WATERVILLE — After working at several small colleges and universities in upstate New York, Jonathan Kent jumped at the opportunity in 2013 to come back to central Maine, where he grew up.

The vice president of enrollment management at Thomas College said the decision was an easy one for two reasons.

“I always kept track of what was happening at Thomas, and from when I grew up to where it is today, it’s just transformed by leaps and bounds,” said Kent, 34, a native of Benton. “When I came for an interview, I really enjoyed the president, Laurie LaChance, the board and their vision and direction and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Waterville also seemed like the perfect place to raise a family and gave Kent and his wife, Sara, the opportunity to move closer to family as they started their own family. The couple now have a one-year-old daughter, Josephine.

“We wanted to be in a nice setting and close to family. We hadn’t lived near family since we both went off to college,” said Kent, a 2000 graduate of Lawrence High School in Fairfield.

Three years after his return to the Waterville area, Kent will receive the Rising Star Award from the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce at the April 28 awards ceremony.

The award recognizes a chamber member under the age of 40 for his or her contributions to the community and leadership. Kent said it came as a surprise, though Thomas College President Laurie LaChance and the chamber offered different opinions.

“Jonathan has been a tremendous addition to the Thomas team,” LaChance said in a press release from the chamber. “His energy and passion for our students has set us apart and put us on a path of growth despite huge demographic challenges. He truly is a star.”

Under Kent’s leadership, enrollment at Thomas has reached its highest numbers in school history, the release said. There are currently about 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled at Thomas, according to the school’s website.

Kent, who oversees enrollment, athletics and marketing, said one of the things he enjoys most about his job is the student population, about 67 percent of which are first generation college students.

“The work ethic that I grew up with is something I see in a lot of students at Thomas,” he said. “They don’t take things for granted. They work hard and earn it. That’s something I really admire about the students here.”

At St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, Kent started working as a tour guide while an undergraduate. After he graduated in 2004 with a degree in biology, he took a job at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York, as an admissions counselor.

He has since worked in admissions and enrollment at the State University of New York in Canton and Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York, before coming to Thomas in May 2013. Kent also earned a master’s degree in education from St. Lawrence in 2007.

His goal is to one day become a college president. He jokes that when he was interviewing with the college’s board of directors, he told them he wanted LaChance’s job.

“They don’t let me forget that,” he said. For now, Kent said he has his hands full with a one-year-old daughter at home, a five-year strategic plan for the school’s athletic department and enrollment development plans.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to rise up the ranks fairly quickly,” he said. “I’m grateful Laurie and the board took a chance on me. It’s kind of overwhelming, but it’s a lot of fun.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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