Sappi Fine Paper North America, which operates paper mills in Westbrook and Skowhegan, has pledged $100,000 over the course of four years to support a University of Southern Maine program that prepares students for the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
The Pioneers Program, established at USM in 2011, is the first college-level program of its kind in the state, according to a media release from Sappi.
The program provides high-achieving students in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics — otherwise known as STEM — with competitive four-year scholarship packages, premium housing, a laptop computer, undergraduate research opportunities, internships and faculty mentors, according to the release.
“Support from leading Maine companies, like Sappi, is key to producing positive outcomes in our STEM initiatives that strengthen our state’s efforts to flourish economically in the future,” Mike Wing, director of the Pioneers Program, said in a statement.
Sappi’s investment in the program is not a purely altruistic move; the company is hoping the investment will pay off in the future.
“We anticipate having nearly 30 percent of our workforce retire in the next 5 years, and so there is a huge demand for STEM-related jobs,” Donna Cassese, managing director of Sappi’s Westbrook mill, said in a statement.
Maine will need the skilled workforce. By 2020, there will be a 10.1 percent increase in the number of “computer and mathematical occupations,” according to data from the Maine Center for Workforce Research and Information. Another report, published in 2011 by Southern Maine Community College, estimates that by 2018 there will be roughly 977 jobs in the computer science and information technology fields that won’t be able to be filled by the rate of current graduates.
USM designed the Pioneers Program to help expand the number of students entering the STEM fields and meet those future demands, according to the release.
“The impact of the program will extend far beyond its direct effect on the students chosen to be Pioneers,” Wing said. “USM is increasing the numbers of students interested in pursuing STEM careers, strengthening STEM partnerships with business leaders, and helping to meet the workforce needs in the high-growth industries that drive our state’s economy.”