When deciding where to attend graduate school, Brunswick native Jennifer Hutchins ’08G quickly realized that, in Maine, people at the local level can have big impact. Maine politics and policy making, as she puts it, are local, and Jennifer was drawn to the idea of community engagement that was tangible and authentic. USM’s Muskie School of Public Service presented the perfect opportunity for Jennifer to gain the skills and experience she needed to build a Maine network and solve community problems.
Jennifer served as the Director of Communications and External Affairs for the Muskie School while she was enrolled in the Master of Public Policy & Management (MPP) program. There, Jennifer was introduced to a project that Muskie faculty were working on for then Governor, John Baldacci. The project focused on the creative economy in Maine, and Jennifer partnered with Muskie professors on the development of a report outlining the team’s research and findings. A concept introduced in the 1990s, the creative economy centers around the earning potential and growth of “creatives,” which includes artists, architects, and designers as well as scientists and software engineers.
When this project was near the end, Jennifer was given the chance to present the Muskie team’s findings at the Blaine House Conference on Maine’s Creative Economy held in 2004 at the Bates Mill in Lewiston. Jennifer and the team’s work helped inspire the creation of Creative Portland, a non-profit organization charged with growing Portland’s creative economy. When a full-time position as Creative Portland’s first executive director opened, Jennifer applied for and was offered the job. There, she focused on the concept of building a community, one that supports existing Maine creatives, that would attract newcomers to the region. She developed strategies for growth, partnered with other regional economic development groups, and worked to have a seat at the table for community development conversations.
Jennifer worked at Creative Portland for more than five years before transitioning into her current position as the Executive Director of the Maine Association of Nonprofits (MANP). At MANP, Jennifer is equally passionate about helping the community. She operates under the ethos that nonprofits play an integral role in supporting the functions of successful communities, a concept that has only strengthened in light of the challenges that COVID-19 has brought Maine.
Today, Jennifer serves on the Muskie School of Public Service Board of Visitors. Looking back at her time at Muskie, she recalls taking advantage of the uniqueness of the school through mentorships and networking. Her advice to students is to tap into the assets that Muskie has to offer. Students have direct access to professors and other decision makers to a degree that goes beyond the experience that other larger universities and colleges can offer; tapping into that network is crucial. If it feels intimidating to reach out to a mentor directly, Jennifer suggests starting small. Connect with a fellow student, share your goals and ask for help, start where you are comfortable and work up. Overall, Jennifer says, “you may be surprised by how willing people are to help.”