I’ve lived in Orono for more than 15 years. I grew up in a college community with the University of Maine in my backyard, and swore to myself I’d never stay here. Four years later, I know staying is one of the best choices I’ve ever made.
The assumption all my high school counterparts shared with me was how our parents would still hang over the local student’s shoulder and be as involved in our everyday life as they were in high school. The whole point of college is to get away, to get your own independent education. Luckily for me, what I view as UMaine’s biggest flaw was my saving grace.
I worked things with my folks out very well, and actually moved the 50 feet away from home into a residence hall. After pushing my mini-fridge all the way over on a skateboard, I plugged in my stereo, made a Facebook and officially became a college student.
I had the same limited amount of contact with my folks as any of the other new college student my age who had gone off to live hours away from their hometowns. UMaine has won awards for the amount of things available for students to do on campus. I went to hall programs, ate at the commons and shopped at the bookstore. Life was completely self-contained on campus.
I’ve since unplugged from the UMaine. I moved off campus my junior year, got a job in Bangor, and now student teach at Orono’s elementary school. Becoming involved in this town as a student teacher has made me realize how few students bridge the gap between their education and their community.
All this rekindled my thoughts on the connection between UMaine and the town of Orono. Orono is not your typical college town; it’s missing the big box stores and obvious symbols of university pride as you drive through, but those are some of the reasons of why I love Orono.
On this same level, UMaine probably doesn’t develop here because it doesn’t need to. There’s more than enough land on campus to create anything needed, and the student services are quite self-sustaining, but college life can be so much more. There are endless possibilities for partnerships between the university and the town.
The university handed out its first olive branch about a year ago when the school districts between Orono and Old Town were thinking about combining into one RSU. UMaine offered to help out by providing the land on which a new school could be built. Unfortunately for these two towns, the deal never went through.
The town of Orono succeeded in reaching out when it made an agreement with the university to share the costs of a shuttle service, now known as the Black Bear Express, which loops between Mill Street and the Memorial Union every half hour. This is a perfect first step to try and link the town and the campus community, but we need to go further.
At a recent meeting of the Future Planning Committee, a group set up by the town of Orono to look forward at what can be done to help the community, I sat with a group of residents to brainstorm how to help the UMaine and Orono connect on more levels.
Some thought we missed the chance entirely by not sharing a school with Old Town. Others saw the potential for a retailer to set up shop in town and sell “Go Blue!” apparel and Black Bear merchandise as the solution. One member of the group caught my ear when he identified other universities that create partnerships with the towns they are in to send education majors into the local schools.
As an education student, I had to fight to be a student teacher in the town where I go to school. It shouldn’t be so hard to help the community in which you live. We should expand the model that seems to work for the preschools on campus. Students in the College of Education and Human Development should be working with Orono students at all grade levels, both on and off campus. Benefiting the education of students as well as the young minds in the community would easily help tie the two worlds together.
We also need to find ways to inspire students to access the variety of resources off-campus. This year, first-year students worked on service projects around campus and adjoining communities. Why not include more projects focused on the town of Orono? Maine Day would be a perfect opportunity to bring the college to the community. I’m sure there are local merchants who would love to have some help putting up a fresh coat of paint or installing a bike rack.
By working in the Orono community, students will have the opportunity to explore the town and recognize its benefits. A lot of students will live in Orono for four years without drinking a cup of coffee from The Store & Ampersand, getting their bike tuned-up at Rose Bike, or wolfing down a panini at Harvest Moon.
The university has many resources that can benefit the entire community of Orono, and the town offers many experiences that can make college life unique. Once students plug into the town as much as they do the campus, the two entities can intertwine.