Ethan Tremblay: An Opportunistic Explorer

Third-year economics and journalism double major Ethan Tremblay of Mariaville, Maine, enjoys investigative writing, a genre of journalism that he calls precarious in the current news climate.

Tremblay, 21, says that his time at UMaine has opened his eyes to many new fields interest. Since taking UMaine’s Media Law and Ethics course in the spring 2013 semester, he has found that he enjoys exploring legal problems and figuring out why courts make the decisions they do.

Since beginning his education at UMaine, the honors student has studied abroad in Bulgaria, which he says provided the opportunity to “be able to step outside your door and get caught up in appreciating even the most mundane things because you’re so far from home.”

As a double major in economics and journalism, which field do you find influences your interests more?
I’ve been fascinated by journalism since I was very young, but at this point, I find myself drawn more toward the economics side of my education. I think this is because I’ve always enthusiastically followed current events, which initially drew me to want to report on them — and I still do. However, as I explored other coursework here at UMaine, I began to gain an appreciation for the ways I might be able to actually take part in what’s going on in the news.

What genre of journalistic writing would you call your specialty?
I’m not sure I’m at the point yet where I could declare myself specialized, but I can say I especially enjoy the sort of in-depth, time- and research-intensive investigative stuff that’s so precarious these days.

Who would you consider to be your favorite author?
I’m going to go with Mark Twain. There’s a timelessness to much of his commentary, which is why I find him appealing a century after he was first publishing. He also had a really exciting life, and he wasn’t afraid to speak frankly about things — often in such a disarmingly funny or satirical way that you don’t get bogged down in endless criticism or whining. One of his best quotes that I find particularly applicable is something like, “Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”

Are you involved in any extracurricular activities?
I wrote for the Maine Campus for a time, but otherwise my major activities at the university are academic. I like using campus rec facilities, especially the Maine Bound climbing gym, and attending guest lectures and seminars. When I was studying abroad in Bulgaria, I had more time because I wasn’t also working part time and volunteering, as I do while I’m here at home, so I had the opportunity to take part in more extracurriculars.

Why did you choose to attend UMaine?
I guess I was excited about the fact that I could stay near all the great places I enjoyed growing up while also having access to a gorgeous campus and excellent academics. I love Maine, so I chose UMaine not so much because I didn’t want to go anywhere else, but because I felt privileged to be able to stay here.

How has being in the Honors College made your experience at UMaine worthwhile?
Honors has taken everything else I’ve worked on at UMaine and made sense of it. It’s hard to describe the experience, except to say that the things you are taught in honors are the ideas that you find yourself thinking about when you’re nowhere near a classroom or workplace. It’s tempting to dismiss it as a bunch of dusty old books and some response papers, but when you realize you’re still relating the ideas to your experience of the world long after the semester has ended, then you suddenly have to accept that it changed your life.

Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who has made your UMaine experience better, if so how?
Nico Jenkins in honors and Julie Hopwood in journalism are both fantastic professors. I’m partial to any educator who doesn’t get so wrapped up in their material that they can’t engage with students and have a dialogue, even during a lecture. Julie pretty much single-handedly cultivated my interest in law. Nico is the master of the Socratic dialogue, and it was almost uncanny the way he seemed to draw out exactly what aspect of an honors text was most intriguing and use it to start a conversation that could go on for months.

What is the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you’ve taken at UMaine?
I took Media Law and Ethics a couple of semesters ago, and it really opened my eyes to different aspects of the media world. I found I really enjoyed exploring legal problems and puzzling out why courts make the decisions that they do. Especially in the realm of First Amendment rights, which is a major focus of media law, there is some very careful language and important nuance when judges hand down opinions, and I found myself fascinated by how visionary some cases can be. There’s a certain appeal to how legal tradition and precedents are set, and the fact that they continue to be instrumental decades and even centuries down the road.

Is there a specific type of law in which you’re interested?
I’m drawn toward law from more of a policy perspective than actual litigation. One of my most important goals is to be able to stay in Maine, so I’d like to tailor my career in such a way that I can be here and be useful. There are a lot of important decisions being made with regard to Maine’s future, and I think there’s going to be a renewed emphasis on fresh thinking and innovation when it comes to policymaking and community development. I’d like to have a part in that. When it comes to finding a potential graduate program that’s useful to me, I think I’ll look particularly for strong environmental or land use-related programs.

