Year of Opportunity Success Stories

Opportunities shaped the life of Jessica Brancely, and now she wants to pay it forward


Jessica Brancely ’14, ’20, a resident of Saco, Maine received her medical biology degree from UNE in 2014. She was recently accepted into the College of Osteopathic Medicine’s doctor of osteopathy program and will begin her studies in August. While pursuing her undergraduate studies, Jessica was the recipient of a Presidential Scholarship and a Global Education Scholarship. These scholarships allowed her to explore her interests in the neurosciences and spend a semester studying abroad in Seville, Spain. Jessica says the opportunity to apply for the Doctors for Maine’s Future Scholarship, along with her experience serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer, were important factors in her decision to apply to the College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is passionate about serving her community and paying it forward. 

When Jessica first applied to UNE as an undergraduate student, she was offered a Presidential Scholarship, but instead decided to enroll at another institution. After one semester, she transferred to UNE and was pleased to learn she could still take advantage of the scholarship originally offered to her. Having come from a university where class sizes were 300 plus, the smaller class sizes at UNE allowed her to form more personalized relationships with fellow classmates and professors.

Jessica’s hard work caught the attention of her professor, Dr. Lei, who asked her to do research over her first summer at the University. This opportunity to join Dr. Lei’s research team solidified Jessica’s interest in the neurosciences and provided her with an experience she could apply to real life work. During her sophomore year, Jessica studied neurogenesis (the formation of brain tissue) in baby and adult mice to see how the deletion of a particular gene may affect the development of brain tissue, and how this could impact the possibility of developing a neurodegenerative disorder like Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease.

One of Jessica’s best UNE experiences would come a semester later, when she received the Global Education Scholarship and studied at UNE’s satellite campus in Seville, Spain, the commercial hub of Andalusia. While in Seville, Jessica lived with a Spanish host family and studied Spanish culture, art and history. Her favorite aspects of living in Seville were being able to fully immerse herself into the culture and lifestyle of the city, and see firsthand the architectural treasures she learned about in her classes. Jessica also loved living with her host family and found it hard to return to the states at the end of the semester. But more opportunities awaited her back home.

During her senior year, Jessica was required to participate in a community service project. After meeting an AmeriCorps volunteer on the UNE campus, she became interested in and applied for a position in the Multilingual Leadership Corps, which places AmeriCorps members in Maine schools. She was accepted into the program, and currently works at Lewiston High School as a mentor, helping students problem solve academic and social issues. Also as a mentor, Jessica works closely with 25 multilingual students who hail from Somalia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Her students often need extra support because they may have missed school, or have a full load of classes while working to improve their English. Jessica describes this as the most rewarding job she has ever had, with the rewards being both emotional and spiritual.

“I’m not doing this for money or because it looks great on a resume. This is about the lives I’m touching and the true impact I am making on those lives. When I read their college essays and see what they’ve been through — living in a refugee camp, seeing family killed in front of them — it’s hard when they find themselves here getting detention for not being able to stand in a lunch line. This experience makes me even more determined to continue to do service in the medical field in the future.” 

Jessica is appreciative of all of the scholarship support and learning opportunities she’s received at UNE. “I could not have attended UNE without the continuing scholarship support UNE gave me throughout my years as an undergraduate student. This support has made tremendous impact on my life and I’m very grateful. These opportunities make me want to pay it forward. I’m very excited about continuing my medical studies in order to provide further support to the people of Maine.”

The Year of Opportunity

The Year of Opportunity



Ian Corbett ’14, ’19, graduated magna cum laude from the University of New England with a B.S. in medical biology and a minor in English and is currently a student at UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Chelsea Toussaint ’08, ’10,’17, a dental hygiene alumna who is currently a student in UNE’s College of Dental Medicine. On June 9, 2016, each spoke at the President’s Gala, introducing the Year of Opportunity.

As Maine natives, UNE undergraduate alumni and current students of UNE graduate schools, Corbett and Toussaint shared their stories of how opportunities they’ve received at UNE have already impacted their lives.

Ian and Chelsea with Pres Ripich

President Ripich looks on as student speakers Chelsea Toussaint and Ian Corbett take the stage.

Below we share excerpts as well as video highlights from their speeches.

Ian Corbett’14, ’19


My name is Ian Corbett, and I have recently completed my first year medical school student at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. I did not always want to pursue medicine, however. In fact, I can recall a conversation I had with my parents in 2010 when I became dissatisfied with my choice of major. I was certain I would be a pharmacist, but, as is often the case when confronted with young adulthood, began questioning my decision.

