Category: Cover Stories

The latest News from students at Southern Maine Community College

Who Are We at SMCC?

By Troy Hudson

At a small community college like SMCC where only about 6,000 students attend class, it might seem like we see the same faces every day, and we probably do. Walking to class, standing in line at the Seawolves Café, or even relaxing on Willard Beach in summer, we’re all likely to cross paths sooner or later. But despite all this proximity, how well do we really know our fellow students?

Unlike the more homogenous populations at an Ivy League school or a dedicated art or technical school, there’s not much we can take for granted about our fellow students, because the reasons for attending a community college are so diverse. You could be sitting next to a first-generation American here on scholarship to acquire a nursing degree, or that same person might just be locking in some cheap general-education credits before heading off to finish her education at Yale. She might be a single mother who’s been working toward a degree for years, or she might be new to college and debt-averse, just dipping a toe in the academic waters.

In its 71-year history, SMCC has always provided a practical approach to education, initially offering vocational training before expanding its scope to include an Associate in Applied Science in the 1960s, and finally an Associate in Arts degree by 1998. While Liberal Studies now account for the majority of majors at SMCC, the trades are still going strong, with the share of students majoring in a trade rising from 35 to 38 percent between 2009 and 2013. Low tuition and an emphasis on the trades have always been hallmarks of the College, attracting students from many backgrounds seeking an inexpensive way to begin (or finish) an education.

Unsurprisingly, SMCC students are overwhelmingly from Maine: Only 6 percent come from other states or foreign countries. The sheer accessibility and attainability of SMCC have attracted a large number of part-time commuters, who currently represent 58 percent of the student body. Most of these students live in Cumberland County, although the College does serve students from every county in Maine.

But just because most of us call Maine home doesn’t mean we’re typical of the state. SMCC, like the greater Portland area, is quite a bit more diverse than the rest of the region. Minority students currently make up about 17 percent of the student body, whereas Maine as a whole is 95 percent white. And the minority population at SMCC is growing rapidly. The number has already grown by more than half since 2011, and national trends suggest that will continue to be the case well into the future.

In 2014, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that, for the first time, the total percentage of minority students was larger than the percentage of whites in public grade-school classrooms. The shift is already underway, and our student body is living proof of that. Although Maine is behind the curve in terms of ethnic diversity, SMCC is about the most diverse place in the state.

It is usually easy to see ethnic diversity when it is present, but one thing that can’t be appreciated at a glance is family background. SMCC students are largely first-generation students (61 percent), meaning that their parents do not have a college degree and that they may be the first members of their family to attend college. This number is much higher than the national average of 30 percent.

While attending college, especially as a freshman, is a challenging time for all students, being a first-generation degree-seeker carries with it a unique set of difficulties. When a first-generation student feels overwhelmed or has concerns about a professor or class, they typically can’t draw on the experience of parents or other family members. These students may also face an unhealthy amount of pressure to succeed, which can actually be detrimental to academic success. It can be scary and stressful to be the first of your family to embark on such a huge journey, but it is also an admirable and courageous decision. Knowing that over half of the students around us are in that position should inspire appreciation for the remarkable courage of our student body.

And the student population is indeed achieving remarkable success. Between 2009 and 2013, transfer-out rates for first-time, full-time students increased from 17 to 21 percent. And in a very heartening statistic, more than 94 percent of SMCC students enter the workforce or transfer to another school within nine months of graduation.

College represents many things to each of us. It can be a place to build friendships, discover hidden talents and interests, or even shine a little light on the mysteries of the universe. Ultimately, it’s about preparing ourselves for what comes next. We all bring something different to our time at SMCC, and our school is stronger for that spectrum of experience. As different as our backgrounds and goals might be, we have at least this in common: We believe the future can be better than today, so we work toward making that vision a reality. Each of us can take pride in being a member of such a vibrant community.


History of Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse

By Cassie Marceau

We see it every day, but not many people know the history of our own lighthouse, Spring Point Ledge Light. Here is a little history about the creation of our lighthouse here at SMCC. By the late 1800s, Portland Harbor was busy with schooners and steamships transporting coal, food and fish to and from the city. There was also traffic between Portland and other East Coast cities, with a growing number of travelers to the nearby islands, which were becoming more popular as vacation places.

