Office of the President

Monday Missive (May 3, 2021)

Dear USM community,

At 9 a.m. this coming Saturday, more than 1,600 Husky scholars will receive acknowledgment of a personal triumph in USM’s virtual Commencement celebration. The degrees to be awarded are a validation of what can be achieved through hard work, curiosity, perseverance, teamwork, and a commitment to learn. The degrees also signal our graduates' readiness and ability to serve the world with all knowledge and skills they have acquired at USM. 

Every graduate's experience on their path to their degree varies. Let us recognize, however, the many students among us who refused to let any challenge deny their dream. Among us are students who served in wars, fought cancer, held multiple jobs, experienced the death of loved ones, cared for their children, sent hard-earned money to relatives, fasted for religious holidays, challenged racism, voted, survived the most severe pandemic in 100 years — and still completed assignments, presented themselves for class, and never gave up on achieving one of the most prized elements of the American dream.

USM's greatness as a university derives, first and foremost, from the dreams and achievements of our students. By holding steadfast to our central mission to serve students, and growing better at executing it each year, USM finds itself a powerful and attractive gateway into a world of unforeseen possibilities for so many.

I wish all our students this week the energy and inspiration to complete their final assignments and exams — and I wish the faculty equal measures of both to complete the evaluation of students’ scholarly work. Our hearts and gratitude are with you. Wishing everyone a productive and fulfilling week.

And to everyone in the USM community, I wish you a restorative summer to come. This will be the last weekly Monday Missive of the 2020–2021 academic year. In keeping with tradition, your inboxes will be a little lighter for the next few months as the Monday Missive shifts to a Monthly Missive for the summer.

Let’s turn to some important news and updates:

1) In the April 21 Missive, I offered congratulations to USM’s new Student Body President, Hussein Maow, who has been elected to a one-year term. Hussein succeeds current Student Body President Hannah Qiu, whose term ends this year. I so enjoyed working with Hannah, who never refused any opportunity to serve. She helped improve the student experience throughout the school year, often starring in videos to promote healthy behaviors during the pandemic and giving insights into how the University can and should fight bigotry. She worked effectively with the Student Senate to enact reforms that gave students more agency in shaping the student experience and represented them with commitment, dignity, and care. Please join me in thanking Hannah for her efforts to strengthen the University and ensure we live our service promise to be student focused every day.

2) Please join me in congratulating the more than 75 student, faculty, and staff nominees and winners of USM’s 2021 Student Leadership Awards, who deserve recognition and our thanks for their contributions to strengthening the USM community, especially during such a challenging year. At the link above, you’ll find a virtual presentation of all the honors and video recordings of congratulatory remarks that David Lewis, Director of Student Engagement & Leadership, shared by email this past Friday. Along with the Student Development Board awards, the virtual presentation includes recognition of the Class of 2021 student commencement speaker and students honored for their leadership and contributions by Housing & Residential Life, the TRIO Program, Student Senate. To all nominees and award recipients, thank you for your commitment and leadership.

3) Please also join me in congratulating USM graduate Julia Gustafson ’20. A year after Julia graduated from USM and left for National University of Ireland Galway to pursue a master’s in landscape archeology — with a prestigious Government of Ireland International Education Scholarship in hand — she has earned an even more prestigious honor. And she will move again. This time her destination is Cambridge, England. I’m proud to report that Julia has been awarded a highly prestigious and competitive Gates Cambridge Scholarship that will pay her tuition and expenses for the four years it will take her to earn a doctorate at the University of Cambridge. The scholarship, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is one of the world’s most selective. The application process takes months, and of the 6,000 applications submitted from around the world chosen each year, only 80 are awarded the lucrative honor. Her doctorate will be in archeology. She said it will build on the journey she began at USM, where she majored in Geography-Anthropology. In this USM News story, Julia credits our extraordinary Geography-Anthropology faculty for their ongoing guidance. “I had this amazing team at USM who have been there for every step with me,” she said.

