In October 2007, the University of Maine at Presque Isle was awarded a major grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation to develop and improve culturally responsive retention strategies for its Native American students and other underrepresented students.
UMPI was chosen, along with three other universities in New England, 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.
The award allowed the University to receive up to $750,000 over five years to better serve its Native American student population as well as the region’s Native American community. With approximately 65 Native American students, UMPI has the highest percentage of such students of all the University of Maine System campuses.
UMPI received an initial Project Compass grant of $100,000 to support a year of planning and capacity building. The University then submitted a grant proposal to move into Phase II of the Project Compass initiative. As a grant awardee, the University received $158,000 in 2008 and thus became eligible to receive three more years of grant funding totaling $750,000, contingent upon the institution’s yearly progress on objectives developed during the planning year. Throughout this process, the University has worked closely with the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians on this project.
UMPI used its grant funding to develop strategies to assist Native American students in transitioning from the Native community to the university community, as well as develop their life tools to help them achieve their goals within the dominant culture and their own. The key strategies were:
- Creation of a Native American Center;
- Data management and evidence development;
- Review of academic affairs and curriculum to offer more effective support to marginalized students; and
- Reconfiguration of the roles of student support and advising.
The project has been informed by a Native American Advisory Board. The funding the University received from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation was designated specifically for purposes that met the objectives of this grant project.