As a University of Maine student, Charles Stanhope ‘71 always hoped to travel abroad so he could learn firsthand about other cultures and environments and better understand the connection between the world’s peoples.
The opportunity never came to pass.
Today, the Portland native has been all over the world in his position as assistant chief operating officer for the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. But because he wants to make sure that other UMaine students don’t have to put off their travel plans, he has given a gift to support the Honors College Study Abroad Scholarship.
“Traveling is a blessing. It’s a very important dimension of life that enables you to have an understanding of the world and of different people, cultures and languages,” Stanhope says. “So if this helps fulfill the dreams of students who are curious about places beyond Maine, who want their horizons broadened and to be enlivened and inspired, then I’m happy to do it.”
A committed and enthusiastic alumnus, Stanhope has never forgotten his UMaine roots. He was recently elected president of the Maine State Society, a defacto alumni group which holds events nearly every month for the more than 1,800 UMaine graduates who live and work in the Washington, D.C., area. And he talks to current UMaine students about his job in the Library of Congress as part of the university’s Mentor Program which connects alumni with students interested in particular careers.
“I have always celebrated the wonderful education I got at UMaine and what it means to the state and the people,” he says.
Honors College Dean Charlie Slavin says scholarships like the one provided by Stanhope make it much easier for students to spend a year abroad. “These students have considerable travel expenses and sometimes have to forgo any employment possibilities during their time away. The scholarship will help defray some of these costs.”
Students benefit greatly from their travel experiences, Slavin says. “They not only see new places and learn different things than in the classroom, but they meet people who live in different cultures and different situations. They also meet other students from around the world who also are studying abroad. Much of learning is experiential, and these experiences for our students are excellent.”
A French major and member of the University Singers, Stanhope may not have been able to see the world when he was at UMaine, but he was able to get the stimulation he craved thanks to the Honors Program – predecessor to the Honors College which was established in 2002.
Through the Honors Program, Stanhope was able to hone his critical thinking, analytical reasoning and written and oral communication skills as he explored diverse academic areas, read many of the foundational literary and philosophical works of western culture, and participated in small, seminar-type classes where he and other motivated students engaged in thoughtful, provocative discussions led by some of UMaine’s most distinguished faculty. Aided by his mentor, French Professor Olga Wester Russell, Stanhope completed an Honors thesis, “French Realist Novels of the 17th Century.”
“Dr. Russell was a great teacher – intellectually challenging and demanding,” he says. “She made sure you examined your assumptions and could defend your conclusions – life skills that I still use today. I’m proud of what I learned and the experiences I had in the Honors Program.”
Stanhope’s ties to the Honors College were further strengthened after his class decided that was where they would dedicate their fund raising endeavors. “The Honors College is doing wonderful things,” says Stanhope, who serves as Class Secretary. “It’s an important dimension of the undergraduate experience and it helps attract wonderful students from all over to a terrific, stimulating, challenging curriculum.”
He supports the Honors College in yet another way. For a number of years, he has hosted a reception at the Library of Congress for students who participate in the Honors College’s annual visit to Washington, D.C.
“I love that the Library of Congress is connected to UMaine and I love to host the students,” says Stanhope who has worked at the Library for more than 33 years in a variety of positions. “It’s fun for me to have them understand the resources that have been amassed here over 200 years. I always try to have them meet some of my colleagues who have Maine roots and I like to show them items from our collection that have an association with Maine.”
Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and serves as the research arm of Congress. It is the largest library in the world, with collections that comprise the world’s most comprehensive record of human creativity and knowledge. The Library of Congress houses more than 138 million items including more than 32 million catalogued books and other print materials in 470 languages; more than 61 million manuscripts; the largest rare book collection in North America; and the world’s largest collection of legal materials, films, maps, sheet music and sound recordings.
Stanhope never fails to take pleasure in telling people about the Library of Congress and its staff who acquires, catalogs, preserves and makes available the collections which are housed within three buildings on Capitol Hill.
“I want Americans to understand that the national library belongs to them, that it’s their tax dollars at work. I want them to be connected to it and to know that this is the largest library in the world. I want them to celebrate what the library is as an institution of democracy and that, just like a free public education, it is one of the incredibly important valuable cornerstones of the country and of an informed electorate.”
Stanhope has achieved his long held dream of seeing the world thanks to the Library of Congress. Leading donors on trips to the great national libraries, he has travelled to Russia, France, England, and The Netherlands. Most recently he spent 12 days in the Baltic, visiting Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as well as Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
With his wanderlust quelled, Stanhope hopes, in the not too-distant future, to return to Maine to live.
“Now that I have seen so much of the world, I love Maine even more now,” he says.
Image Description: Charles Stanhope '71