Mary Ndukwe’s New Normal
By Melanee Terry
While students at the University of Maine at Presque Isle are struggling with the changes they have experienced this semester, Mary Ndukwe, the University’s AmeriCorps VISTA, is facing challenges of her own. As UMPI’s AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer from August 2019 to August 2020, Mary has worked in the Student Activities Office and helped to organize community engagement activities. But with hardly any students on campus and as one of the few people still living in the dorms, Mary is adjusting to life at UMPI as she continues to fulfill her duties.
Mary is currently living in Merriman Hall. She’d be the first to tell you that the atmosphere in the residence halls is far different than it normally would be in late April. A college campus is supposed to be loud and energized, especially in the residence halls and during the end of the school year. But with only a small number of people left in the dorms, the residence halls are quieter. Still, Mary has found ways to adapt.
“I’m actually enjoying myself. I’ve been able to utilize the facility, unlike my time during undergrad. I spend time in the lounge and cook in the kitchenette. I make it feel homey,” Mary said.
As an AmeriCorps VISTA, Mary’s job has significantly changed since there are few students, staff, and faculty on campus. Established in 1965, the AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) program sends volunteers to communities facing poverty, inequality, and unemployment to build organizational, administrative, and financial capacity, according to its website. The program, which has sent more than 220,000 VISTA members to organizations all over the U.S. and its territories, is part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that leads service, volunteering, and grant-making efforts in the United States.
Mary’s job at UMPI is primarily centered around student engagement-focused efforts in the Student Activities Office. Her responsibilities have been much more limited these past weeks, but, like so many others, she’s using some creativity to stay busy.
“Of course everything is online, so I kind of have to create my own work while I am here. As we’re moving into summer, I’m still waiting on confirmation on some projects. In the meantime, I work closely with my supervisors as we prepare for the next school year,” Mary said.
For the moment, Mary is using the isolation to her advantage and she is making the most of her free time by focusing on herself.
“I love the nature that surrounds UMPI. As someone from the south, I’m not a fan of the extended winter. I am used to 50 and 60 degree weather during this time of the year,” Mary said. “Having this allotted amount of free time allows me to spend time to focus on myself. I have been reading my Bible, spending time outside, and calling my family. That is how I take care of myself.”
She is also preparing for graduate school in the fall. Mary will attend the College of William and Mary in Virginia, studying higher education administration. Her goal is to focus on higher education policy, specifically in international student affairs.
Because of the time she’s spent with students at UMPI, Mary has connected with many of them and has some advice for those who are going through difficult times due to this pandemic.
“Try new things: make a new recipe, update your resume, understand financial literacy, and possibly make a list of what you want to see change or happen at UMPI starting in the fall,” Mary said. “Maximize this time to focus on what matters most to you and keep moving forward.”