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2014 Outstanding Graduating Student — Theresa McMannus

McMannus named Outstanding Graduating Student in Division of Lifelong Learning

Theresa McMannusTheresa McMannus of Milo, Maine, is the Outstanding Graduating Student in the Division of Lifelong Learning at the University of Maine.

McMannus majored in university studies and minored in child development and family relations. McMannus earned an associate degree in business management from UMaine in 1994. Much of her academic research focused on developmental behavior disorders, including attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. She has worked for her alma mater for two decades, most recently as the administrative specialist to the associate provost and dean of the Division of Lifelong Learning.

She is a member of Alpha Sigma Lambda honor society and active in her community. McMannus will continue to work in UMaine’s Division of Lifelong Learning and ultimately hopes to pursue a master’s degree in human development, conducting research on the connection between brain development and developmental behaviors.

Tell us about the research, internships or scholarly pursuits you were involved in as a student
With a focus in child development and family relations, much of my research was on children with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), also known as a developmental behavior disorder. My own child was diagnosed with mild to moderate ADHD at the age of 6. As a mom, I wanted to understand what ADHD is, what its characteristics are and some ways to help manage it. I was fully aware of the long-term idea of helping her to learn and self-correct behaviors, with the goal of helping her become a productive, healthy and contributing member to her classroom, school and community. I wanted to know what support she needed from me, what she needed to be academically successful at school and how could she help herself.

I took classes like SED 402: Students with Disabilities, which gave me a broad overview of how teachers can be inclusive with students with disorders and disabilities in their classrooms. I took those ideas and applied them at home as well. Then I took CHF 450: Early Childhood Inclusion in the Classroom, which narrowed the idea of inclusion to Pre-K through grade 3 classrooms. It was in this class that I read about researcher Dr. Adele Diamond and her work with developmental cognitive neuroscience and executive functioning in the brain. I started finding out more about her work at the University of British Columbia.  I watched her YouTube videos, looked up her research and read about her lab at the university. Professor Mary Ellin Logue and I then thought I could do an independent study around executive functioning, the brain and how it plays a roll in children with ADHD. I enjoyed this class and really wish I could have taken a trip to visit Dr. Diamond’s lab.  But because I have a family with financial obligations, a trip like this was too expensive.

My capstone was a combination of my research in developmental behaviors and learning more about Responsive to Intervention (RTI).  This is a school intervention aimed at increasing students’ awareness of undesirable behaviors at school and home, and turning them around using the core values set in a school or district. RTI has a school-parent behavior component. To help a local school implement its RTI behavior school-parent component was a natural project for my capstone. I created documents the school could use, and is using, to increase parent awareness of the RTI behavior interventions at school and how parents can use the same core values at home. Dr. Jim Artesani was my capstone advisor. His knowledge of special education in schools and his work with RTI were crucial to my project.

When I think about continuing my education, I think about a master’s in human development and would like to research brain development and brain mapping in the areas of developmental behaviors. Understanding developmental cognitive neuroscience would be a part of it. I would also love to visit Dr. Diamond’s lab and attend her biennial conference, Brain Development and Learning.

Beyond academics, what extracurricular activities occupied your time? (clubs, sports, etc.)
As an adult learner, parent, employee and commuter, there isn’t much time to spend with extracurricular activities. But, what time I have had has been spent supporting my daughter and her activities. I have been an active member of the school PTO, where a small group of parents designed and fundraised for a new school playground. We raised roughly $45,000 for the project, not including in-kind gifts. In total, the project was close to $88,000.

I also helped organize a much smaller community project where the young dancers of Milo needed to install new wall mirrors for their dance classes. They had never used mirrors before and it was slowing down their training. With the help of other community members, we raised $1,500 to install the mirrors.

I have also been a member of the town budget committee.

What are your plans after graduation?
I plan to continue working for the University of Maine, but with the help of my degree, I would like to advance my career using my administrative experience and institutional training and history.

What difference has UMaine made in your life and in helping you reach your goals?
The University of Maine has provided me with an incredible education. It is a world-class institution with faculty who care about their students, their research and their place in the academic arena. My goal was to complete my degree and become more knowledgeable about my areas of interest. UMaine has an array of online classes that helped me complete my degree. In fact, the online classes have been instrumental in allowing me to complete the Bachelor of University Studies (BUS) degree. I have taken online exams at 5 a.m. when the house is quiet and everyone is still asleep. I have watched lectures on weekends and submitted homework during lunch hour. UMaine online course options have given me the flexibility to be successful.

Have you had an experience at UMaine that has changed or shaped the way you see the world?
The University of Maine is an experience. Culture and diversity abound on this campus. But I would have to say that the class experience and topics covered are the most eye-opening and thought-provoking experiences. Whether you are learning about the night sky in Astronomy 109, world cultures in relation to human sexuality or being challenged to further explore your research area, it is the lessons you learn and the knowledge you gain that open your mind to change.

Have you worked closely with a professor or mentor who made your UMaine experience better?
I have enjoyed working with Dr. Mary Ellin Logue, associate professor of early childhood education. She challenges her students to understand early childhood learning and the many tangles students with disabilities and developmental behavior disorder have. She challenges her students to think like parents of students with disabilities and, more importantly, teaches her students to think like a child with a disability or disorder. For me, she showed me how to be an effective advocate for my child by learning both the academic and home needs of students with ADHD. Dr. Logue has taught me how to observe behaviors and ask myself what can I learn from this observation. 

What advice do you have for incoming students?
My advice for incoming adult students is to embrace the opportunity you have to advance your education. Whether for personal or professional reasons, it is the process of completing the degree that changes you most. As adult students, we have other obligations like children, family and work that parallel our academics. They play real roles in how we budget our money, how we schedule our time and what degree options we choose. Embrace the idea of being a mentor for lifelong learning — a mentor to your children, your family, friends and colleagues. Embrace the process of change.