Darby Murnane, Editor in Chief
New UMF President Edward Serna envisions a future of the university which fosters opportunity for greater student diversity, career development and increased community partnerships. Serna also aims to continue work started last spring in response to Bangor Daily News articles on UMF’s handling of sexual misconduct via Title IX investigations.
Serna said he is “curious to start developing a new marketing plan and to start investing in that area,” as a way of bolstering the diversity of UMF’s student population and outreach to prospective students. Part of this marketing campaign has entailed Serna traveling to Maine high schools and community colleges where he’s spoken with principles and administrative staff.
Coming from University of Arkansas- Fort Smith (UAFS), where Serna previously worked as the interim chancellor, he said, “We had a large Hispanic population, a large Vietanmese population, representing our campus population. So I think coming to Maine, which in my understanding is the oldest and whitest state in the union, there’s some challenges there. How do you create a diverse student body when your state doesn’t represent that?”
In his conversations with community colleges, Serna indicated that there are plans to arrange partnerships between these schools and UMF as part of student outreach. “[There’s] excitement around the community colleges to even partner with us,” he said.
Serna said that it is currently unclear exactly what those partnerships would entail but there will soon be follow-up meetings to discuss possibilities.
His vision for UMF’s community involvement exists hand-in-hand with his goals for more in-depth career development. “I think our mission has to be more about career development, not necessarily that first gateway job but about putting our students in a position to have a fulfilling life and a fulfilling career,” Serna said. He’s thinking of partnering with nonprofit organizations in the area, preferably ones that students might seek employment with post-graduation, and has spoken with the Board of Visitors on this topic.
“The partnerships have to make sense for that school,” he said, “. . . .[UAFS] is very much a workforce development school. . . .This was about social mobility for these kids and a better life. So I felt it was incumbent upon me to be their advocate so they would have those opportunities.”
Serna is strategizing, with help from the new Vice President of Student Affairs Christine Wilson, to address the lingering tensions from Title IX issues of last semester. According to Serna, his and Wilson’s conversations have focused on their goal to build a specific culture on campus: “. . .a culture of healthy relationships, a culture where people feel safe from harassment or discrimination, that’s our vision.”
Wilson and Serna are attempting to follow through on the proposals brought forth by students to address these issues. “. . .there were recommendations [for a student advocate position] made by [Look Us In The Eyes],” Serna said. “Christine is now working with those recommendations to get them implemented.”
“Personally, from my office, I want to continue to make sure that Students are heard,” Serna continued, “I want to make sure there are mechanisms in place that we hear you, and that we’re listening.”
He is also planning a President’s Advisory Council student representatives to establish more direct contact and transparency between the student body and his office. Serna ideally would like to hold monthly meetings with students, staff and faculty senates individually. “I want [the student’s] voice at the table. And it’s such a valuable perspective that I don’t know how we would operate without it,” he said.
Serna issues a call to UMF students to “keep having honest conversations with me, stop me when I walk into work in the morning.”
The sense of community at UMF and in Farmington as a whole has deeply moved Serna and drives his goals for the university. “Even with the tragedy that happened recently, I think the thing that really just took Lauren, my wife, and I back was just the outpouring of support from the community and the campus,” he said.
Following last week’s explosion of the LEAP building on Sept. 16, Serna attended the candle vigil in honor of the fallen fireman, Captain Michael Bell. “I was so proud and so encouraged by the number of UMF students there. . . I think sometimes the narrative about your generation, if you will, is that you’re disconnected, you’re not part of the community. It really moved me seeing how many of us were there supporting the community on a school night if you will. My daughter was there and it was so important for her to see.”