AmeriCorps Vista Experience at University of Maine at Presque Isle

Written By: Mary Ndukwe

As part of the Northern New England Campus VISTA collaboration, my host site is a part of the Maine Campus Compact. This coalition of 18 member campuses purpose is to catalyze and lead a movement to reinvigorate the public purposes and civic mission of higher education.

The goal of my position at the University of Maine at Presque Isle (UMPI) is to develop programs that will increase access and retention to higher education for low income individuals. Working on a university campus was the major influence for me to want to pursue a career in higher education. I work with UMPI’s TRiO programs such as Upward Bound, Talent Search, and Student Support Services addressing and improving college access. This project will support retention efforts on campus particularly as it relates to early college, low income and first-generation students. It will also serve an essential role in expanding our focus on building upon and sustaining programs that promote community service, civic engagement, diversity, and inclusion.

With UMPI being a small institution I have had the opportunity to build connections and learn about different areas within student affairs. As a recent graduate, working alongside student activities and residence life as a professional has been a great way to interact with students. Regarding my professional development, I am involved in some of the university committees working with professional staff and faculty. Also, during my term as a VISTA, I have had the opportunity to attend a conference and training related to higher education. Serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA has been an extraordinary introduction into the world of higher education.

NECPA Award Winner Spotlight – Molly Hansen

Emerging Professional of the Year Award Winner – Molly Hansen

What do you love most about working at Bunker Hill Community College?

What I love most about working at Bunker Hill Community College is the drive and perseverance of the student population. Each student I have met shows dedication to their education and pursuit of learning. While operating the DISH Food Pantry, I have had the opportunity to serve and get to know students who come from all different backgrounds and career pathways—and they are all proud to be Bunker Hill Community College students. Additionally, the support for basic needs initiatives at Bunker Hill is unlike anything I have seen at any other institution. The staff and administration are not only acutely aware of the issue, but make intentional efforts to support students who are struggling with food and basic needs insecurity. I am proud to work at BHCC for my first full-time position!

Who inspired you to get involved in Higher Education?

My passion for higher education started at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where I completed my undergraduate degree. I saw firsthand how food and housing insecurity impacted my classmates’ ability to complete assignments, pay attention in class, and be an active member of the college community. Through my work with UA Campus Pantry, I was able to assist my peers with this issue by distributing food and hygiene items on a bi-weekly basis. In addition, my involvement with Residence Life, Office of Admissions, Career Services, and the Women’s Resource Center made it clear to me that working with college students was something that I was passionate about. When I started my graduate program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, I began researching ways in which basic needs insecurity impacted the college student experience. This led me to write my master’s thesis on the creation, management, and sustainability of college food pantries. In my current role, I hope to assist students who are currently facing food insecurity, while also being an advocate for policy change on the state and local level.

What advice would you offer to new professionals who are starting their first professional position?

My advice to new student affairs professionals is to be as intentional as possible in getting to know your campus community. Take time to meet with various offices around campus to introduce yourself—these personal connections are extremely helpful when planning collaborative efforts. Get to know the student population by reaching out to Student Government Association and other student-led groups, and take advice and feedback about your initiatives from them seriously!

NECPA Award Winner Spotlight – Tita Feraud-King

Graduate Student of the Year Award Winner – Tita Feraud-King

What do you love most about working at UMass Amherst?

UMass Amherst supports all my diverse passions and gives me opportunities to do whatever I am interested in. I have been able to supervise student staff, teach within the second semester of working there, work on changing residential curriculum and the teaching lesson plans, sit on very important university committees, and present my research. UMass helps me entwine my passion for social justice in every aspect of my professional and academic life.

Who inspired you to get involved in Higher Education?

There are two people who inspired me to get involved in Higher Education: Dean Jacqueline Peterson and Robert Jones. Both are two people of color who were able to carve unique spaces in Higher Education to support all marginalized intersectional identities. Dean Peterson showed me that it is possible to have strong connections with students even when you are on top and work on changing a campus climate. Robert Jones taught me how to be a great facilitator, engage with students, empower students to use their voices and stand tall, and advocate for underrepresented students.

What advice would you offer to new professionals who are starting their first professional position?

One piece of advice that I would give any new professional is to have an open-minded with job opportunities. You may think you know what you like and strong dislike, but sometimes jobs will surprise you. I originally did not want to do residential life and did not see the connection between my passion for social justice and housing, but decided to do so for my graduate assistantships. I absolutely love my job and working with my residents. I have grown as a supervisor, social justice advocator, and facilitator. 

NECPA Award Winner Spotlight – Corey Olsen

Champion of Equity and Inclusion Award Winner – Corey Olsen

What do you love most about working at Signum University?

I love the opportunity to help establish new systems that treat employees more fairly and generously.  Starting up a university from scratch has been a ridiculous amount of work, but the opportunity to establish some completely new working systems that leave behind many of the traditional injustices and imbalances common to higher education has been a wonderful compensation for all the headaches!

Who inspired you to get involved in Higher Education?

I began my higher education journey as a teacher, and it is still classroom teaching and interacting with students that I love best.  I was inspired to become an entrepreneur and a leader of my own institution by the desire to seize the opportunity to crack some of the biggest problems in the industry: the student debt problem, the inflationary growth of university administration, and the routine exploitation of faculty and staff.  Hitting the reset button has been challenging, but fun, and very rewarding.

What advice would you offer to new professionals who are starting their first professional position?

My advice to a new professional would be to be willing to think outside the box and to question the established traditions of higher education.  The existing power structure of your institution may or may not encourage this, but Change is coming to our industry, and you owe it to yourself to be thinking forwards and preparing to find your way among the changes that are beginning.