By the time construction of Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse had been approved, seven steamship companies were carrying over 500,000 passengers past the rock ledge. At the same time, active military was also at Fort Preble in South Portland, Fort Scammel on House Island and Fort Gorges on Hog Island Ledge. Several big shipwrecks on the ledge finally made the steamship companies begin a campaign for a lighthouse to mark the ledge. The United States Lighthouse Board was finally persuaded in April 1891 to establish a fifth-order light at Spring Point Ledge. But it was not until March 1895 that an amount of $45,000 was approved by the Board to begin construction.

Thomas Dwyer of New York City received the contract from the Lighthouse Board to build a cast-iron caisson lighthouse of standard design. During this time, the Lighthouse Board was into cast-iron construction, and probably chose a New York City contractor because of his experience. Experience allowed him to submit the lowest bid, beating out any local firms which might have competed.

Before construction of the tower could begin, Dwyer was required to put together the three lower parts of the cylinder in the shop for inspection. Then, they were taken down, and the remaining part of the shell, along with gallery brackets, beams, floor, landing platforms, ladders and ladder railings, needed to be assembled and inspected. A chisel was used to number the plates according to a system created by the Board. Some of these numbers are still visible on the cylinder. Afterward it needed to be reassembled on site and put into position at the end of the ledge, where it would be filled with cement.
Construction started August of 1896, with divers putting together the cast-iron caisson plates underwater. The work went smoothly until a storm on Sept. 6 deformed many of the 1 1⁄8-inch iron plates already in place. The damage was around $5,000. Another setback was that the time lost getting new iron plates from the rolling mill in Pennsylvania, which took almost a month, made people think if it would be done by December. After the wait for supplies, the work continued in October.

Shortly after construction continued, Dwyer became part of a dispute with the Lighthouse Board and the 1st Lighthouse District Engineer over the cement used. While there is no indication that the cement used was actually flawed, Dwyer was not allowed to use materials that had not been tested and shown to be within specifications. He had filled the caisson with cement without first submitting it for quality-control testing. Dwyer was penalized $300 for doing it.

Even after all of this, construction of the lighthouse continued. By now, Dwyer’s contract had been extended to April 1, 1897, because of delays. On April 8, 1897, the Board accepted the lighthouse. The first keeper, William A. Lane, with 1st Assistant Keeper Harry Phillips, lit the lamp at Spring Point Ledge lighthouse for the first time on May 24, 1897. At first, it was painted red, but by October 1897, the Corps of Engineers recommended the color of the lighthouse be changed to its current black-and-white scheme, probably so the light would stand out from the nearby shoreline.

In early 1898, at the height of the Spanish-American War, Portland Harbor was mined and both Spring Point Ledge Light and Portland Head Light went dark for approximately three months. Both resumed operation on the evening of July 26. One of the oddest incidents occurred on Aug. 20, 1908, when the schooner Electric Flash ran into the lighthouse in broad daylight, destroying one of the station’s lifeboats. On May 1, 1934, an underwater electrical cable was routed from the shore at Fort Preble to the lighthouse. A second underwater cable was laid between Spring Point light and the nearby Portland Breakwater Light in Cushing’s Cove, and existed for many years; Portland Breakwater Light was monitored by the keepers at Spring Point light.

Damage by ice during the winter caused the circle of rocks around Spring Point in the 1930s with large granite blocks for protection. In 1951 the Corps of Engineers completed construction of a 50,000-ton granite breakwater at the Spring Point Ledge that connected the lighthouse with the shore at Fort Preble. Flatbed trailers were backed out onto the breakwater and the blocks were positioned by crane. The breakwater consists of 50,000 tons of granite and is 900 feet long.

The lighthouse was fully automated in the early 1960s, and the Coast Guard keepers were removed. Under the Maine Lights Program, the U.S. Coast Guard continues to operate the light and fog signal as an active aid to navigation. Today, Spring Point Ledge Light is automated, and marks the entrance into Portland Harbor. One of its lights is a 1-second flash every 6 seconds, visible for 1 mile. The automatic fog signal makes a 1-second blast every 10 seconds. If you want to know more about the lighthouse, there is a museum with a display in Bug Light Park.

