Category: Cover Stories

The latest News from students at Southern Maine Community College

SMCC Faculty Provide Aid Following Irma Devastation

By Troy Hudson

On Sept. 10, as Hurricane Irma made landfall in Cudjoe Key, Florida, with maximum sustained winds of 130 mph, much of the country was anxiously awaiting news of its impacts. In a state of over 20 million, it seemed almost everyone knew someone in Florida, and no place in the state appeared totally safe from the storm’s destruction. The ultimate path may have been uncertain, but one sobering fact was sinking in: The Florida Keys were going to receive a direct hit from a Category 4 hurricane, and words like “leveled” and “decimated” were being used to describe the expected aftermath.

 

While most of us probably felt thankful to be so far from the storm’s path, three SMCC faculty members were awaiting a call to action. Brian Dougher is the SeaWolves’ men’s soccer coach as well as the Emergency Management Coordinator for Maine Medical Center. Nate Contreras and Clif Whitten are adjunct faculty in the Paramedicine program. Contreras is also a captain with the Scarborough Fire Department as well as a registered nurse, while Whitten is a lieutenant and EMS coordinator with the Saco Fire Department. They all belong to an organization called the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) that responds to major medical emergencies whenever states request aid from the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

 

When a major medical disaster requires support from HHS, teams like the one Dougher belongs to, known as Disaster Medical Assistance Teams, or DMATs, are activated and deployed. The DMAT that serves Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, known as NH-1, is no stranger to the destruction hurricanes leave behind: they were deployed to New York in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast, causing $75 billion in damages and killing 174 people. This time, they were in Marathon Key and running an improvised tent hospital within two days of landfall.

 

The unique thing about the DMAT teams is that when they’re sent out, they’re basically self-sufficient for 72 hours,” Dougher explained. “We’re sent to locations where we know we may not get backup for a couple of days, so we’ve got to carry all the equipment we need.” Dougher’s team set up a tent hospital in the parking lot of Fishermen’s Community Hospital in Marathon Key. The hospital itself sustained major damage and will be out of service for months.

 

During their three-week stay, the team helped serve over 700 people. According to Contreras, injuries included “lacerations, strokes, cardiac issues, pediatric illnesses and even medication refills. Many people lost their medications during the evacuation phase of the hurricane.” The temporary clinic served as an emergency department, determining whether patients could be tended to on-site and sent home with medications or driven two hours north for further treatment in Homestead. In some severe cases, patients were airlifted to the nearest hospital in Miami.

 

It was “a very humbling experience,” Dougher said. “It was interesting to see houses that were completely flattened right next to a house that survived. Boats where you didn’t think boats would really belong, but somehow storm surge pushed them across roads and on top of buildings.”

 

Dougher is the safety officer of his DMAT, which makes him responsible for maintaining safe conditions for those providing aid. In the tropical climate of the Keys, where summer temperatures can climb toward 110 degrees Fahrenheit, staying safe was not without its challenges. “A lot of things you have back home we didn’t have access to,” he said. “We didn’t have drinking water. We had running water but it wasn’t drinkable. Lots of bottled water and MREs for meals.” One of Dougher’s responsibilities was to keep the generators running so that portable air-conditioners, critical for preventing injuries related to heat exhaustion, could continue to function.

 

Reflecting on his experience, Dougher said, “The team I work with is an incredible group of people. It doesn’t matter what type of environment we’re in; we’re down there to do a job and we do it well.” In fact, while the work done by DMATs is seldom publicized, they stand ready for deployment at any time. Some members of NH-1 had only just returned from Texas following Hurricane Harvey when they received the call for help from Florida, and six DMATs are in Puerto Rico as of the writing of this article.

 

After spending weeks serving others in challenging conditions, you might think a much-needed break was in order, but Dougher says it was back to life as usual: “I literally got off the plane and went straight to soccer practice.” That attitude perfectly reflects the spirit of NH-1, a team comprised of community-minded people like Dougher, Contreras and Whitten, remarkable individuals who stand ready to lend their expertise to relief efforts whenever disaster strikes.

