Melissa Bell named 2016 Commencement Student Speaker

Maine native Melissa Bell graduated from Deering High School in Portland, and will graduate from USM with her bachelor’s degree in Economics, plus a minor in English.

“I came to USM in 2012 because of its affordability and long-standing reputation as a quality, public academic institution,” Bell said. “USM is also in the city that I love—Portland.”

During her time at USM, she has been a highly engaged student in activities ranging from competitive sports to educating schoolchildren to being a passionate advocate for economic justice and women’s leadership.

Bell also participated in initiatives to make health care universal in Maine and to make healthy, local food more available.

“I believe my experiences can be representative of what other students at USM have experienced—as non-traditional students, athletes, student workers, student group leaders/members, and so on (like myself),” she said.

A three-year member of the USM Women’s Outdoor Track and Field team as a thrower, primarily discus, Bell was recognized in 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 as a William B. Wise Scholar-Athlete. She is part of a proud tradition with the team having won 16 consecutive Little East Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships. She said, “These past three seasons of doing outdoor track for the USM women’s team have been a great experience. After participating in softball, basketball, and field hockey in high school—track and field was a new experience for me starting at 22 years old. Having been new to the sport upon joining, I am happy to have had the opportunity to have been part of a successful collegiate sports team, made great friendships with my teammates, and continued to compete competitively in a new, but great sport.”

Bell was awarded a Maine Higher Education Assistance Foundation (Maine HEAF) $1,000 Scholarship for the 2015-16 academic year. Her studies in economics led Bell to become a leader in student groups including the Students of Economic Interests (SEI) where she served as Vice President and the Students for #USMFuture, where she was a co-chair. As a member of SEI, she helped with events including inviting Adelphi professor of Political Science, Maggie Gray, to speak on sustainable local farming with a focus on justice for migrant farm workers, and helped to petition for the Maine Farm & Sea Co-op (a multi-stakeholder cooperative that produces healthy, local, Maine food while maintaining social and environmental responsibility) to secure the University of Maine Food System contract (which was eventually given to another supplier).

Working for the Southern Maine Workers’ Center as an intern in the fall of 2015, Bell helped with the healthcare campaign organization of the Health Care is a Human Right Campaign (HCHR)—a multi-year long campaign that seeks to provide all Maine residents with access to affordable healthcare through a state-wide, inclusive, healthcare system, and she has continued on as an organizer and member of the leadership team. Bell was recently selected to the Maine National Education for Women Leadership program, a week-long training program in June, which stresses the importance of women’s participation in public life and developing leadership skills. 

She also worked at USM’s Osher Map Library as a student cartographer and assistant to the education coordinator. She helped develop lessons and activities for cartographic education courses for primarily grades 3-8, co-conducted an education program for homeschoolers, assisted with hundreds of field trips and classroom visits, provided tours of their globe collection, led activities involving their traveling exhibit, and much more. Bell said, “My experience at the Osher Map Library has been so much more than the ‘typical’ work-study job experience, as I've been able to strengthen my communication and public speaking skills, my computer programing skills, and so on. I truly feel so lucky to have been able to work with an incredible group of colleagues and friends at the Osher Map Library, especially my direct supervisor (Education Outreach Coordinator at the Osher Map Library, Renee Keul).

USM economics professor Michael Hillard praised Bell’s accomplishments, “Melissa is a consummate student. Her academic work is impressive – she has mastered our curriculum’s most challenging courses. She has a strong analytical mind, reads and writes about sophisticated academic literature at a graduate level, and has deep intellectual curiosity fueled by a strong social conscience. She is an active formal and informal tutor who generously gives time to other economics students to help them succeed. She is an energetic and talented student activist, playing leadership roles in Students for #USMFuture, the Southern Maine Worker Center and Students of Economic Interest. Really one of the best students we’ve ever had.”