Ben Leary and Caleb Bailey: Early College advantage sets students on path to success

Earning a bachelor’s degree in three years and getting a head start on a dream career is the focus of two University of Maine students. 

For Ben Leary, a chemical engineering major, the Early College partnership between UMaine’s College of Engineering and Thornton Academy, a private school in Saco for grades six–12, was crucial to his success in college and on his career path. 

“It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made,” says Leary, who also is taking courses to prepare for veterinary school. “I’ll be able to jump into vet school early.”

Likewise, Caleb Bailey, also a Thornton Academy graduate, came to UMaine as a first-year sophomore, starting in the engineering physics program. He soon discovered he loved physics so much that he switched his major to physics. He’s also working toward a mathematics minor. 

Leary learned about the program his first year at Thornton, and organized his schedule for the next three years to accommodate as many Advanced Placement (AP) classes as possible — calculus, chemistry, computer science, physics, English, foreign languages, history/social science, humanities and an Honors Introduction of Engineering course, the equivalence of 30 college credits.

This allowed him to effectively complete a full year of college coursework before earning his high school diploma, saving time and thousands of dollars worth of tuition, room and board, and the other costs associated with attending college.

The AP class format also prepared him well for academics and expectations in college. 

“AP is a very different environment from a normal class,” says Leary. “It’s the closest thing to college you can have in high school.”

Leary came to UMaine as a first-year student with sophomore standing. Now going into his third year, he is on track to graduate in spring 2020. And while vet school is not for everyone, Leary says early college can benefit anyone interested in higher education because it will help them save money and enter their chosen career a year early. 

Leary chose the chemical engineering program both out of a love for chemistry and as a way to ensure he will have a career if the veterinary path derails for unforeseen reasons. He also would consider working as an engineer in the oil or gas industries as a career option.

In that case, “I’ll have a strictly job-related degree to fall back on,” he says, since the engineering program is providing him with concrete skills to succeed in the workforce. 

Leary works part time at Networkmaine, a company that supplies internet to Maine schools and libraries. He logs hours at its on-campus office in Neville Hall between classes and at night, and appreciates the flexible hours that meld with his class schedule so he can maximize his time. 

He also works as an assistant at two veterinary clinics in the summer. While he cannot perform surgery or other tasks yet without certification, he learns from and works alongside doctors and technicians. Leary’s eventual goal is to be a surgeon in an emergency veterinary clinic, and he can see himself working at one of the Saco clinics after earning his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree. 

Leary is one of eight siblings and loves spending time with his family. He also has a newfound passion for canning and hopes to make more pickles this summer. 

Like Leary, Bailey worked with his guidance counselor to create a schedule that would accommodate all the AP classes to cover the first year of college, including an English class through Southern Maine Community College. Bailey says he was interested in taking most of those classes for their own sake anyway, so it made sense to try the Early College program and get the most out of the experience. 

Bailey took his first physics class his sophomore year of high school and something clicked. 

“I like the mathematical application, and the theoretical application, and how it reflected reality in an odd, convoluted way,” he says.

That course used a flipped classroom model in which students learned material at home and came to school prepared to discuss it, much like in college. Bailey says the experience sparked his interest in physics and prepared him to study and learn off campus later on. 

By his senior year of high school, he was taking calculus-based physics and was fascinated by the in-depth approach to the subject and the focus on abstract applications of theories. 

“I like more diving into the subject than problem-solving with engineering,” he says of his decision to switch majors. “Learning why something works is far more interesting (to me) than learning the way something works.”

Bailey says he would “absolutely” recommend Early College to others. It prepared him well for college — his takeaway is that home is not only for homework but is the place learning first occurs, and that knowledge is then applied, expanded on and reinforced in class, just like in college. 

Saving money was a plus for Bailey, too. 

“That helped an incredible amount,” he says. “I was able to get by with minimal loans.” 

Bailey has been involved with the Society of Physics Students, and works various jobs in the summer. After he graduates next spring, he plans to earn a master’s degree. 

“I want to keep learning and diving deep into whatever field of physics I choose,” Bailey says. Ideally, he wants learning to be his job, with a focus on research.

“It was awesome,” Leary says of his Early College experience. “I absolutely recommend it.” 

Across the University of Maine System, nearly 3,000 students were enrolled in Early College during the 2017–18 academic year.

The UMaine Early College program reaches over 300 students in more than 90 high schools across the state of Maine. Currently, more than 40 courses (live and online) are being offered this summer, and over 70 courses (live and online) this fall. 

For more information about UMaine’s Early College options, visit the program’s website, contact Allison Small, Early College coordinator, at 207.581.8004, or email  

Contact: Cleo Barker, 207.581.3729