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Let’s Talk About Pot

By Troy Hudson

marijuana cover

 

When it comes to psychoactive substances, the state of Maine has taken a number of controversial stances over the years, even as our actual track record has diverged sharply from our legislative ideals. First in the country to outlaw the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages in 1846, Maine now ranks near the top of the nation for heavy drinking. The state’s opiate-prescribing laws are among the toughest in the country and face opposition and criticism from chronic pain sufferers, yet our widespread opioid epidemic is well-documented. And even though possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized since 1976 (at a time when only two states had similar laws), Maine didn’t fully legalize medical use until 1999.

Continue reading “Let’s Talk About Pot”

New Partnership Kicked Off at Surprise Event

 

By Ben Riggleman

 

Southern Maine Community College cancelled all classes on the afternoon of Thursday, Sept. 14, without much explanation. A mass email to students mentioned an “Achieving the Dream kickoff,” and clarified only that Achieving the Dream is “a network of more than 220 community colleges nationwide dedicated to improving student success.” Still, why were three hours of classes cancelled? Why was every staff member, including the custodians, required to come to the HUB Gym for this “kickoff”? And how would it all serve “student success”?

The event was kept hush-hush to staff as well as students. That morning, one staff member mused about it being a surprise game show: “I don’t know why,” she said. “Maybe it’s the name, ‘Achieving the Dream.’ Sounds like a game show.” Despite having visions of The Price Is Right, she admitted realistically, “I think we’re just going to walk into a boring lecture for three hours.”

In fact, both ideas were off the mark. While there were no cameras, no fantastic prizes or glamorous announcers, the kickoff was as much game as lecture.

As attendees marched into the HUB, they each received a name tag with an alphanumeric code and a single colored dot on it. They then found a place at the crowded folding tables that had been set up in the front half of the gym and waited for something to be “kicked off.” A bell was rung. President Ron Cantor, followed by several staff, took the podium to introduce Achieving the Dream and a key concept in its literature: the difference between equity and equality.

Equity, whose meaning overlaps with “fairness,” was defined as sensitivity to individuals’ diverse needs and disadvantages. It was contrasted with equality, defined as shallow equality of opportunity: offering everybody the same resources regardless of their needs.

Then the attendees — all several hundred of them — were split into two even groups to play games.

A live-action “game of life” took place in the back half of the gym. Tables had been set up around the perimeter: Housing, a Bank, a Shopping Center, Health Care, Education and Employment. These were crewed by staff volunteers.

Although participants didn’t know it, the game was rigged. Their name tags signified whether they were rich or poor, white or nonwhite, male or female, cisgender or transgender, a local or a recent immigrant. This information translated not into affirmative action but into bureaucratic roadblocks and discrimination. Immigrants, for instance, were given gibberish forms to fill out, simulating a foreign language. Most participants found themselves standing in endless, zigzagging lines waiting for the whims of bureaucracy to decide their fate.

Most seemed to take the game in stride, recognizing the greater point being made through these exercises in futility. Even those who felt they didn’t need to be taught its lesson saw benefit in it for some of their coworkers.

In the front of the gym, a similar situation was being played out in board-game format: Achieving the Dream’s proprietary Finish Line Game.

The “game of life” had been proposed and set up by Professor Rachel Guthrie and other faculty members on the Achieving the Dream core team. In an email, Professor Guthrie said that attendance and participation in both games were “excellent.” However, she said, “The only way to judge the success of these two endeavors will be in chatting with participants to see if these activities have deepened our understanding of the complex and difficult situations many of our students are facing.”

The rest of the afternoon was more subdued. Among others, Derek Langhauser, president of the Maine Community College System, spoke on Achieving the Dream; the whole System is now participating in it. Two Achieving the Dream “coaches” also gave speeches to try to answer the million-dollar question: What is Achieving the Dream?

They made one point emphatically: It’s not an initiative. (Having been fed initiative after initiative since No Child Left Behind, many educators reflexively gag at the word, and at the very concept).

Rather, they likened it more to a methodology. While an initiative could be expected to set goals for a school, this nonprofit “national reform network” apparently leaves that to the community colleges it partners with; goal setting at SMCC will be up to the core team and the administration. What the program will do is provide a lengthy survey, called the ICAT, that all faculty will take, and in other ways support the development of what it calls a “culture of evidence.” It will help systematize data gathering, and in so doing help SMCC find out which existing initiatives and programs are working to help students succeed, and which aren’t.

