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2004 a historic year for UMFK

December 24, 2004


As the University of Maine at Fort Kent campus community turns the calendar to 2005, students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the institution are reflecting on what has been the most significant year for the St. John Valley campus in decades.

Since last January, UMFK opened two new buildings that together total a more than $9 million investment in campus infrastructure, realized the largest annual increase in enrollment in the University of Maine System, played a pivotal role in hosting a major international winter sports event, concluded a year-long 125th anniversary celebration, and worked to lay the foundation for a new consortium with two other System campuses, to name but a few.

The flurry of activity at the state's northernmost campus began immediately in 2004, with UMFK entering the new year fully engaged in planning and preparation for the Biathlon World Cup held in Fort Kent March 1 through 6.

Construction crews were scurrying to finish work on the south wing of the new residence hall, which would serve as home to 150 athletes from around the globe during the first World Cup competition ever held in Maine.

In addition to housing and feeding most of the competing athletes, UMFK also served as an off-venue administrative headquarters site for event organizers and hosted numerous cultural and performing arts events related to the community festivities on campus.

Community-wide planning also began early in 2004 for the university's upcoming fall 2005 re-accreditation review and visit by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).

To date, a draft of the exhaustive self-study report, which involved the participation of nearly every member of the faculty and staff at UMFK, is complete and has been posted on the campus website for review. It has also been forwarded to a reviewer at NEASC for early feedback.

A visiting team of education professionals selected by NEASC, from institutions comparable to UMFK, will visit the campus in November 2005 to conduct the formal review for accreditation.

At the same time the campus community began efforts on the self-study for accreditation, work on a dynamic, new five year strategic plan concluded with the release of the final document in the spring.

The 2003-2005 strategic plan for UMFK establishes clear goals and objectives and a mission that is understood both on and off campus.

Specifically, the plan keeps in the forefront of the university's unique northern Maine location and draws upon the region's natural environment, growing winter sports and recreation opportunities and Acadian and Franco-American heritage as strengths upon which to move forward.

UMFK's was not the only strategic plan to be released in 2004. The University of Maine System, in March, also set forth their vision for the coming years.

The document, which established a number of positive goals for the System, also initially called for a merger of the Fort Kent, Presque Isle and Machias campuses into one University of Northern Maine.

That specific proposal raised great concern at all three campuses and drew more than 500 concerned St. John Valley residents to attend a public hearing with UMS System and Board of Trustee representatives in late April.

A revised version of the plan, which called for each campus to retain its identity and leadership and form a consortium to work more closely and collaboratively, was approved in September by the Board of Trustees.

Since that time UMFK administrators, faculty and staff have been working with their counterparts in Presque Isle and Machias to identify ways in which the three institutions can collaborate more closely, and have begun implementing details of the consortium concept.

The past year was also one of great celebration on the UMFK campus and throughout the St. John Valley community as the University concluded its 125th anniversary celebration, which began in August of 2003.

The highlight of the calendar year 2004 events came in April, when the campus community staged an original musical production entitled "UMFK 125: The Musical", written by three university faculty members.

Anniversary celebration festivities continued through commencement in May, when UMFK honored one of its oldest living alumni, Genevieve Jalbert Bouchard with a community service award, and recognized 2004 graduate Jamie Pelletier, who just happened to be the great, great granddaughter of the institution's very first alumnus.

Commencement 2004 was also noted by the awarding of two special degrees. UMFK President Richard Cost presented an honorary degree to noted landscape painter Neil Welliver. That degree awarded a week after Cost traveled to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to personally present a terminally-ill student from that area with her diploma, as she was physically unable to take part in commencement exercises in Fort Kent.

Weeks after the UMFK president conferred degrees upon the institution's newest alumni, Cost traveled to southernmost Maine to help honor the University's oldest living alumna, Myrtle Hafford Hoyt on the occasion of her 100th birthday.

The celebrations continued throughout summer and early fall at UMFK, beginning with the unveiling of a new art sculpture entitled "Light Column" in June.

The twelve-foot one-inch high, four-foot nine-inch wide, and two-foot five-inch deep piece of art features a dark gray granite for the stepped base, Finnish Granite for the pillared central section, and African Red Granite for the semi-circular top section. Along with the granite, the top section holds approximately 30 layers of half-inch plate glass. It is centrally located on the campus quad.

In August, the University pulled out all the stops to open its new 47,595 square foot, three-story, $7 million residence hall "The Lodge".

The new residence hall houses 150 beds, which more than doubles the previous availability of on-campus housing at UMFK.

Incorporated into the design is a number of suite-style arrangements and air conditioning in part of the building to accommodate for expanded summer programming at the university.

The $7.3 million project was funded through a University of Maine System bond that is to be paid back with revenue from housing fees of students who occupy the new building.

Another opening celebration for the new Acadian Archives/Archives acadiennes building, was held a month later in conjunction with the university's annual "Come to Campus Days" homecoming weekend.

The $2 million, 7,584 square foot, two-story building was constructed as a connector building between Powell Hall and Blake Library.

The state-of-the-art facility includes a conference room, reading room, work room, Archives reference desk, a bank of computers, research materials stacks, and Archives personnel space on the first floor. The second story consists of a collections area, accessioning room, and administrative offices for university information resources personnel.

