by Maxen Ryder, Distribution Manager
UMF is welcoming Cortney Benjamin as a new Spanish professor this year. With Benjamin’s experiences visiting Buenos Aires and passion for the Spanish language, she has been labeled as a great addition to the UMF language faculty.
Benjamin has been learning Spanish most of her life. However, she was originally intent on learning French. “I was in middle school and I really wanted to take French, but my mom told me I had to take Spanish since there were more Spanish speaking communities near me when I was growing up. She thought it would be more useful, so I took both,” said Benjamin.
When planning out her young adult life, Benjamin was advised to stick to one language and dive into one culture. “I planned on taking both [Spanish and French] all through college and when it came time to study abroad I was gonna do one semester in Buenos Aires and one semester in Paris, but the study abroad advisor told me it would be a better idea to just pick one place and stick with it the whole year,” said Benjamin.
Originally from North Dakota, Benjamin felt a culture shock while experiencing Buenos Aires. “It was a very big change for me,” said Benjamin. “You know, I’m from Fargo, which is the biggest city in North Dakota, but it’s still not that big. And it’s not a place that people move to from other places. You are either born in North Dakota, or you’ve moved away from North Dakota…But Buenos Aires was huge, and I remember feeling like I had so much freedom.”
However, Buenos Aires was a great influential experience for her. “It’s such a wonderful place,” said Benjamin. “The architecture is so beautiful. It’s a very international city because of the different waves of immigration that came to Buenos Aires. Yeah, it really opened my eyes to living somewhere besides North Dakota.”
These experiences clearly instilled a passion for the language in Benjamin, as noticed by student Rachel Beechin. “I thought she had a real passion for the subject and was always eager to answer questions,” Beechin said.
When first arriving at UMF, Benjamin liked the small, tight-knit liberal arts community. “I think the liberal arts are so important. It’s so important to learn to think creatively and think critically, it’s important to learn how to write well,” said Benjamin. “It seemed like the students really had a voice on campus…and I really like the close relationship between faculty and students on campus.”
Benjamin’s background and values have increased her strengths as a Spanish professor. Alba Fernández, a Spanish teaching assistant, admires Benjamin’s passion for going above and beyond in teaching Spanish.”She teaches from a cultural perspective. She cares a lot about each student. If you have a particular situation and you need help, if you need to Zoom from home, or if you need extra help, she is willing to help,” said Fernández. “Learning a language involves your previous knowledge and your skills depend a lot on your work, but also who’s there on the other side helping you.”
To Fernández, having that personalized attention from the professor can make a difference when learning a new language. “Cortney [Benjamin] really cares about your particular case, not only with your schedule or personal issues and stuff, but she [also] cares about your individual learning process,” said Fernández.
Benjamin has found that the most meaningful benefit for her through teaching is the impact she has on her students. “I think it’s just helping students find their place as a global citizen, to think about themselves as citizens of the world,” said Benjamin.
Benjamin finds herself in a lot of students that haven’t explored the world outside of New England, as she had once been a young person who had never left her home state of North Dakota. “I think language classes are a way to explore the rest of the world in a fun way that may lead to future career opportunities and future travel once the pandemic is over, hopefully,” said Benjamin. “So I think what’s important to me is helping students develop some cultural humility and realize how hard it is to learn another language.”
Because of her experiences studying abroad, she always encourages students to take the opportunity to explore the world while attending UMF during safer circumstances through the international study abroad programs. “Study abroad is so important and it’s so important to what I do,” said Benjamin. “Hopefully, once the pandemic is over, there will be a lot of opportunities for UMF students to study abroad.”
If students are interested in studying abroad, she welcomes students to come to her with any questions they may have. “I’m always available to talk to students about my study abroad experience in Buenos Aires because it was such a life-changing experience for me,” said Benjamin. “It really opened my eyes coming from a more rural area of the United States. I hope that UMF students are able to take part in that sooner rather than later.”
