Cover Story

Faces of Our Future: Empowering Students to Build a Better Tomorrow

Can a university build on the past while forging new innovations? Can we recognize the challenges of an uncertain world, while moving forward with confidence and certainty? Can we do big things while keeping our feet on the ground?

UNE’s strategic plan, Our World, Our Future, was adopted in 2018 with these issues in mind, offering a daring and expansive perspective on health as the solution. The plan called for the University to become one of the nation’s top providers of education, expertise, and innovation for sustaining the health of our world’s natural environment, people, and communities.

Through six strategic priorities — Exceptional Teaching and Learning; Increased Enrollment, Progress to Graduation, and Lifelong Learning; Focused Research and Scholarship; A Welcoming, Inclusive, and Vibrant Community; Engagement with Local, Regional, and Global Partners; and A Strong and Sustainable Resource Base — the plan ultimately set out to empower students to anticipate and meet the challenges of our world and become active leaders in creating its future.

Over the past five years, as UNE’s senior leaders, faculty, and professional staff have worked to execute the plan, our students have embodied the plan’s priorities and core values. Emboldened by a relentless quest for knowledge, they are indeed leading the charge to shape a better world.

Five portraits of students

Here, you will meet five UNE students and recent alumni whose accomplishments reflect the ambition and passion of UNE’s institutional journey these past five years. These students surely didn’t realize that their actions embodied lofty institutional priorities — but it is in the day-to-day persistence of individuals that UNE’s mission is realized.

In clinical settings and future courts of law, they are pursuing justice for the underserved. Miles offshore, they are researching novel ways to preserve Maine’s maritime livelihoods. In remote parts of the globe, they are learning what it means to be human. And in classrooms in Maine’s farthest reaches, they are molding the minds of future generations.

To echo President Herbert’s words, the UNE community is defined by a dynamic energy and innovative spirit.

In that vein, these five students comprise only a fraction of those at UNE who have made it their mission to better the human condition. Our students are not merely degree-seekers; they are vanguards in transforming people’s lives everywhere as healers, caregivers, fierce advocates for intellectual curiosity, and defenders of our natural world. They are the faces of our future.

Emily Rosser

The Master of Education

Family always comes first for Emily Rosser.

Family has kept her in northern Maine since childhood, where she grew up knowing from early on that she wanted to be a teacher. It’s also why she sought out UNE, after 11 years of teaching for Regional School Unit 39 in Caribou, just miles from the Canadian border, to pursue a master’s degree in education.

Emily Rosser stands with her daughter in her elementary school classroom
Emily and several children drawing on paper with crayons at a large classroom table
Emily holds up a children's book in front of her classroom

As a busy mother of three — Andrew, 12, Ava, 10, and Addison (Addy), 6 — an in-person program was not an option. So, Rosser turned to UNE Online for its flexibility and relevant program offerings. She graduated in May with her Master of Science in Education – Reading Specialist, and she’s been named the Aroostook County Teacher of the Year by Educate Maine and the Maine Department of Education. “I really thought going back to school at this stage in my life would be impossible. Teaching, by itself, is really, really busy. To keep up with teaching and three busy kids while going back to school was a lot to consider,” the first-grade teacher recalled, adding that doing homework late at night or missing her children’s activities was out of the question.

“UNE allowed me the flexibility to do my work on my own terms and set healthy boundaries for myself. I have so many wonderful things to say about my program at UNE.”

Rosser’s passion for lifelong learning was inspired by her students — more accurately, she said, the struggles with basic literacy she saw among students at her school. “Our typical practices weren’t effective, and we were noticing a pattern of kids not reaching grade-level expectations as much as we’d like. I said to the other teachers, ‘I need help,’ which is a hard thing to ask.”

Rosser’s question sparked a collaborative process whereby she and her fellow teacher leaders began to refine their assessments, identify weaknesses in their current practices, and revitalize the curriculum.

