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Claire M. Owens, 2019 Featured Graduate

Portrait of Claire Owens

Claire Owens can finally pull down the reminder to complete college that hung on her pantry door in Westbrook. After years of study — often shared with her 16-year-old daughter, Marie Claire — Owens has earned her bachelor's degree in French*. "She and I did our homework together every night," Owens said. "It was really fun to be in a place, like her, to challenge myself to do the best that I could." She is graduating Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree in French.

What led you to pursue your education at USM? After high school, I went straight to work as my family couldn't afford to help me financially. Guidance counselors had urged me to go to college, but I had a fear of accumulating debt. Nonetheless, having a great education was very important to me. (I finished in the top 30 of my high school class out of more than 500 students.) Fortunately, I was given tuition reimbursement opportunities through many of my workplaces, so USM was a perfect fit for me. It was local, well respected and offered night classes. I was able to take one class after another while I worked full time. In 2001, life got in the way, and I stopped taking classes. The thought of completing my B.A. seemed impossible as I was a single mother working six days a week. In the past few years, I began attending USM Corporate Partners' events and even joined the Membership Committee. At the urging of USM faculty members, I realized how important it was for me to graduate, so I placed a note on the inside of our pantry door. I was a senior and needed to complete my core classes. Due to a change in my work, I was able to partake in a program that would allow me to take the necessary classes to graduate. The encouragement of my professors, both in the past years and more recent, has kept me moving forward even through my fears. Without exception, everyone I have had contact with at USM has been encouraging, helpful, and outstanding. There are many stories of wonderful people stepping in to assist me in completing this lifelong dream. Thanks to them and hard work, I will be a proud USM graduate.

Have you had an experience at USM that you feel changed your life or your view of the world? USM provided me several opportunities to travel abroad where I was able to experience life in impoverished and wealthy areas of the world. Yet, the most impactful experience for me has been taking classes right here in Portland. As a returning student last semester, there were many obstacles and fears. I had no idea how I would traverse the bridge to completing my degree. The remaining required subjects were foreign to me (math, science and lab), and I was with much younger students. Culturally, it may have seemed like we were on different planets or at least it seemed that way at first. Through consistent effort, I was able to have great conversations with many of my classmates who had very diverse backgrounds and interests. USM facilitated an environment of learning, not only the subjects we were taking but also of people and communications. The professors were passionate and provided a space for all. The time spent with all of these students has enriched my life. I am grateful to them, my professors, and all the USM employees who work so hard to make our school a great place.

What are your future plans? I have a beautiful 16-year-old daughter who will be off to college in a few years. My immediate plan is to work on special projects for a global company where I can utilize my language and people skills while remaining here in this area. I am also passionate about USM and want to spread the word to the non-traditional students in our community. They too can complete their studies. I truly had an exceptional experience, and I am so grateful. In addition, as a connector, I hope to help others achieve their dreams. Just recently, one of my USM tutors mentioned that she wanted to work for a particular company. Through one of my personal contacts and mentoring, she was given an informational and second interview, and successfully landed an internship program. She helped me, and I helped her. Lastly, I want to continue my studies at USM and pursue a masters program.

Is there anyone you'd like to thank? There are many who have helped me throughout the years. As a returning student, I faced many fears, but pushed through with the help of my amazing professors. They included Dr. LaSala, Dr. Bouvier and Professor Reim. In addition, Susan McWilliams has been my foundation and guide throughout this journey to graduation. Thanks to the Registrar's Office and the Advising Office, with special thanks to Janis Albright who helped me jump into a statistics class without my even knowing it. She saved me from taking two additional math classes. There are many more including Danielle Vayenas, who kept me afloat throughout the entire process. It was a team effort, and I am most grateful.

Editors note: students may now pursue the French language at USM with a degree in Linguistics, concentrating in French, or pursue a French minor.