If students are interested in studying abroad, email Lynne Eustis, Assistant Director of Global Education, at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule an advising session or visit the Office for Global Education in room 106 in the Fusion Center.
by Maxen Ryder, Distribution Manager
The University of Maine at Farmington welcomes Lewis Robinson as the new fiction writing professor this Autumn. Robinson, a kind and intelligent man, is the writer of “Water Dogs” and a short story collection “Officer Friendly and Other Stories.” He originally came to campus as part of UMF’s Visiting Writers Series. His first visit to UMF inspired Robinson to take an interest in teaching college students. “I was really struck by how passionate the students were at that reading and just how much excitement there was around the creative writing program,” he said. “And how it just seemed as though in the UMaine system this is the place to be if you’re a dedicated creative writing student.”
Two years ago, Professor Pat O’Donnell invited him to teach a section of Introduction to Fiction Writing, it was here when Robinson realized that UMF would be a good place to teach. “I had a great group of students that term and really enjoyed the class,” he said. “I feel like we got a lot of good work done. And so that made me think ‘Oh, this would be a really fun place to teach.” One such former student, Hannah Binder, similarly found Robinson to be a meaningful instructor in that class. “The adaptability of his teaching style is really key, but I also think that lends itself to a freedom that he gives to his students because he respects his students as writers as well as students,” Binder said. “So we were not confined to the ideas or the directions that he previously laid out in the course… if we wanted to run with ideas on our own, he would help us to do that.”
As a new professor at UMF, Robinson finds teaching a powerful opportunity in the world of creative writing. “I’m thinking about fiction writing a lot, you know it’s at the center of my life, and most of that thinking and work that I do is on my own, so teaching is an opportunity to share some of those thoughts that I have around fiction writing and to work with students who are also doing the work on their own but need to have a forum to discuss works in progress…” he said. “Those of us interested in writing love reading, love writing, and so much of that work is solitary, but I do think that there’s a time and a place for people getting together and sharing their thoughts about how fiction works and how writing works.”
Growing up Robinson read and wrote, but in college he became more serious about both pursuits. “I had a mentor who really encouraged me to build a life around writing, or he said this was something you could do,” Robinson said. Post-college, Robinson worked as an assistant for novelist John Irving for two years and helped with letters, relations with the public, and was the first reader for the writer’s first drafts among other tasks. After, Robinson moved to New York and worked in publishing and as a driver moving artwork for galleries and museums. During this time, Robinson worked on his own writing and was published. This allowed him to build a portfolio to apply for an MFA in fiction writing at the University of Iowa. Soon he began teaching fiction writing and published his first book. Robinson worked at University of Southern Maine’s MFA program for eight years, and held several teaching jobs at various schools.
For many years, Robinson has known fellow UMF creative writing professor Jeff Thomson. “I first met Lewis at a writing workshop held by MWPA maybe ten years ago,” Thomson said in an email. “He was the fiction faculty and I was working poetry. We immediately hit it off and have been friends ever since.” Thomson understands the strengths Robinson brings to teaching fiction in Farmington. “I think the most meaningful aspect for him as a teacher—besides his remarkable skill as a writer—is the empathy and care he shows to his students. He knows what it means to struggle to bring character and place to life on the page and is able to nurture students towards that same level of excellence.”
In addition to teaching fiction writing at UMF, Robinson is working on finishing the third major revision of his new novel with plans to then sell it. At the University, he is excited about “building relationships with colleagues and with students.” Farmington is certainly lucky to have him. In regards to his new role in the creative writing department, Robinson is optimistic. “I’ve really enjoyed this job for the first seven weeks, and that’s despite the challenges we’re facing right now with wearing masks and keeping socially distant so I kind of feel like the job will only get better,” Robinson said. “I think it’s just an opportunity to build relationships with people and help people pursue their own artistic goals.”
by Cassidy Delano Contributing Writer
The Early Childhood Education (ECH) Department has brought in Dr. Josh Hill as a new professor in hopes that he will add a new perspective to the program starting this semester.
Dr. Hill was initially hired in Dec. 2019, but not before he came to UMF for nearly three days in order to get interviewed for the position, do a teaching demonstration in Dr. Mellisa Clawson’s ECH 256 class, and to conduct a research demonstration.
Dr. Clawson made a positive first impression, “He was very outgoing, personable, and friendly,” said Dr. Clawson. “Those to me are very good signs. It made me confident that he would be a good fit for our staff and students to work with.”
