AUGUSTA — James Conneely is focused on a reorganization and rebranding of the institution as he enters the second half of his first year as president of the University of Maine at Augusta.

Conneely started his term as president of the University of Maine at Augusta Jan. 19, taking over for interim president Rebecca Wyke. Wyke replaced Glenn Cummings, who was interim president for several months after Allyson Handley left UMA in September 2014. Conneely said it’s nice for the school to have stability at the top.

“The faculty and staff have said it’s nice to know there’s somebody who has made a commitment to the school and is permanent,” Conneely said during an interview in his office Tuesday afternoon. “We’ve talked about our vision and where we are going as an institution, and people have embraced the forward motion.”

Part of Conneely’s vision includes a reorganization and rebranding of the school, including a new logo. Conneely said several vacant positions have been recrafted, and the school will be creating a new division to look at the whole student life cycle. The vice president of student engagement will lead the new division.

Conneely said the school is in the middle of a national search for a dean of University College, the school’s distance learning branch. The dean of the Bangor campus will be known as the assistant provost for community outreach and academic development. Conneely hopes to have all the positions filled by July.

“Having the right team in place will allow me to do external work like fundraising and community relations,” Conneely said. “My goal is to dedicate 50 percent of my time to external work.”

The school typically awards more than 750 credentials in both certificates and degrees, according to UMA communications manager Rachel Paling. Conneely hosted his first UMA graduation May 14 at the Augusta Civic Center where nearly 450 students received associate and bachelor’s degrees.

Conneely said he has a great team already in place with the current faculty and staff, which is nearly one-third the size of the staff at Eastern Kentucky University, where Conneely worked for a decade before coming to Maine.

“The biggest thing that has impressed me is the dedication of the faculty and staff,” he said. “They really believe in what they’re doing and want to help the students be successful. That’s been the biggest pleasure for me.”

Kati Corlew, an assistant professor of psychology, said Conneely has done a good job connecting with students and staff, including starting a monthly newsletter that highlights a student, a faculty member and a staffer in each issue.

“Dr. Conneely has made a great effort to reach out to departments and programs across UMA, sharing his vision and asking questions to gauge where we stand and what each of us have to offer,” Corlew said via email. “He makes a point to praise successes.”

Conneely said he knew the faculty was strong before he arrived, but seeing it each day and watching the faculty and staff go the extra mile is special.

“I think their hearts are in the right place, and I see it every day,” Conneely said. “I don’t think people really realize the quality of UMA. We really do provide a quality education.”

The diverse student population is one of the things that attracted Conneely to the position. He feels students have risen to the expectations the school sets, expectations Conneely said he would continue to raise.

He said he’s heard from students and graduates who said UMA gave them an opportunity when other places would not, so the impact the school is having on students is real.

“I see the impact we have on people who have had challenges to get a college degree, and they really appreciate the opportunity, the flexibility and the nimbleness UMA can provide them,” Conneely said. “It’s really encouraging.”

Conneely said he has received support from the University of Maine System’s chancellor and board, who he said are supportive of the school’s mission.

“He has quickly established himself as an excellent ambassador and strong leader for a university with a statewide mission to transform the lives of students all ages and backgrounds through improved access and student-focused service,” Chancellor James Page said in an email.

Ultimately, however, Conneely said, he is accountable to the students.

“Students have come to UMA for a complete collegiate experience, and we have the obligation to provide the best college experience that we can to meet their needs,” he said. “We have a responsibility to help every student we admit be successful.”

Helping students be successful is sometimes a challenge because of the limited resources given to the school, which Conneely said means the school has to be collaborative and work in partnership with the community. He said it’s surprising how successful the school has been during budget cuts, and they have found innovative ways to do things.

The University of Maine System, which has 10 campuses and nine University College centers that reach across the state, has a $514 million budget for the 2017 fiscal year, including $38,413,000 supporting programs at UMA. Paling said UMA’s budget has essentially remained flat over the last five years.

But Conneely said the school must do a better job at branding the institution and maximizing the talents of the faculty and staff, which in turn will help in recruitment and retention of students.

“A lot of good things happen here, but we really haven’t told the story that well,” Conneely said. “Part of our responsibility is to get the good word out about the work we are doing.”

Conneely said Mainers have been warm and open since he arrived in January, and people have been open and honest answering any of his questions. He said he has driven more than 6,200 miles since coming to Maine in mid-January, and he wanted to meet with civic leaders from around the state during his first 100 days. Conneely thinks he’s done a good job getting to know people during what he called a “pretty nice honeymoon period.”

Conneely believes everybody really believes in what UMA is doing and in its mission, but countered that by saying a lot of people don’t realize the impact the school has and the quality of the faculty and students.

But he hopes that changes.

“My goal is for people to be tired of hearing about UMA,” Conneely said. “I want them to hear our name and automatically think of what we stand for as an institution.”

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ


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