O.R.E.O. Fun Run Benefits Hurricane Victims

By Taylor Markee

On Sunday, Nov. 12, 55 participants in the first annual O.R.E.O. fun run (an acronym for “Obstacle Race for Each Other”) enjoyed stunning views and plenty of sunshine while running/walking throughout SMCC’s seaside campus for this fundraising event.

The cost to participate was $10 for students, alumni, veterans and kids under 13, $20 for adults, and $25 for families — with all proceeds benefitting the victims of hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

The event began with a mile-long obstacle course for kids at 10 a.m. The obstacles started with the limbo, followed by hopscotch, and then a short run to “get down” at the “Dance-Dance” station. Participants continued their run down stairs to scenic Willard Beach for a sack hop across the sand, and then up a hill for the final obstacle: an egg-and-spoon walk. The 2-mile adult race kicked off at 11 a.m., and required two trips around the obstacle course. SMCC’s President, Dr. Ron Cantor, participated in the festivities. Additional honorable mention goes out to a couple of kids who participated in both the kid and adult fun run! Along with the satisfaction of completing the fun run while helping others, there was plenty of water, apples, bananas and Oreos (of course) to revitalize the runners.

O.R.E.O. was planned, supported and run by the SMCC Business Club, with the SMCC Student Senate funding student participation. Additionally, the event was sponsored by Poland Spring, Sodexo Foods, Yarmouth Community Services and SMCC.
The Business Club raised $750, which will go towards disaster-relief organizations. Members of the Business Club are hoping for an even larger turnout for next year and seeking other worthy causes to support. Besides, who doesn’t love eating Oreos after a nice run?

The club sends a big thank-you to everyone involved.

Participants in the SMCC Business Club’s first-annual O.R.E.O. obstacle race running for a good cause on Willard Beach last Sunday, Nov. 12. The event brought in $750 that will be donated to help victims of hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Athletic Hall of Fame Inducts New Honorees

By The Beacon Staff

Since 2006, the SMCC Athletic Department has been recognizing, honoring and inducting into its Hall of Fame former students, coaches, administrators and special supporters of the Athletics Department for their outstanding performances and contributions to the rich tradition of the college’s athletic history.

This year’s inductees include Tommy Stirling ‘11 (Golf), Nick Link ‘11 (Soccer), Nate Leeman ‘10 (Baseball), and Dan Walker ’10 (Baseball), all of whom will join the other 26 individuals and one team that have been honored for their achievements on the field , on the court or behind the scenes.

This year’s ceremonies were held in the Ortiz Atrium this past Saturday, following the men’s and women’s basketball games on the South Portland Campus. SMCC representatives, friends, family members and community supporters gathered at 6 p.m. in SMCC’s Campus Center, with the induction ceremonies starting at 7.

For two seasons, Tommy Stirling’s play on the golf course set records that still stand today. Stirling averaged 75.8 strokes per round, ranking him with the all-time lowest average in the golf program’s history. He was also the Yankee Small Conference (YSCC) Champion, earning All-Conference recognition. For the two seasons he played as a SeaWolf, he was also named to the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) All-American selections.  He played in the USCAA National Tournament both years, winning the National Championship in 2011 and shooting a record 140 (-4 par) that still stands today.

On the pitch, Nick Link ended his playing career recording eight goals, four assists, and 20 points as a SeaWolf. Link was a three-season team captain, a two-time YSCC All-Conference selection and a 2011 All-American in the USCAA.

Two SMCC student athletes from the 2009-2010 baseball squad, Nate Leeman and Dan Walker, were inducted. Leeman collected 67 hits in 191 plate appearances, which ranks him ninth all-time in hits recorded. He also ranks seventh all-time with a .351 career batting average, while ranking fourth in the RBI category, pushing across 61 runs batted in.

On the mound, Dan Walker was a dominant pitcher in his two-year career. Walker ranks first all-time in ERA (3.50) among pitchers with 100 or more innings pitched. He also averaged 9.64 strikeouts per nine innings and is a 13-game winner. He left SMCC with a grand total of 135 strikeouts in 21 appearances and threw 13 complete games, which also stands as a program best.

Assistant Athletic Director Ethan Wells stated of the ceremonies, “This event is always special.” This year’s inductees “joined an elite group of alumni last night,” he said. “SMCC Athletics is proud of their accomplishments and their service to SeaWolves Athletics. It was great to bring the inductees back to campus and to have current student-athletes be in attendance in support.”