Dr. Hill has been exposed to many different classroom settings because of his unique experiences prior to teaching at UMF. He got his undergraduate degree in International Relations, but when he couldn’t find a job in that field, he decided to join Americorp Vista, where he first got exposed to leadership in classroom settings. “I was organizing mentor programs in Delaware elementary schools and I began mentoring a young kindergarten student,” Dr. Hill said. “I loved the experience and became interested in teaching young children.”
From there he went on to get his masters in Early Childhood Special Education at the University of North Carolina Greensboro and then moved on to get his doctorate at the University of South Carolina where he also taught as a graduate position.
Now in his first semester teaching at UMF, Dr. Hill believes he is settling in nicely with the campus and the people in it. “The community aspect is really nice here,” Dr. Hill said. “Everyone is always checking in to make sure everything is okay.”
In all the years she’s worked at UMF, Dr. Clawson has only seen one other male professor in the ECH department, but he only taught for a year. Dr. Clawson knows that Dr. Hill is a valuable addition to the community and students coming through the ECH major. “Josh’s knowledge and friendliness in the field make him a great fit for the department,” she said. “His specialized knowledge will bring more diversity to our community. Having more diversity in the department is appealing, our departments and students will really grow from that. I’m looking forward to having a new perspective and collaborating with him.”
Kiley Chambers, a junior in the ECH program, was in ECH 256 when Dr. Hill did the teaching demonstration in Dr. Clawson’s class last semester and was excited to learn he’d be teaching ECH 232 this semester. “I really like how passionate he is about teaching and the topics that he is teaching,” said Chambers. “He seemed very open and understanding during the demonstration and having him as a professor now has solidified that thought.”
by Skylar Hopkins Contributing Writer
If the flap of a single butterfly’s wings can have rippling effects across the world, what impact might a professor who researches butterfly conservation have? Dr. Ronald Butler has been a professor in the Division of Natural Resources at the University of Maine at Farmington since 1986.
In the past 34 years, he has taught and mentored thousands of students through summer research projects and courses such as Zoology, Entomology, Ornithology, Ecology, Conservation Biology, and Tropical Island Ecology. His students now live across the world, spreading the ecological knowledge and life lessons he passed down to them.
Butler’s biology courses were always popular because he took students on field trips to study local wildlife. Students fondly remember tiptoeing through meadows with a butterfly net, flipping rocks in streams to look for aquatic insects, and looking at lichens on trees using a hand lens. (Many housemates and parents of Butler’s students less fondly remember unexpectedly finding a collection of dead insects in the freezer, waiting to be pinned for a class project.)
Many students made lifelong friends and memories during Tropical Island Ecology, a travel course that Butler co-taught with Dr. Nancy Prentiss, which involves snorkeling in coral reefs and hiking in tropical forests on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Though his field trips were literally “a walk in the park”, Butler’s courses were more like strenuous and rewarding hikes than casual strolls. First-year biology majors crammed for his Zoology exams. Ecology students sat in the Spatial Ecology Lab at all hours of the day and night running statistical tests. Entomology students fretted over microscopes while counting tiny insect hairs or analyzing wing veins, because Butler would subtract two times as many points as an insect was worth in their final collection if they included an insect identified incorrectly. All of this made his students work harder and achieve more at UMF and in their careers after college.
Amidst his full teaching and mentoring responsibilities, Butler always found time to be a champion of insect conservation in the state of Maine and beyond. He has been an integral part of several state-wide citizen science initiatives, including the Maine Damselfly and Dragonfly Survey, the Maine Butterfly Survey, and the Maine Bumble Bee Atlas. While participating in those projects, his summer research students often lived their best lives. Butler also published many scholarly articles about critters ranging from lichens to birds to insects and guidebooks for insects in Maine and New England.
Butler will be retiring from teaching at UMF after this academic year and his science fiction book recommendations and iconic phrase of agreement (“right, right, right”) will be dearly missed. Despite retiring, Butler will continue to be involved in insect conservation projects, including new book writing projects, for many years to come. His students and colleagues near and far wish him all the best of luck in his future endeavors.