By Amanda Pleau, Office of Public Affairs Intern
In the spring of 2010, four high school seniors were chosen to receive one of the University of Southern Maine’s most distinguished academic awards, the Creating Maine’s Future Presidential Scholarship. These first four scholarships were provided in part by Wright Express of South Portland; the USM Foundation Board; individual members of USM’s Foundation Board of Directors; and Gorham Savings Bank as part of a scholarship fundraising campaign. The scholarship awarded incoming USM freshmen from high schools in Maine with $5,000 in tuition assistance per year for four years.
We caught up with the inaugural four recipients, Alexandra Bishop of Hersey; Kelsey Doiron of Jay; Julia Richardson of Turner; and Kim Lim of South Portland; who made the Dean’s List their freshmen year and returned to USM this year as sophomores. We thought it would be insightful to recap their experiences to date.
Alexandra Bishop's sophomore year is all about time management. Her coursework is more demanding and her friend group is no longer concentrated to Robie-Andrews Hall on the Gorham campus. She’s still finding time to check out student artwork at local coffee shops and galleries, and has even ventured to a few galleries in Portland. “All of the galleries I've seen reiterate how much talent there is in the area.” Meanwhile, she’s mulling over entering some of her work in a student exhibit. Alexandra is a double major in art history and studio art. Although her studio focus is still undeclared, she is leaning towards printmaking.
This summer, Alexandra participated in a study abroad program, spending over a month in Limerick, Ireland. She took a sociological perspectives course on Irish life and culture to fulfill a USM core requirement. It was a memorable experience—she’s hooked on international study programs and is anxiously anticipating her next adventure.
Applying to colleges was a whirlwind of decisions for Alexandra, weighing pros and cons, unsure of how far from home she was willing to go (her hometown in Aroostook County is a four-hour drive from the Gorham campus.) “I’m very thankful for this scholarship. If I wasn’t a recipient of the Presidential Scholarship, I would not be at USM this semester.” USM became her first choice and she’s glad, speaking highly of the art department, proximity to Portland, and the supportive, community feel of the school.
For sophomore Kelsey Doiron, “Being a Presidential Scholar means that someone believes in me. This scholarship has given me the confidence to be successful here at USM.” When Kelsey was applying to colleges, she looked for a strong science department that would prepare her for medical school. When conversing with prospective professors at USM, Kelsey got the feeling that they were genuinely interested in ensuring each student received a quality education. She was sold. “I just knew that that was not something I would get at many other schools.”
Kelsey has declared biochemistry her major, with a possible Spanish minor in the works. Predictably, her second year has been much more demanding than her first, including courses like organic chemistry and the accompanying lab, a calculus-based physics course and lab, as well as a philosophy course and a Spanish course for good measure. Because the majority of her courses were on the Portland campus, Kelsey opted out of student housing this year in favor of an apartment in South Portland, which she adores. Kelsey spends what little free time she has working part-time as a pharmacy tech.
Julia Richardson, a media studies major, came to USM from St. Dominic’s Regional High School in Auburn. As a sophomore, Julia is currently enrolled in a highly demanding 18 credits. When she’s not studying for one of her many exams, Julia is part of a Christian youth group at USM called the Navigators, with whom she’s become quite close. They might get together to have a meal or study, but they also volunteer at the Root Cellar. Over spring break last year, the Navigators also went to Washington D.C .to volunteer at a homeless shelter. But volunteering isn’t something new to Julia; in high school she attended Mission Mississippi to provide assistance to people in the Delta region.
Although she’s living on campus in Gorham, Julia remains close with her family. Her parents are only an hour away in Turner, one of her older brothers is also a current USM student, and the other is an alumnus. Her brothers’ experience at USM had been great, and they both encouraged her to apply. When talking about receiving the Presidential Scholarship to attend USM Julia says, “I don’t know what to say other than I’m just so, so, so grateful. It’s a huge deal. It lifts a burden and I feel like I’m able to really learn.”
The fourth Presidential Scholar’s story started in Cambodia. In 2008, Kim Lim moved with his family to South Portland, a place they chose in part because of relatives already settled there. When Kim arrived in the U.S., his English reading and writing skills were basically nonexistent. Two years later, he was in the top 10 percent of his graduating class and a major contributor to the yearbook staff, while holding down a part-time job. Now a sophomore at USM with nearly perfect language skills, Kim is still adjusting to a culture he finds challenging as well as compelling. In Cambodia, students rarely expressed their opinions in the classroom. They learned by reading books and listening to their instructors. But students at USM and universities all across America are encouraged to engage in conversation, question ideas, and be critical both in the classroom and in writing assignments. It was difficult at first, but Kim eventually found contributing his opinions boosted his confidence both inside and outside the classroom.
Otherwise, his sophomore year has been relatively uneventful. He continues to work at Panda Express and commutes to school from his family's home in South Portland. The initial excitement and bewilderment of being in college has mostly worn off, and Kim is now focusing on getting past his core requirements to delve deeper into his major, to make sure that it’s still the route he wants to take. Eventually Kim hopes to leverage his experience in hospitality, and with his degree in business, find a job that will also indulge his interest in travel.
When Kim was applying to college, he wasn’t doing it only for himself, but for his whole family. Along with his older brother, who is currently a biology major at Southern Maine Community College, Kim is part of the first generation in his family to pursue a higher education. Kim feels as though getting into college means proving to his parents that they succeeded. He wants to make them proud. If not for the Presidential Scholarship, Kim would have had to take out student loans. Then like most college graduates, he would have the added pressure of student loan payments. Kim says the Presidential Scholarship, “allows me to attend a reputable school and most importantly, it empowers me to invest in my education without the fear of debt. It means an enormous amount, and I consider it a major life achievement.”
All four of the 2010 Presidential Scholars also made the Dean’s List in the spring of 2011.
If you would like to contribute to USM scholarships, please visit Give to USM.