As an adjunct geology professor at the University of Maine and teaching at the Frederick Hutchinson Center in Belfast, Elizabeth A. “Betty” Wilson, Ph.D., aims to show students the connection between understanding one’s physical environment and being a responsible citizen.
“I want them to leave my class knowing geological principles so they’ll be more responsible citizens and informed voters,” says Betty. “They’ll understand about relative sea-level rise, and about the importance of marshes and how buildings and roads impact drainage systems. They’ll recognize that what you do on your property can affect someone else down the road because of fault systems or erosion. And they’ll know how to better support our traditional industries — whether the issue involves fisheries or another of our natural resources.”
Betty, who divides her time between Denver in the winter and Bremen – near Damariscotta – in the summer and fall, enjoys sharing her passion for geology with Mid-Coast students. That’s why she has given a major gift to support the Hutchinson Center’s expansion project to create a 15,000 square foot addition that will house additional classroom space, science labs and distance learning facilities critical to the center’s future as UMaine’s primary educational and outreach connection with Mid-Coast Maine.
“I love being part of something that is doing so much good,” she says. “I believe passionately in the Hutchinson Center — I have seen the impact it has on Mid-Coast Maine. It provides a tremendous service to students who wouldn’t be able to move to Orono. It’s such a dynamic institution and I am honored to be part of it. And I know it can do more and be even better!”
Betty, who earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, and a Ph.D. in geology from the University of Delaware, began her career as an exploration geologist with Shell Oil Company. She consulted for a variety of national and international energy companies, and then established her own company, Methane Resources Group, which explores for, develops and produces petroleum in the western United States.
Since 2000 she has redirected her interests toward education. Always eager to share her knowledge of the energy business, and generate interest and understanding of the complex nature of global energy issues, she lectures to community groups and professional organizations, and teaches energy courses at Mount Holyoke College. In addition, she is a fellow at UMaine’s Margaret Chase Smith Center where she advises on Maine energy issues. She also serves on the advisory council for the annual Camden Conference, and helps convene the annual Energy Symposium, a community event that is part of the Conference.
One highlight of her summer is teaching at the Hutchinson Center where she particularly enjoys the diversity of the students.
“They are all different ages and come from all different backgrounds – single moms, older people who never earned degrees, teachers who want to continue their science education, as well as traditional-age students from campus.”
As an undergraduate student, Betty became hooked on geology thanks to an innovative professor who compared rock formations, hills and valleys to impressionist art. She discovered that she loved “climbing up and down rocks, walking across marshes and mud flats,” as well as the “process of observing, the attention to detail, and the creative aspect of trying to predict what the rocks look like two or three miles deep into the earth.”
Now she aims to create in her own classes that same appreciation and understanding of the physical environment.
“I like to teach in the summer because I can take my students out to see the rocks. I’ve got wonderful slides and illustrations that I show in the classroom, but when I can take them outdoors and say, look, this is a “granitic pluton” or “magma mingling,” they really get it! I have had students tell me, ‘I love my state and thank you for helping me love it even more.’”
Betty’s affiliation with UMaine came about after a couple of longtime friends heard that she would be spending part of the year in Maine. UMaine Professor Dan Belknap, who had been a doctoral student with her at the University of Delaware, suggested she become an adjunct professor. Then, Judy Stein, a fellow alumna from Mount Holyoke, recommended her to Jim Patterson, then-president of the Hutchinson Center, who was looking for a geology professor.
“The geology department at UMaine – and the entire geological community in Maine — welcomed me with open arms,” Betty says.
Although she has spent summers in Maine only since 1999, she has had relatives here since the 1700’s.
“For me, Maine truly is home. I have come full circle,” says Betty, who grew up in a small town in Connecticut and couldn’t wait to spread her wings.
“Education was my vehicle to see the world.”
With her husband, Tom, also a geologist, and their son, Ned, Betty has traveled extensively and even lived for a time in London and Cyprus. The couple still spends several months a year in Europe, now based in Luxembourg.
Grateful for the advantages she has had, Betty says her gift to the Hutchinson Center is a way for her to return the favor.
“When everyone has opportunities,” she says, “it benefits us all.”
Image Description: Hutchinson Center Adjunct Professor Betty Wilson
Wickham and Alice Skinner of St. George, Me., have provided a gift to help the University of Maine Art Department’s Visual Resources Library with the mammoth project of building a digital collection.
