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UMPI, Nellie Mae Education Foundation announce major Project Compass grant

Officials with the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the New England Resource Center for Higher Education announced in a Friday morning press conference that the University has been awarded a major grant from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation that will allow it to develop and improve culturally responsive retention strategies for its Native American students.

The award allows the University to receive up to $750,000 over the next four years to better serve its Native American student population as well as the region’s Native American community. With 65 Native American students, the University of Maine at Presque Isle has the highest percentage of such students of all the University of Maine System campuses. The University is one of four universities in New England chosen 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.

UMPI will use its grant funding to develop strategies that 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 proposal’s key strategies are:
– Creation of a Native American Center staffed with a retention team;
– 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 will be conducted under the University’s Center for University Programs and be informed by a permanent Native American Advisory Board. The funding the University is receiving from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation is designated specifically for purposes that meet the objectives of this grant project.

“We couldn’t be more pleased to be moving forward on this important project, which will greatly impact our teaching and mentoring work and really help to shape our students’ future educational experiences,” President Don Zillman said. “The particular focus of our Project Compass work is Native American students, but the benefits from Project Compass will help us in all underserved communities. We are honored to be a New England leader in this effort.”

The other three Project Compass grant awardees are Lyndon State College in Vermont, Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts and Eastern Connecticut State University.

“Project Compass is designed to respond to a critical national need, focusing on innovative practices in four state colleges and universities in New England. It is our hope that the leadership already exhibited at our four funded campuses will contribute to narrowing the achievement gaps for low-income students, students of color, and students who are first in their family to attend college,” Glenn Gabbard, Associate Director of the New England Resource Center for Higher Education and the Director of Project Compass, said. “UMPI’s work is an excellent example of an institution that is willing to take a serious look at changing what it does for underserved students so that all students that it serves will benefit.”

In October 2007, UMPI received an initial Project Compass grant of $100,000 to support a year of planning and capacity building. Upon completion of that planning year, the University submitted a grant proposal to move into Phase II of the Project Compass initiative. As a grant awardee, the University receives $158,000 this year and can receive three more years of grant funding totaling $750,000. The second phase grants are contingent upon the institutions’ yearly progress on objectives developed during the planning year. Throughout this process, the University has been working closely with the Aroostook Band of Micmacs and the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians on this project.

With the agreement signed, officials already are moving forward on implementation efforts.
The University of Maine at Presque Isle is a small state university located in the heart of northern Maine. Established in 1903 as a state teacher’s school, UMPI now offers a wide range of liberal arts and professional programs and a balanced curriculum that promotes a strong foundation in the arts and sciences. As one of seven autonomous campuses within the University of Maine System, UMPI serves about 1,500 traditional and non-traditional students, about 70 percent of whom receive financial aid. The University is committed to close student, faculty and staff interaction in support of intellectual growth and personal development; diversities of culture, age and nationality among both students and staff; and public service that promotes the well-being of the people of Maine. For more information, visit

The Nellie Mae Education Foundation is the largest philanthropy in New England that focuses exclusively on promoting access, quality and effectiveness of education. Established in 1998, the Foundation provides grants and other support to education programs in the region designed to improve underserved students’ academic achievement and access to higher education. The Foundation also funds research that examines critical educational opportunity issues. Since it was established, the Foundation has distributed nearly $72 million in grants. Currently, the Foundation is realigning its program investments. It will continue to focus its grant-making on strategies that support underserved learners while building knowledge about how to dramatically improve outcomes for the majority of New England’s learners. While the funding focus transitions to new program work, the Foundation is building on what has been learned through successes in order to define the future. The emerging program areas include early learning, the use of time in learning, the examination of the pathways involved between secondary and postsecondary education, and adult learning with a focus on postsecondary opportunities. For more information on the Foundation’s current work, visit

The New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE) is a center for inquiry, research, and policy. NERCHE supports administrators, faculty, and staff across the region in becoming more effective practitioners and leaders as they navigate the complexities of institutional innovation and change. NERCHE focuses on higher education institutions as complex workplaces. We provide resources for practitioners who are exploring innovative ways to shape higher education and create opportunities for learning and applying their collective knowledge and experience. NERCHE’s research projects, programs, and activities draw upon the practitioner perspective to improve practice and to inform and influence policy, moving from the local to regional and national levels. For more information, visit