(Editor’s note: Full-length version of story.)
As the Maine Public Policy scholar from the University of Maine, Jessica Long spent the last academic year researching nutrition guidelines in public schools. The yearlong program provides an intensive research and networking experience for students from Maine’s public universities. Long, a South Portland, Maine, native who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in political science, recently sat down to talk about her academic career, which included study abroad in South Africa.
Tell us about the Maine Public Policy Scholars Program.
I wanted to evaluate the current nutrition environment in public schools in the state. I worked with my academic adviser, along with superintendents and food service directors in three school districts. I also met with Karen O’Rourke, acting executive director of the Maine Center for Public Health, two women from the Maine Nutrition Network and other health professionals in the field.
How is this type of research different from the classroom experience?
This is my project, this is my baby and I’ve worked really hard with the research abilities that I gained from the regular classroom setting to transition into more of a real-world environment. It has been difficult, which is good, because I have been challenged in a way that I didn’t anticipate. It gave me a real sense of confidence.
Speaking of the classroom experience, what was that like?
My classes weren’t just lectures; a lot of my classes were discussion-based, which really opens up a whole other element to learning where you’re not just memorizing information but you’re really developing problem-solving skills — ways to analyze and synthesize information so you can comprehend something and really understand it. A lot of those issues are worldly issues and I really got to see that when I got the opportunity to go abroad.
How was your year studying in Cape Town?
It was amazing. I met so many wonderful people. I gained a lot of experience and knowledge that you can’t really gain in a classroom. A lot of my other friends from the University of Maine also have studied abroad, and it’s great that we’ve all been able to see the world and then come back and talk about it. It’s a different type of learning that is so worthwhile.
Where are you headed?
I would like to get my master’s in public health. My major in political science really gave me a better understanding of my moral obligations in the world. UMaine has completely transformed my life and set me on a path toward doing something within public service for other people.
Favorite place on campus?
The Oakes Room. It’s a café in the library, which is nice because you feel like you’re doing work, but you can also be social. I usually see a lot of my friends in there. They have lots of windows and it’s nice and warm and you can drink your tea and your lattes and be all “collegy.”
Favorite UMaine tradition?
Going to hockey games. We’re pretty big spirited here when it comes to our hockey team, so that’s always fun.”
Describe UMaine in one word:
What’s the story with longboarding?
My exposure to longboarding ensued after I broke up with my first official boyfriend the summer before sophomore year of college. It soon transcended into a part of my identity. Back at school, I wasn’t known as the ex-girlfriend or dean’s list student, but as one of the few females to christen the pathways of campus with four wheels and a deck. At parties, complete strangers would approach me with: “Hey, you’re that longboarder chick!” Upon entering the “real world” of office jobs and coffee breaks, I’m going to need any excuse I can to clutch onto the one relationship in my college career that has reaffirmed my independence and maintained my spirit — longboarding.
While I was one of the few females to longboard around campus during my sophomore year, during my senior year, there were about triple the students longboarding, including several females. Probably because it’s a great form of transportation to and from class, and it’s fun!
What difference has the University of Maine made in your life?
I’ve had more opportunities than I thought I could get from a state university. I’m a completely different person than I was when I first transferred here to now. It’s helped shaped me into a young woman, which is what my mom would say, but it’s totally true. I got to study abroad. I’ve done extensive policy research, I’ve been significantly challenged and pushed in a lot of my classes and I’ve had a lot of fun.
Originally published in UMaine Today Magazine, Fall 2009
Image Description: Jessica Long