Massive Wind Storm Uproots Historic Trees

By Ben Riggleman

They called it a “bomb cyclone.” While the term technically refers to a pressure-drop phenomenon called bombogenesis, it aptly evokes the destruction that the storm of Oct. 30 left in its wake across New England: snapped trees, dangling power lines, debris clogging the streets. Two-thirds of Maine was without power on Monday — that’s half a million people — and a full quarter of the state was still in the dark on Friday morning, according to The Bangor Daily News. Both SMCC campuses lost power, forcing many students out into Portland in search of WiFi. In Portland and South Portland, students of all ages got a day off, while some schools in the Brunswick area were out all week.

One of the most dramatic aspects of the storm was how many trees it felled. SMCC’s South Portland Campus lost several stately old trees that had stood beside the athletic fields for generations. Noor Ibrahim investigated how these trees met their fate; you can read her tribute to them on Page 3.

The storm drew comparisons to the infamous Ice Storm of 1998, which any Mainer over the age of 20 will remember. Dan Elliott, a Midcoast Campus student with vivid memories of that cataclysmic event, wrote about his experience hunkered down in Topsham as the storm passed through.

Sexual Health In Decline

By Troy Hudson

If you’re reading this newspaper, chances are you’re an adult. Even if it doesn’t quite feel like it yet, trust us — deadlines, complicated relationships of all kinds, the looming knowledge that you will one day have to repay your student loans — this is the stuff of adulthood. So as adults, let’s clear the air — there’s something we’re not talking about enough in our culture, and the consequences of this collective neglect are frankly alarming. We’re talking about sex, of course, and the absurd reality that nearly a third of Americans have unprotected sex “every single time.”

The disturbing statistic above is taken from a survey conducted by Superdrug Online Doctor, in which the online prescription service interviewed 1,000 Americans and 1,000 Europeans about their sex habits. What they found was a surprisingly common neglect for basic sexual protection even among people who seemed to have the most to lose from an unwanted pregnancy. Of the participants who answered “yes” to the question “I would be devastated by an unplanned pregnancy,” 19 percent said they still have sex without any protection “every single time.”

Wait, this is 2017, right? After decades of mandatory sexual education in public schools, can this statistic really be representative of our country’s attitude toward safe sex? Unfortunately, even though it is well documented that comprehensive sex-education programs are substantially more effective than abstinence-only programs offered at most schools, decentralized curricular standards make it easier for schools to provide the kind of sex education that will offend the fewest number of parents, rather than offering adolescents practical strategies for self-protection. According to surveys conducted by the National Survey of Family Growth, the number of people aged 15 to 19 who have received any formal education at all about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases has progressively declined since 2006, while exposure to abstinence-only education has increased.

What this means for college students is that many will arrive on campus with no idea of the risks they take when having unprotected sex — risks with totally unnecessary and potentially agonizing consequences. Furthermore, because sex isn’t spoken about frankly in our culture, we often don’t feel comfortable seeking out information (and no, porn is not a reliable source). Despite the cultural awkwardness around the issue, this is a case where what you don’t know actually can hurt you. So allow us at The Beacon to briefly remind you just what’s at stake should you decide to have unprotected sex.

The three most common sexually transmitted infections in America are chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. How common are they, exactly? In 2016, over 2 million new cases were reported in the U.S., the highest number ever recorded — and keep in mind these are just the cases that get reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that nearly 20 million new cases of STIs occur every year in this country. The “it can’t happen to me” argument simply doesn’t hold water in the face of such overwhelming frequency.

Of these three diseases, chlamydia is by far the most common, accounting for 1.5 million cases reported to the CDC last year, the highest number of occurrences of any kind of infection ever reported. Chlamydia affects both men and women, and is characterized by a burning sensation when urinating, but in 70 to 80 percent of cases there are no apparent symptoms at all. Women who contract chlamydia are at high risk for pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause scarring of the reproductive organs and complications with future pregnancy.

