School of Business

USM Students Learn on the Job as Unum Scholars

Twelve students from the University of Southern Maine were chosen this summer as the first students in Maine to become part of the new Unum Scholars program. The Scholars are hired as employees at Unum, working in a specially-created team supported by mentors. They work as part-time client data specialists, while also being allowed to job shadow throughout the company in their areas of interest.

Dana Kerr, Associate Professor of Risk Management and Insurance at the USM’s School of Business, said, “Our students are not only are able to make money towards school, but they gain valuable work experience at a Fortune 500 company, and a head start towards potential full-time employment when they graduate.”

Unum Scholars-USM students Ben Polcaro and Adam Britten“As a student, this is a unique opportunity to get an inside look at a corporation and explore many different jobs, while working as an actual employee prior to graduating,” said Ben Polcaro, Unum Scholar and USM business major. “I’m interested in becoming a sales representative when I graduate, and this program is giving me a huge leg up on pursuing that goal.”

Unum launched the program in Maine this past May (having created it at their Chattanooga, Tenn. headquarters last year). The students are regular paid part-time employees, working anywhere from 15-19 hours per week and are able to work flexible hours so they can maintain their class schedule.

“Not only is this program a great alternative recruiting strategy — we gain a terrific talent pool — but we also provide students with meaningful work and compensation,” said Unum Director of Service Operations, Tony Bombassi. “The work they do every day will be valuable experience for them whether they work at Unum or pursue other endeavors. We are allowing the students to apply academia to the real world.”

“These students bring their learning from class right into Unum,” said Portland Unum Scholars manager, Dora Clements, “and our managers and other employees have really enjoyed working and learning from them as well – in fact, the USM students have been so successful, we’re working on recruiting another 20 this fall.”

Unum Scholar and business major, Adam Britten referenced Unum’s great reputation as an employer, and spoke about enjoying working with coworkers and management. He said, “The first month we were here, corporate leaders kept stopping by to meet us. Even the CEO, (Unum US CEO Michael Simonds), came in to meet with us – he was so down-to-earth – he told us to stop by anytime!”

The program is not just for business students. Currently there are 10 students from USM’s School of Business, and the group also includes an English major as well as a Health Sciences major. Clements said. “We encourage all students to apply – there are a wide variety of skills needed at Unum and liberal arts majors make valuable employees, bringing creative thinking to their jobs.”

Unum Scholar-USM Student Christina BlairUSM English major Christina Blair said, “The amount of networking, real world experience, and knowledge I have gained from this position is nothing I could have gotten anywhere else. There are so many areas in which you can grow and develop here at Unum. Through job shadowing, I have been presented with opportunities to work with many different departments, which has led me towards choosing a potential career path. So, no matter what your major is, this is a great program to be a part of.”

Clements also mentioned the importance of the experience the students gain as employees, saying, “As Unum Scholars, the USM students get a feel for the corporate culture here, participating in activities that enhance the camaraderie among Unum employees, including Young Professionals events, United Way fundraisers such as wiffleball tournaments, talent shows, BBQ lunches, and more.” She said the Scholars have even met with one of Unum’s financial planners to learn more about how to manage their finances such as student loans and savings accounts.

Unum Scholar-USM Student Katrina Pooler“People I know who work at Unum really like working here, and stay for a long time,” said Katrina Pooler, Unum Scholar, and business major. “I hope to get a full time job at some point, perhaps in the legal area, and I’m grateful for the opportunity that Unum Scholars and USM have given me.”

Students must have completed 60 credit hours and have a 3.0 GPA to apply. The program is designed for students who are typically juniors, or heading in to graduate school, so that they can take full advantage of the two-year Unum Scholars program.

For more information, students may visit the USM School of Business’ Unum Scholars web page, or email

Unum is a fortune 500 insurance company, headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn. They employ nearly 10,000 people in locations throughout the U.S. and worldwide, including Portland, Maine. Since their founding in 1848, Unum has been known for breaking new ground in the business of benefits, including Disability, Life, Accident and Critical Illness. More than 20 million people at 170,000 companies rely on Unum’s products and services – including a third of Fortune 500 companies.