Activist Ruchira Gupta visited USM last week to speak on her experiences fighting to abolish sex trafficking. She started her career as a journalist and won an Emmy for her documentary The Selling of Innocents which explores the plight of young girls in India being taken from their homes and sold into prostitution to work in brothels.
“We urgently need a new law on trafficking, one which is not based on old British colonial laws,” said Gupta.
The laws created by Parliament such as the Contagious Disease Act are designed to provide disease free women to soldiers fighting in the British army.
Gupta believes that change needs to be made across the globe and not just within a certain country. Part of the problem is that with the advancement of technology, traffickers have become much more skilled at what they do, using websites to lure and auction off women.
There seems to be a trend on the class and gender of people that traffickers prey upon. In almost all cases it is generally women living in developing countries like India and poor, younger girls that were sought after by traffickers. The same holds true in the United States, where most of the women trafficked are poor minorities.
Traffickers would also try to make going to work in a brothel sound appealing by telling these young girls that they would get to go live in a big city and make some money for themselves.
Gupta recounted that the youngest girl she had met that was trafficked was only seven years old. The average ages of victims are between 13 and 15 in the United States and nine and 13 in India.
“The traffickers simply met whatever the demands were by these clients,” said Gupta. “They would actually find these girls and bring them to the brothel.”
Gupta believes that in order for there to be change, the laws have to be targeted towards the traffickers and to punish the clients, because a lot of the time the victim has no choice. She also believes that things need to be done so that the buyer has less power and less choices when he decides to go to the brothel.
In countries such as Norway and Sweden purchasing sex is illegal, not the selling of sex. This means that if a trafficker was to be caught or a brothel was searched, the women would not be punished for what they were being forced to do.
“Those governments understood and recognized that prostitution was an outcome of gender inequality, so the women should not be punished,” said Gupta.
Those laws have put the blame on the traffickers, resulting in a decrease in trafficking for those countries. Now many other countries are also starting to adopt a similar model when they craft laws against trafficking.
There has been some success in trying to bring change. Recently, new laws have been passed against trafficking through lobbying and putting pressure on government.
“It has created a new paradigm with how we deal with trafficking,” said Gupta. “We have shifted the blame from the victim to the perpetrator.”
Prostitution will still occur, Gupta said, as long as there is a buyer. Gupta believes that there needs to be partnerships between governments so that policies and laws can be passed to make a difference and to try and protect women against trafficking.
The University of Maine System board of trustees has voted once again to freeze in-state tuition for the fourth year in a row leaving students, faculty and staff wondering what this means for the future of USM.
According to Dan Demeritt, the UMaine system director of public affairs, students can expect Maine’s college tuition to be one of the most affordable in New England.
“It’s critical that the government is making an investment and that the board of trustees is using that to keep tuition flat so it doesn’t get harder for families to finance a college degree,” said Demeritt. “The hope is that as a public institution, it reduces financial barriers for students as well as potential students and reduces indebtedness once students graduate.”
Although other public institutions across the country have increased their tuition by 17 percent over the past four years, Demeritt explained that college competition is higher than ever and believes low tuition is an enticing factor for potential students.
“We’re seeing that the amount of high school students graduating has diminished by almost 20 percent over the past few years,” said Demeritt. “It’s a combination of that and competition between other universities – our customer pool has shrunk and we have more competition.”
Chris Quint, USM’s public affairs director, believes that affordability is a major problem across the country, similarly saying that this issue can be linked to the low high school graduate demographics and the competition between universities.
“We have to do everything we can to be affordable and accessible,” said Quint. “The action the board of trustees took was a positive one in that direction.”
By giving students the confidence that their tuition bill will not increase, Quint said that in-state students can be expected to spend only $8,000 for the school year and out of state students with room and board costs can expect to spend about $20,000.
“We’re one of the better deals in the northeast here at USM,” explained Quint. “Portland is one of the most desirable cities in the northeast and we’re right in the heart of it. We have everything we need to be successful here, we just have to sell it to students.”
Junior finance major Amelia Worthing said that with all the faculty cuts that USM has seen over the past year, the tuition freeze will hopefully bring more students into the university and allow for our budget goals to be met so that more cuts can be avoided.
