Featured Graduating Student: Alyssa Withee

From the first day Alyssa Withee stepped on campus, she has been a woman with a plan.

The Political Science major and Women and Gender Studies minor transferred from Southern Maine Community College two years ago, and since then, has committed herself to diligent work and preparation to assure her dreams become a reality.

But to make those dreams come true, the 2009 graduate of Hall-Dale High School in Farmingdale took a rational approach. She had seen too many of her friends struggling with the burden of student loan debt and did not want to find herself in the same boat.

"I saw a lot of friends graduating with a ton of debt and few job prospects," said Withee.

"I knew I didn't want that for myself."

After completing her prerequisites at SMCC, the Hallowell and West Gardiner resident stayed in state and enrolled at USM. But Withee decided not to move south, closer to USM's campuses in Portland and Gorham, and chose to remain home and commute to class.

"Part of the reason I commute is because it allowed me to take out next to no loans," Withee explained.

And Withee says her commute isn't all that bad. It takes her about 43 minutes to travel from home to the Portland campus, where she primarily attends classes. Plus, Withee says the ride allows her to keep up with what's going on in the world by listening to NPR's "Morning Edition."

Once she enrolled at USM, Withee turned her focus to preparing her future. Since 2013, Withee has held a number of internships to ready herself for a career in politics.

In 2013, Withee held an internship with the Maine State Senate. She worked in the Senate Majority Office where she was able to get a first-hand look at day-to-day life on the floor. She sat in during caucus meetings, watched sessions play out on the floor of the senate and attended public hearings and work sessions on a number of bills.

Withee was also a 2014 Maine NEW Leadership Participant, administered by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine. The NEW, or National Education for Women, Leadership Program was developed to address the under-representation of women in politics. There, Withee was able to learn from some of the most politically active women in the state. The program's participants are actively taught leadership skills in areas such as public speaking, advocacy and networking to build a strong and diverse foundation.

With 2014 being an election year, Withee held a finance internship with Mike Michaud's 2014 gubernatorial campaign. She worked with the Finance Director and Deputy Finance Director to learn what truly goes into funding a full-blown campaign.

Withee's impressive resume will continue to expand this summer as she has been selected as a 2015 Maine Government Summer Intern, also housed by the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. Withee will spend the summer working for the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA).

Through it all, Withee knows the multiple internships will eventually pay off, working diligently outside the classroom to make sure she stands out when it comes time to find employment.

"The months spent at two different internships taught me the basics of policy and constituent work at the legislature and how a major campaign functions," said Withee.

Withee has also been well prepared inside the lecture halls of USM, taking what she learned in the classroom and applying it to real-world experience.

She's especially thankful for the time she spent with professors Wendy Chapkis, Luisa Deprez and Francesca Vassallo.

"These three professors have certainly helped ready me for whatever the future brings, and I'm grateful for the time spent in their classrooms," mentioned Withee.

But there is one skill above all other that Withee believes will be crucial to her success -- networking.

"What's prepared me for life after school is the time I've dedicated to networking and building relationships with politically active people here in Maine," stated Withee.

And all that hard work has not gone unrecognized. Also a preschool teacher at Hand in Hand Early Learning Center in Farmingdale, Withee won the 2013 Maine Children's Alliance Youth Giraffe Award. The award is presented to someone who "sticks out their neck for kids" and works to advocate for the interests of children and families in communities across Maine.

Withee hopes one day she will be able to advocate professionally for children in Maine.

"I would consider it a privilege if I were able to work and advocate for Maine's youth in the future," added Withee.

But when it comes to her short-term future, Withee already has her eyes set on the election season. She hopes that all the hard work and networking she's put into the last two years while at USM will earn her a position on one of the 2016 campaigns.

In terms of the big-picture, there's only one thing that matters to Withee.

"Thinking about the big picture, my ultimate career goal would be knowing that the work I'm doing is making a positive difference for the people in Maine," said Withee.

"Whether I'm working on campaigns or policy or some other area of political work, I want what I'm doing to matter to the people here."