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Houlton Higher Education Center celebrates 10th anniversary U.S. Congressman Michaud to serve as keynote speaker

The Houlton Higher Education Center will mark its first decade of serving the community and providing close-to-home educational opportunities during a special 10th anniversary celebration and open house on Thursday, Sept. 1 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

U.S. Congressman Michael H. Michaud will serve as the keynote speaker during the official program, which gets underway at 1 p.m. The program also will include a Native blessing and the unveiling of a new granite installation at the building’s entrance.

The Houlton Center, a University of Maine at Presque Isle facility, has worked for the last 10 years to provide students with the very best in educational experiences and services. The center brings a wide variety of educational programs under one roof, giving local residents a chance to prepare for college, earn their associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, take refresher courses, or participate in lifelong learning activities. UMPI’s partners at the center include University College, Northern Maine Community College, Houlton/Hodgdon Adult Education, Carleton Project, TRiO Upward Bound, and Maine Educational Opportunity Center.

“It’s wonderful to see how much of an impact the Houlton Higher Education Center has had in the community since its opening ten years ago,” UMPI President Donald Zillman said. “We are so pleased to be celebrating this important milestone and showcasing the work our center staff and partners do every day to help the people of southern Aroostook, western New Brunswick, and northern Washington and Penobscot counties – and beyond – achieve their academic goals.”

The vision for the center first took shape in 1999 as the result of a grassroots community effort to re-establish a formal home for higher education in the southern Aroostook area. At the time, UMPI maintained a modest education center in Houlton, and then-Northern Maine Technical College also had a presence there, but the Houlton community was looking to fill a larger void left after Ricker College closed in 1979. The community group worked collaboratively with the University of Maine System, the then-Maine Technical College System, and other educational entities to bring the center to fruition.

The idea was to transform a 15,500-square-foot building, formerly a Shop ‘n Save grocery store, into a one-of-a-kind educational facility. When approached by the University of Maine System, Hannaford Brothers graciously agreed to donate the Military Street building to the University. In order to pay for the $2 million renovation, officials received strong support from County legislators, and critical leadership from then Maine State Senator Michael Michaud in securing state funding for the center. The project was completed ahead of schedule and under budget, and in Fall 2001, the center welcomed its first students.

“This center is here because of the vision of many local citizens and educators, the generosity of Hannaford Brothers, and the support of Congressman Michael Michaud and Aroostook County legislators,” Center Director Charles Ames said. “And ten years later, you can see that all the hard work was worth it. The Houlton Center has been able to help so many people, whether they’re looking for alternatives to a traditional high school education or juggling a full-time job and family life as they try to complete a bachelor’s degree.”

Each partner has its own educational niche which makes the center such a valuable, all-in-one resource. University College offers distance learning courses and degrees through the University of Maine System. Northern Maine Community College offers classes in the areas of business, nursing and allied health, and liberal studies. The MSAD 29/70 Houlton, Hodgdon Adult Education program provides high school completion, GED, vocational, and community education and offers the College Access Program.

Carleton Project is a private alternative high school that offers students in grades 9 to 12 the opportunity to obtain their high school diploma in a non-traditional setting. TRiO Upward Bound is a federally funded program that prepares underserved high school students for college and is open to high school students who qualify financially, or are the first in their families to attend college. Maine Educational Opportunity Center is focused on increasing the awareness of post secondary educational opportunities available to Maine’s low income, first generation adults who desire to pursue a college degree.

Also at the Houlton facility, the University offers classes for the bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, Liberal Studies, and the associate’s degree in Liberal Arts, as well as online courses for bachelor’s degrees in English, History and Psychology. The University also hosts the Native Education Center, established to better serve Native American students and provide them with strong support as they complete their college educations; High School Aspirations, aimed at increasing the number of students who access and succeed in college; and SAGE [Seniors Achieving Greater Education], a program that brings short courses in arts, sciences, and specialty areas to the region’s senior community.

Together, center and partner staffers provide a great amount of support that ensures all students get the help they need to reach their educational goals.

“All of us at the Houlton Higher Education Center take pride in being helpful to everyone who comes though our doors looking for more education,” Otis Smith, Director of SAD 29/70 Adult Education, said. “The best part is that by working together we can ensure students are able to take advantage of every opportunity available to them.”

For example, he explained, a student may come to the Houlton Center to attend high school with Carleton Project, but, collectively, staffers make sure those students know about all the other services offered by other partners at the Center that would benefit them, whether it be a math or writing class through the Adult Education programs he directs, or a UMPI or NMCC class they can take through the College Aspirations program that allow them to earn college and high school credit for specific courses.

“After students graduate from high school or earn their GED, they can enroll in a university or college degree program right here at the Houlton Center,” Smith said. “And along the way, we make sure they know about programs like MEOC that can help them apply for financial aid and search for scholarships.”

Officials said individual attention for students has been the center’s hallmark.

“The goal for most of our students is post-secondary education. Having the ability to walk down the hall so the center’s academic advisers can offer academic and financial guidance to our students is excellent,” Jennifer Walker, Carleton Project Executive Director, said. “It’s just one example of the resources that our students may have never had the opportunity to tap into without this partnership, support and access – all under one roof. Knowing our students are successfully transitioning from high school into college with the same supportive staff they’ve come to know is quite wonderful.”

But the Center’s efforts not only serve the needs of students, they serve the needs of the community.

“NMCC is proud to be a partner in the Houlton Higher Education Center,” said Timothy Crowley, President of Northern Maine Community College. “The center serves as a model for others in our state with regards to bringing several entities together to respond to community needs. This collaboration has resulted in increased access to higher education for Southern Aroostook residents. Not only has it allowed our students to take classes closer to home, saving both time and traveling costs, but the center has allowed us to broaden the program offerings available to those students. Today, this facility is bursting with students and the need to grow is evident.”

The work the Center does will be celebrated during the anniversary event on Thursday, Sept. 1. The public is invited to join in the celebration. The open house, which includes guided building tours, will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and the official program will begin at 1 p.m. Refreshments will be provided. For more information, please call 768-9452 or email