Darby Murnane, Editor in Chief
Serna aims to add diversity to the UMF community and to build strong relationships with students (Photo courtesy of UMF).
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.”
By Elina Shapiro Staff Reporter
President Eric Brown recently spoke at the All Campus Meeting about UMF’s current financial position and future goals. Lincoln Auditorium roared with laughter as Brown started talking humorously about his transition to President from Provost.
Brown talked about plans to increase enrollment, including collaborating with other
UMaine campuses on different programs and courses, sending professors to local high schools to promote UMF and expanding the early college and graduate school programs.
Eric Brown is very involved in his first semester as Interim President. (Photo courtesy of UMF)
Brown mentioned that UMF is down 40 in-state students and noted the competition with other UMaine schools. “We work together, we’re part of the same system, but there is competition there. We are looking at a lot of the same students,” said Brown in an interview.
The percentage of UMF students who continue after their first year (71%) has gone down recently, but other UMaine schools are having similar problems.
“Our retention rates have dipped a bit but they’re probably still the highest in the system, actually,” said Brown. “Relative to the other campuses, we’re doing well. We exist on such a fine line that a few students here or a few students there have a big impact on retention.”
Brown has plans to increase UMF’s retention rate. “I would love to see a shift of our FYS classes, our first year seminars, to our first semester and give our students a really dynamic experience in that class, which would mean changing some of the ways that the course is designed,” said Brown.
UMF is also working on a system in which students can get help when they first start having problems. “One thing that we’ve been testing out this fall is finding out earlier about students who are struggling in a class and sending an early report,” said Brown. “We are trying to really get to those students sooner to find out what their situation is and provide resources.”
Though Brown mentioned some financial concerns throughout the talk, he also discussed areas of growth. “I go into it energetically, full speed,” said Brown. “We have a lot of exciting opportunities with new leadership in Honors, Experiential Education, with the kick-off of our New Commons Project, with movement around project-based learning and reimagining first year seminars and first semester experience.”
Patti Bailie, Assistant Professor of Early Childhood Education, felt encouraged by Brown’s words. “I was very impressed with Eric,” said Bailie. “I thought that he did a really good job of communicating both the challenges that we’re now faced with and the opportunities for future endeavors.”
At the end of his talk, Brown emphasized the importance to vote “yes” on the Bond on November 6th. 8.5 million dollars of this bond goes directly to Franklin County and could go to renovating the Student Center, the Mantor Library, residence halls, and Sweatt-Winter, the childcare center on campus.
Bailie strongly agrees that people need to vote for the bond. “[The bond] has got to pass!” said Bailie almost jumping out of her chair. “If you don’t vote for anything else, go and vote for the bond. Tell your families!”
Callie Bates, a junior Elementary Education major, thought the talk gave her a new perspective. “I think it’s important to understand what’s going on at the school, even logistically,” said Bates. “But where I am going into education I think it’s important to consider that not only from a student view but also from a teacher view – what will I expect when I am in the education system, as a professional educator, how it will look financially behind the scenes. I thought the perspective there would be a helpful thing.”
Students and faculty will receive emails indicating when the next All Campus Meeting will be and they can also check the website: https://www.umf.maine.edu/events/ where such events will be listed.
By Andrew Devine President
When I went to meet President Kate Foster one morning in April, I thought it would be the start of her day. To the contrary, when I entered her office at 8:30 a.m., she was already in the middle of an important phone.
President Foster later explained that she doesn’t have a “typical” day at UMF. Many of her days days are busy from start to finish, that no two days are the same.
President Kathryn Foster will be departing UMF at the end of the current semester after serving as President for six years. (Photo by Andrew Devine)
However, one day that stood out for President Foster was March 27, when she announced her upcoming departure from UMF.
Foster joined the UMF administration in 2012, as she said, on a risk. “You never could have expected, from my background, that I would be a college president,” stated Foster. “Farmington gave me an opportunity that was so profoundly moving and meaningful for me in my career, in what I care about, in pressuring the mission of higher public education, that I will always feel a debt of gratitude that I never think you could have for another place.”
In her time in Farmington, Foster has become an integral part of the community, from everyday student activities to major achievements towards advancing the institution. “Being present and being visible is a big part of being the president,” Foster explained in describing her responsibilities over the years. That, as well as being at the front of the mission of the university.
“You realize the promise of an institution. That’s the role.” Further explaining the complexity of her position, Foster continued, “How that manifests, how you play that out, the specific elements of that, that’s what varies every day.”
President Foster acknowledged that her role made her a “cheerleader-from-the- side” towards the university, and how she is widely known to be the most enthusiastic Beaver fan at any UMF sporting event.
None of this came without challenge. President Foster recognized the burden that available resources has on higher education. Funds, time and people are all essential yet scarce in bettering the institution.
This obstacle has been formative on the job for President Foster. “Knowing the essence of who you are, a self-reflection, that I think is really important, that helps you to know which challenges to go after, and which are the ones that are not your make.”
With all this reminiscing, reflection, and nostalgia for her time spent in Western Maine, President Foster had a few remaining remarks on her place in the community and what her successor should expect.
Foster started by noting, “For the person who’s coming to sit in this chair, there is an expectation.” Foster lists the indisputable responsibilities of the head of the administration. Most importantly, the last qualification she lists is that “there is an expectation that the president is someone who cares about the people here.”
There will be things President Foster misses about UMF, from Merrill’s views, to Downtown Farmington, to walking to the office. Undoubtedly, President Foster understands the impact that the UMF community has had in her time here.
In her announcement to the public that she would be departing from UMF following this school year, President Foster noted the support, warmth, and comradery felt by the people of UMF, and credited that to her enjoyment and success as president.
In concluding the interview, both of us with a warm feeling in our chests and fighting a happy tear, President Foster expressed her gratefulness for the UMF community, “I hope the support came from knowing how much I love this place, and maybe that I was all of those things that I described about this place. That the match was good, and there was a fit here that was real.”