Lara Chern: UMaine 2023 Valedictorian

Mechanical engineering major Lara Chern of Bow, New Hampshire is the 2023 University of Maine valedictorian.

Chern is an Honors College student with minors in engineering leadership and management, and mathematics. She graduated from high school two years ahead of her class and enrolled at UMaine when she was 16. As a UMaine junior, she defended her honors thesis, “An Automated Process to Produce Rebar Reinforced Concrete Parts Using Additive Manufacturing.” Her many scholarships and awards include the 2022 Servant Heart Award and the Ouellette Honors Thesis Fellowship.

In her first year at UMaine, Chern was a special projects assistant at the Franco American Center. During her sophomore year, she collaborated in the laboratory of UMaine professor Yingchao Yang on nanomaterials research and on research with professor Bashir Koda on biobased gels for human organ growth and timed drug-release capsules. With professor Richard Kimball, Chern collaborated on research in large-scale additive manufacturing for use in wave energy converters.

Since 2020, Chern has worked in the Advanced Structures and Composites Center’s Project Management Office. In summer 2021, she was a project management intern with Weyerhaeuser Lumber Mill in Cottage Grove, Oregon and, in 2019–20, served as a mathematics instructor/tutor with Mathnasium in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Chern has served as president of the UMaine chapters of Pi Tau Sigma and Engineers Without Borders, and vice president of the UMaine chapter of Circle K International. In the community, her volunteer work has included the Bangor Humane Society, Telstar Regional High School Think Tank Project and Hirundo Wildlife Refuge. 

In June, Chern will begin a job as a project manager at Procter & Gamble in Iowa City, Iowa. She plans to pursue an MBA and take a Law Certificate program.

What difference has UMaine made in your life and in helping you reach your goals? 
UMaine has provided me with the stepping stones to pursue anything that my mind can think of. The faculty and staff are always willing to provide you with whatever support you need to make your ideas come to life. All you have to do is ask!

Have you had an experience at UMaine that has changed or shaped the way you see the world? 
The most impactful experience I had at UMaine was my trip to Hurricane Island with the Honors College during my first year. I was fortunate to spend three days before move-in with my peers on the island off the coast of Rockland where we talked about community engagement, leadership and community service. Following the trip, we were able to pursue a semester-long community service project — mine was at Hirundo Wildlife Refuge — to apply what we had learned on our trip. This experience introduced me to all of the community service projects that this campus has to offer and set me up to have an impactful presence on my local community.

Why UMaine? 
A favorite high school teacher of mine, Chris Namie, is an alumnus of UMaine and always spoke highly of the university. When I received my invitation to the Honors College, I was excited about the opportunity that it seemed to provide, allowing me to have a small liberal arts education along with the resources and opportunities of a large engineering institution.

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 have found that opportunities for success are readily available if you seek them out. Everyone at UMaine wants to see you succeed and is willing to help you in any way they can. My best recommendation for success is to make yourself known to your professors. Sit in the front of the classroom and introduce yourself early on in your courses. Before you know it, you will have a network full of people who want to help you succeed. 

Have you worked closely with a professor or mentor who made your UMaine experience better? 
I am grateful to have had so many impactful professors and mentors at UMaine that I could not name them all in this response. Professor Stephen Abbadessa was the first mentor I had who was able to guide me to numerous research opportunities and has provided guidance throughout my college experience. Next, professors Bashir Khoda and Yingchao Yang taught me the foundations of what good research is and set the stage for my work at the Composites Center. Professor Richard Kimball, my Honors thesis advisor, has gone out of his way countless times to ensure that I am on the road to success. He has always had my best interests in his mind and he has heavily impacted my time here at UMaine. My Advanced Structures and Composites Center supervisors Rolando Luna, Matthew Tomasko and Peter Drown have all contributed greatly to my growth as a project manager. These three have taught me valuable life and work skills that I will carry with me throughout my life. Specifically, Peter has been a major supportive and encouraging mentor in my life. There has never been a moment where he has not been proud of my accomplishments and wanted what is best for me. Professor Jude Pearse has been impactful in my project management knowledge. She has never failed to be supportive and has gone above and beyond as a professor for me. Professor Alex Friess has been my academic advisor and personal cheerleader throughout my college years. Every meeting I had with him I left with a large smile on my face, feeling proud of my accomplishments. If I ever thought there was a challenge I could not face, he assured me that I could do it and provided the resources I needed to do so. Finally, professor. Melissa Ladenheim has had an impact on my college experience that simply cannot be put into words. Her willingness to support me through any challenge no matter the day or time has an impact that is not quantifiable. Dr. Ladenheim has provided me a light in the rough, ears to listen to, and a person to celebrate with over the last four years. She never fails to light up my day, always finding time to fit me into her very busy schedule. Without all of the mentors I have and have not listed, I would not have had such a memorable experience here at UMaine.

What advice do you have for incoming students to help them get off to the best start academically? 
My advice to others is to participate in activities that you are passionate about. Don’t worry about your resume or what others may think, and join clubs and activities that resonate with your interests. Focus on the activities that you are passionate about and you will succeed. 

Contact: Margaret Nagle,