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USM and Gorham Savings Bank Partner for Promise Scholars

Jacob Curtis, a first-year undergraduate at the University of Southern Maine, is the first USM Promise Scholar to participate in a paid internship at our pilot placement employer, Gorham Savings Bank. This new initiative seeks to connect underserved students with area businesses aligned with their field of study.

The Promise Scholarship Program is designed to help students overcome financial and academic barriers, remain in school, and graduate in four years with less debt — prepared to make their own contributions to Maine’s social and economic well-being.

Jacob grew up in Brewer, Maine. His dad, a single father, passed away after battling terminal cancer when Jacob was young. After his father’s death, Jacob moved in with his brother.

“There was not much support on how to go to college. I was alone,” said Jacob. “If I wanted to go to college, I would have to do it myself and find ways to retrieve opportunities that weren’t there.”

Justine Cone, JMG Career Specialist at Brewer High School, nominated Jacob for the Promise Scholarship Program at USM. The Promise Scholarship receives nominations from more than thirty-five ­­­­­­­yo­­uth-serving organizations across the state of Maine including JMG, Boys & Girls Club of Southern Maine, Olympia Snowe Women’s Leadership Institute, ProsperityME and TRIO Upward Bound.

“It taught me grit growth mindset,” he said. “I was able to apply this at a very young age. JMG exposed me to these opportunities. It’s what you make of it. I took every resource I could get to help me in school. After my seventh-grade year, the lightbulb went on because of JMG and the specialists there.” 

Jacob graduated from Brewer High School in 2021 with multiple academic scholarships, including the USM Promise Scholarship and the USM Presidential Scholarship. As the first person in his family to go to college, Jacob chose the University of Southern Maine as a path to his future.

A different kind of scholarship

The Promise Scholarship Program is a partnership with Maine’s youth development organizations and looks to them to recommend and refer strong candidates for admission to USM and for The Promise Scholarship. Twenty-five Maine students are awarded the scholarship annually, which serves to “top-off” their financial aid package to ensure 100% of tuition, fees, and room & board are covered. Thanks to a recent $750,000 anonymous gift to the Promise Scholarship Program, USM has expanded Promise Scholarship aid to factor in on-campus room and board expenses as well as to provide for comprehensive wrap-around services.

“Promise provides first-generation, limited-income students with critical funding to ensure access to an affordable college education; however, access just helps scholars get through the door. Scholar persistence and retention rates are equally important program benchmarks. A key to persistence is a high level of student engagement and having scholars see a direct connection between their major and career path. Promise is piloting opportunity that aims to benefit scholars as well as the community workforce needs,” said Daniel Barton, USM’s Promise Scholarship Program Coordinator.

This scholarship also factors in the needs of employers at a time when many businesses are facing workforce shortages. Not only do young adults need experiential internship opportunities, but the industry also needs talented people on board.

“Jacob is our first USM Promise Scholar intern who has been placed with Gorham Savings Bank, our pilot placement employer, with the hope to pilot more by matching the needs of employers and the communities they serve with students studying relevant coursework,” said Barton. “Our goal is for students to see the value of internships early on in their undergraduate career by applying what they are learning in real-time, rather than waiting until their third or fourth year.”

Gorham Savings Bank leads the way

The decision to join forces with USM on this inaugural program was an easy one for Gorham Savings Bank (GSB).

“We strive to be a force for good in the communities we serve. Partnering with USM, and particularly the Promise Scholars Program, is a way for the bank to help level the playing field for underserved students by providing practical work experience and mentorship that will better position them for career opportunities after they finish school,” said Brian Robinson, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Gorham Savings Bank.

Jacob wanted to work specifically with this community bank because he felt they place a strong value on data in their decision making. He asked if the GSB team would allow him to work with their data sets while working on projects alongside them. It was an easy ‘yes’ for Matt Palmer, Vice President and Portfolio Analytics & Asset Recovery Manager at Gorham Savings Bank.

After an initial review, Jacob was permitted to use GSB’s real-time data for educational purposes, to develop financial simulations and forecasting models.

“It is incredibly valuable meeting the talented people working in the field and working with actual business data that could influence real decision making,” said Jacob.

Jacob spends three days a week at Gorham Savings Bank’s Operations Center in Gorham, working alongside Palmer. Given the resource parameters of a community bank and the opportunity to work with their data firsthand, Jacob developed his own internship project: using data analytics to determine predictive outcomes for commercial account delinquencies.

“I’ve given Jacob a somewhat nebulous assignment, giving him as much data as we can provide and asking him to apply various data modeling tools to attempt to identify any patterns or trends. The beautiful thing about the Promise Scholarship Program, at least in this instance, is that it’s not a for-credit endeavor, so it allows us tremendous freedom and flexibility to explore,” said Palmer.

The future is bright

Jacob is planning to graduate in the spring of 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in Business Analytics. After that, he plans to pursue either a graduate program in data science or to make connections to Silicon Valley. He’d like to start his own firm someday and says his experience at GSB showed him what values are needed to run a successful company in today’s marketplace.

“I learned things about myself way before college – starting in middle school. I did not want to be like everyone else. I wanted to break the cycle. I knew I had something to offer, something I had a passion for, something not many people were talking about,” Jacob says.

His biggest goal?

“To live up to the potential I know I have.”