Media Archive

Milo native heads Penquis higher education effort in D-F

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 164, No. 43, October 23, 2002

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

COLLEGE BOUND – Merlene Sanbom is the new director of the Penquis Higher Education Center, created through a partnership of the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council and Eastern Maine Technical College in Bangor. The center is located on Mayo Street in Dover-Foxcroft.

DOVER-FOXCROFT – Merlene Sanbom has committed herself to a life of education.

"From the first day I stepped foot on a college campus, I knew I was where I wanted to be," said Sanbom, who upon graduating from Penquis Community High School at age 17 enrolled in the University of Maine at Machias.

She took a job, after graduating, as the assistant to the director of experimental distance education program in Machias and then went to the Orono campus to be assistant to the director of the school of human development. More recently, she's been running the community programs at Eastern Maine Technical College in Bangor.

Today, the Milo native is still in higher education-but, closer to home-as director of the Penquis Higher Education Center. The center, a joint effort of EMTC and the Piscataquis County Economic Development Council, held its grand opening in Dover-Foxcroft this month, after two years of planning, lobbying and more planning.

The program now operates in the former Mayo Street School, completely renovated from the ground up.

"The only thing we have left of the old building is the windows," Sanbom said.

She said she is excited about bringing higher education to the county at a critical time: when jobs are being lost and potential employers are scouting the state for a strong workforce. Sanbom, who now lives in Brownville, said she wants to make college "comfortable, familiar" to the community.

"Economic development and education go hand in hand," Sanbom said. "Employers need access to workforce training."

She said research has shown that while many county residents finish high school, few venture on to college. By making college more accessible, bringing classes to the county seat, Sanbom hopes to change that statistic.

So far, "it's been exhilarating," said Sanbom. "The community's response has been phenomenal." She said the college has received donations from many area businesses, including Guilford of Maine, which donated fabric for furniture and Mayo Regional Hospital, which has committed funding for a nursing program.

And while the center had prepared for 100 students this fall, roughly 230 are now enrolled in one program or another, Sanbom said.

She said the enrollment balloon is directly related to the layoffs at Dexter Shoe.

The college offers 40 programs on-site and through interactive televised (ITV) classes÷ranging from electrician technician training, early childhood education, business management and liberal arts. Graduates receive a degree from either the University of Maine System or EMTC, depending on the program, said Sanbom.

"The environment is so exciting," she said. "There's no other thing that people can access that is more life-changing. Higher education opens doors that many don't know even exist."

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.