4) I trust everyone in the USM community saw last week’s email invitation to the University’s 141st Commencement ceremony this coming Saturday at 9 a.m. The YouTube-hosted video, which can be viewed at www.usm.maine.edu/commencement, will feature a keynote address by bestselling author and national anti-racism thought leader Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, as well as a student address by Human Biology major Grace Muheto of Portland. In addition to pieces performed by students from USM’s School of Music, the ceremony will feature remarks from USM’s four honorary degree recipients: Yvon Chouinard, author, activist, and founder of Patagonia Inc.; Timothy P. Wilson, senior advisor and director of the Maine Seeds Programs; and Beverly and David Worthington, co-founders of the Worthington Scholarship Foundation. One programming note: The video will begin with a countdown timer that will be visible minutes before the start of the video. This will let you know how much time you have to get settled in before the prerecorded virtual ceremony begins. Please keep in mind that like last year, this Saturday’s Commencement program cannot be fast-forwarded during the first “airing.” But it will be available for viewing — and fast-forwarding and rewinding — at usm.maine.edu/commencement, after the first “airing” has finished.

5) Speaking of Commencement, this year’s ceremony includes special recognition of USM’s newest Distinguished Professor, Dr. Shelton Waldrep, Professor of English and Chair of the Department of English. Reserved for USM faculty members who have already achieved the rank of Professor, the title of Distinguished Professor is awarded to USM faculty who have demonstrated exceptional scholarly or creative work and instructional leadership across a broad disciplinary or interdisciplinary range. Dr. Waldrep teaches classes on Victorian literature, popular culture, film, and critical theory at USM. He is the author of “The Dissolution of Place: Architecture, Identity, and the Body” and “The Aesthetics of Self-Invention: Oscar Wilde to David Bowie”; the co-author of “Inside the Mouse: Work and Play at Disney World”; and the editor of “The Seventies: The Age of Glitter in Popular Culture.” His latest book is titled “Future Nostalgia: Performing David Bowie,” and his current book project is on images of the body in 21st-century film and television. He has published articles, interviews, and poetry in numerous journals, magazines, and newspapers worldwide and has been awarded the College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Teacher-Scholar Award, the Faculty Senate Award for Excellence in Scholarship, and the Trustee Professorship. Dr. Waldrep stands out among professors who can successfully achieve notable success in scholarship and use it directly to the advantage of his students. I have had a member of my immediate family, once a student of Dr. Waldrep's, offer significant praise for his insights, knowledge, and commitment to student success. Please join me in congratulating Dr. Waldrep and seeing him acknowledged in our virtual Commencement celebration on Saturday morning.

6) As announced in this past Friday’s Healthy Huskies Update, asymptomatic students, staff, and faculty who would otherwise be required to participate in asymptomatic COVID-19 testing (which currently involves weekly testing) and who otherwise would be required to quarantine when determined to be a close contact of a positive COVID-19 case, may be exempted from testing and quarantining if they are fully vaccinated and provide verification of their fully vaccinated status to the University.

In general, people are considered fully vaccinated

  • 2 weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series, such as the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or
  • 2 weeks after a single-dose vaccine, such as Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine

To voluntarily provide verification of vaccination, select the “Enter My COVID-19 Vaccine Information” option on the PointNClick website.

The quarantine exemption is available now to those who submit verification and upon review of the specific circumstances. The testing exemption from asymptomatic testing is available effective May 9, 2021, to all those who submit bona fide verification of vaccination. Your participation in this process is voluntary. If you choose to participate in this voluntary process, your vaccination record will be stored within the PointNClick System ONLY. The PointNClick system is a secure electronic medical record system used by healthcare providers and universities around the globe. By providing your vaccination record, you are consenting to and authorizing the University of Maine System to verify and use your COVID-19 vaccination status ONLY for pandemic management purposes, including in compliance with the state of Maine, CDC, and other applicable laws, regulations, guidance or standards, which may include exemption from quarantine or testing in certain circumstances.

7) In late April, UMS held a System-wide listening session, UMS Transforms: Advancing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. If you were unable to attend, you can access a recording of the event on the UMS Transforms website. The conversations during the breakout session were not recorded. However, following that session, we resumed the recording when our panelists took part in a moderated conversation to discuss the common themes they heard during the breakouts. If you are one of the 350 UMS staff, faculty, and students who participated, thank you. Whether you attended the workshop and have additional thoughts, or were unable to participate, we encourage you to share your ideas via this survey, which mirrors some of the questions asked during the event. Your thoughts will be collected anonymously, and along with the input we captured live will inform the work moving forward.

