Dominique DiSpirito: UMaine 2022 Valedictorian and Outstanding Graduating Student

Dominique DiSpirito of Woonsocket, Rhode Island is the 2022 University of Maine Valedictorian and the Outstanding Graduating Student in the Honors College. DiSpirito is a political science major, with minors in legal studies, and ecology and environmental sciences, as well as an Honors College student. She is a 2021 Truman Scholar, and her other numerous collegiate honors include the 2021 Heart and Soul Campus Compact Award, and two Servant Heart Scholarships. 

Since 2019, DiSpirito has worked with professor Kate Ruskin of the School of Biology and Ecology on a research project examining stakeholder preferences on freshwater resource management in Acadia National Park. DiSpirito’s research earned a Center for Undergraduate Research (CUGR) Fellowship and culminated in a paper currently under review for publication. She also was named a 2020 Maine Policy Scholar for her project focusing on community natural resource management policy. 

During semester breaks in 2019–20, DiSpirito interned with the Solid Waste Division in her hometown, assisting with inspections and enforcement for the city’s curbside recycling program. Last year, she interned with the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions’ Food Waste Solutions team, working with municipalities across Maine to set up and maintain community food recycling pilot programs.

Research for DiSpirito’s Honors thesis, “Envisioning a Bold Food Waste Policy for Maine: A Mixed-Methods Study into the Context of Landfill Diversion of Food Waste,” was funded by a CUGR Fellowship and the Rendle A. Jones ’65 and Patricia K. Jones ’65 Honors Thesis Fellowship. She presented her findings at the 2022 Maine Sustainability and Water Conference and the University of Maine Student Symposium.

DiSpirito is president of All Maine Women Honor Society and Wilson Center Interfaith Group that she cofounded. She also has been a student coordinator for the Maine Day Meal Packout and It’s Personal Campaign, and a co-organizer of UMaine’s International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day programs.

This summer, DiSpirito will be working in Washington, D.C., as part of the Truman Scholar Summer Institute. She will return to Maine in August to continue the work she started in her thesis research, focused on food waste and waste management issues in the state. Ultimately, DiSpirito will pursue law school.

What difference has UMaine made in your life and in helping you reach your goals?
My uncle told me before my freshman year that college would be the place where I find myself, and he was 100% right. While my time here has equipped me with so many experiences and skills that will prepare me for a stellar career in environmental justice advocacy, the most valuable asset UMaine has given me is a strong sense of self and empowerment to step up and into that career. As a first-generation college student, I entered UMaine with a lot of passion and enthusiasm, but also a lot of insecurity and feelings of otherness. The coursework, extracurricular opportunities, service projects and amazing faculty here allowed me to build confidence in myself as a change agent in my communities.

Have you had an experience at UMaine that has changed or shaped the way you see the world?
The work I’ve done in the Honors College community has drastically changed my perspective of the world and my place in it. The Honors College here is also about so much more than academic excellence. We are “thinking hard about things that matter,” and then putting in the work to make a difference. My experiences with the Maine Day Meal Packout, It’s Personal Campaign, and Honors College Student Advisory Board gave me perspective and confidence that my curriculum could not. Knowing that I can make a difference because I’ve handed off boxes of meals I helped fund to food bank operators or leaving Hannaford with four shopping carts of food for the Black Bear Exchange is life-changing. It is why I know that I can take up the issue of food waste or environmental justice or climate justice and make a difference alongside others who are working toward a brighter future.

Why UMaine?
There’s such a strong culture at UMaine (and Maine at large) of supporting our communities, whatever they may be. I have found this culture nearly everywhere I turn, whether among the faculty members who go above and beyond for students or students who go out of their way to check in with each other during difficult times. We have a resilient community here, where people can lean on each other, and that helps us go further than what we could accomplish alone.

How would you define the opportunities for student success at UMaine? Is there any particular initiative, program or set of resources that helped you succeed?
UMaine should not be underestimated for its small size. As the R1 distinction highlights, there are so many opportunities for students to pursue their interests and discover new horizons, both academically and personally. The Honors College, in particular, has been an endless well of opportunities and connections for me throughout my time here. Honors has allowed me to find and pursue work that I’m passionate about, often stepping out of the classroom and into the community. From the very beginning, Honors coursework allowed me to explore perspectives and topics and work beyond my discipline and my comfort zone. The interdisciplinary and diverse perspectives reflected in Honors spaces gave me precisely the exposure needed to find the work that my heart and soul is in.

Have you worked closely with a professor or mentor who made your UMaine experience better?
There are several UMaine community members that have gone above and beyond to support my academic and personal journey here. Dr. Katharine Ruskin and Dr. Melissa Ladenheim have provided unconditional support and encouragement since my very first semester, watching me find my voice and grow into my passions. Dr. Ruskin taught me so much as a student, as a researcher, and as a human throughout the last four years And Dr. Ladenheim’s reliable and no-nonsense advice has been a guiding star through so many difficult times. The practical insights and enthusiasm Dr. Robert Glover brings as my thesis advisor has helped me design and execute a project that is both personally and academically significant. From the very first POS 100 class to the Truman Scholarship and beyond, Dr. Mark Brewer’s fierce role as a coach and champion encouraged me to take chances on myself. These faculty members are just a few; there are so many community members that have made a huge difference in my life and I’m so thankful for the person I am today because of their kindness.

What advice do you have for incoming students to help them get off to the best start academically?
My biggest piece of advice is to bet on yourself. Whether it’s a question you’re nervous about asking a professor or a scholarship you feel like is out of your league, trust your gut and go for it. When you are willing to take a chance on yourself, you’ll find so many fantastic opportunities and connections with amazing people that you would have missed if you hadn’t.

Contact: Margaret Nagle,