The VRL currently holds approximately 60,000 traditional slides as well as films and support equipment. Bringing this collection into the 21st century calls for digitizing slides, scanning and purchasing new images, installing new storage and image delivery systems, and acquiring new support equipment. New skills must be learned by all.
Creating digital versions of UMaine’s visual resources means that they will be more accessible and usable as tools for scholarship and instruction by the art department. Images will be protected from wear and tear; centrally located; and accessible to the art department’s faculty right from their desks.
“Going digital has ushered in not only more efficient and diverse approaches to organizing and obtaining information, but has quantitatively enhanced the quality of our presentations,” says Professor Susan Groce, chair of the Art Department, noting that the Skinners’ generous gift is vital to the overall success of the digitization project begun last year.
“Initiating the digital conversion has had a chain reaction throughout the department in the way that all of us prepare our lectures and presentations. Digitization of the VRL is a very worthwhile and necessary project at the core of what we do.”
Wick, who served on the University of Maine System Board of Trustees for 10 years, says he and Alice are gratified to have helped with the technology project.
“It seemed very fundamental and basic to get the art department’s images on to a digital format so they can be much more readily used by students and faculty,” he says. “It’s a teaching aid that will be used in many different courses. It will also allow students the ability to do research for their coursework.”
Resource Librarian Krista Molnar-Smith says that nowadays faculty and historians rely almost exclusively on digital images to teach art since slide films have become largely obsolete. “If we don’t preserve this collection digitally, then professors will not have teaching materials.”
Recalling the exciting new art programs and courses trustees reviewed and approved over the years, Wick says, “the considerable increase in enrollment, energy and zeal, and the tremendous progress the art department has made is very exciting. I see the art department as one of the major strengths of the University and one of its unique aspects that fits the state of Maine and its tremendous attraction to artists.”
Wick also has a personal affinity for art. An amateur painter, he is President Emeritus of the renowned Farnsworth Museum in Rockland.
Krista says the Skinners’ gift helped jump-start the digitization process and advance it faster than the department could have otherwise.
“Their generous gift was a great help, allowing us to hire a student who was dedicated solely to the digitization project.”
So far, 1,778 slides have been digitized, according to Krista, who says the complex initiative involves “not only digitizing slides, but also developing viewing, delivery and presentation systems for the images; instituting cataloguing and archiving systems; and providing and maintaining various technical equipment required for the scanning and archiving tasks, as well as equipment for faculty use in class presentation and development.”
Thanks to the Skinners’ philanthropy, the Introductory Art History Survey, one of the department’s largest classes, was taught entirely with digital images for the first time in the spring of ’08. The Survey of Art History II class will go that same route in the fall.
Krista says other goals include making the digital collection available to faculty through a website; implementing a new and more efficient database; purchasing new images for the collection; and adding equipment to accommodate a fast-growing and ever-changing field. To that end, the department aims to obtain for faculty a second portable digital projector and a second computer to use within the VRL that will contain the website of images and other helpful tools for class preparations.
“All of these changes will be ongoing, since as we all know, technology changes day by day,” she says. “However, this is what makes the project so exciting. Ultimately, it will benefit our students tremendously.”
Image Description: Historic Lord Hall has been completely renovated and now houses the Department of Art which includes the Visual Resources Library
For Laurie Fullerton, one of the best things about her job as administrative assistant in the College of Engineering is the opportunity to interact with students.
“To see young people entering our engineering programs with strong abilities and a desire to have rewarding careers, watch them develop into engineers who will have wonderful opportunities afforded to them, and then realize the impact they’ll have on our society – it doesn’t get any better,” says Laurie, whose job requires her to be a combination mentor and troubleshooter as she assists the Deans and the academic advisors.
Her days fly by as she monitors students’ class schedules and grades, arranges orientations and induction ceremonies, and prepares recruitment letters, among other things.
Laurie, who has worked at UMaine for 28 years – 20 of them in her current position serving the needs of the more than 800 students in the College of Engineering – says what makes her job even better are the wonderful deans she has assisted over the years.
One of them was former Associate Dean John McDonough, with whom she worked for eight years until he retired in May 2007.
“There’s no bigger fan of Dean McD than me,” she says. “He was just incredible. The students respected him because he never judged them, he was always approachable and he always listened. He was committed to helping them resolve their problems. I so enjoyed working with him – he really respected my role, too. We were a team providing a warm environment and center of support for our students.”
