Natalie Tomah: Family ties call freshman elementary education student to UMaine

For Natalie Tomah of Smithfield, Rhode Island, deciding to come to the University of Maine for college was like deciding to go home.

Although she grew up in the Ocean State, Tomah has deep connections to Maine and its flagship public university. Her dad, Tony Tomah, was born and raised in Houlton. Her mom, Lori Tomah, spent summers vacationing in Maine. Both parents are UMaine graduates: Tony Tomah has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a master’s in instructional technology, while Lori Tomah has a master’s in human nutrition. They met when they were in graduate school.

“I feel like I was meant to come here,” says Natalie Tomah, a freshman, who like her dad will study elementary education.

At Maine Hello, as mom and dad helped her move into the College of Education and Human Development’s Living Learning Community on the fourth floor of Cumberland Hall, surrounded by half-unpacked boxes of loose clothing, electronics and other tokens of dorm life, Natalie Tomah says the number one reason she chose UMaine was the sense of community.

“There’s something about this campus that sets it apart,” she says. “I could have gone to an in-state college, but nothing fit like UMaine fit.”

Part of that is an ancestral connection. Natalie Tomah and her dad are members of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians. Tony Tomah says his daughter will have more opportunities to explore her Native identity than he did during his time at UMaine.

“Just seeing the Wabanaki signs on campus,” Tony Tomah says, “she will have much more exposure and probably gain much more knowledge immediately than I will ever gain.”

Case in point: Before she graduates, Natalie Tomah will take Teaching Wabanaki Studies, a course the College of Education and Human Development recently incorporated into its curriculum for preservice teachers to better prepare Maine educators to meet the spirit of a 2001 state law that requires K–12 schools to teach Wabanaki history and culture.

In the Living Learning Community, Natalie Tomah will be surrounded by other students who came to UMaine to study education, as well as students majoring in child development and family relations, exercise science and physical education. She’ll have opportunities to get to know her peers through team-building activities, professional development opportunities and focused learning experiences.

Asked if she decided to study education because of her dad, the director of technology at a school district in Massachusetts, Natalie Tomah says partially. But there’s more to the story.

“My siblings are triplets, so I’ve always been a teaching figure and I love working with kids,” she says.

“She’s a natural when it comes to working with children,” Lori Tomah chimes in. “She didn’t have baby dolls, she had the real thing.”

In high school, Natalie Tomah was a member of the National Honor Society and the Youth Council in Smithfield, as well as a volunteer at her church. She also spent this past summer working as a special education teaching assistant for her town’s school district.

“That taught me a lot about working with different student populations, and I’m hoping it translates into some opportunities down the road when I’m home on break,” she says.

As for what she’s looking forward to the most during her time at UMaine, she says, “just making connections that will help me be successful in the future.”

She’s already off to a good start.

Contact: Casey Kelly,