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USM Grads Show Determination and Family Values

The University of Southern Maine’s 2011 commencement is a true family affair for many graduates, with some graduating with family members, others the children of alumni and yet others returning to USM to earn graduate degrees.

Imagine sitting next to your mother in graduate school.  That was Adrienne Briskey’s ‘98 experience as she worked toward her master’s in the American and New England Studies program. Her mother, Deborah Briskey ’04 of Westbrook, who earned a B.S. in technical education, decided to join Adrienne in ANES program. Adrienne, who holds a bachelor’s in geography and anthropology, followed her love of history to assistantships and volunteer experiences in USM’s Osher Map Library, Maine Historical Society, Pittsburgh’s Young Preservationists Association, and soon, an internship at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.  Now a resident of Pittsburgh, Adrienne also was a volunteer ESL tutor there. Deborah works full time at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough and wrote her thesis on the early 20th century eugenics movement with a case study on Pownal’s Pineland Hospital.

Another mother and daughter pair is Diana and Katie Jannelle of Saco.  Katie will receive a bachelor’s degree in geography and anthropology, with a concentration in anthropology. She spent the 2010-2011 academic year interning at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, doing something that was not possible a few years ago: taking courses required for her USM graduation online from more than one University of Maine System campus.  Mother of two, Diana has been a CNA for 15 years and began working on the B.S. in nursing she’ll receive this Saturday in 1999 when Katie was in middle school.  Her son, Nicholas Jannelle is a USM sophomore majoring in industrial technology.

Husband and wife, Nick Viti and Erin Masterson of South Portland, met at Bard College, moving to Nick’s home state of Maine in 2004.  Erin was working with autistic children and Nick was working at Spurwink Services when Erin began taking occupational therapy courses at USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College.  Realizing the occupational therapy graduate program would be a good fit for him, Nick enrolled as well.  Working together, they presented their research this spring at the American Occupational Therapy Conference and plan to do post-graduate internships at EPOCH centers on Cape Cod working with dementia, rehabilitation, and assisted living patients.

Scott Thurston’s story is one of keeping promises. The Chelsea resident will cross USM’s stage for the second time in his life; the first time was 53 years ago when his mother received her teaching degree while pregnant with him. Thurston enrolled at his mother’s alma mater in the ‘70s, but dropped out, promising his mother and himself to one day finish his degree.  Years later a serious motorcycle accident led Thurston to take stock of his life and he returned to USM to keep his promise, graduating with a degree in geography with a certificate in GIS digital cartography. This summer, he was invited to present his research on Viking exploration of the New World at the National GIS Conference in San Diego, and he also will head to the Shetland Islands, Scotland to work on a mapping project with USM Professor of Geography & Anthropology Matthew Bampton.

Single mother of seven children ranging from eight-year-old twins to 29, Kelly Akerley of North Bridgton is setting an example of perseverance for her children.  She has worked for 12 years on her B.S. in health sciences with a minor in holistic health, juggling a schedule most can’t imagine. Her own hearing impairment and the special needs of one of her younger children could not stop her. She explains that her kids have made sacrifices when she became a fulltime student two years ago. Older siblings helped care for younger ones, helping Akerley fulfil her dream of earning her college degree with honors – the first in her family. Future plans include seeing her 18-year-old daughter off to the University of Maine at Machias next fall and applying to graduate school.  She hopes to work with with children suffering from obesity to become physically fit.

Students from foreign countries come to USM for many reasons.  Some are foreign exchange students, some are immigrants, while others follow Maine spouses.

Maxwell Chikuta ‘09 of Portland dropped out of eighth grade when his parents divorced.  Facing unbelievable challenges growing up in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo, Chikuta and his wife immigrated to Maine in 2002. Making up for his lost years of education, this father of four attended Portland Adult Education ESL classes receiving his GED in 2004. He graduated in ’06 with an A.S. from Southern Maine Community College in HVAC-R, and in ’09 he graduated from USM with a B.S in industrial technology and management. Currently working as an HVAC-R technician at Maine Medical Center, he will receive a master’s degree in public policy and management. In his spare time, he volunteers for the Southern Maine Chapter of the American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, and at MMC’s Hospital Elderly Life Program, visiting local seniors without families.

Jillian Olivares Weil came to Maine as a cultural au pair working for a family in Cumberland. Her Maine family convinced her to remain in here, living with them while she earned her associate’s degree from Southern Maine Community College. She transferred to USM and will receive a bachelor’s degree in media studies Saturday. Weil was an elite gymnast, winning a gold medal at the National Championship in Mexico. She hopes to stay in Maine, but is willing to do her Optional Practical Training, a program designed to give foreign exchange students work experience in their chosen field, anywhere in the U.S. Her mother arrives from Mexico this week to attend commencement.

Australia’s Christopher Waltham met Maine’s Tracey Toner ‘10 in Mali where she was in the Peace Corps and he was working for an Australian mining company. It was during his time in Mali that he decided to pursue his bachelor’s degree, and applied to USM.  They moved to Portland in 2005 and Toner received a M.S. in nursing last year. Waltham will graduate with honors Saturday, earning a bachelor’s degree with a double major in political science and economics. He works as an IT engineer at Bowdoin and serves as the Polar Bear’s assistant varsity field hockey coach. He plans to study law in the future. Waltham married into a USM family with many members employed by the university over the years, including his mother-in-law Sharmon Toner. She is administrative manager in the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, working on her bachelor’s in fine art degree.

Serena Dawn Gosbee of Sebago, Maine, will be the student commencement speaker, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in communications. She was inducted into the Golden Key International Honour Society and the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, and received the Outstanding Senior in Communication Award. After graduation, she plans to continue working at AMEC Earth and Environmental in South Portland while exploring opportunities to work with children. She is the daughter of Robin Gosbee’82 and the late Lane Gosbee ‘03 of Sebago.