Annabelle Wilson: A runner with her sights set on teaching in Maine
Annabelle Wilson did not take the well-traveled path to the University of Maine. Originally from Geelong in southern Australia, she was recruited to run cross country and track for the Black Bears. So how does a young woman from a “coastal surfing area” more than 10,000 miles from Orono like it here?
“I’ve loved Maine,” she says, “I really want to stay (here), that’s my goal.”
Wilson has a summer job lined up as a counselor at the Portland YMCA, and she’s been applying for teaching jobs at schools in southern Maine.
An elementary education major with concentrations in English and human development, she did her student teaching at McGraw School in Hampden and Leonard Middle School in Old Town. She’s also been involved in student-athlete mentoring and tutoring throughout her UMaine career. That led to an internship this winter at Carrabassett Valley Academy, where she helped set up a peer mentoring program for the school’s elite ski and snowboard athletes.
“We have 12 students who are mentors for the rest of the school,” says Wilson. “What we’re working on at the moment is how they see themselves as CVA athletes, and how they want to be seen, and what things impact the way they want to be seen. So, what are some positive steps they can take to make sure they’re seen the way they want to be seen?”
Watch a video interview with Annabelle Wilson:
From Down Under to Down East
As an athlete herself, Wilson is in a unique position to advise the student-athletes at Carrabassett Valley. But she sees herself as a role model for all students.
“I think that really being involved in sports, whether it’s running or anything else, there’s a great deal of things you can learn through teamwork and leadership, and just generally being able to find something you enjoy outside of academics to balance everything all around,” she says.
In a few months, Wilson will graduate and embark on the next phase of her life. She says she’ll remain forever grateful for the opportunities she received at UMaine.
“It’s given me a whole different sense of place and being, especially coming from Australia,” she says. “I see myself teaching and living long-term here in the U.S., and Maine in particular. I think that’s something pretty cool.”
I was recruited here for cross country and track. But at the time I was just going to college back in Australia and I was living at home, and I just figured I have two choices here: I could stay home and it would be fine, or I could take this opportunity and see where it takes me. I remember a lot of people telling me how cold it was in Maine, and my coach was like, “Have you ever seen snow before?” But I’ve loved Maine.
Can you tell us about your hometown?
My hometown is Geelong in Victoria, Australia. Geelong is the town and Victoria is the state. It’s definitely a coastal surfing area in southern Australia. It’s most well known for quite a few big surfing competitions. I don’t surf at all, but it’s definitely one of the places where I love to run. You have the beaches, and then some forested areas and really nice places to run just by the beach.
How often do you get to go home?
Maybe once a year I’m able to get back home. It’s really nice when I get a chance to. I was home last summer for about two weeks.
What do you enjoy about running cross country and track?
I enjoy the competitive aspect of it, and I also really enjoy the aspect of being on a team. In general, I enjoy just being fit, and I suppose you could say doing something that makes me healthy physically and mentally. I think running is a great way to de-stress.
What are some of your major achievements as a runner?
This year particularly, I’ve been really proud to captain both the cross country and track and field teams. I’ve been really proud of myself, and how I’ve come back from some setbacks. Like, in my sophomore year, I fractured my foot. It was the first time I’d really sustained a major injury. And, to come back after taking eight weeks off, that challenge taught me a lot in terms of why I really enjoy running and what it is I enjoy about competing.
How do you think running has prepared you to be a teacher?
I think the sense of being a positive role model for my students in how I deal with setbacks and challenges. Also, I think what it’s taught me in terms of general well-being and looking after myself. I hope that whatever classroom I end up working in, I can show that to my students. I think that really being involved in sports, whether it’s running or anything else, there’s a great deal of things you can learn through teamwork and leadership, and just generally being able to find something you enjoy outside of academics to balance everything all around.
Can you tell us about the peer mentoring program you started at Carrabassett Valley Academy?
Over the past four years I’ve been involved in student-athletic mentoring and tutoring at UMaine, and that got me really interested in working with student-athletes. So after my student teaching ended, I wanted to maintain classroom contact even though I didn’t have to credit-wise to graduate. So, CVA presented as a really cool opportunity. It’s a school for really elite snowboarding and skiing athletes.
I went to them and I said, “If I’m up here a day or so a week, how can I best help?” And I told them a bit about myself and what I’d been involved with here at the University of Maine. And when I mentioned the tutoring and mentoring program that was something they were really interested in.
We have 12 students at the moment who are peer mentors for the rest of the school. And it’s sort of in the establishing stages, where I’m still training the mentors.
What sort of training do you give them?
