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Updated: June 24, 2024 Focus on Education & Training

UNE teams with Maine Seacoast Mission on rural scholarship program

Photo / Courtesy, University of New England Rachel Colby, a Davis scholar from Gouldsboro at the University of New England in Biddeford, says the school’s waterfront location was a big draw for her.

Rachel Colby comes from a lobstering family in Gouldsboro but sees her future in health care after an unexpected opportunity to attend the University of New England at no cost.

The nursing major is getting a full ride from the Davis Maine Scholarship Program for first-generation college students from eastern Hancock and Washington counties.

The program, launched in summer 2022 and administered by the Maine Seacoast Mission in partnership with the Delaware-based Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund, offers full four-year scholarships at three private New England institutions: UNE in Biddeford and Portland, and Clark University and Wheaton College in Massachusetts.

“They all have programs specifically supportive to first-generation students,” says John Zavodny, president of the Maine Seacoast Mission, a nonprofit based in Northeast Harbor. “We also wanted to make sure the colleges demonstrated a real value and appreciation for students from rural Downeast Maine and the kind of diversity and capacity they would bring.”

Out of 16 Davis scholars to date, 11 have chosen UNE, where around 30% of undergraduates admitted every year are first-generation college students like Colby. About to start her third year, the 20-year-old remembers feeling instantly at home in Biddeford.

“I’m a homebody, and UNE was the closest school,” she says. “I also fell in love with the fact that it’s right on the water.”

Similar to the Worthington Scholarship Foundation in Rockland, the Maine Seacoast Mission supports Davis Maine Scholars — and their families — all through college.

“It isn’t just, ‘Here’s a check, go get ‘em, tiger,’” Zavodny says. “We’re really invested in the students — and we get to know their families, we help them.” The organization, for example, furnishes each scholarship recipient with a new laptop at the start of college and providing stipends for campus visits from families.

“There’s a lot of costs involved for the families,” he says. “We want to make sure we’re breaking down those barriers so students have every chance to succeed.”

UNE contributes to the mission by encouraging scholarship recipients to tap into tutoring and other support available to all of its students, says the school’s president, James Herbert. Like Zavodny, Herbert was the first in his family to go to college and feels strongly about giving today’s first-gen students a chance.

“If they miss the opportunity, they may never go back,” Herbert says. “We want them to go to college, and also support them so that they can be successful. I cannot wait to graduate the first class” of Davis scholars in 2026.

That quartet will include Colby, who changed majors from pre-med after her first semester after realizing that “there’s a million things you could do with nursing.” Asked for her advice to today’s high schoolers, she says, “Always believe in yourself.”

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