That I am speaking to you tonight should tell you that none of this actually came to fruition. It was, however, the beginning of building the life and future I wanted. I began that journey as a freshman, right here at UNE. My four years of undergraduate study culminated in an interest in the basic sciences and a passion for clinical medicine.

I took a gap year after graduating in 2014 and worked in the microbiology lab of UNECOM faculty, Dr. Meghan May. At the conclusion of my year-long experience in Dr. May’s lab, I had participated in investigating a novel way of predicting antibiotic resistance in common pathogens, and characterized growth rates and virulence factors in Mycoplasma gallisepticum, a zoonotic pathogen. More recently and following the conclusion of my first year of medical school, I began working under Dr. Katherine Hanlon investigating a novel approach to the treatment of breast cancer as part of a summer research fellowship. These special mentorships have provided deeper understandings of the basic sciences and have granted me windows into various specialties. As the primary educator of Maine’s physician workforce, particularly those in primary care, UNE upholds its responsibility of producing competent doctors. Early clinical exposure merged with rigorous basic sciences, I think, are what set students and graduates of UNECOM apart from their peers and colleagues.

UNE has provided the resources and opportunities that self-assured and searching freshman needed to become the person and burgeoning professional I am today. After completing my degree within UNE’s College of Arts and Sciences, continuing my education at its College of Osteopathic Medicine seemed like a natural progression. I knew my courses would be rigorous, that I would be supported and challenged by faculty and that there would be no shortage of opportunity when the next fork in the road arose on my path to becoming a physician.

At the moment, I think I’m in the market for a residency in internal medicine. It has an appealing breadth of practice and the patient relationships that will test and sustain me. Moreover, the need is certainly here in the state of Maine. I am also one of the fortunate few who have the added benefit of being a Doctor’s for Maine Future scholarship recipient. Your generosity has allowed me to pursue specialties based on personal interest, rather than out of financial necessity. I hope to repay your kindness by remaining in Maine to practice. If you’re lucky enough, it might be me walking into your exam room in a few years. I want to offer a sincere “thank you” for the support that has made this endeavor possible. As I mentioned before, I am one of the lucky few who found myself in the graces of your faith in my work ethic and personal investment in my future.

Chelsea Toussaint ’08, ’10,’17

Chelsea Toussaint


So before I begin, how many of you know where Madawaska, Maine is? Alright! So for everyone who doesn’t know, Madawaska is the most northern town in our state. It’s a six-hour drive from here, right on the border of Canada. Lots of valleys and farms, big fields, wilderness and some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. It’s where I was born and raised, and it’s helped me build a character of hard work and appreciation for Maine’s rural beauty.

While there are so many things to be thankful for up there, there’s still one difficulty we face that also affects the other rural communities across our state—the shortage of dental care. When I was young, I remember being driven across the bridge into Canada for my dental care, as our town couldn’t keep a permanent dentist and the nearest one was 25 miles away. 

A few years go by, and I graduate from Madawaska high school. This is when I really started to think about job characteristics and what I might like to do. I thought, “I’d love a few things: a flexible schedule, free nights and weekends, and time to spend with my family on the holidays. I also want to change lives in a good way. These characteristics led me right to the dental field, and before I knew it, an acceptance letter from UNE’s dental hygiene program landed on my doorstep — first big opportunity. So, I became a dental hygienist and returned home to practice in northern Maine for a year. I loved my job and everyone I worked with: from the patients, to the staff, to the care providers. Yet, I began to realize that I wanted to do more for my patients. I also began to wonder where I might work when both my employing dentists retired in 5-10 years. That was precisely when another opportunity came from UNE, which was the chance to become a dentist in my home state! Maine never had anything like this before. It was a brand new dental school, not even built yet and I was able to become part of the first class — second big opportunity.

The opportunities I’ve received from UNE began before my enrollment and will continue far beyond my graduation. After granting me initial scholarships for my hygiene education, UNE provided constant incentive for hard work and leadership through distribution of additional scholarships throughout the years.

So overall, my experience in this dental medicine program is one of the greatest opportunities I’ve been given in my whole life. At UNE’s Oral Health Center we don’t just rebuild teeth, we rebuild the entire patient experience and change lives in a good way. This is why I’m honored to be a part of our very first class of dental medicine in the state of Maine. We are part of a movement to end the shortage of dental care, as many of us will actually move into these rural areas to establish our dental practices and our lives. I know I’ll be giving a new dental home to a community like mine. Thank you very much to UNE, and to you all for being here tonight, as I know everyone at UNE is grateful for your support in our journey to change the world wherever we go.

