The search is officially over.
On the morning of Tuesday April 10, the University of Maine held a press conference in Buchanan Alumni House to announce that Dr. Joan Ferrini-Mundy will be taking over for Dr. Susan Hunter as president of the University of Maine and the University of Maine at Machias. The event gathered professors, students, media and members of the board of trustees together as everyone eagerly awaited the announcement.
“Established by a public charter and supported by both legislative appropriations and public investment, the University of Maine System has an obligation to serve the citizens and communities of our great state in ways that meet the needs and challenges of our current and incoming students. Our universities through the research and service of scholars of their faculty and students also support Maine’s economy in many ways. In this fashion, UMS [the University of Maine System] provides a terrific return on the taxpayers’ investment in public higher education. As our flagship institution, the University of Maine has a long history of leading the way. In today’s environment, it is called upon to provide an even greater degree of leadership, both within the system and throughout the state. With a working age population that will shrink by 100,000 over the next 10 years,” Jim Irwin, the Chair of the board, said.
The process of finding and hiring a new president for the university has been a long one that began early in the fall 2017 semester. First, there was an announcement that the university would begin the search for a new president, and then panels were held by members of the selection committee to receive input from students and faculty on what they would like to see in the next president. A special search committee was set up for this event, composed of 18 members, including faculty, staff and some undergraduate and graduate students. From there, applications were reviewed and interviews were held by the selection committee. As the process continued, the search narrowed down to four candidates, all of whom were brought to the UMaine and UMaine Machias campuses for interviews.
Dr. Ferrini-Mundy was among 100 candidates in a worldwide call for applicants for UMaine’s next president. By February, the committee had narrowed the decision down to four candidates, who each took a tour of the UMaine Orono campus.
Dr. Ferrini-Mundy is an award-winning educator who has written more than 100 publications and reports. Her research interests include calculus learning and preparing mathematics teachers for classroom success in K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education policy. She was recently celebrated for becoming a fellow of the American Mathematical Society in the American Association for the Advancement of Science for her contributions to mathematics education as well as the development of educational policy initiatives.
At the conference, Dr. Ferrini-Mundy spoke for a few minutes. “I am thrilled and humbled to be here speaking with you as the incoming president of the University of Maine and president of the University of Maine in Machias,” she said. “I can barely wait for July, when I will join you full-time, and when it will presumably be warmer. I appreciate all of the faculty members, students, and community that all helped with the search process to challenge me and the other candidates to ask tough questions and to be sure I understood how important and special your university, and now our university, is. The collective spirit and energy that was apparent in all of my interactions over the past several weeks is truly heartening and gives me great confidence about our bright future together.”
The new president will begin her term in July, succeeding President Susan Hunter as the second female president since the university’s establishment.
“President Susan Hunter is an outstanding leader who, with the engagements and efforts of so many others at the University has put in place a healthy, strong foundation for going forward. I would like to thank her for her insights and support. I look forward to collaborating with the chancellor, the board of trustees, the presidents of all of the institutions and the University of Maine System and all of you toward sharing goals for Maine,” Ferrini-Mundy said. “Together, we will all work to create new opportunities and address challenges. We will make sure that the University of Maine continues as the driver for innovation and prosperity in Maine as well as the model institution for higher education for the nation. We will also make sure that the University of Maine at Machias is recognized as well understood for its unique strengths and incredible opportunities.”
“We have identified a leader for our Flagship institution with national standings as a world class researcher and educator. She is a proven and recognized public servant and collaborator. And she is ready to work with our outstanding faculty and dedicated staff in Orono and Machias to create new opportunities for our students and our state. She is nearly a Mainer from birth as she is from New Hampshire, but now she is a Black Bear by appointment,” Chancellor James Page said.
Elisabeth Kilroy, a biomedical science graduate student, served as the graduate student representative on the search committee. Kilroy said that her vote to choose Ferrini-Mundy was easy. “After I read her cover letter, she was my number one choice all the way through… As an individual person… as a mom, as a woman in STEM, even as an educator and a friend… she just blossomed in every single area,” Kilroy said of Ferrini-Mundy.
Kilroy said that Ferrini-Mundy also became the top pick because she didn’t have prior experience as a university president. “She’s here to learn… a lot of other presidents that were interviewing, they had great ideas from [their institutions] where they were coming from, and those ideas were from those institutions, but Maine is different.”
“Programs that work at big universities… might not work here. She [Ferrini-Mundy] doesn’t have all these biased opinions on what she needs to do,” Kilroy said.