Since that time, she said, the results have been exponential. “We have evolved big time, and our kids are really growing because of it,” she said. “Those changes lit a fire in me and ignited this lifelong learner mentality. I thought I had missed the window to get my master’s degree, but this shift in my mindset convinced me to seek out my master’s in literacy education.

I truly wanted to be a master at teaching literacy.”

Rosser’s journey reflects RSU 39’s district mission of “preparing today’s learners for tomorrow’s world,” not unlike UNE’s mission of fostering innovation to improve the health of our planet and its people. As both a teacher and a mother, Rosser said it is her personal mission to ensure her students have the skills they need to thrive in an ever-shifting society.

“Our world is changing, and it’s changing fast,” she said. “A huge focus for me as a teacher, other than instilling basic reading and writing skills in my students, is to ensure my students, when they grow up, are able to work with people who might not be exactly like them — who have different colored skin or who have different academic abilities — because, no matter what the future brings, they’re going to have to do that.”

She paused to think about how her work is contributing to a better world. “Every year, I get 20 kids, right? And our ultimate goal is to prepare them for tomorrow,” she said. “In the year my students spend with me, they will learn lifelong lessons in teamwork, patience, and empathy. I put a lot of time into building relationships and cultivating an environment that supports that mission, and I take that role pretty seriously.”

It’s a responsibility that Rosser takes especially to heart as the educator of her own children. Like Andrew and Ava some years before her, Addy is a member of Rosser’s classroom this fall. “My students — and my kids — are going to be impacted by everyone they meet, from their coaches, their dance instructors, and by the people they see in the grocery store,” she said. “They’re impacted by all these people, and I get to be one of them. I think that’s pretty special.”

Fajar Alam

The Health Care Justice Advocate

It was almost certain that Fajar Alam would study medicine.

Raised in Waterbury, Connecticut, a working-class city of about 114,000 on the banks of the Naugatuck River, Alam (D.O., ’25) saw firsthand the health care disparities faced by her parents, who emigrated from Pakistan and are industrious local business owners.

Fajar holds up her stethoscope

As early as high school, she began helping her parents navigate the complexities of the American health care system, first helping enroll them in Medicaid insurance and eventually interpreting their doctor’s visits. But a fellowship with the AmeriCorps STICH (Service to Improve Community Health) program at a federally qualified health center in Waterbury taught her the disparities in her community were more widespread than she previously thought.

Waterbury was once regarded as the brass manufacturing capital of the world, but periods of economic decline led to extreme gaps in socioeconomic status and quality of life for many.

Today, Waterbury has some of the highest asthma and infant mortality rates in the entire state, and its median income is only about two-thirds that of the rest of Connecticut.

“Growing up with these experiences, I realized people who are from backgrounds like mine and other vulnerable, low-income communities in the U.S. have significant barriers to health care,” she said. “It was a strong influence for me to pursue medicine.” 

She sought the UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNE COM) for its focus on helping vulnerable communities. Specifically, she was drawn to the Care for the Underserved Pathway (CUP) Scholars program through the Maine Area Health Education Center, housed in UNE’s Center for Excellence in Public Health.

The interdisciplinary honors program provides opportunities for students in all health programs to address public health issues in rural and underserved communities while gaining competencies in interprofessional, team-based practice.

Fajar in her hijab and U N E C O M white coat with arms crossed, standing outside on a bright summer day

It was like finding a golden ticket, she said.

“Having a community of peers who are like-minded in looking out for whole communities is exactly what attracted me to UNE,” Alam said. “To have that philosophy embedded throughout my education is very important to me, especially to create a health care system that is fair and just for all.”

Since coming to UNE, this passion for justice has been reflected in nearly every aspect of Alam’s work. In her second year at UNE COM, she served on the subcommittee to develop broader cultural competencies in the health curriculum. As a CUP Scholar, she also took on a health equity internship to diversify the health care workforce in Maine.

As part of the internship — funded in part through a grant from the Maine Health Access Foundation — Alam developed a curriculum to expose high school students from underrepresented communities, including New Mainers and children of immigrant families, to various health professions fields.

