UMF President Edward Serna, right, surprises recent graduate Will Addelson, left, with his UMF diploma. UMF photo

To help individuals still earn their degree, Ashley Montgomery, assistant dean at the University of Maine at Farmington, has created Almost Alumni. This UMF outreach program seeks to connect with students who had been close to completing their undergraduate studies and assist them on a case-by-case basis, according to a news release from the university.

Melissa Parziale plans on using the information she learned in her UMF courses in HR management and through her independent study on Women in Top Management in her career and is even considering pursuing her master’s. UMF photo

A difficult and time-consuming job, she and other Farmington staff and faculty have been working to help these students for years. This year, after a long conversation with UMF President Edward Serna and along with a concentrated effort by the UMaine System, Montgomery has created a formal UMF program to help students who had to walk away from their education earn their degree.
In the past year, Montgomery has hand-delivered several diplomas, and often cried, at the new grad’s happy response. There was a county clerk who she helped complete their final course, and new graduate Will Addelson, who was surprised at his place of employment when Montgomery came with the UMF president, provost, vice president of student services and director of admissions to deliver his newly earned diploma.
“Farmington’s mission is to help our students achieve the level of education they need to be successful, even though time and distance sometimes interrupt that process,” said Serna. “Almost Alumni is a way to help those individuals bridge that gap and reconnect with their aspiration of being a college graduate.”
At UMaine System Associate Vice Chancellor Rosa Redonnet’s request, Robert Zuercher, UMS senior institutional research and planning analyst, has been working with system campuses to identify former students who have earned credit at one of the UMS campuses but never completed degrees there or elsewhere.
From that data, Montgomery identified approximately 50 UMF students from 2015-20 who left campus with 90 credits or more. This year, 20 of those individuals will earn, or are on their way to earning, their degree and will graduate from UMF.
“A college degree is a credential that will help you in your career and throughout your life,” said Montgomery. “I can’t imagine working that hard and getting that far and not being able to finish. This program reaches out to see if there is anything we can do to help them.”
Melissa Parziale is one of those students. She left UMF 24 years ago as a senior needing only six credits to graduate.
“I was young and was ready to experience life,” said Parziale, “but I loved Farmington and even though I have had some career success, it was the one thing that always nagged at me that I didn’t graduate.”
Then, as it happened, Bryce Cundick, UMF library director, found a very old library fine and cleared it with the registrar who saw how close Parziale was to graduating.
Montgomery followed up and was able to find her and presented her with multiple options to finish her degree, including attending community college in Florida where she resides. But, she wanted to finish at Farmington, the college she loved.
Montgomery and Professor Waleck Dalpour helped her find two courses that not only filled her college requirement but also put her on the path to further her career goals.
She currently works as the Human Resources Director for a dental laboratory overseeing 100 employees. She plans on using the information she learned in her UMF courses in HR management and through her independent study on Women in Top Management in her career and is even considering pursuing her master’s.
Montgomery’s experience helping Parziale fulfill her longtime college aspirations has encouraged her to request additional data from the system that will help her reach out to even more former students seeking to complete their dreams of a college degree.
“I was at a point in my career where I asked myself ‘What’s next?’”, said Parziale. “Ashley helped me answer that. It was a quick turnaround to go from almost an alumni to a UMF degree holder. I can’t wait to put my diploma up in my office and if anyone asks me I will say it was definitely worth it. It’s never too late!”