Two UMaine Sophomores Win George J. Mitchell Peace Scholarship

Two University of Maine sophomores have been named winners of the George J. Mitchell Peace Scholarship and will study abroad in Ireland as part of the student exchange program.

George J. Mitchell Scholars Gwendolyn Beacham and Lorna Harriman will each spend a semester at the University College Cork in Ireland. The scholarship honors the 1998 Northern Ireland peace accord brokered by Sen. Mitchell between Ireland and the United Kingdom and is open to full-time undergraduate students in the University of Maine system.

The scholarship allows one student to study for a year in Ireland or two students to study for a semester each with all expenses paid, including airfare. This year, for the first time, both winners are from the Orono campus.

Harriman, an elementary education major from Troy, Maine, will study in Ireland during the fall 2013 semester. Beacham, a molecular and cellular biology major and Honors College student from Farmington, Maine, will make the trip in spring 2014. Neither Harriman or Beacham have been to Ireland before, and they are both looking forward to the experience.

Along with attending school full time, Harriman is a member of and teacher at the Robinson Ballet Co. in Bangor, and employee of the Family Dog restaurant in Orono. She also volunteers with the Black Bear Mentor Program and makes time every week to visit with her 10-year-old mentee at the Old Town Recreation Department.

Harriman, who has a concentration in English and is working on a minor in psychology, hopes to teach English abroad after she graduates, earn a master’s degree in literacy education and then return to Maine to teach middle-level language arts.

Harriman, who is on the Dean’s List and is a UMaine Merit Award winner, says she chose UMaine because of its financial flexibility and wide range of academic and campus opportunities.

“There are so many opportunities for success at UMaine. If you’re willing to work hard and explore, there is a place for everyone,” Harriman says. UMaine’s College of Education and Human Development “has really encouraged me toward my career goals and made me certain I am on the right path.”

Harriman says the academic atmosphere at UMaine is supportive and many people had a positive effect on her undergraduate experience.

She credits education professor Phyllis Brazee and her class, Teaching in a Multicultural Society, for making her realize she was on the right career path, and honors and English professor Kathleen Ellis for challenging her and helping her become a better student.

“As a student, you really get the feeling that your professors want you to succeed,” she says.

Harriman calls the scholarship an opportunity of a lifetime and looks forward to learning in a new culture.

“My biggest goal is to absorb as much of the culture as possible while I am there, but I also hope to learn about different education styles they may employ that can help me in the future as a teacher,” Harriman says.

Harriman says the scholarship has also given her confidence.

“It has made me realize what I am capable of if I put my mind to it,” she says. “I feel confident and excited about the direction my life is going in.  I am incredibly grateful for the people and opportunities that have brought me to where I am.”

Beacham, who is on the Dean’s List and is a Presidential Scholar has won several scholarships, including the Lamey Wellehan Maine Difference Scholarship and the Pine Tree Section ASQ Sumner K. Wiley Jr. Scholarship.

Last summer she was awarded an IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence fellowship and spent eight weeks at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove, Maine, where she studied the differentiation of primary mesenchyme cells, or cells that form the skeleton, in echinoderm embryos.

During the academic year, Beacham has been researching bacteriophages,  or viruses that infect bacteria, and has been focusing her research on the repressor protein.

Beyond academics, Beacham is the secretary of the UMaine student chapter of Engineers Without Borders and will be president of the chapter next year. She traveled with the group to Honduras during Spring Break to install a septic system to improve water quality in a rural community. She is also a member of the Sophomore Eagles, a UMaine traditions group and honor society, and participates in campus dance clubs.

Beacham credits UMaine with challenging her as a student and providing opportunities for personal growth in an open, friendly atmosphere.

“UMaine is a great place,” Beacham says. “The academic courses, my activities, and my research experiences have been nothing but positive. I have learned that I am extremely passionate about science and scientific research, as well as about being involved in a community and helping others.”

Beacham says she considers herself lucky to be a student at a large research university and to have been exposed to research since her first year at the school. Leadership positions in UMaine clubs have also helped her gain confidence in her abilities as a leader.

“I never before imagined I would be able to work with a community in Honduras to help improve their sanitation, or that I would have my own independent research project while only being a sophomore in college,” she says.

Although she says she has worked with many UMaine professors and have had positive experiences with all of them, she has worked the most with assistant research professor Sally Molloy, both in the classroom and in the lab. Beacham says she appreciates the support Molloy has given her.

Beacham says she is honored to be able to study in Ireland as a representative of Sen. Mitchell.

“I admire his work very much, and am so appreciative of the support from him and the Mitchell Institute that will assist me in reaching my educational and career goals,” Beacham says. “I am also excited about being able to study in Ireland and experience another culture for a semester, and I am very appreciative of the financial support that will make this possible.”

After graduation, Beacham plans to obtain her Ph.D. in a microbiology-related field and pursue research in microbial ecology or astrobiology.