Ribbon cutting at the Doris Buffett Higher Education Center located in the Maine State Prison in Warren. Cutting the ribbon are from left, Maine DOC Commissioner Randall Liberty; UMA graduate and Sunshine Lady Scholar Shaun Libby; Deborah Meehan, executive director of UMA Centers; and Jessica Johnson, senior architect, SMRT Architects and Engineers. Courtesy of Maine Department of Corrections.

WARREN — The University of Maine at Augusta and the Maine Department of Corrections recently held a virtual celebration and opening of the Doris Buffett Higher Education Center at the Maine State Prison. The ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the end of the renovation project at MSP and was a celebration of the extraordinary 15-year partnership between UMA, Maine DOC and the Sunshine Lady Foundation, which provided the grant funding for the $500,000 improvements.

This substantial grant from the Sunshine Lady Foundation extends the legacy of the late Doris Buffett, who passed away in August 2020 in her home in Rockport. UMA began providing educational opportunities at the MSP in 2006, in collaboration with Doris who was the moving force behind the initiation of the degree program. Since then, 130 degrees have been awarded, fully funded by the Sunshine Lady Foundation until Pell funding became available in 2016.

Participants in the virtual event included, UMA President Rebecca Wyke, Maine DOC Commissioner Randall Liberty, MSP Warden Matthew Magnusson, Mitty Beal, executive director of the Sunshine Lady Foundation and Katy Grant, DOC adult educational and vocational services manager. Also taking part in the event were Sunshine Lady Scholars Charlie Jones, who received a bachelor of arts in liberal studies from UMA in 2016 and Daniel Porter, who is anticipated to receive a bachelor of arts in liberal studies from UMA in 2021.

“We are honored to receive this support from the Sunshine Lady Foundation,” stated Deborah Meehan, executive director of UMA Centers. “This funding is an acknowledgement of the long-standing partnership with the Maine Department of Corrections and our mutual goals of improving the lives of Maine’s DOC residents.”

Mitty Beal added, “Doris was personally committed to the UMA college program at the Maine State Prison and she would be thrilled to have this improved educational space created in her honor.”  

“What’s happening here, the education, the partnership, the investment in an individual’s future should never be in short supply,” said Liberty. “Through the commitment of Mitty Beal and the Sunshine Lady Foundation, along with the dedication of the UMA faculty and staff, it will never have to be.”

“UMA’s Prison Education Program furthers our university’s mission of making a college education accessible to all,” said Wyke. “These educational experiences are invaluable to the prison residents, reducing their recidivism rates and improving their employment opportunities upon release.”

The renovations undertaken at the MSP resulted in dedicated physical space for educational programming with improved technology. SMRT Architects and Engineers designed the project and Penobscot Construction completed the renovations, within budget and on time. Classes in the renovated space began last week.

Most recently, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, through its Future of Higher Learning in Prison grant program awarded UMA a $941,000 grant in support of its Prison Education Partnership.