McGillicuddy Humanities Center Celebrates a Decade of Supporting Award-Winning Scholarship and Creative Endeavors

It started with a series of discussions. Convened by a group of collegial humanities scholars at the University of Maine, the small community then evolved into an initiative with the support of then Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Jeff Hecker. 

Becoming a fully realized, university-recognized academic research center required both a specific developmental vision and an opportunity to secure financial resources. And during the 2011–12 academic year, vision met opportunity and a new center was established.

April 23, 2012, what today is known as the McGillicuddy Humanities Center was officially launched with the announcement of awardees of a new internal grant competition at UMaine. As part of the Blue Sky Strategic Plan, proposals had been solicited by the President’s Office in a competition called the Presidential Request for Visions of University Excellence (PRE-VUE) Program. 

“We had been working at the initiative for a year or more, referring to it as the University of Maine Humanities Initiative, when the call for PRE-VUE proposals was released. We realized that this was the perfect vehicle for kick starting the Humanities Center as well as advancing the university toward its goal,” said Hecker. 

The humanities proposal team leader was Scott See, Libra Professor of History, who worked closely with Hecker and associate dean Amy Fried. April 23, 2012, the President’s office announced that the proposal, officially titled “University of Maine Humanities Center: Humanities for the 21st Century,” would be awarded a $300,000 grant to fund the transformation of the humanities initiative into a full-fledged research center. 

University units represented in the original proposal included the UMaine Humanities Initiative; College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; departments of English, History, Modern Languages and Classics, Philosophy and Art; Maine Folklife Center; National Poetry Foundation; and Canadian American Center.

“The PRE-VUE award will be used to establish a University of Maine Humanities Center to promote the integral role of the humanities and the university in the state by developing synergy among scholarship, research and community engagement,” the announcement stated.

The following summer, See turned over the new center to Justin Wolff, then associate professor of art, and the impressive record of development and growth that would occur over the next decade began in earnest. Working closely with the Dean’s Office and the University of Maine Foundation, an initial Board of Advisors was assembled, and new opportunities to fund humanities scholarship, events, community outreach, and creative and performing arts endeavors began.

The center started collaborating with such community organizations as the Bangor Public Library and Orono Public Schools. Links between statewide organizations like the Maine Historical Society and the Maine Humanities Council were established, with key personnel bridging the UMaine humanities community to others in the state. 

Sometimes these links included specific people, including Liam Riordan, professor of history, who became the director of the Humanities Center in 2014, and also served on the Board of Directors of the Maine Humanities Council from 2010–17; and Kathryn Olmstead, co-chair of the Board of Advisors of the McGillicuddy Humanities Center from 2019–22, who also served on the Maine Public (Broadcasting) Board of Trustees and Natural Resources Council of Maine Board of Directors. 

In its first five years, the Humanities Center compiled an impressive record of achievement. It convened community events and supported numerous diverse faculty projects, including the creative fiction and studies of poetry by Carlos Villacorta Gonzales, a faculty member in Spanish; “Art and Science,” an interdisciplinary collaboration between Andy Mauery, associate professor of art, and her colleague in genomics Sally Dixon Molloy; and Michael Socolow’s award-winning history of Olympic broadcasting, “Six Minutes in Berlin.” 

The center developed an engaging social media presence, worked with the University of Maine Foundation to convene a Patrons Circle of supporters, and began publishing annual reports detailing its activities.

The second half of its initial decade saw the center receive a transformative gift from Clement (Class of 1964) and Linda McGillicuddy. The McGillicuddys had supported the center in its initial development, and in early 2017, they discussed new ideas with then-director Jennifer Moxley, professor of English. The idea Moxley proposed involved funding an undergraduate Humanities Fellows program that would offer financial support for select undergraduate students to pursue projects in the areas in which they were passionate. The discussions led to a transformative, naming gift for the center. 

Sept. 22, 2017, the center celebrated its first five years by announcing the gift and its new name — The Clement and Linda McGillicuddy Humanities Center — and launching the Fellows Program. 

The first Fellows were named in 2018, and since then 26 UMaine undergraduates have been selected for a McGillicuddy Humanities Center fellowship. The projects completed, and the professional trajectories launched by the fellowship, have already compiled an impressive record. 

Fellows have gone on to graduate study at Boston College, Harvard University and Duke University, have published chapbooks of poetry composed during the fellowship, and showcased art exhibitions. One fellow, Sarah Penney (Class of 2021), became the first alumna of the program to join the center’s Advisory Board in 2022. 

The success of the fellowship program attracted new supporters, and in spring 2021, the first Richard and Karin Anderson Fellow was named: Haley Santerre, an art major from Portland, Maine. 

In 2022, a gift from alumnus David Wiggin allowed for the support of the first Wiggin Fellow, Tom Pinette of Caribou, Maine. 

The record of the McGillicuddy Humanities Center in supporting excellence in humanities research has been reflected in additional areas. In 2021, Margo Lukens, professor of English, was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to support development of a centralized digital portal that will improve access to Wabanaki historical and cultural resources and archival collections currently distributed across UMaine and, in the future, to incorporate collections curated by several external institutions. The interdisciplinary Wabanaki Resources Portal project was originally assembled while Lukens led the Humanities Center, with the essential assistance of the center’s then humanities specialist Karen Sieber. 

The Wabanaki Resources Portal project represented the center’s first successful NEH grant.

“The McGillicuddy Humanities Center supports the innovative work of our faculty and students, and shines a light on their accomplishments. It has succeeded beyond the modest ideas that a few of us kicked around well over a decade ago. I couldn’t be more proud of where the center is now and look forward to seeing how it will evolve over the next decade,” said Hecker. 

“The center’s support has been vital to the health of the humanities at UMaine,” said Emily Haddad, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences since 2014. “Thanks to the vision of Jeff Hecker and his colleagues, and to the generosity of Clem and Linda McGillicuddy, the McGillicuddy Humanities Center is a point of great pride for our campus.” 

April 10, 2022, the Center will hold the first of its 10th anniversary celebrations as part of Maine Impact Week. The public reception will feature the artworks of Delaney Burns and Haley Santerre, current MHC Fellows.  

“I’m enormously grateful to everyone — our Board of Advisors, our Faculty Advisory Group, the wonderful fellows, our former directors, the dean, our donors and supporters, and of course, Clem and Linda McGillicuddy — who played a role in establishing such a remarkable and successful first decade for the McGillicuddy Humanities Center,” said Michael Socolow, the center’s current director. “And I’m looking forward to thanking everyone and celebrating this collaborative success at our reception on April 10.”

Contact: Brian Jansen,