The goal of the programming, she said, is to promote diversity in the health care workforce as a means of bridging the cultural divides that often lead to disparate health outcomes. “We want to diversify the health care workforce here in Maine, particularly amid an influx of refugees, and expand cultural competencies for health providers,” she said, adding the importance of cultural humility in health care settings — acknowledging internal biases and committing to understanding another’s cultural identity. 

“We need to break down barriers for people who come from vulnerable communities and make it so that health care is not a burden. And it’s not just immigrants,” she said. The communities are any group with specific health care needs, including the prison resident population, unhoused individuals, and people who identify as LGBTQ+, she noted.

In solving grand societal issues such as these, Alam said she thinks of the principles of osteopathic medicine and the ethics of health justice.  

“My goal for the American health care system is to increase the justice for underserved people,” she said. “If we take a public health approach to medicine and look at the context in which our patients come to us, we can better influence not just their health but their entire quality of life. I try to keep that in the forefront of my mind when I do the work that I do, because I can shape the health outlook of an entire community.”

Clayton Nyiri

The Reel-Wielding Researcher

It’s not yet 7 a.m., and Clayton Nyiri is already down at UNE’s research pier, poring through bundles of equipment needed for a day’s journey out on the Atlantic.

Donning a blue life preserver, he ensures there are enough batteries, hooks, fishing rods, and other key items needed for the six-hour voyage he and his team will make to a remote location 20 miles offshore to tag and study small sharks known as spiny dogfish.

The sun is low as he unties the rope mooring the RV Sakohki, one of UNE’s three research vessels, to the weathered dock. When the crew returns, it will be high and blisteringly hot, as it often is in Maine in early August.

The trek, one of dozens made this summer, is part of a research project years in the making. Nyiri (Marine Sciences, ’25) is one of several students working under the mentorship of John Mohan, Ph.D., assistant professor in the School of Marine and Environmental Programs and director of the Shark and Fish Ecology Lab, to pilot a novel method of preventing sharks from ending up as bycatch — or unintended catch — on the fishing lines of both commercial fishermen and recreational anglers.

Clayton wears a blue life fest and matching baseball hat as he stands with his arms crossed in front of a U N E boat

The research includes using small devices, known as electronic bycatch reduction devices, or BRDs, which emit electrical signals that target the sharks’ electro-sensory systems to deter them from the bait. Students in the Mohan Lab are researching if the devices can be placed both on commercial fishing lines and home fishing rods to ward off sharks and prevent them from becoming mixed up in the fishing haul.

The method will benefit fishermen who lose out on their target catch and the money such catches bring in when sharks become attached to their lines.

“I think (these devices) will have a very large economic benefit for fishermen,” Nyiri said, noting that lab trials so far show a 50% reduction in dogfish bites on lines with active BRDs. “Now, it’s part of my research to make this device optimal and effective for fishermen.”

For Nyiri, the research isn’t work — it is the culmination of a yearslong passion for sharks and, by extension, preserving the health of our oceans. Raised in Fairfield, Connecticut on the northern shore of Long Island Sound, Nyiri developed a love and respect for the sea at a young age.

Now 19, he takes every opportunity to study and learn from the ocean, whether in the lab, on the boat, or under the brisk New England waters. “To engage myself in this research not only allows me to grow as a scientist, but as a person,” he said.

Nyiri is one of 41% of the University’s undergraduate students who participate in hands-on research with real-world applications. Compare that to just 23% nationally who told the National Survey of Student Engagement that they do the same. UNE is unique among prominent research universities, where students often have to wait to obtain a bachelor’s degree before even seeing the inside of a lab.

The rising junior is also among 18 students this year (81 since 2018) to receive a Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) grant from the College of Arts and Sciences to complete his research. The program funds interdisciplinary student research and stipends for students to live on campus while they work on their projects. For Nyiri, that means living just steps from the dock and the marine research facilities where he spends most of his days. “Being an undergraduate and getting to immerse myself in this research I’m passionate about is such a great opportunity,” he said. “I want to absorb all the information that UNE has to offer, to really take in every experience that I can and make my education my own.”

