URock hosts its own graduation celebration to honor students who’ve earned their degrees from UMA and who’ve done so by taking at least some of their classes through URock. We’ll even have a big-name guest speaker, Meredith Hall, the author of Without a Map. She was the first nontraditional student to be accepted at Bowdoin College, graduating at age 44. How’s that for a nontrad success story? That’s a pretty sweet incentive to want to go to the URock ceremony, but it goes deeper than that.
UMA is my college, but URock has been my tangible, human connection to UMA for all these years. It’s only this, my final semester, that I’m taking a live class on the UMA Campus. So maybe this celebration, closer to home, is a way to honor my graduation and to do it with the people who have helped me through.
As a satellite center to UMA, URock draws students from all over the midcoast area in Maine. We take live classes and videoconference classes on site, and some of us take online classes from home or live classes in Augusta, too. Some students have been able to earn all their credits right in Rockland, without ever having to make the two-hour round-trip commute to Augusta. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that without URock and the other University College centers around the state, there would be far fewer Mainers earning degrees. Access to learning is key, and not everyone loves online courses like I do.
But it’s not just access to classes. It’s the connection with the staff. From class advising to help with financial aid to payment issues to planning school events to helping to set up independent studies to facilitating that just-right internship, from the mundane to the meaningful, there they are, happy to help. URock students, please chime in if I’m forgetting anything, as I’m sure I am.
And there’s another thing they offer – a bit of hand-holding. I’ve experienced it and I’ve witnessed it. My favorite place to hang at URock is in the corner of the smaller student lounge. It’s right near the entrance to URock, right near the front desk, right near the coffee machine. From this table, I see everyone come and go. I’m a people-watcher at heart, so even while I’m working, I’ve got one eye on the action.
Sometimes I see what seem to be prospective students. They look a little tentative, maybe a little unsure. Maybe it’s a young man who didn’t think he wanted to go to college, but now he wants to take a class or two to “try it on.” Maybe it’s a young woman who did go off to college, but felt lost in the immensity of it and wants to try a smaller school. Maybe it’s an older woman, out of school for years and years, not quite sure what she wants, but wanting to start anyway. Maybe it’s an older man wanting to change careers and try something completely new (people-watchers also like to make up stories).
They go to the front desk and are told, “She’ll be right with you.” I want to go up to them and say, “You’re in the right place. No worries.” But I don’t need to, because there’s Deb or Beverly, hand out, smiling, and leading that person into her office. I know, because I’ve been there. It’s very reassuring to enter with so many questions, and leave with answers and with confidence that you’re on the right path.
So YEAH! I’m going to walk with my fellow URock/UMA grads. I have no idea what to expect except for three things: I won’t be wearing a cap or gown, I’ll get to hear an inspiring speaker, and I’ll have the chance to graduate with the people who’ve been with me through my journey for the past six years.