PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — UMPI is slated to receive up to $750,000 over the next four years to help develop and improve culturally responsive retention strategies for its American Indian students.
During a press conference late last week, officials from the University of Maine at Presque Isle talked about the grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation that they believe will allow UMPI to better serve its American Indian student population as well as the region’s American Indian community.
Project Compass is the Nellie Mae Education Foundation’s multiyear initiative aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented populations graduating with four-year degrees. Project Compass is administered by the foundation’s intermediary, the New England Resource Center for Higher Education.
In October 2007, UMPI received an initial Project Compass grant of $100,000 to support a year of planning and capacity building. Once that planning year was completed, UMPI submitted a grant proposal to move into Phase II of the Project Compass initiative.
As a grant awardee, the university receives $158,000 this year and can receive three more years of grant funding totaling $750,000. The second phase grants are contingent upon the institutions’ yearly progress on objectives developed during the planning year. Throughout this process, UMPI has been working closely with the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians on this project.
“We are very pleased to have received this,” UMPI President Don Zillman said Wednesday. “This comes after 18 months of conducting the planning phase of this project, and we are very pleased to have received such support to move forward.”
UMPI will use its grant funding to develop strategies that assist American Indian students in transitioning to the university community, as well as develop life tools to help them achieve goals within the dominant culture and their own. The proposal’s key strategies involve creating a American Indian Center staffed with a retention team, reviewing academic affairs and curriculum to offer more effective support to marginalized students and reconfiguring of the roles of student support and advising.
Zillman said that the university’s next steps will be to hire two staff members to support the program. He said that a director of retention and a retention activities coordinator will be hired as soon as possible.
He stressed that the $750,000 can only be used for projects related to the Project Compass initiative.
The other three Project Compass grant awardees are Lyndon State College in Vermont, Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts and Eastern Connecticut State University.
Glenn Gabbard, associate director of the New England Resource Center for Higher Education and the director of Project Compass, said that Project Compass “is designed to respond to a critical national need, focusing on innovative practices in four state colleges and universities in New England.”
“It is our hope that the leadership already exhibited at our four funded campuses will contribute to narrowing the achievement gaps for low-income students, students of color, and students who are first in their family to attend college,” he continued, “UMPI’s work is an excellent example of an institution that is willing to take a serious look at changing what it does for underserved students so that all students that it serves will benefit.”