8) Thinking Matters, USM’s signature student research conference, continues this week. At this virtual celebration of innovative student research and creative work, you’ll be able to view prerecorded oral presentations and posters created by students and faculty collaborators and engage with them in the comments section of each presentation. To participate, please visit Thinking Matters on USM’s Digital Commons website at the link above.

9) Following a traditional admission year like no other, I'm thrilled to report that the national deposit day of May 1 netted USM its largest class in recent history, with 1,305 committed students holding their place by the decision day, a full 23% larger than last years class at this milestone and 3% larger than the previous high mark in 2018. Further, the spike in application interest from out-of-state applicants correlates with a record 345 out-of-state confirms — an impressive 39% climb over last year and 26% higher than the previous high mark established in 2018. This is a tremendous testament to the hard work and innovation of our talented enrollment division and signals that our values and strategic direction are resonating with prospective students and their families. There will be more to report as new enrollment continues to build through the summer. Historically, USM attracts another 400 to 600 transfers and first-years from May 1 to August 15. 

10) Emily Newell, Assistant Professor of Sports Management, recently appeared in a national Associated Press story on steeply declining birth rates during the pandemic. The story appeared on NewsCenter Maine and as far away as Minnesota, where it appeared in the Star Tribune. While births were down as much as 10% in the 25 states surveyed, Newell told the reporter she'd seen the opposite: "We know so many people who decided to have kids." She and her husband, Ben, saw the appeal themselves, especially when it came to caring for a baby with both of them working from home. (They welcomed their son, Manuel, earlier this year!)

11) People working to rebuild Maine’s economy have been using a 2019 study by the Maine Center for Business and Economic Research at USM and Maine Wedding Report to underscore the importance of the wedding industry. A recent story on NewsCenter Maine highlighted the report’s estimate that nearly $1 billion of the state’s pre-COVID annual economy was due to weddings and wedding-related tourism.

12) I’m pleased to share the news that the MaineMBA program, a collaboration between the graduate faculty at USM and UMaine, has been ranked #54 by Fortune in their first-ever look at the nation’s Best Online MBAs. This invitation-only ranking gauges the quality of online MBA programs based on four components: Program Score, Fortune 1000 score, Brand Score, and Prestige Score. The MaineMBA has seen an impressive 300% growth over the past three years. The MaineMBA is part of the University of Maine Graduate and Professional Center. With the support of the Harold Alfond Foundation and stakeholders across the university and the business and professional community, the Maine Center is building real-world relevance and a global brand and reach through focused coordination of graduate business, law, health and public policy education, and programming.

13) It is with sadness that I share the news that William J. Gavin, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, has passed away. With an interest in American philosophy, especially William James and John Dewey, and facility for several languages, including Russian, Greek, Latin, and French, Dr. Gavin spent 47 years teaching at USM until his retirement in 2014. To learn more about his remarkable life, please see this obituary that appears in the Portland Press Herald.  

On a personal note, throughout the week my mind returned many times to the authentic and eloquent message sent by Director of Residential Life Christina Lowery to our students after 14 months of working incessantly to keep the community virus-free. She acknowledges the impressive response of our residential students to our collective calls for safe actions. Her points can be extended to the many faculty, staff, and community members who also displayed a commitment to the well-being of others and leadership. Here is an excerpt from Christina's message:

"Lastly, I want to share a personal thank you. This year has been strange to say the least. I would have never imagined a year like this. It has been full of challenges, and every time we met one, I was inspired by you. When we asked everyone to change how you moved in, you did it. When we asked everyone to keep their close contacts low and test frequently, you did it. When we asked you to sacrifice time with friends to keep yourself and everyone around you healthy, you did it. Our community has been extraordinarily successful keeping ourselves safe this year by every measure, and that is because of you. This year was a demonstration that individual choices have a profound impact on those around them, and you continually amaze me with the selflessness you show. I am proud to be part of this amazing, caring community."

May your week — and summer — be full of learning, connections, and appreciation for our amazing, caring community.
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