Office of the President

Monday Missive (Sept. 14, 2020)

Dear USM Community,

I was not aware that the Dalai Lama tweeted. The very thought of it underscores the technologically anemic — and tweet-free — approach I take with my own personal communications. The spiritual leader’s 280-characters-or-less message also challenged my assumption that tweeting is done primarily to disparage adversaries, push personal agendas, and insult those unconvinced of our perfect perspectives on the world.

In the tweet that came to me this morning by way of my good friend David, the Dalai Lama prescribed a simple, straightforward approach to happiness and peace: "Honest concern for others is the key factor in improving our day-to-day lives. When you're warm-hearted, there is no room for anger, jealousy, or insecurity. A calm mind and self-confidence are the basis for happy and peaceful relations with each other.”

A darn good message, regardless of the medium. And a powerful reminder for me, in this week's Missive, to point out how honest concern for others lies at the heart of what we do at USM:

1. I’m grateful to USM’s Student Government Association for offering to let me sit in on their bi-weekly meeting the other day. I watched them carefully deliberate several crucial issues that benefit our students and the university as a whole, while doing so in a way that encourages and welcomes a new and diverse set of senators to represent all USM students.

2. This past week, our Health Services and Residential Life teams received powerful affirmation for how they are supporting students when they received this feedback from an advisor of a student who had been in quarantine: Although the student was scared at first, both she and her parents said they thought everything that was done to care for her — from the van ride to quarantine housing, to the arrangements for meals, etc. — made her feel really supported and cared for throughout the experience. Everyone did a great job. For the latest counts at USM and other System campuses, please see the daily announcements on the Together for Maine website. You can also find aggregated test result data on the System’s COVID-19 Testing Summary dashboard. (Scroll down a bit at the link to see the dashboard.)

3. Unified Accreditation throughout the University of Maine System has allowed USM to garner a new program — Elementary Education — through an initial vote of the Board of Trustees Academic Affairs Committee. While USM has always offered the ability to be certified as an elementary educator, we had not officially offered the degree for several decades. My deepest thanks to Professors Flynn Ross and Andrea Stairs-Davenport, Dean Jo Williams, and Provost Jeannine Uzzi for their successful shepherding of the process.

4. I’m pleased and proud to report that US News and World Reports’ just-released college rankings highlight USM’s place among the top public universities in the Northeast. In particular, the prestigious rankings shine a light on the strength of our engineering programs and the degree to which our graduates realize upward social mobility as a result of receiving a USM education. For social mobility, US News and World Report gauges the graduation rates of students who receive federal Pell Grants. Students receiving these grants typically come from households whose family incomes are less than $50,000 annually, though most Pell Grant money goes to students with a total family income below $20,000. I see these rankings as evidence of how academic excellence and affordability continue to be hallmarks of the USM educational experience.

5. The challenges of the pandemic may compromise our ability to see the good around us, feel gratitude, and find the energy to celebrate. But that’s all the more reason we shouldn’t miss an opportunity to commemorate important milestones. Especially if you feel the need to experience a little joy, I encourage you to see this beautiful video of the late-August Nursing Pinning Ceremony featuring remarks by Class Marshalls Lisa Hale and Serena Wade. In the first-of-its-kind ceremony for USM, students in individual vehicles formed a parade around the Gorham Campus and, one by one, drove up to stations in front of the Costello Sports Complex, where they received their pins, diplomas and congratulations from faculty and staff. Despite the pouring rain, having the opportunity to personally acknowledge each of our accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduates in these circumstances was one of the highlights of the year for me.

6. As you may have learned from various local media outlets, Portland Mayor Kate Snyder recently named the 13 members of a new racial equity steering committee that’s charged with examining the role of police in city life, evaluating the structures and policies that disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, and recommending changes to improve community relationships and root out systemic racism. Among those named to the racial equity steering committee are our own Suheir Alaskari, Student Employment Specialist in USM’s Career & Employment Hub, and Pious Ali, a Policy Associate in the Cutler Institute’s Children, Youth, and Families Program. I hope you will join me in thanking them for their service to our community through their leadership on this vital committee.

7. It’s no secret that the pandemic has created significant employment challenges for our current students and recent graduates. Recognizing this, USM’s Career & Employment Hub team has developed a robust schedule of Career Talks that I encourage students to participate in as they navigate the COVID-era job market. In each of these Zoom-based Career Talks with representatives from a broad range of businesses and organizations — Martin's Point Health Care, Covetrus, Tilson Technologies, and Maine Association of Non-Profits, to name a few — employers will begin by presenting on their organization and then engage students in informal discussions that will provide plenty of opportunities to ask questions. No RSVP is required. This Friday’s presentation with MaineHealth shouldn’t be missed, as the state’s largest health care organization employs more USM graduates than any other organization outside the University itself. During their Career Talk, MaineHealth will hold two employer panels representing the broad spectrum of opportunities across their organization.

8. In case you missed my email to the USM Community earlier today, we will soon get underway with a new testing regime in our efforts to identify possible cases of COVID-19 among our students, staff, and faculty. This Amplified Screening will be much like the testing of residential students that was conducted before the start of the fall semester. Through Amplified Screening, we will conduct asymptomatic testing of our residential students on Monday, Sept. 21. Please keep an eye out for future emails that will provide residential students with specific instructions. And please see my email from this morning for an explanation of how the Amplified Screening differs from Phase Three testing, which began today.

9. Finally, please join me in congratulating John Gale, Senior Research Associate in the Cutler Institute’s Population Health & Health Policy Program, for receiving the 2020 Calico Leadership Award in August. Gale received the honor from the National Rural Health Resource Center for his outstanding leadership, guidance, and dedication focused on improving the quality of health care in rural America.

On a personal note, my friend Doug and I spent Saturday and Sunday kayaking the west side of the Penobscot, rounding Owls Head from the Rockland Town Landing and camping on the south side of Monroe Island. After setting up camp, we paddled south to the Mussel Ridge, an archipelago of islands off South Thomaston and Spruce Point. The intricately connected islands offer stunning beauty, serenity, and an abundance of seabirds and seals. Best of all, the absence of light pollution over Monroe means the night skies provide a visual display of stars that has few parallels. Nothing generates more questions and awe for me than this celestial splendor.

May your week be full of learning, connections, questions, and awe — and may you keep honest concern for others at the heart of all you do.