Research opportunities aim to reverse declining enrollment at UMaine

Students walk to class at the University of Maine in Orono. | Beacon

The University of Maine is hoping a unique program offering students the chance to do real-world research will help reverse a trend of declining student enrollment.

Research Learning Experiences will expose first-year students to both field and lab research opportunities they would normally not take part in until their junior or senior year.

John Volin, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, said the experiences can be transformative and help ensure students stick around to complete their degree.

“We know that through research, that personal connection makes a large difference for students in their overall well-being, their overall learning experiences,” Volin explained.

Volin acknowledged the cost of college and pandemic-related mental health concerns have contributed to the declining number of college students nationwide. But by helping students feel emotionally supported with a sense of purpose, he thinks the trend can be reversed.

Volin noted that some students are already publishing papers based on their research on everything from archaeology to offshore wind energy. They begin with a “bridge week” prior to their first semester, which is a chance to meet other students and begin building mentor relationships with staff.

For first-year environmental science student Eddie Nachamie, opportunities to learn outside of the classroom are what drew him to the university.

“You’re in the same spot of entering college, but now you get to have this shared experience together and form relationships and friendships,” Nachamie said. “It’s just really nice to have people that are in your corner.”

The university predicts Research Learning Experiences will become a national model over the next few years, as schools look for ways to recruit new students. Already, 18% of University of Maine students have signed up for the experiences program in the first 15 months it has been offered.

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