It’s a lot of different things actually. Like, if they see students who need help with studying or learning how to study when they’re traveling. Or maybe they see students who are having problems with friendships. What we’re working on at the moment is how they see themselves as CVA athletes, and how they want to be seen, and what things impact the way they want to be seen. So, what are some positive steps they can take to make sure they’re seen the way they want to be seen?
Tell us about the mentoring and tutoring work you’ve done at UMaine.
I started off the second semester of my freshman year as an English composition tutor for English 101. And the following year I kept tutoring and I took on board mentoring of freshman students.
It’s really rewarding to see some of the students I’ve mentored and tutored at the student-athlete banquet being recognized for good GPAs and things like that. I might only meet with them for a few months, but to see how much you can help them is really cool. I know for me, I found the transition from high school to college really different, and the transition from a college setting in Australia to a college setting here in the U.S. hard.
How would you describe the academic atmosphere at UMaine?
I’ve really loved the last year or so of my education here, particularly because I feel like I’ve formed some close friendships with people in my graduating class. I think that’s one of the nicest things. We’ve got such a comprehensive and large-scale program, but with such small class sizes, and particularly when you come toward the end of your senior year. All of your methods courses and your student teaching seminars are done with the same 20 people or so.
Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who has made your UMaine experience better, and if so, who and how?
There’s been so many people in the advising center who have helped me — Faith Erhardt and Erin Straine. Mary Mahoney-O’Neil has been a fantastic help. Whether it’s been a bit of advice on what college course to take, or how at the moment I’m starting to apply for jobs. So, all that advice on how to write a cover letter or how to approach going to job interviews, I think that’s really helpful advice that I definitely really appreciate.
Have you had an experience at UMaine — either academically or socially — that has changed or shaped the way you see the world?
I really, really loved my student teaching placement at Leonard Middle School in Old Town. I always had the perception that I wanted to work with younger children, maybe K–3. And I remember one of my professors, Frank Page, he said to me, “Don’t discount anything. Always take these opportunities that you’ve been given.” Going into it, I wasn’t looking forward to that placement, but it ended up being the best eight weeks of my student teaching. It really changed the way I viewed taking opportunities and being open. It’s changed the jobs I want to pursue now after graduating. I definitely want to work in that middle school field now.
Describe UMaine in one word
Opportunity. The opportunity to try different things in the teaching profession or whatever degree you go into. I think that no matter what degree you take here at the University of Maine it presents so many opportunities for you now or later in life, whether it’s the friendships that you make or connections within your profession. And just the opportunity I had in being here. Like, the opportunity I had when I was back home in Australia to either pursue coming here or stay back home.
What is your most memorable UMaine moment?
It was really, really nice the other week, Mary Mahoney-O’Neil wrote me a letter of recommendation. And to hear her read it back to me, that was really memorable. I was really proud of that, to hear someone say how proud they were of what I’d achieved here.
What do you hope to do after graduation and how has UMaine helped you reach those goals?
Right now I’ve got lots of plans of what I hope will happen. I really want to stay in Maine, that’s my goal. I’m hoping to find a job in the southern Maine area. I got a job working this summer at the YMCA in Portland as a summer counselor, living with some UMaine alumni. I’m hoping to find a teaching job in the Portland area. I’ve applied for a few, and right now I’m just waiting for more jobs to come up.
There are so many ways UMaine has helped me through my experiences as a student teacher, as well as indirectly, such as some of the opportunities I’ve had through All Maine Women, through being a part of the UMaine Athlete Advisory Committee. A lot of those opportunities have helped me grow as a leader and develop skills in terms of learning to work with a lot of different people, and develop things such as communication and organization skills.
How has your experience in the classroom helped prepare you for life after graduation?
I think it’s taught me the theory behind teaching when I go into working classrooms. My methods classes in particular were really great for that, giving me a bit of background on different English curriculums, or different classroom management strategies. Where I feel like I’ve learned the most is sort of reflecting upon that content when actually in the classroom and practicing it.
What is the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you’ve taken at UMaine?
There’s been a lot that have been helpful. But I think that perhaps the seminar component of my student teaching was really helpful, because it encouraged me to really reflect upon my teaching and I think that’s such a powerful component of teaching. It’s something that if you learn to practice it regularly, it’s a really powerful tool for continuing to improve always as a teacher.
What difference has UMaine made in your life?
It’s given me a whole different sense of place and being, especially coming from Australia. I see myself teaching and living long-term here in the U.S., and Maine in particular. I think that’s something pretty cool.
Contact: Casey Kelly, 207.581.3751