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Updated: July 30, 2018 COMMENTARY

Building the connection between graduates and businesses

Corey Hascall
Ainsley L.N. Wallace

The path through higher education and into a satisfying future is often circuitous. For many of our students at the University of Southern Maine — 52% of whom are the first in their families to attain a four year degree — partners make all the difference. These partners may be supervisors at an internship or a first job; a graduate who returns to teach a workshop or course; an employer who gives great career advice. These meaningful community connections fuel the success of our students and cultivate the next generation of talent for Maine’s workforce. That’s the power of partnerships.

Meaningful community connections fuel the success of our students and cultivate the next generation of talent for Maine’s workforce.

In the past 18 months, the University of Southern Maine has launched USM Works for ME, an initiative that prepares our students for professional success by partnering with employers and harnessing the USM alumni network. Guided by President Glenn Cummings, USM is reimagining what employer engagement means for a great metropolitan university, with the dual goals of creating career pathways that help our students pursue and fulfill their dreams, and meeting the Maine workforce’s significant talent needs.

Our 52,000 person-strong alumni network is a powerful driver for Maine’s economy with leaders at the very top of the region’s most important employers. In fact, 75% of USM’s alumni live and work in Maine.

One example of how USM Works for ME is our partnership with Maine Employers’ Mutual Insurance Co. Ten years ago MEMIC was a founding partner in USM’s Risk Management and Insurance certificate program within the USM School of Business. USM’s RMI program, the only one of its kind north of Hartford, Conn., is notable because southern Maine has the second largest concentration of risk management and insurance jobs in the nation; more than 90% of USM’s RMI graduates find careers within the industry immediately after graduation. USM has worked hand in hand with MEMIC and the insurance and finance industry to prepare students for careers in Maine. MEMIC has invested $1.5 million in the MEMIC John T. Leonard Endowed Chair at USM, effectively doubling the size of the RMI program.

USM as a problem-solving partner

This year USM took an important step forward, creating an employer relations team. The university hired its first employer relationship managers, responsible for building and enhancing relationships between employers and the university. Modeled after the University of Michigan’s Business Engagement Center, the employer relationship manager serves as a connector to ensure ease in hiring students and interns, connecting to faculty expertise and research partnerships, developing workplace alumni communities, and increasing access to university programs and services to meet an employer’s needs. They are problem solvers.

USM’s first employee relations manager created new internship opportunities at OceanView at Falmouth focused on program development in the dementia care department. The manager also represents the university on the city of Portland’s Office of Economic Opportunity advisory board.

By preparing students for future success, partnering with employers in a responsive way, and by tapping into a powerful alumni network, USM wants to become known for the way it strengthens Maine’s economy and our communities. There’s much more that we must do to become employer’s educational partner of choice. But we are fully engaged and committed to strengthening the USM Works for ME program because it is the right thing to do for our students and for Maine’s economy. It’s our promise.

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