Carlos Agüero ’16

Carlos Aquero

Carlos Agüero ’16, a native of Coachella, California, received his degree in Applied Mathematics from the University of New England (UNE), in 2016. He has been accepted into George Washington University’s prestigious Master of Science program in Data Science, and will begin classes there in the fall of 2017. 

As an undergraduate at UNE, he received several scholarships which helped him enhance his studies and opportunity to do research. These included the Presidential Scholarship, the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Scholarship, the Leadership Scholarship and the National Security Education Program (NSEP) David L. Boren Scholarship. The generous financial support of these scholarships played a crucial factor in his decision to apply to UNE and afforded him the opportunity to take advantage of numerous programs available to students attending the University.

During Carlos’ first year at UNE, he served as a resident adviser, a political columnist and a first-year representative in UNE’s Undergraduate Student Government. He also created UNE’s very first Jazz Club and was an active participant in the Math Club. At the end of his first year, he became an Orientation Leader, which gave him the chance to meet new students, forge new connections and participate in field trips across the state of Maine. For someone who — only two years prior — did not know where Maine was on the map and wanted to experience the state’s many offerings, this was the perfect opportunity to do so.

During his sophomore year, he had the opportunity to participate in Model United Nations, a UNE Political Science Course. Comprised of students and faculty from around the world, participants in the course engage in cooperative, hands-on, experiential learning and develop a better understanding of the inner workings of the United Nations by fine-tuning their skills in diplomacy, collaboration, public speaking and research. Participating students represent countries other than that from which they are from, giving Carlos the opportunity to represent the country of Libya. One unique aspect of the course was the opportunity to gain insight from Professor Ali Abdullatif Ahmida, who is a leading authority on Libyan politics and a UNE Political Science professor. Though he was not the course instructor, Professor Ahmida involved himself with the class, often dropping in to provide insights into Libyan studies that would be difficult to obtain anywhere else. The culmination of the program was a conference held at the United Nations in New York City, and Carlos’ trip to the UN was made possible by generous funding from UNE. 

During his second and third years at UNE, Carlos had the opportunity to vigorously pursue his passion for linguistic and cultural immersion alongside his central focus on Mathematics. This was exemplified by the junior year he spent abroad in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), taking courses in Mathematics and computer science, all the while building on the Arabic he first studied at UNE. The Global Affairs Office at UNE was instrumental in helping to create this opportunity by working around the clock to track down additional scholarship funds, which included the National Security Education Program (NSEP) David L. Boren Scholarship, a scholarship which provided partial funding for ten months of study at the American University of Sharjah, in the UAE. As a recipient of the Boren Scholarship, Carlos was able to study abroad for ten months at the University of Sharjah in the UAE.

After returning from the UAE, Carlos devoted his final year at UNE to on-campus research which focused on digital signal processing, with an emphasis on comparing different dialects of languages to see how they could be visualized using programming and mathematics. The results of his research in signal processing will be a valuable tool he plans to use in graduate school.

Throughout his four years at UNE, Carlos made the most of the educational, extracurricular and study abroad opportunities presented to him by the University.

“It’s seems like a paradox that in the last two years I’ve been expanding my interest, such as in the field of refugee aid and languages while also narrowing my interests such as knowing what government agency I want to work for. UNE affords students many opportunities, and I am grateful to have benefited from them.”

Samuel Cushing, ’13, ’18 – Future Pharmacist

Cameron Russel

Samuel Cushing received his Bachelor of Science in Medical Biology from the University of New England in 2013, and is currently pursuing his Doctor of Pharmacy at UNE, which he will complete in 2018.

A Maine native and Cheverus High School graduate, Samuel knew about UNE’s reputation as one of the top colleges in New England for the medical sciences. He also knew from an early age — and from extensive experience with a medical condition that rendered it necessary for him to spend time in and out of the hospital — that he wanted to be a healthcare professional. This realization was further enhanced by the direct interactions he had with doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel that pointedly indicated a lack of communication expertise within hospital settings, where, for example, understanding of a patients, condition and empathy for that patient, were not always contemporaneous.

Samuel’s initial career path was not to become a pharmacist, but a medical doctor. A Presidential Scholarship from UNE provided Samuel with the opportunity to enroll in UNE’s undergraduate Medical Biology degree program. A change of jobs landed him in a part-time position within the pharmacy of his local Hannaford, providing early experience into the world of pharmacy his sophomore year at UNE.

