Claudia Cummings: Connections are key to success

Claudia Cummings earned her Bachelor of Arts in social work from the University of Maine in May 2020. She knows her success at UMaine can be attributed, at least in part, to her personal engagement during her undergraduate years. But she also learned that before changing the world students must find their niche.

After changing her major, Cummings found her niche in the School of Social Work. 

“The professors at the School of Social Work are empathetic, compassionate, friendly, supportive and inviting. The peers I had were ones that truly cared about their education and about each other,” Cummings said.

A member of the Penobscot Nation and native of Indian Island in Old Town, Cummings has experienced firsthand the power of community support. And at UMaine, she found a network of “unexpected” friends in the School of Social Work. 

A Dean’s list student in her sophomore, junior and senior years, she also served as vice president of Yarn Over Orono, a student organization seeking to build community through fiber arts education and philanthropy, participated with the curriculum committee for the School of Social Work, and in 2018 she attended Maine New Leadership (NEWL), a Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center program designed to prepare young women to seek and hold elected office and leadership roles. 

Cummings also represented the Penobscot Nation and UMaine’s Native student population in her role on the Penobscot Language Signage Committee, the group that motivated installation of bilingual campus signage — in the Penobscot language and in English — acknowledging that the University of Maine sits on Native land.

She put the exclamation point on her undergraduate career earlier this year when she received the Sharon Barker Student Activism Award, an honor reserved for students who work to enrich their communities through social justice advocacy.  

Now enrolled in the Master of Social Work program, she remains connected to her network in the School of Social Work, and empowered by their support. She gratefully acknowledges Robin Russel, UMaine professor of social work, as her mentor, and for helping her find her voice, and her niche.

It was Russel who first discussed social work through the lens of politics and policy with Cummings. It was Russel who encouraged her to apply to NEWL. And it was Russel who convinced her to campaign for a seat on the Indian Island Tribal Council. Cummings, the youngest member ever elected to the council, is serving a four-year term.

“Robin is now a dear friend who pushes me to be a better social worker and person,” she said. 

Cummings notes that without the tuition waiver available to Native students, she may have been unable to attend UMaine. Expected to graduate in May 2022, she hopes to learn more about Indigenous communities and plans to work in Maine to address social justice issues, including substance abuse and domestic violence. 

I will continue to be present in policy making and politics. My background as a social worker will help me make policy decisions about what Maine clients need.”

Contact: Joan Perkins,