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Updated: August 8, 2022 Women to Watch

Women to Watch: At Thomas College, Laurie Lachance points the path from classroom to career

Laurie Lachance standing in Thomas College building Photo / Tim Greenway Laurie Lachance, president of Thomas College, was Maine state economist for three different governors.

Dover-Foxcroft native Laurie Lachance was the first in her family to go to college, earning an undergraduate economics degree from Bowdoin College and an MBA from Thomas College. She’s been president of Thomas College since 2012 as the Waterville school’s first alumna — and woman — in the role. She was also Maine’s first female state economist and has served as president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation. More recently, she co-chaired the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee in 2020. This year, she received an honorary degree from Bowdoin in what she calls a “profoundly affirming and healing” experience.

Mainebiz: What lessons do you carry with you from playing sports in your youth?

Laurie Lachance: The first word that pops into mind is humility. Title IX just passed when I was 11 years old and in sixth grade. I didn’t play an organized sport until high school, so I was not good and had very rough skills, but the things you learn by playing a competitive sport are amazing. You truly learn a strategy about tenacity and resilience and teamwork. You need all those things in the ups and downs of life.

MB: Why does Thomas College put so much emphasis on preparing students for careers?

LL: Two-thirds of our students are the first in their families to go to college, and 80% of them come from Maine — many of them from humble roots in rural areas. When they come to college, they are seeking a good job that’s going to change their lives and their families’ lives, so we help them build career skills so they can land the job of their dreams and launch their careers. It has always been central to the Thomas College experience to prepare them to be very proud members of their communities.

MB: Who is your leadership role model and why?

LL: The most influential one is [U.S. Sen. and former Maine Gov.] Angus King, whose integrity is so central to who he is. I got to see how he made decisions, and how he always asked for input from everybody — not just from the leaders, but from the workers who had the front-line knowledge and information. And he was humble. He would come early to conferences, sneak in and sit down in the back, then he would listen to whoever was speaking and take notes. Then when he went to the stage, he would make reference to the people and build on that in his conferences.

I’ve always tried to model myself after that — I don’t sit at the head of a meeting, I sit in the middle so I’m closer to people, and I don’t meet people across a desk. You don’t distance yourself as a leader, you try to lead with integrity and give a vision that’s compelling.

MB: In times of economic uncertainty, how can Thomas College keep its promise of guaranteeing participating students a job within six months of graduating?

LL: To qualify for the guarantee, you have to keep up your grades, you have to have an internship and you have to participate in career and leadership development. If you do all of those things, you get a job, so it’s an incentive to prepare yourself. We have only had to pay on that promise a very few times. Through good and bad times, we’ve always maintained a 94% to 96% placement rate within the first six months, so it’s a very good bet on our part.

MB: What’s the significance of the new athletic facility under construction?

LL: Fifty percent of our students play a varsity sport — which lifts the attraction, retention and graduation rate of students. They’re part of a team, they have mentors in their coaches and they have a rigorous schedule and learn life skills. It helps with their career, and it’s an important part of who we are.

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