Some might question the need for “reform” at SMCC. But, in fact, the school has a problem with graduation rates and other measures of success. According to graphs it publishes on its Consumer Info web page, students are dropping out at startling rates. Less than 60 percent of students who began taking classes at SMCC in fall 2015 returned the following year. Fifty-eight percent of full-time students came back; only 47 percent of part-time students did.

Graduation and transfer rates are clearly much lower. More than 60 percent of full-time students who began classes at SMCC in 2013 did not graduate or transfer within 150 percent of their program’s normal time. Only 21 percent transferred to another school. Only 16 percent graduated.

And then there are the issues encapsulated by the word “equity”. In the 2013 cohort, for example, only 3 percent of Black students graduated and only 6 percent of Hispanic/Latino students did.

So what’s our problem? Achieving the Dream promises to help discover that. Unlike other “accountability” programs, it is open to qualitative data, such as that gathered through student and faculty focus groups. Transparency is also one of its values; hopefully this will mean that all data gathered on students will be made available to students.

You can read more about Achieving the Dream on its website, achievingthedream.org. Expect further coverage of this program, and its relevance to students, in coming issues of The Beacon.

Foraging on Campus

   IMG_20170904_153714874     Did you know that SMCC’s South Portland Campus is full of wild-growing edible plants? There’s ample foraging here. However, there are some safety concerns you should be aware of before you make campus flora a major part of your seasonal diet. This piece will first describe a variety of wild foods the author has enjoyed on campus, and then, rather awkwardly, tack on a health warning that he is still digesting. It is hoped that the reader will at least come away with more information about a little-known world at SMCC students’ fingertips.

        You’re probably seen the wild apples. They’re the most high-profile wild food. Perhaps the most well-known of the campus apple trees is not, strictly speaking, on campus; it’s the one on Benjamin W. Pickett Street, just past the smokers’ corner. Every student who has parked or walked under it at this time of year knows how prolific it is: you can hardly traverse the sidewalk without squishing its fruit. Fewer know just how tasty these apples are. They’re at least as sweet as your average store-bought Macintosh, and not any tougher.

        You can’t beat the Pickett Street tree for flavor or volume, but it’s by no means the only option. The author also recommends a tree just off the paved shoreway path behind the Computer Science and Engineering Center (CSEC), whose greener fruit is reminiscent of Granny Smith, and several trees near the CSEC parking lot. There are also several small cultivated apple trees between the Horticulture Building and the Baykeeper Building (which is owned by the Friends of Casco Bay). Horticulture department chair Cheryl Rich told the author these trees are all free for the picking.

        One day while the author was photographing the trees near CSEC, he saw a man and a young girl picking up drop apples. They had a large wicker basket. The man shook the tree while the child, who looked to be about four, picked up and inspected individual apples with curiosity, occasionally plunking one in the basket when the mood struck.

Foraging on Campus

By Ben Riggleman

Did you know that SMCC’s South Portland Campus is full of wild-growing edible plants? There’s ample foraging here. However, there are some safety concerns you should be aware of before you make campus flora a major part of your seasonal diet. This piece will first describe a variety of wild foods the author has enjoyed on campus, and then, rather awkwardly, tack on a health warning that he is still digesting. It is hoped that the reader will at least come away with more information about a little-known world at SMCC students’ fingertips.

You’re probably seen the wild apples. They’re the most high-profile wild food. Perhaps the most well-known of the campus apple trees is not, strictly speaking, on campus; it’s the one on Benjamin W. Pickett Street, just past the smokers’ corner. Every student who has parked or walked under it at this time of year knows how prolific it is: you can hardly traverse the sidewalk without squishing its fruit. Fewer know just how tasty these apples are. They’re at least as sweet as your average store-bought Macintosh, and not any tougher.

You can’t beat the Pickett Street tree for flavor or volume, but it’s by no means the only option. The author also recommends a tree just off the paved shoreway path behind the Computer Science and Engineering Center (CSEC), whose greener fruit is reminiscent of Granny Smith, and several trees near the CSEC parking lot. There are also several small cultivated apple trees between the Horticulture Building and the Baykeeper Building (which is owned by the Friends of Casco Bay). Horticulture department chair Cheryl Rich told the author these trees are all free for the picking.

