As the academic year comes to an end, so does President Susan J. Hunter’s time as the president of the University of Maine. Having been here since 1987, Hunter has held positions throughout UMaine, starting out as an adjunct professor in the biology department, and ending her tenure at UMaine as president. Although she has had what many would call a successful four years in office, she doesn’t take credit for the successes she has had. Instead, she gives credit to the campus and community, which have helped her along the way.
“The president plays a significant role and there is no doubt that leadership matters, but it’s really a campus that succeeds,” Hunter said.
Some of the success the campus has seen has been through increase in out-of-state students, stabilization of the fiscal situation and the funding for a new engineering building. Although President Hunter had a role in this, she was sure to give credit to everyone who worked on these projects.
“All of this is the work of hundreds, if not thousands of people. When I say the work, I mean we’re also talking about our alums,” President Hunter said. “Students play a role in this, of course, but our alums are very generous and very avid advocates for the university and it is that, it’s the community together that is successful.”
As the 20th president of the university, Hunter was the first female. Despite this, she didn’t think she had faced many difficulties that were due to her gender instead of her position. “Nothing has happened to me, or there is nothing that I have encountered that has been gender related,” she said. “It’s certainly a demanding job, and it’s demanding no matter who’s in it, and that had nothing to do with gender at all.”
She did give advice for other females in pursuing similar careers, which could apply to anyone.
“Do more than you need to, take advantage of every opportunity because every opportunity, whether you like it or not, whether you enjoy what you’re doing, you learn something from it and you take it to the next opportunity,” she said. “Do every job, thinking about it as preparation for your next job, but do every job as if it’s your last job.”
While giving this advice, she shared some wisdom that she had been given earlier in her career. “Some words that I think about, and I carry them in my briefcase. The attributes that I’ve admired the most in people that were my own mentors. And I know it by the acronym, ‘AHERB’: authenticity, honesty, empathy, resilience, bravery,” she said.
She did add her own letters to it saying, “If it were reflective of me, it would have an ‘I’ for ‘impatient,’ and many days, another ‘A’ for ‘annoying.’”
With her success, she identified that there will definitely be challenges that the next president will face. One of the big ones Hunter discussed was the demographic declines that New England is facing.
“So, how do we work to maximize opportunities for people across the state? How do we work to maximize getting more people in the state to get an educated credential?” President Hunter said. “Then, it’s the work of the university, with businesses and industries, communities, state government, local government, we try to partner with all of the entities of the state.”
Knowing that this is a concern that the university and therefore the president will face, President Hunter had a piece of advice for incoming President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. In order to know the university and be able to to support it, knowing the state is key.
“You really have to get out, you have to drive around, you have to visit the towns, you have to look at all the lighthouses,” Hunter said. “Just working your way around the state. Drive to the barrens, drive to the western mountains, drive to the county, look up Mount Katahdin, go up Mount Katahdin, go to the coast, because you have to explore all of it to develop a feel.”
It’s not just about traveling either. It’s about all the connections you can make after having seen these sights.
“Once you have that feel, then as you move around the state, you connect with people and people connect with you,” she said. “If they see the president out and about and doing things, it really makes a difference.”
One of the last pieces of advice she gave to the students was, “Leaders should be eternally curious and grateful.” This is something that she has encompassed throughout her time at the university, giving credit where credit is due.
When asked what final words she wanted to share with the community, she said, “That’s just a big thank you. Truly, honestly, sincerely, deeply. I have been magnificently treated by the UMaine community in all of my years here as a faculty member, as department chair, as associate provost, as provost, I’ve really enjoyed the interactions I’ve had.”