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Three-day Project Compass meeting begins Sept. 30 at UMPI

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Officials from around the County, the State of Maine, and New England will gather at the University of Maine at Presque Isle from Wednesday, Sept. 30 to Friday, Oct. 2 for a three-day meeting centered on the University's Project Compass grant program and its efforts to develop and improve culturally responsive strategies for its Native American students.

The event will feature a keynote address by John Bear Mitchell, the blessing of a new student center designed specifically for Native American students, and a gathering of educators and community leaders who will determine next steps for the grant program.

"This meeting marks an important milestone for the University's Project Compass efforts and is a recognition of how hard our community of practice group has worked to bring the program to this point," Dr. Ray Rice, who is overseeing the grant program at UMPI, said. "We are very much looking forward to the results of this gathering, and the brainstorming, idea sharing, and long range planning that will ultimately and most importantly benefit our Native American student population."

The University was awarded a major grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation in January to better serve its Native American student population as well as the region's Native American community. The award made the University eligible to receive up to $750,000 over the next four years to put toward this effort. The University was one of four universities in New England chosen to participate in Project Compass, the Nellie Mae Education Foundation's multi-year initiative aimed at increasing the number of underrepresented populations graduating with four-year degrees. Project Compass is administered by the foundation's intermediary, the New England Resource Center for Higher Education.

Since the grant award was announced, officials with Project Compass have been able to accomplish some important tasks, including the creation of a retention team for the program that ultimately will include three positions - a Director, a Coordinator of Retention Activities and an administrative assistant. Throughout this process, the University has been working closely with the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians.

Representatives from these Native American groups - as well as officials including Glenn Gabbard, the Associate Director of the New England Resource Center for Higher Education and the Director of Project Compass - will join with community leaders and area educators for a special dinner on Wednesday, Sept. 30, being held to kick off the three-day event.

The dinner will feature a keynote address by John Bear Mitchell, the Associate Director of the Wabanaki Center at the University of Maine in Orono, who will talk on the history of the Native American waiver and its purpose. Chiefs from throughout the region have been invited to attend this event. Drumming groups are expected to perform as part of the evening's activities.

The next morning, on Thursday, Oct. 1 at 8 a.m., officials will begin the day by hosting a dedication ceremony for the new Native American Educational and Services Center on campus, located in 311 South Hall. This Blessing of the Center will be led by John Dennis, the Cultural Director for the Aroostook Band of Micmacs.

The University's Native American Educational and Services Center has been established to create a comfortable atmosphere on campus for Native American students. It serves as a location that provides these students with strong support as they complete their college educations, including everything from tutoring services to assistance in filling out paperwork to establishing positive connections on campus. This center is open on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Following the Blessing of the Center, meeting attendees will spend the rest of the day Thursday and all day Friday on a major strategic planning effort that will help to determine the work that the program will focus on in the coming years.

For more information about this event, please contact Myrth Schwartz at 768-9792.