“The only reason that it’s hard to afford college is because we’re young and we don’t really know how to manage our money yet,” said Worthing. “I bet a lot of us would actually be able to afford our tuition a lot easier if we could manage our money more effectively.”
Worthing also believes that this scenario can also be applied to the university, saying that if USM could properly manage funds then perhaps they wouldn’t need to make the cuts.
To combat USM’s recent fiscal issues and bring more students through the door, Quint said that not only do they have to modernize recruitment strategies but they also want to improve how they market and talk about the university.
“It really comes down to recruiting more students,” said Quint. “We’re hoping that by being a metropolitan university, we will open up enticing opportunities for current and prospective students not only in the classroom but in the community.”
With the arrival of USM’s new president Dr. Harvey Kesselman, Quint also explained that the future of USM is in good hands because he has raised a university from the ashes of financial debt once before.
“When he started as Executive President at Stockton University, they were very much in the same situation as we are,” said Quint. “Along with their faculty and administration, Kesselman was able to turn it around to the point now where they are thriving. I know he can do that for USM.”
Demeritt said that as each university takes the proper action to combat financial issues and the University of Maine System promises to provide Maine’s strongest commitments to affordability. The individuals who voted for the tuition freeze recognize that.
“It really is all about the students,” said Demeritt. “We want to be an option for everyone and that’s why its so important to keep the tuition down.”
There was an event scheduled last Friday for students to meet and learn more about their peers running positions within student government, but no one attended, not even the candidates.
After an email was sent to the USM Events listings confirming the event on Tuesday, it was rescheduled for Monday, but no official notice of the change was posted on university or student government websites or social media accounts.
In an email on Friday evening, student senate vice chair Tom Bahun told the Free Press that an email was supposed to have been sent out by either Dean of Students Joy Pufhal or student life director Jason Saucier.
“The elections committee and the student body president asked to consolidate the Friday event with the Monday event to make a stronger one,” said Saucier in an email on Friday evening. “Unfortunately we did not get a correction out on the e-mail list.”
Within an hour after the event was sent to begin, not a single student wandered into the area where the event was supposed to take place. USM tech support employees had set-up equipment in preparation for the event, but packed up after an hour when no one arrived. They had not been notified of a cancellation.
Senate Chair Judson Cease and Parliamentarian Joshua Tharpe did not respond to emails asking for information sent Friday evening.
Nominations Closed, polls open
This year’s presidential race is between four candidates, including current members of the student government.
Rebecca Tanous, current student body vice president and senior chemistry and education major, is running with junior chemistry major Matthew Creisher.
“I truly believe that this position is where I can best serve the students,” wrote Tanous in her election bio. “Having been a member of the Student Government Association for two full years, I feel confident in my knowledge of how the SGA functions and am passionate on utilizing it to better aid the students.”
The pair list improving USM’s marketing efforts, improving connections between students, faculty and administrators and student organization groups as key issues they hope to focus on.
“Being a transfer student, I have a vested interest in how this University represents itself to those that are potentially interested in enrolling,” wrote Creisher. “As vice president I would be able to work closely with students and faculty members in order to bring about changes to the schools advertising system; in order to showcase a more welcoming and inviting front to those looking into the school.”
Senator John Jackson, a political science and business management major, is running for president with economics major Mackenzie McHatton as his vice president. Information on the candidates’ academic standing was not provided.
“As a Student Senator here at USM this past year, especially during the rollercoaster of an academic year we’ve had, I have not only established relationships with the people that are in the most influential of positions around the University thus allowing me to get tasks done, but I have also have first-hand experience with the requirements and commitments of the position of Student Body President,” wrote Jackson. “I believe that Mackenzie and I are the individuals that can help bring and be able to ensure that the voice of the student body is heard among the faculty, administration and the board of trustees on any subject that the student body wants its opinions voiced.”
Jackson noted that student involvement in university governance, parking problems on campus, university marketing and pushing the metropolitan university model as issues he would tackle.
The final runners for the president’s office are sophomore political science and criminology major Paul McGuire and junior leadership and organizational studies major Camden Ege.
