Elaine Thomas: Outstanding Graduating Student

Elaine Thomas of Hampden, Maine is the Outstanding Graduating Student in the Honors College. She is a business administration major in management with a minor in music. The Honors College student received the 2022 John M. Rezendes Ethics Award for her first-place essay: “When We Cannot Care for Ourselves: Ethics, Interdependence, and the Moral Danger of the Self-Care Message.” Also in 2022, she received the Maine Campus Compact PILLARS (Philanthropy, Innovation, Learning, Leadership, Action, Responsibility, and Service) Award and participated in the Maine NEW (National Education for Women) Leadership program. Her honors thesis is: “Evidence-based Family Strengthening Training in Maine: A Resource Assessment and Proposal to Reduce Barriers and Increase Facilitators.” Throughout her time at UMaine, Thomas has been a member of the Attachment Theory Team of the Honors College Servant Heart Research Collaborative. She also has interned with three nonprofit organizations: Heart of Maine United Way, Partners for Peace and the American Red Cross, and donates her time to Literacy Volunteers of Bangor. Thomas plans to work for a nonprofit organization in Maine.

What difference has UMaine made in your life and in helping you reach your goals?
For me, UMaine has been a supportive, resource-rich environment to find new perspectives, build a network and gain leadership experience. Being a student at UMaine has given me the opportunity to lead and take ownership in ways I could have never imagined; sometimes I realize how surreal it is that at 20 years old, I get to build partnerships with NGOs from around the world that are excited to partner with our Attachment Theory Team.

Have you had an experience at UMaine that has changed or shaped the way you see the world?
My research team recently received a grant with one of our NGO partners to organize a workshop that brought together 14 agencies working on family strengthening in Haiti. The executive director of the NGO came to UMaine to run the event virtually with us. It was three full days of amazement at the depth of conversation and connection that we were able to facilitate. Haiti is facing some very serious challenges, and the fact that we at UMaine can be part of the conversation about solving those issues rocked my world.

Why UMaine?
I truly believe UMaine allowed me to “have it all” — the breadth of a large university and the depth of small communities like the Honors College, the vast resources of an R1 institution and the personal connections that make all the difference.

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?
I think the Honors College, which you join in addition to the college of your major, is a really unique opportunity at UMaine. It feels like a small liberal arts college where you develop close relationships with peers, faculty and staff, and get to have meaningful conversations about important and interesting texts and ideas. It also comes with a lot of other opportunities to get involved, engage in research, lead projects and have fun. Another really valuable opportunity at UMaine is the abundance of Research Learning Experiences in an amazing variety of subject areas. Sometimes when we think of research and UMaine’s R1 status, we think only of science labs; those opportunities at UMaine are indeed wonderful, but those of us in other fields can and should take full advantage of early research experiences, too. Exposure to real-world research shifted not only my academic trajectory, but also my career pursuits.

Have you worked closely with a professor or mentor who made your UMaine experience better?
Melissa Ladenheim, the associate dean of the Honors College, was such an advocate and cheerleader for me throughout college. She was my first preceptor in the Honors College and my research supervisor with the Attachment Theory Team for three years. She encouraged me to do two things I would not have done otherwise: submit an entry to the annual Rezendes Ethics Essay competition and apply for the Maine NEW Leadership policy education program. Both experiences were two of my most valuable college achievements.

What advice do you have for incoming students to help them get off to the best start academically?
My biggest piece of advice: from the moment you set foot on campus, start talking about what interests you to people you meet who inspire you. Do not assume that opportunities that excite you will land in your lap, but do know that the more you talk about what makes you passionate, the greater the likelihood that you will connect with someone who can point you in the right direction. Even if, like I was, you are not sure exactly what you are passionate about, just talk to interesting faculty members about work that makes you curious to learn more.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, nagle@maine.edu