This relentless thirst for knowledge is distinctively cultivated among UNE students. For Nyiri, it entails supplementing his studies with classes that aren’t required of him; engrossing himself in the latest scientific literature; picking up not one, but two academic minors (chemistry and applied mathematics); and, when he can, scuba diving with his camera, capturing the world below the waves.

“When I look at all the work I’ve done and the skills I’ve obtained, all I can do is compare myself to who I was yesterday and look toward how I can make an impact in the future,” he said. “That’s why we’re all here: to make a difference, to do something we love for the rest of our lives.”

A Day on the Water with Clayton Nyiri

Kiara Boeck

The Student of the World

Kiara Boeck may never be fluent in Spanish, a lesson she learned while studying in Guatemala this past spring. 

Boeck is one of seven students and three faculty members from UNE’s Doctor of Physical Therapy and Master of Science in Occupational (M.S.O.T.) programs who traveled to the Central American nation in March as part of a travel course geared toward developing cultural competencies in working with various populations — one of nearly two dozen such courses and clinical immersions offered each academic year.

Kiara holds up two large polaroids from her time in Guatemala
Kiara's scrapbook page for Guatemala with collages, words, and stickers

The group spent 12 days touring clinical facilities and adaptive equipment manufacturers while observing patient interactions. Highlights of the trip included a tour of a clinic that makes mobility equipment tailored to each client and a visit to a children’s rehabilitation center.

For Boeck (M.S.O.T., ’24), it was an opportunity to engage with a previously unknown culture. While difficult, she said the language barrier taught her to respect cultural differences and learn more about herself. “It was hard to acclimate to my surroundings at first,” Boeck said. “But then I thought to myself, ‘I’m not here to become fluent in Spanish. I’m here to learn and connect with people.’” 

Boeck said she realized that many of her patients back in the U.S. will come from various backgrounds. “This experience taught me about meeting clients where they’re at.

I can’t expect all of my patients to speak English to me, so this was a real teaching moment in cultural relevance,” she said. “In terms of communicating with people on the trip, it was really about finding common ground and communicating in different, even nonverbal, ways.”

Outside the clinical setting, Boeck and her peers engaged in a five-hour hike with breathtaking mountain views and took a trip to Lake Atitlán, located in the remnants of an ancient volcano. Students further involved themselves in Guatemalan daily life by attending chocolate-making classes, a coffee production facility, and a shaman service.

Boeck is among the nearly 1,400 students who have studied abroad since 2017. UNE students study abroad more than four times the national average compared to other institutions and complete their studies abroad through a multitude of avenues: through semester-long programs at UNE’s campus in Tangier, Morocco, or sites in Seville, Spain; Aix-en-Provence, France; and Akureyri and Reykjavik, Iceland.

COVID-19 decimated global travel throughout 2020 and 2021, but studies abroad have rebounded. Twenty-one percent of baccalaureate students who graduated in the 2022-23 academic year participated in at least one global program while at UNE, with many partaking in multiple programs. Prior to the pandemic, an average of 33% of graduating students completed a program outside the U.S.

“I think the benefit of studying abroad is really getting to know yourself as a professional and where you fit into the world,” Boeck said. “The world is a classroom, and it provides so many opportunities to find new ways to learn and appreciate things around you. I’m continually learning to better myself for the sake of my clients.” She said such global experiences are valuable in teaching students of all majors the importance of cultural humility. 

“As health care providers, we have to be aware of our clients’ backgrounds, because our clients can be so empowered by their cultures,” Boeck said. “They come from all walks of life and are often determined to overcome the barriers they see in everyday life. It’s important to be humble and not impose our own viewpoints on them. We want to encourage them to bring their perspectives to us, and so we must be willing to continually learn about and embrace new cultural views.”

Boeck said her experiences at UNE, including global travel, have been eye-opening, and they have empowered her to make change through her work — one patient at a time.

