The Star-Herald

Local colleges aim to establish new programs, workforce initiatives in 2019

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — After a highly successful year of increased workforce development for college students, Northern Maine Community College and the University of Maine at Presque Isle plan to expand their offerings to students and fulfill crucial workforce needs in Aroostook County during the coming year.

In 2018 NMCC saw the establishment of their first ever water treatment technology program, the only such program in Maine, and the passing of a $15 million voter bond for the Maine Community College System that endows NMCC with $1,165,119 to expand their diesel hydraulics laboratory, make structural and technological upgrades to classrooms in the Christie Complex, and create single-occupancy and family apartments units in some of the residence halls.

This past October, the college also opened a new allied health simulation center that includes three simulation rooms, a control room and interactive mannequins that create the feeling of a real hospital setting for nursing and allied health students. NMCC President Tim Crowley hopes the simulation center can also serve as a space for current and longtime healthcare professionals to receive trainings that update them on the latest technologies and treatment techniques.

“We need to not only look at training the incoming workforce, but also further educating the workforce we currently have,” Crowley said.

Jessica Hemmingway, left, gets her heart checked by peers Sam Keegan, center, and Tammy Tanner during a classroom exercise in December 2017. The three women are Northern Maine Community College nursing students taking their courses at Houlton Regional Hospital. In March 2019 NMCC will begin a pilot licensed practical nursing program with 16 students after seeing an increased need for LPNs in Houlton area long-term care settings. (Joseph Cyr/Houlton Pioneer Times)

One way in which the college might possibly expand its allied health education in Aroostook County is through the recently approved pilot program for licensed practical nurses. After speaking with officials from Houlton Regional Hospital and Madigan Estates, also located in Houlton, faculty and staff realized that southern Aroostook was beginning to see an increased need for LPNs, particularly in long-term care settings.

NMCC previously ran an LPN certification program but deactivated the program in 2012 after there was a decreased need in the field. Now as many hospitals begin to rely more on registered nurses, Crowley said, LPNs are becoming more valued in long-term care. LPNs perform duties that are more complex than those of certified nursing assistants but have less responsibilities than RNs. Duties might include examining patients, assisting in wound care or observing patient symptoms.

Sixteen students will begin the LPN certification program in late March. The coursework will last 41 weeks and is designed so that students can complete their requirements within a year. Later in the year NMCC officials will discuss with hospitals across Aroostook County whether the LPN program would be valuable for their own recruitment efforts.

“Many LPNs go on to earn their nursing degrees and become RNs,” Crowley said. “Our students will be able to take courses at our campus site in Houlton but also travel here to train in the simulation center.”

Expanding opportunities for students in medical-related fields have also seen increased focus in UMPI’s academic programming. Last fall UMPI welcomed 20 students into the new collaborative nursing program with the University of Maine at Fort Kent and graduated its second class of students from the phlebotomy certification program with SAD 1 Adult and Community Education. This month UMPI opened a new training center that medical laboratory technology students will use to complete part of their required lab training during their final semester.

Starting this year UMPI will use funds from a $49 million University of Maine System bond package approved by voters in November to renovate Wieden Hall and create larger lab spaces for the nursing, exercise science and physical therapy programs. There are also plans to renovate a largely underutilized classroom in Folsom Hall known as the “fish bowl” into additional space for future medical-related programs.

UMPI President Ray Rice recently said he expects around 30 to 36 students to be accepted into the nursing program for the 2019-20 academic year, which would help the university respond to the slightly decreased but still crucial need for qualified nurses locally and statewide. A 2017 report from the Center for Health Affairs projected that Maine would need 2,700 nurses by 2025 to fill the shortage caused by those who will retire, a decrease from the 3,200 nurses projected in 2015.

“This spring we’ll have discussions with area hospitals about additional medical programs we could offer,” Rice said.

The university has also begun to look at ways to expand their nonmedical majors. Beginning in the fall UMPI will bring back their accounting major after many years of only including the subject as a concentration within the business administration program. UMPI had previously suspended the major after decreased interest but has recently begun to see more people at the local level interested in becoming more prepared for careers in accounting.

Within the business program, Rice and business faculty members hope to establish an academic concentration related to data analytics, logistics and supply chain or a combination of the subjects by 2020. He noted that data analytics could serve as a potential minor for students in many other majors such as mathematics, professional communication and journalism, history, environmental science, biology and the university’s new agricultural science and agribusiness program.

“Data analysis has grown as a field across the country and is an opportunity for us to make local students more marketable in their careers while also serving out-of-state and international students,” Rice said.

Along with new programs, one of Rice’s major goals is to make internships and research practicums a requirement for all students regardless of their chosen majors.

Currently, students in programs such as education, social work, criminal justice and science and medical-related majors must complete student teaching, an internship, research project or a field practicum experience in order to graduate. But other programs only make those experiences optional for students.

Within the next year Rice hopes that further discussions with local business leaders and faculty members of other professional and liberal arts-based programs will result in all students being required to complete internships, research or practicums regardless of their major. Through more partnerships with local employers, he said, UMPI can further educate students not just in their field of study but in the career opportunities available in Aroostook County.

“More students today are thinking about what specific skills they’ll need for a specific job and to make a difference within their field,” Rice said. “It’s important that students connect with employers before they even graduate.”

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