Abigail Harris’ involvement in the Great University Campaign video represents many students at the University of Southern Maine. For starters, she’s a Veteran, having spent six years in the Navy. USM serves the highest number of G.I. Bill recipients of any school in Maine. Also, she is someone who used the proximity and accessibility of the University of Southern Maine to pursue a passion. She had always been deeply interested in Psychology, and while the degree (and minor in Honors) should lead to a promising career—“in my wildest dreams I hope that I can work in mental health with children one day,” she said—her foremost interest was in gaining knowledge, improving herself, and putting herself on a path that mattered to her. This was particularly of interest to her as she knew that returning to school as a mother of two would not be easy.
“I’ve always had a passion for learning,” she said. “I’m one of those people who is full of trivia knowledge. I didn’t expect USM to add to that habit. I was expecting to go to class and listen to lectures ending with a test. Instead, most of my classes culminated in an interest-based research paper. I’ve been able to not only hone my skills as a collector of fun facts but have gained knowledge in areas that weren’t even on my radar a few years ago. I’ve also seen myself become more critical and discerning of information I read online. I took a course for my Honors program that had us really look into who was writing things, what their motivations might be, and I use that skill almost daily now.”
What she came to cherish about the University of Southern Maine was the great faculty and the professors that genuinely care about their students’ progress. When asked for an example, she had one ready to go. “I am currently working on my thesis, which is exploring conscious identity management on social media, with Bruce Thompson, Ph.D. in the psych department,” she said. “He has dedicated countless hours guiding me through the formation of my hypothesis, forming the survey, and the Institutional Review Board process to get approval to collect data. He also pushed me to apply to the UROP fellowship [Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program], which is something I hadn’t considered when I set out to complete a thesis. I definitely wouldn’t have as powerful a resume if it weren’t for that mentorship.”
Abigail admits to being a bit private with information about herself, which makes it all the more admirable that she participated in the Great University Campaign video. In addition to everything else she does, she also competes in triathlons, marathons, and ultramarathons, and her training in the video led to the Rocky-like moment when she scaled the steps at the Portland USM campus and turned to see the construction of the Portland Commons and the McGoldrick Center for Career & Student Success—an exciting flashpoint of the transformation going on. Despite her nerves, she was terrific.
“I was deeply honored to be chosen as one of five people who would have their story told,” she said. “I think I was also, obviously, nervous to show the personal side of my life to the university, alumni, and outside donors and to act as a representative for veteran and adult students in such a huge forum. In the end, the video was beautiful, and everyone was a pleasure to work with. I loved getting to know the other students involved, and the fundraiser launch night was great.”