Orono, Maine — University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy announced today that qualifying high school graduates from the Lerner Foundation’s Aspirations Incubator programs, including Chewonki Waypoint, for rural Maine youth will receive $500 merit scholarships and automatic admission to UMaine or to its regional campus, the University of Maine at Machias as UMS TRANSFORMS Affiliates.
Aspirations Incubator (AI) is a six-year pilot initiative launched in 2017 by the Emanuel & Pauline A. Lerner Foundation that provides long-term, comprehensive mentoring programs in rural Maine communities to increase resiliency and build aspiration in young people and to introduce them to new opportunities. The Lerner Foundation decided to focus exclusively on this effort and committed more than $8 million — the entirety of its endowment — to the Aspirations Incubator pilot programs.
More than 280 youth at five partner sites currently participate in AI programs, which start in 7th grade and continue through high school. At each AI site, a local youth-serving organization is paired with a nearby school district: EdGE Program of the Maine Seacoast Mission and SAD 37 in Cherryfield; Old Town/Orono YMCA and RSU 34 in Old Town; Game Loft and RSU 3 in Thorndike; Chewonki Waypoint and RSU 1 in Bath; and University of Maine Cooperative Extension 4-H Center at Bryant Pond and SAD 44 in Bethel.
The first cohort of more than 60 Aspirations Incubator participants will be high school seniors next fall, having been immersed for six years in mentoring, experiential learning, social and emotional development, and college and career readiness programs. UMaine has observed the success of the AI program through the Bryant Pond lens and established the UMS TRANSFORMS Affiliates initiative to further and to support the AI graduates’ aspirations.
UMaine guarantees that Aspirations Incubator graduates with a 3.0 grade point average will have automatic admission and a minimum $500 award.
“These students and their mentors are true inspirations, and the Aspirations Incubator provides an important model for rural youth development,” says Ferrini-Mundy. “These young people now have the tools needed to be successful college students, to pursue their career goals, and to become tomorrow’s leaders.
“Aspirations Incubator is the kind of statewide, community-based initiative that embodies the spirit of UMS TRANSFORMS, funded by the Harold Alfond Foundation, so establishing affiliation for Aspirations Incubator graduates is a natural next step in supporting their ambitions and futures,” she says. “We look forward to seeing just how far their aspirations take them, and we hope to welcome them to UMaine and UMaine Machias to launch their college careers.”
This commitment from UMaine recognizes the success of the program, the commitment of AI graduates and the importance of continuing to build aspiration and resilience by opening wider the doors to higher education, says Don Carpenter, executive director of the Lerner Foundation. “This is a huge step forward for the Aspirations Incubator program and, more important, for the students whose aspirations we have sought to build and nurture,” Carpenter says. ”We are thrilled.”
The Aspirations Incubator program and the support of the Lerner Foundation has raised the bar for us in our youth development work, says Ryder Scott, executive director of UMaine 4-H Centers and lead administrator on the Lerner Foundation grant to the Bryant Pond Center. “With its focus on long-term relationships with youth, AI is making a difference for the young people of Maine in ways I never thought possible.”
Eliot Cutler, president of the Lerner Foundation, hailed UMS TRANSFORMS Affiliates as “an investment in Maine’s future.”
“When we created the Aspirations Incubator program, one of OUR aspirations was that it would be a gateway to four-year and advanced degrees for kids from rural Maine and smaller Maine communities. The University is helping to fulfill that ambition, and we are deeply grateful to President Ferrini-Mundy,” Cutler says.