As a way to honor her former boss and show her appreciation to UMaine for a job she loves, she contributes to the John and Claire McDonough Scholarship Fund established by the former associate dean and his wife. The fund provides financial aid to undergraduate students enrolled in the School of Engineering Technology and the School of Nursing who demonstrate excellent academic performance and exhibit outstanding personal characteristics that promise successful careers.
The scholarship fund received a boost when friends, family and colleagues raised more than $3,000 at Associate Dean McDonough’s retirement party.
“In lieu of giving him gifts, we had people donate to this scholarship, which couldn’t have pleased him more. That just shows the kind of person he is,” says Laurie who presented a heartfelt speech at the event.
“Even though your retirement will surely have a ripple effect far and wide within the University community and beyond, it will be me that will miss you most of all,” she told the associate dean in her address.
Pointing out that one of students’ biggest worries often is how they will pay for college, Laurie says she feels good about her gift to the scholarship fund.
It’s just one of the ways that she helps students.
“My job is very rewarding,” says Laurie who often is called upon to simply “be a friend and be someone they can talk to.
“That can really make a difference. Our goal is to have them leave our office happier. And, most of the time, they do!”
Image Description: Laurie Fullerton
Doug Johnson, director of the Counseling Center, supports UMaine for the same reason he chose his career.
“It’s all about seeing a need and trying to help,” says Doug, whose facility is visited each year by hundreds of students seeking mental health services including psychological evaluation, psychotherapy, crisis intervention, and career and vocational testing. The Counseling Center also provides information about suicide prevention and mental health issues and sponsors a peer education group in which students teach others about healthy relationships.
Doug, who contributes to the Jerry Ellis Scholarship Fund, feels good about being able to honor a former colleague whom he admired and help UMaine provide opportunities for disadvantaged students at the same time.
The Jerry Ellis Scholarship Fund was established at the University of Maine Foundation to honor Gerald Ellis, director of the University of Maine College Success Program. He retired in 2007 after 33 years of dedicated service to the Onward Program, a college readiness program for non-traditional students who are the first in their families to attend college, are low-income, or are disabled. Armed with Jerry Ellis’ sage advice, students were able to receive support services, academic advising and, oftentimes, financial aid while earning degrees in disciplines like nursing, education, social work, liberal arts, engineering and business.
Doug, who works with many of these same students, says he and Jerry often would confer about how to ensure that they received the best help.
“His career and heart were dedicated to helping folks who were disadvantaged,” says Doug, describing his former colleague as “compassionate” and “genuine.”
“When you interacted with Jerry, you got his full attention. He was a very good listener and he had a great deal of insight and self-awareness.”
The importance of philanthropy was ingrained in Doug as a child. “It’s a huge motivation that’s been passed down to me by my parents and grandparents. My mother always wanted to help the underdog. She was always advocating for the common working person as well as for people who were homeless or needy. I don’t think it’s an accident that all the kids in our family are in helping professions.”
Doug began his career at UMaine in 1989 as an intern at the very center he now oversees.
“I came from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan which is similar to Maine both geographically and in terms of the population and the economy. So, Maine feels like home to me. And UMaine epitomizes what a University ought to do for a state – educate its young people and prepare them for leadership.”
Students today face a plethora of stressful issues including a foundering economy, an unpopular war, and climate change, according to Doug. Combine these concerns with the anxiety many students feel about being on their own for the first time, choosing a career, developing healthy relationships, and managing a rigorous academic schedule, and it’s easy to see why some become overwhelmed.
“Navigating life’s transitions and challenges is extremely stressful,” Doug says. “Some students come from more supportive backgrounds than others and are better equipped for handling those transitions. We also have students who have a diagnosable mental illness as an additional thing to manage.”
The Counseling Center can help in a variety of ways. “We tailor our services to students’ needs. We provide a place where a student can find a confidential, supportive listener or expert mental health treatment. We might see a student regularly, or we might simply be a safe and secure place where they can touch base now and then.”
Describing his colleagues as hardworking, caring and compassionate, Doug says they all take great delight in helping students. “I work with a wonderful group of people who are motivated to make students’ lives better so they can go on to become contributing members of society. We see them taking a look at themselves and trying to change their behavior in ways that help them achieve their goals. We see them developing more competence and confidence and achieving success, not only academically, but in their personal lives and in their careers.”
Image Description: Doug Johnson