 “As I was wrapping up my Medical Biology degree, I knew I wanted to go on to medical school. I went through the first rounds of applying for medical school, but it wasn’t until the second round of the application process that I decided to take a closer look at what I really enjoyed. I had blinders on as far as considering a career in pharmacy because I was so focused on wanting to get into medical school. It hit me all at once that I didn’t have to be a medical doctor to have interactions with patients. I realized that though my experience at this stage was retail pharmacy in a grocery store, I was still likely to be the last individual to have a medical interaction with a person picking up their prescription. This realization made me want to look into pursuing a Doctor of Pharmacy degree.”

Samuel quickly learned that a Pharmacy degree would afford him the opportunity to work in a variety of settings, such as a clinical pharmacist in a hospital, a researcher at a pharmaceutical company, a pharmacy instructor at a higher education institution, or a pharmacist in a retail store. “My understanding of studying to become a physician meant spending four years as an undergraduate, four more years as a graduate and some number of years as a resident honing your skills in one particular area of medicine, like working up the side of a pyramid. Pharmacy, on the other hand, almost seemed like the pyramid had been flipped upside down and as one worked the pharmacy program, your knowledge and skills only continued to broaden as the pharmacist is supposed to be the “drug expert”, not just some drugs or certain drugs but all drugs.

“As part of our licensure with the State of Maine, we have to not only have completed our four-year degree, but also have to complete a certain amount of hours obtaining real-world experience. Presently I’m in my third week of Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experience (IPPE). The last professional year in the program consists of APPE rotations, which are the Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience. With UNE’s global connections, students are able to gain advanced experience in different countries such as Thailand and France. One student I know went to Okinawa, Japan, with the US Navy. UNE also has connections with different organizations on the East Coast and West Coast, so if students want to be closer to home during this time, they can.

When I meet with undergraduate students who are interested in a pharmacy degree at UNE, I tell them that every professor and student has their own unique story as to why they chose to come here, which is pretty much synonymous with the pharmacy degree.

“Furthermore, there are also countless numbers of pharmaceutical organizations and UNE has some kind of student chapter for almost all of them. I’m a member of the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), one of the larger organizations on a local and national level. It’s a great way to meet others, network and use as a spring board to launch your career. You’re investing in future opportunities by getting involved now, and UNE facilitates this investment.

“My personal medical experiences led to my desire to be a healthcare professional with the goal of being the most effective communicator possible for my patients. My early experience in retail pharmacy was the springboard that led me to pursue a career in pharmacy. UNE provided me with a great education and the opportunity to expand my knowledge and broaden my horizons. The beauty of the Doctor of Pharmacy degree is that it can take you as far as you want to go.”

Deqa Dhalac ’17 – Future Social Worker

Deqa Dhalac

Deqa Dhalac is pursuing her dream of becoming a Licensed Social Worker, and will obtain her Master of Social Work in May, 2017.

Originally from the Federal Republic of Somalia, Deqa moved to the United States 25 years ago. She initially settled in Atlanta, Georgia, where her children were born. However, she soon found the hustle and bustle of the big city, with long commuting times to and from work, detracted from her family time and the time she was able to spend with her children. In 2005, her uncle moved to Maine and shortly thereafter told Deqa about the state that bears the slogan, “The way life should be.” Deqa and her family followed her uncle’s footsteps and moved to Portland.

In her newly-adopted city, Deqa discovered two things: her passion for working with the city’s burgeoning refugee population and the slower pace of life, which made it easy for her and her family to access the city’s amenities. In 2007 she began working as a social worker with the Social Services Division of the City of Portland, where her caseload included immigrants and refugees. Her work was supported by the Survivors of Torture grant (SOT); a grant committed to assisting persons who have experienced torture abroad and who are residing in the United States. Her responsibilities were two-fold: provide holistic, strengths-based and trauma-informed services to survivors of torture and their families in order to assist them in the healing and recovery process, and help them assimilate into a new country and culture. Deqa enjoyed being a social worker, but longed to obtain a master’s degree in social work, a dream propelled by her father’s undying mantra, “Education, education, education.”

“My father was a very educated man who had a master’s degree in engineering. He always emphasized the importance of education. He believed that investing in your education was the best thing you could do for yourself. That’s why I wanted to get my master’s degree."

