Top Stories: July 30 Campus Connections

President Cantor bids farewell: “Kadimah”

President Cantor is stepping down July 31 after serving seven years as SMCC president. SMCC’s new president, Joe Cassidy, starts August 1, coming to SMCC from Washington County Community College, where he has been president the past five years.
By Ron Cantor

In the summer of 2011 each of us was seven years younger, and so was SMCC. Jobs were scarce and economic recovery hadn’t happened yet. The college had been growing steadily since changing its name from SMTC nine years earlier. The SeaWolves Café didn’t exist yet, and the Faculty Senate had taken a long break before reestablishing itself. Our Midcoast Campus was about to open with a handful of students in a small portion of its first building.

That’s when I signed on as president. Many of today’s faculty and staff were here before me but many others have been hired since. In a testimonial to lifelong learning, a few of our current students were already here when I arrived.

As I leave SMCC I couldn’t be more proud and appreciative of everyone’s contributions to so much progress. Together we have faced the opportunities and challenges of empowering people for success in a changing world, and we’ve done well.

Our accomplishments have been collaborative, transparent, meaningful, and measurable. They’re also too numerous to list, but a few big categories jump out: rising graduation rates, innovative workforce partnerships, growing community engagement, re-accreditation, increased focus on inclusion and equity, launching a new campus, managing enrollment, strengthened student and faculty voices, upgraded infrastructure, Achieving the Dream, and so much more.

Fresh perspective will help SMCC rise to the next level. President Joe Cassidy steps in as president on Aug. 1 with the highest endorsement and support from me and so many others. I’ve known Joe for five years and can think of no better person to build on all the good of SMCC in productive and refreshing ways. SMCC’s future is bright.

Life is calling me to new paths. My pride and active support of SMCC and the Maine Community College System (MCCS) will continue. As I step back from daily operations the opportunity to work behind the scenes for MCCS gives me flexibility to transition to new priorities. Colleges and universities have been my professional home for decades, and leading SMCC for seven years has fulfilled my ultimate professional goal in ways far better than I ever imagined.

Now it’s time for other priorities including family and career fulfillment with a new twist. Upstate New York will be our home again while my heart will always be full of thanks for these past seven years. That’s what I felt just yesterday and so many other times as I swam out into Casco Bay and looked back at one incredible campus that does so much, so well, for so many.

For SMCC and for me, the Hebrew word “Kadimah” says it best — Onward!

Cooking for presidents at Walker’s Point

Culinary Arts student Valerie St. Louis is working as a sous chef this summer at Walker’s Point, the Bush family summer home in Kennebunkport, where she has rubbed elbows with three former presidents.

Valerie and Mark Kurkjy, who graduated from the program in May, were offered jobs at Walker’s Point after a representative for the Bush family reached out to Culinary Arts Chair Maureen LaSalle seeking candidates who could work in the Walker’s Point kitchen this summer.

Valerie works four or five days a week, often up to 12 hours a day preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for groups ranging from three to 30 people. In her job, she often sees former President George H.W. Bush (President No. 41), and has also met two other former presidents: Bush’s son, George W. Bush (No. 43), and Bill Clinton (No. 42).

She began work in late April and will continue into October, when the Bush family returns to Houston. She has nothing but great things to say about the Bush family and says the senior Bush has promised to write her and Kurkjy letters of recommendation.

“The first few weeks were incredibly intimidating and nerve-wracking,” Valerie said. “Every time I drove through those gates I had a mini panic attacks. But everybody there is so amazing. They’re very welcoming and very gracious and treat us like the family. Any inhibitions I had quickly melted away and it’s been fun.”

She says the Bush family likes home-cooked traditional foods, nothing fancy. “It’s not lobster every day. It’s chicken and beef and vegetarian dishes, and desserts. They aren’t picky by any means.”

Valerie first came to SMCC after working for many years in the health care field, ready to begin a second career. After she graduates in the fall of 2019, she hopes to continue her education focusing on pastries, and eventually open her own bakery.

Photo: SMCC student Valerie with former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Also shown with President Clinton are recent Culinary grad Mark Kurkjy (center), who is also working as a sous chef at Walker’s Point this summer, along with the Walker’s Point executive chef and housekeeper.

Irish student takes part in SMCC Business Internship course

In the past decade, eight SMCC students have studied at the Cork Institute of Technology in Ireland after being awarded the George J. Mitchell Peace Scholarship. This summer, for the first time, a CIT student from Ireland is participating in an internship at Sappi paper company through SMCC’s Business Administration program.

Ingrid Kerins arrived in Maine in April to work in the logistics department at Sappi’s offices in South Portland. When her five-week internship ends in late August, it will mark the completion of her master’s degree in global business that she is earning at the Cork Institute of Technology.

For her internship, she works on the logistics of Sappi’s shipments of paper between the U.S. and Europe, getting a well-rounded view of the complicated world of international trade.

Ingrid grew up in Kerry, Ireland, and then earned her bachelor’s degree in business from CIT. During her internship, she is reporting to SMCC Business Professor Steve Strand.

During her stay here, she and Strand met at a Portland waterfront restaurant one evening with Lacy McMoarn, an SMCC alumna who studied at CIT in the spring of 2011.

“It was interesting to see what an American thought of the Irish education system, because they’re very different,” Ingrid said.

Photo: Irish student Ingrid Kerins with SMCC Business Professor Steve Strand at Sappi paper company in South Portland.

Science professor trained in bioinformatics at MDI Biological Lab

An SMCC biological sciences professor spent part of July at a leading research laboratory learning how to effectively integrate bioinformatics into the SMCC biology curriculum.

Daniel Moore took a week-long course at MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor with 20 other college instructors from across the U.S. During the week, they underwent hours of training in bioinformatics — the collection and analysis of complex biological information using computers.

The course was funded through the National Institutes of Health’s Innovative Program to Enhance Research Training.

In one project, the instructors extracted DNA from a genus of bacteria (Streptomyces) from ocean organisms and used sophisticated software to assemble and annotate the bacterial genome.

In a separate project, they used bioinformatics tools to analyze DNA sequences to determine what organisms are found in seawater at the bow and at the stern of cruise ships in Bar Harbor.

“There are a lot of good-paying jobs in biotechnology and other big data applications that will require these skills,” Moore said. “I was glad to have an opportunity to keep my knowledge more up-to-date and to learn some new skills so that I can teach them in our biology classes at SMCC.”