“I think there’s power in changing one person’s life. That person can go out and influence others to seek the care they need. You can create a domino effect and create a better tomorrow for not only that person but for the community as well,” she said. “I’ve always been open-minded, but my experiences at UNE have allowed me the kind of self-discovery necessary to see where I fit into the world.

“I’m confident when I say that my experiences will make me a better practitioner, a better occupational therapist,” she said.

Jeremiah Martinez

The Voice for the Voiceless

Jeremiah Martinez waves to his friends on a cold January day in early 2022 as they pass him outside the library. Martinez talks with a University photographer about his experience as a person of color for an upcoming series on Black History Month. 

Passersby — friends, teammates, and faculty — shout Martinez’s name as he poses for a portrait. Entourage aside, it’s a relatively normal day for Martinez, who graduated this past spring with a degree in political science.

While at UNE, Martinez became a familiar face to most and an outstanding leader for many. As a co-president of both Brothers of Color, a student organization that provides a safe space for men of color to gather and build community, and the athletics advocacy group Storming to Change, Martinez became a guide and mentor to underrepresented groups on a predominantly white college campus.

“On a campus that’s largely white, it’s important to have affinity groups that can provide safe spaces for minorities while advocating for change within our communities,” said Martinez, who hails from Methuen, Massachusetts.

Jeremiah wearing a button down and tie as he stands in front of the glass and brick of the Commons building

“The reality is, we’re all a big family here, and we need to take care of each other.” But though he left UNE a force, Martinez compares his college experience to “coming out of a cocoon.” He came to UNE to play basketball, but he wasn’t sure which academic path to take.

With a vague interest in political science, Martinez became an inaugural student of UNE’s Guided Undergraduate Studies program, or GUST, an initiative that allows undeclared students to explore their academic options with built-in support services to help students decide on a major and succeed.


Designed to aid students in discovering their true passions, GUST engages students in seminars and immersive educational experiences while pairing them with faculty members to develop an individualized pathway to graduation.

The GUST program encourages students to take courses in multiple fields of study, a factor Martinez said helped him discover his true passion rather than committing to a program before he even set foot on campus. “Enrolling in the (GUST) program was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he said.

“It gave me the freedom to see all the different pathways available to me. I wasn’t confined to one major or a program that I chose while I was still in high school. I was able to take my time, take courses in a variety of majors, and ultimately choose the program that was right for me.”

In addition to the GUST program, Martinez credits several members of the UNE community for helping him break out of his shell. To name a few: Michael Cripps, Ph.D., professor of rhetoric and composition; James Roche, Esq., associate teaching professor of political science; Brian Duff, Ph.D., associate professor of political science; and Ed Silva, men’s head basketball coach, whose personal mentorship convinced Martinez that UNE was the right place for him.

“Coach Silva stuck out to me as one of the best people I’ve met, even before I started school,” Martinez said. “He made me feel welcome, and he really stuck out to me as someone to make me feel wanted. It’s that sense of community and compassion that made me fall in love with UNE. It’s great people there.”

At Silva’s urging, Martinez took on leadership roles with Brothers of Color and Storming to Change, ultimately changing the trajectory of Martinez’s calling: as a voice for those often left voiceless.

Today, Martinez is studying for the LSAT. Equipped with the critical thinking skills and analytical know-how embodied by a UNE political science degree, he plans to pursue law school with the goal of spending his career improving the lives of people in marginalized communities.

“I’m someone who has big dreams and big aspirations, and UNE taught me that I can explore those parts of myself,” he said. “Everyone at UNE wants to bring change to the world, and they empower you, push you, and give you every opportunity to succeed.

“I don’t know where I’ll be in 10 years,” Martinez added. “Maybe I’ll be practicing law, or maybe I’ll become a politician. I just know that I want to make change and give people the same chance to succeed that UNE gave me.”

Five years of strategic success

So, can a university do big things in the face of uncertainty? The answer is yes, and it is seen in our students and the intricate web of achievements of UNE’s strategic plan, which has touched nearly every facet of the University’s operations these past five years. As we reflect on these accomplishments, we also look forward to a brighter tomorrow for all — our UNE, our future.