Gonorrhea and syphilis are less common, but no less serious a risk. Both can cause serious difficulties not only for those directly infected, but for children born to those individuals. We do not recommend Googling “congenital syphilis” unless you need further convincing. These diseases have haunted our species for thousands of years (accounts of gonorrhea date back at least to the Old Testament) and they have taken a terrible toll on us as a species, but the real tragedy is that today they are more rampant than ever despite the fact that we know how to prevent them. And prevention can mean nothing more complicated than a simple piece of latex (or latex alternative), available for free right now in the lobby of Spring Point Residence Hall.

As we have acknowledged, we’re all adults here. And it’s probably safe to say we’re adults who aren’t ready to contract STIs that may haunt us the rest of our lives and even affect our children. Yet we are facing a sexual-infection epidemic that we’re not talking about, and it’s getting worse. Like all things creepy and crawly, it thrives in darkness. So let’s cast a little light on the issue and start treating sex like the adult matter it is.

Our bodies are ours and ours alone, and we have absolute autonomy over our sexual decision-making. If anyone presumes to lay claim to our own sexual sovereignty or to pressure us into a risky situation, we can and should refuse unequivocally. And when we do find the right partner, proper protection doesn’t present so much a barrier to intimacy as total freedom of mind, a release into the moment rather than a spiraling into anxiety. For both men and women, there is no excuse to not carry a condom if you are heading into a potentially intimate situation. If you are of the opinion that condoms dilute the sexual experience, perhaps you should give the latest generation of ultra-thin condoms (still just as effective at preventing STIs) a try.

When there’s a chance you or your partner might have an STI, it’s common for shame and embarrassment to prevent us from seeking treatment. But these diseases are treatable as well as preventable, and the earlier a disease is diagnosed, the better the prognosis. If you’re ever not sure about something related to sex, start with a reputable online source like the American Sexual Health Association’s website at And most importantly, take ownership of your own health.

Adult life has plenty of challenges and pitfalls in store for you, but by taking precautions when having sex, a devastating STI or unplanned pregnancy doesn’t have to be one of them.

How Much Food Does SMCC Waste?

By Ben Riggleman

Twice a week, under the cover of early-morning darkness, a large orange truck pulls up to Oceanview Dining Hall. Pizza crusts, paper cups, unpopular quinoa dishes — it all gets packed into this truck and never seen again. In total, that’s some 1,700 pounds of waste per week.

The truck belongs to We Compost It, a local business that describes itself as “Maine’s premiere composting company.” SMCC has been composting its food for less than three years. According to Rachel Fisk, Sodexo marketing coordinator, the school was moved to leave the landfill behind when it discovered how much it was wasting through a program of Sodexo’s: WasteLESS Week. The dining-services contractor is holding a second WasteLESS week at SMCC from Oct. 23 to 27. Every day this week, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., all waste generated in the SeaWolves Café will be captured and weighed. The results — a judgment of sorts — will be announced at lunchtime on Friday.

Other educational activities will happen in the meantime. The point will be to “try and show students how to be more sustainable in their everyday lives,” Ms. Fisk said. “But we [also] try and open their eyes on how wasteful they are.” Another goal is to raise awareness of another issue, one that mirrors wastefulness: hunger in Maine.

On Monday, in the first event of the week, Wayside Food Programs visited the dining hall. Wayside runs a soup kitchen at 135 Walton Street, Portland, as well as “community meals” in local neighborhoods. Its Food Rescue program, which SMCC participates in, distributed 772,500 pounds of food that would otherwise have been wasted in 2016, according to Wayside’s website. Some leftover food from the dining hall is also sent to Boys and Girls Clubs of Southern Maine.

Tuesday, We Compost It will staff a table, informing Oceanview diners of the work it does to minimize the footprint of our waste.

Wednesday will be themed around water waste, a hidden effect of thrown-out food. It takes water to grow crops, and even more to raise animals for human consumption. A single egg is responsible for the use of tens of gallons of water. A hamburger takes about 150 gallons to produce, according to estimates on a U.S. Geological Survey website.

Thursday’s theme will be “Choose to Reuse,” promoting reusable drink containers with a mug raffle. Pro tip: You can get a discount on drinks if you bring a mug or cup of your own to the café! (That’s not a new policy, either.)

It’s easy to slip into wasteful habits in our world of supermarkets and college meal plans. While composting our waste is much better than letting it molder in a landfill, there’s surely room for improvement. The Beacon looks forward to an eye-opening week, courtesy of Sodexo.