One of Deqa’s colleagues within the Social Services Division was an intern enrolled in UNE’s MSW program. The intern spoke positively about the program and suggested Deqa meet her intern supervisor, Craig Owens. Deqa found Craig to be welcoming and connected her with Shelley Cohen Konrad, director of the School of Social Work, professor in the School of Social Work and director of the Interprofessional Education Collaborative (IPEC). Speaking with Shelley helped Deqa decide to enroll in the program, and it has turned out to be one of the best choices she has ever made.

“All of my professors at UNE are so supportive and all have worked so hard to help me seize this opportunity. Though I had been working in the field for a long time, I really needed the educational background to reinforce my experience.”

On several occasions, Deqa has been asked by her professor to explain to her fellow students the differences between refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers. She says, “I’m only too happy to explain this and give to UNE what knowledge I have on the subject, since UNE have given me so much.”

This fall, Deqa will be a school social worker intern at Lyman Moore Middle School in Portland. When she graduates, she hopes to become a social worker within the Portland Public Schools. She believes it’s essential that Portland Public School employees are as culturally diverse as the student body. (Right now, over 60 languages are spoken within the district.) Deqa is currently educating school officials on the cultural and linguistic diversity found in Africa, a continent of 57 countries and over 3,000 languages. Deqa says, “UNE has provided me with an opportunity to see what work needed to be done within my community. I am now better equipped to work with students who are immigrants, refugees and asylees. I am now able to educate my community and be a part of their healing and rebuilding.”

Cameron Russell ’18 – Future Biologist

Samuel Cushing

Cameron Russell is currently pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Biological science and is slated to graduate in 2018.

A resident of southern New Hampshire, Cameron first heard about the University of New England from an older friend who had applied here. Cameron’s interest in UNE was piqued when the friend told him about the numerous cutting edge research opportunities available to undergraduate students. With a strong interest in science, Cameron knew he wanted to be involved in research. He soon discovered that unlike other schools where he had applied, UNE would be able to provide him with several unique opportunities to do research.

Prior to enrollment, Cameron participated in Experience UNE Day, where he attended a mock group lecture with assistant professor Dr. Kristin Burkholder. During her research presentation, she informed the group of several research positions available in her lab. Burkholder’s idea was to have a select group begin in her lab as freshman and continue their research throughout their four years of study at UNE.

Cameron wanted to be one of those students. During his second trip to campus, he attended another mock presentation with Dr. Burkholder and expressed his interest in conducting research in her lab. Dr. Burkholder was receptive to the idea and accepted him as a laboratory aid. During this time, Cameron became more comfortable working within a laboratory setting and was able to network with other students. These students were helpful and shared information about internship programs in the area, and also showed him the ropes. His biggest networking opportunity came from participating in the Research Symposium, where he met others conducting research. Later, Cameron received the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Scholarship. As a SURE Scholarship recipient, he was able to work on an independent project involving the extraction from local seaweed in order to find antibiotic activity to combat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). Cameron is grateful for all of these opportunities. “I realize how fortunate I am, as other universities don’t offer students the chance to get into a lab an start their research so early on in their studies.”

Cameron loves playing lacrosse as much as he loves doing research. His is member of the UNE lacrosse team and believes it has had a tremendous influence on his life as a UNE student. “Being a student athlete is not an opportunity everyone is fortunate enough to have. I hope to be able to continue to play lacrosse all of my years at UNE because it keeps me accountable and helps me manage my time wisely: balancing school, lab work, training, games, scheduling, everything!”

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree, Cameron intends to enroll in a doctorate program and continue his medical research. “UNE has given me all the opportunities that make being a student worthwhile; studies, research, athletics and having a social life, all aspects that make attending university so rewarding. These experiences will shape whichever career path I ultimately decide to take.”

Paying it forward — creating opportunity through education and philanthropy 

cheryl lang

Cheryl L. Lang, MSEd '02, '10 writes, "After earning two master’s level degrees from UNE, I've returned for the third time to pursue my Doctorate in Educational Leadership. I just keep coming back to UNE for more!”

Throughout her life, Cheryl had a variety of jobs. When her children started school she decided to return to school full-time to develop a career in education. “When I decided to get into education, my first job was in a middle school. I looked into UNE because I wanted to learn more about middle school students and to understand the middle school philosophy.”

Cheryl enrolled in UNE’s Master of Science in Education degree and graduated in 2002. She followed this up with a master’s degree in Educational Leadership in 2010. The education and support she received from UNE provided her the foundation to be a successful teacher for 13 years. After being an instructional coach for three years, Cheryl left the middle school to become the Dean of Students at Telstar High School in Bethel, Maine, and then a year later, moved into the role of principal.

