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Students Making a Difference: Mary-Elizabeth Simms ’17

Mary-Elizabeth Simms

USM students are making their mark on their cities and towns. USM Connects recently spoke with two students about their community engagement. Here, Mary-Elizabeth Simms '17 discusses how courses for her two master's degrees, plus her experience helping to develop the University's new Food Studies program, are helping her prepare for a career in healthcare management.

Mary-Elizabeth Simms ’17

I grew up in Cape Elizabeth. My parents moved to Maine from Washington, D.C. in the early 90s when I was 3. I think they chose Maine because of the quality of life, and the fact that it’s an incredible place to grow up. I just completed my Master’s in Public Health this May, and I’ll be wrapping up a Master of Business Administration this December. I live in Portland and work at a local health care organization.

How did you make your way to USM?

In 2010, I was wrapping up my junior year of high school and looking for a way to graduate early. USM worked with me and allowed me to matriculate as a full-time student and complete the last course I needed to graduate high school at the college level. I decided to stay and complete my degree at USM for a number of reasons including its incredible location and the fact that I was able to build lasting connections with individuals at numerous organizations in the Greater Portland community. 

My decision to continue on for the Master’s in Public Health and Master’s in Business Administration was driven by the fact that I love living and working here. I’ve seen Portland change a lot over the past 20 years, but it’s an amazing place to be right now, especially as a young professional.

How have you been involved in your community?

I got involved in working on food-related projects at an internship I had in the Planning and Urban Development Office of the City of Portland. Much of my research focused on analyzing and cataloging existing codes, policies and practices that support a sustainable food system. I found this work fascinating from both a public health and economic development perspective. And when I decided to pursue the master’s degrees at USM, I jumped onto a project focused on developing a new food studies program, which just launched last January. 

What is the greatest satisfaction in your community work?

I think it all comes down to the connections piece. Portland is a highly connected town – everyone knows everyone else, and it seems like we all operate within two degrees of separation as opposed to the standard six. This level of connectivity certainly helped me feel hyper-involved in supporting Portland’s community, but it also helped me orient myself and expand as both a student and as a professional.

How has USM helped you prepare for the future?

At USM, I learned how to put myself out there, and pursue opportunities that I thought were interesting even though they didn’t necessarily relate to my degree. As an undergrad student, I interned at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, with a local jewelry designer, at Unum, and later at Maine Medical Center. I loved that I was encouraged to explore areas that didn’t fit into the traditional “business studies” box.

What do you hope to be doing in five years?

I’d love to be working in health care management. There are so many amazing things happening in health care right here in Maine, and I want to be a part of it.

What is the one thing you would like people to know about USM?

The school is quickly rising to the top in terms of being able to provide students with opportunities for growth and development, and connecting them with local resources and industries.


This story originally appeared in the Fall/Winter 2017 edition of USM Connects.