Samantha Costanza: Outstanding Graduating Student

Samantha Costanza from Norwalk, Connecticut is the Outstanding Graduating Student in the Division of Lifelong Learning. Costanza is a university studies major in the labor studies track, and an Online Flagship Scholarship recipient. Costanza has worked full-time as a communications professional for a national retirement company while pursuing an associate degree at a local community college, then transferring to UMaine. Her research as part of her academic work included how COVID impacted the union construction industry; how the legalization of marijuana has changed the landscape of workplace drug testing; and the pay gap and working conditions for women in many industries. Beyond her coursework, Costanza is active in her community choir. She plans to continue her now 23-year career with Transamerica.

Tell us about the research, internships or scholarly pursuits you were involved in as a student.
I’ve worked full-time while pursuing my degree part-time. I started taking classes at my local community college in 2016, and after receiving my associate degree, I transferred to UMaine. While at UMaine, I’ve researched how COVID impacted the union construction industry and how the legalization of marijuana has changed the landscape of workplace drug testing. I also researched the pay gap and working conditions for women in many industries.

Beyond academics, what extracurricular activities occupied your time? 
I’m a soprano in a local choir and serve as secretary. We perform free concerts for the community throughout the year. I also volunteer at a local charity, Filling in the Blanks, that provides meals for children in New York and Connecticut.

What are your plans after graduation? 
I’ve happily worked at the same firm for 23 years, so I plan to continue working there. I’m fortunate that my employer offers tuition reimbursement, which helped me complete my degree. I’m still on the fence about graduate school. One immediate plan is to start taking piano lessons. The first time I went to college, I majored in music. Along with continuing to sing with my choir, I’d love to be able to play.

What difference has UMaine made in your life and in helping you reach your goals? 
Since I dropped out of college when I was a teenager and attempted to go back more than once, I really wanted to make sure the college where I completed my degree was the right fit. I majored in music the first time I went to college, so I was really starting over. Since I had also recently attended my local community college and had an amazing experience, I had an idea of what I was looking for. I did a lot of research on various schools. Being an adult learner, cost was important to me. UMaine’s affordable tuition helped me reach my goal. UMaine also helped me reach my goals by offering a host of online classes and accepting a lot of transfer credits. I was also fortunate to receive a scholarship and summer financial aid.

Have you had an experience at UMaine that has changed or shaped the way you see the world? 
Oddly enough, the online discussion forums for my classes have changed how I see the world. Typically, the first discussion is for each student to introduce themselves. I’ve met so many people from all walks of life who I probably wouldn’t have talked to during an in-person class. In one class, I was partnered up with a woman who was a farmer getting her graduate degree, and a freshman who was a student-athlete. While I encourage anyone who will listen to stay in school, going to school as an adult brings a whole different perspective on learning and interacting with your classmates.

Why UMaine? 
After I completed my associate degree, I was looking for a brick-and-mortar school with a fully online option. As someone who works full time, a fully online option was crucial. Most people in my field have business degrees; I wanted something different. Since I work with a lot of employers and unions in my career, and my husband is in a labor union, I decided to pursue labor studies degree. Marc Cryer, director of the Bureau of Labor Education at UMaine, was kind enough to speak with me at length about the program before I decided to apply. He agreed that this program would be a good fit for me and a good complement to my work experience.

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? 
Since I’m fully remote, I haven’t had the opportunity to participate in many of the programs offered, but the online features have been easy to use, and the library has been a huge help. My adviser, Barbara Howard, has been an integral part of my success. Barbara helped me find the classes I needed, which was a challenge at times since I was fully remote and only taking one or two classes at a time. She also continuously checked in on me. I would not be graduating without her support and shoulder to cry on. My husband was also a wonderful resource since he is in a labor union. I would not have completed this degree without his support and encouragement.

Have you worked closely with a professor or mentor who made your UMaine experience better?
In addition to Barbara Howard and Marc Cryer, Karl Kreutz made my UMaine experience better. Professor Kreutz met with me via Zoom almost every week during the semester to help me pass his class. While online classes are wonderful, for this particular class, I really needed to hear and discuss the information to understand it. Professor Kreutz was tireless in his dedication to helping me.

What advice do you have for incoming students to help them get off to the best start academically? 
Ask for help. All of the professors I encountered were more than willing to help via email or Zoom. As many of them say, they don’t know you need help unless you ask. Also, don’t stop. I was out of school for over 20 years, and it was so hard to go back. Even if you have to take fewer classes each semester to stay in school or make other adjustments, don’t stop.

Contact: Margaret Nagle,