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Student Highlights - Amy Smith

Nontraditional success

Amy Smith of Lincolnville, Maine, is the valedictorian of the Class of 2010 at the University of Maine. She will graduate May 8 with a bachelor’s degree in history.

The 1988 Camden-Rockport High School graduate who grew up in Lincolnville enrolled at the University of Maine as a secondary education major. She took her first two years of University of Maine classes at the Hutchinson Center in Belfast, Maine, and, as a junior, changed her major to history. She also has a concentration in peace and conflict studies.

“I opted for history because I’ve always been interested in it and it offered a good opportunity to go to grad school,” says Smith, who is a member of Phi Beta Kappa honor society. “I love getting that broad perspective on the world.”

After being out of school for 18 years, the small, “low-key” classes at the Hutchinson Center provided a comfortable introduction to higher education for the first-generation college student. In her junior year, she started making the 120-mile round-trip commute from her home to Orono at least twice a week to attend classes.

“Initially I worried that I would feel out of place being in classes with students much younger, most of them the same age as my kids, but I really enjoyed the classroom experience, hearing so many thoughts and ideas. And everyone was very accepting,” Smith says.

Among Smith’s favorite classes were two annual Camden Conference courses, and those in history taught by professor Ngo Vinh Long on Japan and Vietnam.

“I loved his teaching style,” Smith says. “He’s open in sharing his knowledge and experiences, and he gave us the freedom to explore the material and think for ourselves.”

Smith, a certified nursing assistant, worked in a long-term residential community center for five years and held other part-time jobs while raising three children — Brittany, Andrew and Christopher. She returned to school the same year her oldest child enrolled in Clark University.

“When Brittany started looking for colleges, I got the idea that maybe I wanted to do it too,” says Smith, who credits her academic success to the support of her husband of 22 years, Leon. “I had been thinking about it for years, trying to decide when the time was right. I got pregnant my junior year of high school and went back to school to finish my senior year. I always had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to go back to school (for a college degree).”

For the past four years, Smith and her daughter compared notes on their college experiences, including commiserating about exams and sharing the symptoms of “senioritis.”

“I think being an adult learner, you take things more seriously,” says Smith of her academic success. “I wanted to do this, so I didn’t miss classes and I studied hard. It was an enjoyment for me.”

Smith will receive her degree at UMaine two weeks before Brittany is awarded hers in English.

Smith will attend graduate school at the University of Southern Maine to pursue a master’s degree in adult education. Her goal is to work as an academic adviser in a community college, encouraging and advocating for nontraditional students to successfully pursue higher education.

“From my own experience, I see a need in Maine to get the message out that it’s never too late and you’re never too old to pursue an education,” Smith says. “I know the challenges of being an older student, as well as the challenges of being in high school and having a child. I also know that your education doesn’t have to stop.”


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