Mathematics and dance. These were the two ruling passions of Veronica Druchniak as she contemplated her options for college. A top student at Bonny Eagle High School in Standish, Maine, Druchniak was leaning toward studying chemical engineering at Yale. Then, in fall of her senior year, she was cast as the lead in a new Maine State Ballet production and invited to stay on with the company as a soloist. Everything changed.
"Dance careers are short," she explained to the audience at USM's Corporate Partners Breakfast on May 24. "I know I was not going to have an opportunity like this again. I threw out my list of colleges and my pile of completed college applications and decided to go to college in Maine."
Not surprisingly, Bates and Bowdoin both accepted Druchniak, whose combined talents in both academics and the arts made her a very attractive applicant. But ultimately, Druchniak's interest in engineering led her to the University of Southern Maine.
USM's Pioneers Scholarship Makes the Difference
What clinched her decision was the USM Pioneers Program, a competitive scholarship program for students planning to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields.
"Apparently, I became sort of a legend in the Bowdoin admissions department because no one had ever turned down Bowdoin for USM."
The Pioneers Program is a STEM track within the USM Honors Program that provides full scholarships to outstanding students like Druchniak. In addition to receiving the 4-year scholarship, the students participate in a pre-college summer program and can take advantage of exciting opportunities for undergraduate research and internships in STEM fields, among other benefits.
For Druchniak, the Pioneers program would provide "great opportunities to connect with other STEM students and business leaders."
"We girls must stick together!"
At the Corporate Partners Breakfast, Druchniak, who is completing her sophomore year, talked about the supportive role her advisor has played in shaping her USM experience so far.
"I arrived for my first semester at USM as an electrical engineering major. I had the good fortune of being put into Professor Silvia Valdes' calc class. It was the first class that I had ever taken where it was important not only to know how, but also why.
"I was hooked on mathematics."
Eventually Druchniak changed from electrical engineering to a double major in mathematics and computer science.
"When I switched over, I chose Silvia as my advisor, since, as she says 'We girls must stick together.' She has really shaped my experience at USM by sharing her passion and enthusiasm with me and with all of her other students."
This semester, Druchniak and Valdes collaborated on an independent research project on projective geometry, which Druchniak presented during the Thinking Matters exposition in April. And when Druchniak made her debut as Aurora in Maine State Ballet's Sleeping Beauty, her advisor Valdes was there in the audience.
Druchniak has no second thoughts about her college decision. As she said in her concluding remarks to those assembled at the Corporate Partners Breakfast:
"By attending USM, I have been given opportunities that are seldom found at big universities. I have been able to work one-on-one with a world-class professor on my own research project. And at the same time, I have been able to pursue my passion for dance on the professional level".