact that this is what we know and be prudent while you’re travelling,” Belanger said.
Right now, the goal is to educate without causing panic. With no confirmed cases so far in Maine, Belanger didn’t want there to be panic and public outcry on campus. Especially since there really is no way of confirming if measles will ever even make it to the state.
“Our messages need to be truthful and not fear based,” said Belanger. “Getting the notice out was not to make people afraid but to empower them with information.”
Another reason for the notice was to get students that still haven’t turned in their records to do so and as soon as possible. Belanger also commented on the fact that this is law in the state of Maine and students are expected to comply.
“It’s not because we are saying this, as USM, it’s the law, said Belanger. “We are required to track and inform students of this requirement.”
“We did the same thing in years passed with tracking immunization.” Belanger said, “This year it’s at least conceivable that measles could make an appearance, so it makes it that much more important and that much more real about the purpose for getting in your shots.”
Enrolled at USM right now are 493 students that have signed declinations to not be vaccinated for measles because of religious, medical or philosophical reason, along with a smaller number of students that have yet to turn in their immunization records. If there were to be a case of measles at USM, these students would be asked to leave and they wouldn’t be allowed to return until the outbreak was deemed over by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Maine.
This would be for the students’ protection. Without the vaccination, they are much more susceptible to the virus.