BANGOR, Maine — The new president of the University of Maine at Fort Kent shared his vision for the future of the school in a meeting with the Bangor Daily News editorial board Friday afternoon.
A major part of the plan Wilson Hess hopes to implement includes signature programs in nursing and cybersecurity, in addition to far-reaching efforts to boost enrollment at the University of Maine System’s northernmost campus.
Already the Information Assurance and Security program at the Fort Kent campus is experiencing successes with the establishment of the Maine Cyber Defense Competition. Hess sees the contest, a competition for high school students aimed at raising interest in the university system’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs, as an opportunity to help Fort Kent enter this fast-growing field.
“We know that technology is an incubator for jobs,” Hess said, adding that students “don’t have to be in Portland to learn” the necessary skills to work in cybersecurity.
Hess also plans to target the nursing and health care industries, combining the issues of a nationwide shortage of nurses and the large numbers of returning veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder into a comprehensive program. Sen. Susan Collins is a major supporter of the idea, having secured initial approval of $600,000 in federal funding for UMFK’s nursing program.
By preparing nurses to help patients with PTSD and other combat-related psychological issues, Hess hopes to boost enrollment in the university’s most popular program by offering a unique educational experience.
“Obviously, we’re ramping up a message on higher education in the state of Maine and its importance in the economy,” Hess said.
Aside from drawing students from other parts of the state and throughout New England, Hess hopes the specialized programs will attract international attention. He said that not only do international students pay substantially more in tuition costs but those from away also are usually very driven since they have traveled long distances and overcome language barriers to accomplish their goals.
The need for more international students has been heightened in recent years by several consecutive years of declining enrollment by Canadian citizens. Until recently, Hess said, UMFK provided Canadian students opportunities they could not find in their home country, but schools in New Brunswick now offer those programs.
“Those students are now staying at home,” Hess said.
Because of this competition in such proximity to Fort Kent, Hess said he is hoping to grab the attention of prospective students from “across the great blue waters,” in Europe or Asia.
Another way Hess hopes to draw students to Fort Kent is by promoting the benefits of a small-campus atmosphere. Rather than seeing the university’s isolated location as a prohibitive factor to expansion, he believes the connections formed between community and college on a less-populated campus can be used to pique the interest of students seeking a more personal college experience.
“That’s what we’re seeing — people from downstate that have looked at private institutions see the potential for their children at Fort Kent,” Hess said in response to a question about last year’s modest increase in enrollment.
While new programs may draw more students, he already sees achievements being made that deserve recognition, Hess said.
“I’m telling you, there is a light under that bushel basket up there, and the basket needs to be lifted,” he said.