By Melanee Terry
It has been a difficult year for University of Maine at Presque Isle students taking classes through the Houlton Center, but Tracy Rockwell and the whole team there have been alleviating those challenges for students. Though the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in many changes for the Houlton Center, students have been able to successfully continue their education due to Owl Heroes like Tracy.
Tracy is the Director of UMPI’s Houlton Higher Education Center and she is responsible for many components at the Center. She helps plan and develop UMPI- and other University of Maine System-related activities. She monitors academic courses and programs that take place in the building. Tracy collaborates with others to ensure that students are able to access an education and receive the support services they need to complete their degree on site.
Just like other areas on the UMPI campus, the physical environment at the Houlton Center has drastically changed because of COVID-19. The staff has had to implement social distancing protocols by moving furniture out of classrooms and posting signage around the building. Masks are required for everyone who enters the Center.
“We facilitate the Vault COVID testing process for all university students, staff, and faculty who are in the building. And, of course, the intense cleaning process of classrooms, bathrooms, common areas, and offices occurs on a daily basis,” Tracy said.
Despite the changes to the building, students are still taking in-person classes. The Houlton Center is holding live classes, while observing all social distancing and mask protocols. The building also has a few Zoom classrooms set up, so faculty and students can attend their classes virtually.
The COVID-19 protocols have affected Tracy’s job tremendously, but she has still been able to interact with students, which is one of her favorite parts. Tracy missed seeing students on campus during the end of the spring semester in 2020 and was very hopeful coming into this school year. She looks forward to the Fall 2021 semester, when some protocols might change.
“When Fall 2020 arrived, we were very happy to see more of our students, but the Center still felt pretty empty, as many students took the majority of their classes online,” Tracy said. “Spring 2021 brought with it more students returning to onsite classes, and a bit more liveliness.”
The students at the Houlton Center have a huge impact on Tracy. She relies on the bonds she creates with students when they come to the Center. Tracy wants every student who attends the Houlton Center to have a great educational experience, especially during the pandemic.
“We pride ourselves on a high touch model and work hard to strengthen community connections both within the building and outside the building,” Tracy said. “We know our students by first name and we have an open door mantra. This is how we connect with students and how they connect with us and the HHEC community.”
There have been drastic changes to the Houlton Center, but Tracy has been there every step of the way to support students. She has guided students through the pandemic, so that they can continue their education. Although it was difficult, Tracy persevered through the pandemic, which makes her another Owl Hero in the UMPI community.
“This past year has been a very trying time for everyone. It is important to look out for family members, friends, colleagues, and community members,” Tracy said. “A lesson I’ve learned during this pandemic is to not take things for granted, like spending time with loved ones, taking breaks to travel, and enjoying the outdoors.”