In her new leadership position, Cheryl was faced with additional challenges and once again turned to UNE’s online doctoral program. She plans to complete her Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.) in Education by 2019. “UNE’s online degree programs have been amazing. I have had the opportunity to be very flexible with my learning and time frame. I really enjoy the format — it is so easy to navigate and use. I already feel like I know my classmates. I have conversed and worked with people worldwide, including some from as far away as Taiwan. It really doesn’t get much better than that. I did a lot of research into different online programs and UNE came out on top. I really can’t praise it enough.”

In all respects of her studies, Cheryl has not forgotten the donors who made her journey possible. To help pay for her undergraduate degree, she relied on several small scholarships. “Meeting a donor who made a gift to one of my scholarships was a touching and powerful experience. I kept this experience in the back of my mind and vowed that when I could, I would help out a student who really needed it. It’s not only important to me to continue to learn, but also to give back by making financial help available to other students.”

Throughout Cheryl's career in education, she holds firm in her belief,

We all are responsible for engaging student and elevating learning. 


Obtaining personal growth through opportunity

Melissa Klemt

Melissa Klemt ’17, a native of Ellsworth, Maine, is pursuing a double major in Psychology and Sociology. As she finishes her second to last semester at UNE, she reflected on her UNE experience and the impact it has had on her. “My time at UNE has been exceptional. It’s taught me how to step out of my comfort zone, to feel discomfort and then master discomfort to overcome it.”

Throughout her time at UNE, Melissa was sure to take advantage of every opportunity possible. In addition to a full course load and working in the Sociology department as an office assistant, Melissa participated in various clubs at UNE including TABS, the chorus/musical group and the UNitEd Multicultural Club, of which she is currently the treasurer. “I fell in love with the mission of the UNitEd Multicultural Club, to promote awareness and appreciation of cultural diversity through on-campus educational and cultural programming, and off-campus excursions. Every year, the club puts on an event called UNitEd Culture Fest, an interactive celebration of diversity in all its forms.”

During her sophomore year, Melissa completed the Diversity Leadership Program designed to increase awareness about multicultural issues and social justice. The rigorous, year-long program has an online curriculum as well as work and educational components within the community. “As part of the course, a Buddhist monk came to UNE and taught us how to meditate. My psychology courses also taught meditation, so this experience was invaluable to me.”

Academically, Melissa was growing as a student and a researcher. As a sophomore, she participated in the UNE Undergraduate Spring Research Symposium, presenting an experiment on the “bystander effect” that she had designed and conducted herself. As a junior, she became a teacher’s assistant for several sociology courses, doing some lesson planning and creating PowerPoint presentations.

Melissa also started a five month internship in the spring of her junior year at an organization in Biddeford called Violence No More. She did intake for their Peace Plan course, an alternative to prison for persons convicted of domestic violence. “This was the busiest time of my life, but it was also just incredible. The most interesting part of the internship was the participant interviews when they described what they did to warrant a conviction. Their stories will stay with me forever. I could see that most of the participants who came from abusive backgrounds thought violence was okay because that was all they’ve ever known. I was able to see success stories, too, which was very powerful. The experience also reinforced my education — I was teaching these participants the same things I was learning just a few weeks prior at UNE.”

To complete her major in sociology, Melissa was required to complete a capstone thesis. She decided to continue an academic research project started by Dr. Samuel McReynolds, the chair of the Sociology department, examining the sustainability of the year round populations on the islands of Maine. Melissa was awarded the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) Scholarship to carry out her research. She constructed a survey and polled all 4,800 residents of the 14 islands on topics including food crisis, housing affordability, property taxes, population information and age. Melissa said, “This information will help us determine if the islands are moving away from places where people live and work all year to places where people live six months out of the year and then leave. I presented the findings at the SURE symposium this fall and I’ll be presenting again at the SURE symposium in the spring.”

In addition to the SURE scholarship, Melissa was also awarded a Merit Scholarship, the Women’s Literary Union Scholarship and has just been awarded a grant to go to Cuba on a faculty-led short term travel course in January 2017.

“UNE has presented me with so many opportunities. The feeling of stepping out of your comfort zone only lasts a short time. Once you overcome the discomfort, these opportunities teach you and sustain you for a lifetime. It’s better to learn through these opportunities than to dismiss them.”