Are there any specific court cases that really intrigue you?
I was fascinated by the Sullivan case (Sullivan v. New York Times Co.) because it was really the first time I’d actually had to sit down and puzzle through a full Supreme Court ruling. I found the legal process fascinating, and then when we explored more of the background for the case and the ideas Justice Brennan was using to develop the court’s opinion, I was intrigued. I started reading more about Brennan and his other important opinions, and I started reading some of his other writings as well. I’m not sure that I ever would’ve come across his ideas, at least not in such an exciting way, if it weren’t for that class.

Have you had an experience at UMaine that has shaped the way you see the world?
I came here without a solid idea of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Now that I’m about to leave, I have the opposite problem — I’ve encountered so many fascinating and important ideas and fields at UMaine that I’m afraid I won’t be able to focus myself on one thing. I think that’s a sign of having found a great place to be educated, since the best thing an institution can do for a student is inspire them to think big and be passionate about things.

Another fantastic opportunity I had here at UMaine was the chance to study abroad for a semester. The Office of International Programs does a splendid job of matching students with excellent institutions abroad, and they help with every aspect of making it happen. Once you’re outside your native community, you can’t help but realize how much there is happening in the world and begin to be drawn toward it. Studying abroad — for me, it was at the American University in Bulgaria — offers a whole new world both within your educational institution and within the region or country where you’re living. It’s a powerful thing to be able to step outside your door and get caught up in appreciating even the most mundane things because you’re so far from home.

What difference has UMaine made in your life, helping you reach your goals?
Being at UMaine really helps you find your own voice, whether it’s because you get engaged in a class discussion and have to defend your opinions, or because you see an opportunity for yourself and have to find the right people to help you make it happen. If you don’t get out and advocate for yourself, you’re not taking advantage of all the great things this university has to offer.

What advice do you have for incoming students?
Definitely get involved. College is really what you make of it, meaning that you have the opportunity to take your few short years here and leverage them into an excellent career. Not only can you prepare yourself for just about any profession, but you really have a chance to shape yourself as a human being. Take the time to explore what it is you believe and figure out why that’s so. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or dig deeper into things. Sometimes the coolest things you learn are inspired by an offhand comment from a professor that you decide to follow up on on your own time.

What is your favorite place on campus?
There are two trees on the corner of the Mall where you can always find a group of people jumping around on a slackline whenever there isn’t too much snow. It’s a great place to congregate, because everybody is willing to talk about just about anything — even with folks they’ve never met before. I don’t think you could spend more than five minutes there without meeting friendly, new people. Also, slacklining is great fun, even if you only have two minutes to stop between classes.

What is UMaine doing to help with your future?
I think UMaine has provided me with the knowledge and experience that I’ll need to pursue a graduate degree, and that’s where I think I’m headed once I finish here. It’ll probably be law school, so the fact that I’ve had professors who manage to combine practical knowledge of how to perform within the legal system with a broader appreciation for why and how we govern ourselves — and, from honors, a sense of who we even are as a society — is really crucial for me.

How do you think your current education would be applicable to your hopes to expand your education as you look into graduate school?
One of the best things about UMaine for me has been being able to maintain connections to communities I had already developed. Because I didn’t have to put down new roots during my undergraduate career, I’ve been able to stay connected with many organizations and folks who can open doors for me down the road. Right now, I’m all about getting experience and trying new things, both in the classroom and outside the university. Orono’s a great little community to be a part of, and Bangor is really taking off in many exciting ways. I think I’ve benefitted from being around for that, especially because I feel strongly that I want to continue being around and contributing to the region. I’ve been able to serve on a nonprofit board for the past three years, work in downtown Bangor, and just be involved in life here while still in school. I consider myself very fortunate.

I like to take a lot of classes at once, so I’ve learned to budget my time and energy pretty carefully. There are so many things to learn in every class, especially if you try to dig deeper than the required reading or lecture notes. Honestly I don’t think my particular choice of majors will have a specific impact on where I end up in the future — it’s more about the ideas and people I’ve been exposed to and the information I’ve been able to absorb. I wouldn’t say UMaine has prepared me to do specifically one thing with my major — it’s more about becoming a well-educated, curious, informed person and trying to keep yourself going that way.