“We are passionate about USM and it’s future,” reads their election bio page. “We recognize that this is an important time in shaping the University and we want the opportunity to do that responsibly.”
Their goals include improving communication across the board at USM and helping students better represent themselves in the surrounding community.
Junior psychology and criminology major Derrick Kennedy is running solo.
“ I want to be Student Body President because I have a voice,” wrote Kennedy,” and I, like many of the students of USM, recognize what the issues are, and believe that I have a powerful enough voice to be heard and to make a difference in bringing about a much needed change.”
Kennedy lists improving student resources on the path to graduation as his one presidential goal. His hobbies include hiking, mountain biking and weight lifting, according to his profile.
Only 13 candidates for the student senate are on the ballot and the senate has 21 seats to fill. It looks like the race for those positions will be completely uncontested this year.
This year’s referendum questions look for student input on adjusting the hours of the Gorham café and Woodbury café to better accommodate late classes, athletics. Another topic up for debate is expanding the Saturday mall bus run to also include stopping at places like Walmart and Target and increasing the frequency of the late-night bus to the Old Port.
The SGA has scheduled a ‘meet the candidates’ event for Monday at 1 p.m. in the Woodbury Campus Center. There will be a debate between the candidates for student body president.
Polls open at 1:30 p.m. and student can vote online through the SGA page on USM’s website.
During a press conference earlier today, USM’s administration excitedly announced that Dr. Harvey Kesselman will be the university’s next president, beginning July 1.
Kesselman expressed deep admiration for The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, his alma mater school and where he’s finishing up his final months as Provost and Executive Vice President, however he is enthusiastic to lead USM and has about 8 years of commitment in him.
“This is my home now,” said Kesselman. “I made a commitment here and this is the place I belong now.”
Kesselman’s plan is to ensure that USM doesn’t shrink under the potential pressure of budget problems as it did last year. He hopes to continue the focus that current situation president David Flanagan initiated: get more students in the door and find a way to keep them here.
“If we could retain even 400 more students, the fiscal problems diminish,” said Kesselman. “What we need to do as a community is to see what stops students from staying at USM. If we’re all working toward that goal I am convinced that the problems will take care of themselves.”
Kesselman believes the university is far too great of an institution to have a retention rate of 65 percent. Finding a solution to this issue will involve starting conversations with faculty, staff and students.
“I am going to spend a lot of time to meet every employee at the institution and immediately have relationships with the faculty senate,” said Kesselman. “I want their voice, it’s critical.”
Kesselman is optimistic that USM’s financial future is on a positive path because of the talents of people that he said are doing everything they can to ensure USM’s physical vitality.
“I’m comfortable in the matter in which we are moving forward will be one of the ways USM ensures long term vitality,” said Kesselman. “Fiscal decisions are critical to the success of any institution.”
Kesselman believes that there are a variety of factors that go into making USM a successful metropolitan university. From the friendly and respectful students, beautiful locations and qualified faculty, he has high hopes that the school will outlast not only his presidency but many more after that. Kesselman also placed faith in the school’s metropolitan vision.
Kesselman said that when metropolitan universities begin, they are often aren’t well received. However, he also said that out of this tension will eventually come progress.
“Had the model not been here, I would not have applied,” said Kesselman. “I thought it was very attractive that USM was going in that direction.”
Kesselman wants to help USM get classified as one of the top community engagement universities in the U.S. by earning the Carnegie Distinction by 2019. The Carnegie Distinction is a prestige given to about 300 schools who are committed to making a local impact and social embeddedness.
“It will open up avenues for USM and make your degree more valuable,” said Kesselman. “We are trying to put theory into practice and that is what I plan to implement. We want engaged students and engaged faculty here at the university.”
University of Maine system chancellor James Page endorsed Kesselman as USM’s next president and said that he’s someone who knows the opportunities and pitfalls of higher education. Kesselman’s priorities around students, enrollment and growing the metropolitan concept played a large part in how they evaluated his candidacy.
“The metropolitan university is going to evolve in many ways that we don’t even see today as it unfolds and develops over the years,” said Page. “It will give the university strength and vision to move along and. Kesselman’s enthusiasm for the university and the state of Maine is high.”
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.”