By Melanee Terry
College students around the country have continued to pursue an education despite the pandemic’s difficulties and, at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, Shara Page and Bethany Lord have guided and motivated students as campus advisors. Through their assistance, UMPI students have been able to successfully continue their education, making Shara, Bethany, and the rest of the Advising team Owl Heroes.
As the Associate Director of Advising, Shara advises about 350 students while also supporting other offices on campus. She has been working at the university for 15 years. Shara also works as a liaison between UMPI and the Maine Department of Education for education majors looking for state teaching certification. She is the designated representative for advising on multiple committees including the System Wide Advising Group, the Student Success and Retention Council, and the Academic Appeals Committee.
Bethany started working in the Admissions Office in 2014, but changed positions to a Professional Academic Advisor in 2019. She helps students with creating class wish lists, completing degree requirements, schedule changes, changing majors, adding minors, and more. She works alongside faculty members to make sure that their students are meeting the requirements for graduation.
“We are also here to help answer any questions or to talk with students about academic policies and procedures, and we are great ‘go-to’ people for our advisees if they aren’t sure who to speak to or where to go for something they need,” Bethany said.
Along with Shara and Bethany, there are other members in the Advising Office contributing to the university’s success. Lorelei Locke, Director of Advising, and Jessica Winslow, Professional Academic Advisor, are other members of the office who have been assisting students with their education. Jean Henderson, a Professional Academic Advisor and also the Student Services Coordinator at the Houlton Center, is also making a difference with her efforts.
The COVID-19 pandemic tremendously changed how the Advising team works. Shara and Bethany work from home the majority of the time, which brings some positives to the way they advise students. Working from home allows them to be more readily available. Zoom is very accessible and they can jump onto the application whenever they need to. The team has had a lot fewer cancellations so it has increased their efficiency. When they are on campus, they have to follow safety protocols, such as wearing masks and social distancing.
“I have been working from home about 95% of the time. This has obviously changed our approach to student support, but surprisingly in a positive way,” Shara said. “On the flip-side of things I feel that I am always ‘on,’ always available and the lines are easily blurred between the work day and the non-working day.”
Since they have jobs that are centered around students, Shara and Bethany love the relationships and time they get to spend with students. From the moment a freshman starts their first semester, Advising team members assist them with any of their educational needs. From class scheduling to helping students complete their degree, professional advisors are with them every step of the way.
“I really enjoy working with students, watching them learn and grow, graduate and go onto careers. Knowing that I was a part of their success is really rewarding,” Shara said. “Everything I do in my position is student focused. There isn’t a decision that is made in advising that does not take into account the impact on the students.”
One of the most difficult aspects of their new work life at home has been finding a balance. Both Shara and Bethany have found it hard to separate work life from life at home. Since they are working from home, they are never “at work” or “at home.” The two women also miss the complete experience they get when they work on campus, which is being able to interact with the UMPI community.
“Not being able to see faculty, staff, and students as frequently was the biggest difficulty. I used to have people pop into my office almost daily to talk with me about various things and now, it is phone calls and emails instead,” Bethany said.
Despite the changes to their work life, Shara and Bethany have been able to successfully adjust. They have continued to advise students towards educational success, regardless of the challenges. Shara, Bethany, and the entire Advising team have demonstrated exactly what it means to be Owl Heroes this past year.
“I have learned that we are an incredibly versatile and flexible institution and it’s going to take a lot more than a global pandemic to bring us down,” Shara said.