Ferrini-Mundy hails from Portsmouth, New Hampshire and has been a frequent visitor to Maine throughout her youth. She mentioned family members in Kennebunk and Portland, and has spent a significant amount of time in the state herself.
She received a Ph.D. in mathematics education from the University of New Hampshire (UNH) and worked as a professor of mathematics and the director of the Master of Science for Teachers Program at UNH for 16 years, according to an email from the Office of Student Life.
Kilroy said that Ferrini-Mundy’s decision to apply for the position stemmed from her desire to work closely with students, a privilege she had missed during her post at the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Prior to her appointment as president, Ferrini-Mundy served as the Chief Operating Officer at the NSF, working closely with 2,000 institutions to support the discovery of 359,000 teachers, students and faculty, the email release by the Office of Student Life stated. The NSF is a $7.8 billion research facility that focuses on the promotion of science, research and the advancement of national health. According to Ferrini-Mundy, the foundation is also working to change the face of science and engineering around the country, an initiative she wants to encourage at UMaine.
“I’m very committed to the research mission of the university and its connection to the prosperity of the state,” she stated.
Ferrini-Mundy says she has yet to develop a concrete platform for the university, but admits that STEM research is a high priority for her. Along with accessibility to higher education for all students, Ferrini-Mundy hopes to transform UMaine into a “world-class research institute,” Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students, Robert Q. Dana remarked.
In an interview, Ferrini-Mundy said she is still adjusting to her new role at the university, but is looking forward to getting started. She is also receptive to hearing from students and faculty about what she can do to enhance their UMaine experience.
“I’m just thrilled. I’ve been so looking forward to today and so excited to be actually here but the energy that’s around this campus, the wonderful attitudes that people have… is just palpable… I’m eager to get started,” she said.
Ferrini-Mundy spent early Tuesday morning driving around the UMaine campus with her husband, Rick Mundy. Afterwards, she attended a ceremony to announce her appointment with the search committee and chancellor’s office.
Throughout the afternoon she was introduced to members of the President’s Cabinet along with presidents of other Maine universities and their councilors. She also participated in one-on-one sessions with the provost. Ferrini-Mundy capped off the night with a dinner with the deans. “It’s been kind of a whirlwind,” she said.
Dean Dana stated that he believes Ferrini-Mundy will be successful in her position, and is concerned with prioritizing student needs. “My sense of her is [that she is] really student friendly,” he said
Ferrini-Mundy, along with her husband, looks forward to moving into the president’s home on the UMaine Orono campus with their two dogs. She stated that their three adult children will also frequently visit. “Come July 1, I’ll be here,” she said.
Amid the celebratory events, Dr. Ferrini-Mundy met with various student groups on campus the evening of the announcement and was introduced to faculty and staff at a reception held in the Office of Student Life on Tuesday evening.
Fourth-year developmental psychology student Ismael Thadal questioned the president about her plans to support diversity on campus. Thadal moved to the United States from Haiti at age 13, but feels strongly that the university system could do more to support and represent multicultural students in Maine. Thadal also asked Ferrini-Mundy how she would feel about flying a Wabanaki flag at the campus entrances.
He mentioned, “I’ve lost too many friends at this campus because they don’t feel seen. They want a role model, they want to be taught.” Thadal spoke in depth about the difficulties that multicultural students face, including a lack of representation on campus and language barriers that interfere with academics. Thadal believes that educating the new president will be the first step to creating an opportunity for discussion and social change within the university. “The narrative she receives… how we educate her, is what matters.”
Ferrini-Mundy admitted that she still has a lot to learn about UMaine, but is open to hearing progressive suggestions.
“I have been studying the University of Maine now since November when the search process began. The more I come to understand these two wonderful institutions [UMaine and UMaine Machias], their faculty, their staff, their students, the people who care about them, the more commitments I see and the more energized I feel as I see the incredible strengths here. Researchers whose ground discoveries are benefiting the state, the nation and the world. Faculty whose teachings are inspiring next generations to excel and make a difference here in Maine and beyond. Students who are innovators and leaders preparing to change the state and the world through their knowledge, skills, and passions. This is an exciting time to join UMaine and UMM and to be a part of shaping this great state and beyond through public higher education,” Ferrini-Mundy said.
When asked about her character, Dean Dana stated that Ferrini-Mundy is “a listener, then a doer.”
“Change is afoot,” he concluded.