The historic Archives opening was followed a day later with the official unveiling of UMFK's newly published history book "A Century and a Quarter of Progress", which chronicles life at UMFK since the campus was founded in 1878 as the Madawaska Training School.

"Come to Campus Days" also included a tribute to five individuals whose lives have been touched by UMFK and who have, in turn, made an indelible impact on the campus community.

Patricia Dow, a member of Fort Kent State Teachers College class of 1963 was presented with the 2004 Outstanding Alumni award, and Troy Jackson, state representative and a 2001 graduate of UMFK was presented with the Outstanding Young Alumni award.

Megan Foreman, a senior at UMFK was honored with the Future Outstanding Almuni award, Hoyt, a member of the class of 1921, was honored with the Gold Cane Award and Genevieve Bouchard, an alumni of the class of 1926 was honored with the Pop Hoyt Award for being the alumni from the oldest class represented at the banquet. All were honored at the annual alumni and friends banquet.

Other members of the UMFK family also marked significant milestones in 2004.

Naomi Nicolas, the executive assistant to five of UMFK's nine presidents marked her 35th anniversary of service to the campus community in July.

Nicolas, a resident of Fort Kent who grew up in nearby St. John Plantation in a family of 14 children, officially began working at UMFK on July 7, 1969 and has since been a firsthand witness to every major development on campus.

More recently, John Elliott, professor of mathematics at UMFK for 25-years, officially retired from the institution he has called home since 1978.

Simultaneously, the accomplished faculty member, who is fondly remembered by colleagues for his professionalism and wit, is launching a new career in gospel music.

Music brought great success to two other UMFK faculty members in 2004. Scott Brickman, associate professor of music and Charles "Chuck" Closser, professor of oral communication and performing arts collaborated on a number of important campus and community projects, including composing and writing respectively the official song for the 2004 Biathlon World Cup, the musical score for "UMFK 125: The Musical", and over the summer, the official Fort Kent town song, "The Little Town That Could".

There were also many noteworthy accomplishments for UMFK's academic programs in the past year.

The education program again drew Canadian media attention in January, when two students from opposite sides of the country who had been pen pals since childhood but never met in person, suddenly found themselves in the same education course at UMFK.

The teacher preparation program was also instrumental in working with a retired educator in Nova Scotia to assist students in that province in preparing for the national teacher exam, which is required to gain certification in the State of Maine.

UMFK's nursing program also enjoyed a productive year.

The division teamed up with Northern Maine Medical Center over the summer to host a first-ever nursing discovery camp to encourage high school students to consider nursing as a career in light of a nation-wide shortage in the profession.

The nursing program also realized a marked increase in the number of students taking courses on-line.

In 2004, the forest technology associate degree program, one of only two such programs in New England recognized by the Society of American Foresters, earned continued recognition through 2008 by that national scientific and educational organization, which represents the forestry profession in the United States.

Faculty and students in the associate of science degree program, along with community members also cheered the installation this year of a new GPS base station, now located on the UMFK campus.

GPS base stations are used to correct errors associated with factors such as weather, working under a forest canopy, and accuracy of individual GPS units, and the installation will, as a result, provide users of the technology in northern Maine with more accurate readings.

In October, the forestry program and environmental studies program teamed up to present an important workshop entitled "Changing Forestland Use and Ownership in Maine", which drew participants from throughout the state.

The environmental studies program also reached out to the local community through many initiatives, including student and faculty environmental restoration work on the site of the former Fort Kent town garage.

Working with the community was also the theme of both the behavioral science and rural public safety administration programs.

The behavioral science program developed a new agreement with the Aroostook County Action Program that will place more students in internship opportunities at various sites in the region operated by the organization.

The rural public safety administration began work with the town of Fort Kent and the Aroostook County Emergency Management office to establish a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) in Fort Kent.

Community Emergency Response Teams (CERTs) are formed by members of a neighborhood or workplace who want to be better prepared for the hazards that threaten their communities.

The campus community as a whole focused on civic engagement through participation in the American Association of State Colleges and Universities' American Democracy Project.

UMFK events ranged from a themed orientation and voter registration drive to the campus hosting one of only three U.S. Second Congressional Debates to an election night party.

Culture and diversity were also celebrated at UMFK in 2004.

A new website "Acadian Culture in Maine", which contains information included in an out-of-print publication of the same name, was developed as the result of a partnership between the Acadian Archives and Maine Acadian Heritage Council, was launched in the fall.

The diversity committee held its first annual World Culture Week in early November. The event celebrated the diversity of the campus student body through food, presentations, and fun activities.

Athletics programs at UMFK celebrated success in 2004, with both the women's basketball and men's soccer teams winning their respective Sunrise Conference championships and making appearances in national NAIA Division II tournaments.

The campus ended the year on an extremely positive note, as final figures for fall enrollment for the University of Maine System showed UMFK with both the largest percent increase in new students, as well as the largest number of entering students of any of the state's seven University campuses.

UMFK is experiencing an overall record-breaking 16.5 percent increase in new students taking courses through the campus community this semester.

The total number of students enrolled at the university has grown by 152, from 924 in the fall of 2003 to 1,076 this semester.