ORONO, Maine — Robin Arnold is a patient woman. She’s also perseverant.
Those qualities will pay off Saturday when she receives her Bachelor of Science degree in Earth Sciences from the University of Maine after taking two classes a semester for 12 years.
Arnold, 49, of Old Town has been a university employee since 1986, but didn’t begin taking classes until the spring semester 1998. Today, she works as an administrative assistant in the School of Social Work.
“That first semester, I just took a computer class because I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it,” she said Tuesday. “I got an A and I got the bug. I wanted more.”
The next semester, she took an English and a history class, expecting to earn a double major in those subjects. The following semester, Arnold enrolled in Introduction to Geology.
“That was my ‘aha’ moment,” she said. “I love it because it’s one area where not everything has been discovered.”
Arnold is one of about 1,700 students who will receive degrees Saturday at two commencement ceremonies.
In all, 2,123 degrees will be be awarded this year. Twenty-four students will receive certificates of advanced study, 68 will be awarded doctorates, 361 will receive master’s degrees and 1,670, like Arnold, will be awarded bachelor’s degrees.
Because of the number of participants, a morning ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. for those earning degrees from the College of Business, Public Policy and Health; College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; and Division of Lifelong Learning.
A second ceremony will be held at 2:30 p.m. for students from the College of Education and Human Development; College of Engineering, including the School of Engineering Technology; and College of Natural Sciences, and Forestry and Agriculture.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins will deliver the commencement address at both sessions.
Arnold will march across the stage and be handed her degree in the afternoon ceremony.
Because she’s a UMaine employee, Arnold was able to take classes without paying tuition. She also sacrificed weekends and vacation time to study. Arnold even banked her vacation time so she could be part of a research team that recently went to Antarctica from Dec. 10 to Feb. 12.
“We went into valleys where very few people are allowed and no one had ever walked before,” she said. “I consider myself extremely lucky.”
Arnold also is graduating from UMaine’s Honors College and as the top student in her field, according to her adviser, Joseph Kelly of the School of Marine Sciences.
“As a nontraditional student, Robin brings maturity to the classroom and the lab,” he said Friday. “She brings the patience with having grown up and experienced a lot more than traditional students have. She never loses her temper, and if things go bad, she doesn’t panic.
“One of the things I’ve noticed about her is that she’s not afraid to ask questions,” Kelly continued. “She’ll often ask why, think about it, then ask a follow-up question until she completely understands a project.”
Arnold said Tuesday she plans to pursue a graduate degree and study coastal management.
“It is critical to have support of family and friends to be successful in juggling school, work and outside obligations,” she said. “I’ve been very lucky to have had that.”