One day while the author was photographing the trees near CSEC, he saw a man and a young girl picking up drop apples. They had a large wicker basket. The man shook the tree while the child, who looked to be about four, picked up and inspected individual apples with curiosity, occasionally plunking one in the basket when the mood struck.

The man, who identified himself as Stephen, had borrowed a cider press from the Portland Tool Library. You can too, at no charge. The Portland Tool Library has more than one cider press, and as of this writing, several are available according to its website. (However, please read to the end before you decide to make cider from SMCC apples.)

About as common as apple trees here on campus, but less well known, is Prunus serotina, the wild black cherry or rum cherry. The fruit of this mid-sized tree is jet black when ripe, and tiny, with the bigger cherries about the size of garbanzo beans. It can appears alone or in pendulous clusters on branching stems. There’s a proportionally large, inedible pit in each fruit, so the way to eat these cherries is to suck the juicy flesh from out around it. The leaves are oval shaped and finely toothed on the edges.

(You should look up any unfamiliar plant online or in a guidebook and familiarize yourself with its characteristics before sampling it.)

Unfortunately, all the black cherries around campus have dropped or shriveled by now. You can still see them on the ground; they carpet a certain section of path between security headquarters and the Campus Center parking lot. In its prime a couple weeks ago, the tree responsible was a thing of wonder. Its fruit tasted like store-bought cherries — but nearly as sweet as honey.

There are at least nine other cherry trees on the South Portland Campus or immediately outside it. They’re all worth trying, although the author has found them to be less sweet and more bitter or astringent like wine.

There is a small row of deliberately planted highbush blueberries in a dividing strip in the large parking lot between the CSEC and HVAC buildings. The author saw a couple out picking them on the day of this writing.

Sumac is often mistakenly believed to be poisonous; in fact, the most familiar species, Rhus typhina, has long been used to make tea in North America. When steeped in hot water, its berries produce a lemony drink. There’s a ton of sumac around the ruins of Fort Preble.

On the beach you can find wild bay leaves — to put in your ramen — and large rose hips from Rosa Rugosa, good for making jelly.

One underutilized fruit-bearing shrub is ubiquitous not just at SMCC, but practically every roadside in Maine (and most of America): the autumn olive or autumnberry, Eleagnus umbellata. This pretty, silvery-leafed invasive can produce buckets’ worth of tiny, red berries whose unique taste is somewhat like raspberries or cherry tomatoes. What’s more, these berries contain lycopene, a sought-after antioxidant, in concentrations five to 16 times higher than those of tomatoes, which are the most common source of this nutrient.

SMCC has plenty of autumn-olive bushes, and Bug Light Park is completely overrun with them. However, picking in Bug Light Park is not advised; the area used to be an industrial shipyard, and the soil is probably heavily contaminated with heavy metals and other toxins.

Notes of Caution

The same danger is a possibility at SMCC, since the campus was once a military installation. Wanting to be sure of the safety of campus foraging, the author contacted two members of the Horticulture department, Cheryl Rich and Dave Palm. Mr. Palm teaches a class on soil quality.

Both professors had done foraging or cultivation on campus, and neither were worried by the idea of this article; they were both fans of local apples and had made sumac tea. Professor Palm said, of soil contamination, “Being an old fort, there is a potential.” But, he added, he’d be more concerned about lead-paint residues from the older buildings, and most apple trees were at a safe enough distance from them. No soil tests had been done to his knowledge, but, he said, “I wouldn’t really worry about it, myself.”

However, Ms. Rich said that when excavation was done for Surfsite Residence Hall, the soil was forbidden by environmental regulators from being removed from the area because of contaminants attributed to an old dry-cleaning facility on the site. The soil, she said, now makes up the base of the Surfsite parking lot.

The author reported this bit of campus history to Professor Palm, whose emailed reply was much more circumspect: “I would want to look at the report to see what the contaminants are,” he wrote. “We should also look at the history of the location to see what it was used for in relation to the rest of campus.

He acknowledged, “It could be an isolated situation in that location and the other areas of campus may be fine.” But, he said, “The only way we can determine the safety of foraging around the rest of campus would be to have the soils tested around the edible plants.”

Because of the many unknowns about soil quality, the author would recommend against harvesting any wild foods on campus in quantity, and would probably not make cider or preserves from them. However, a little light snacking does not seem intolerably risky.

Boot Camp for Filmmakers

DroughtProduction.JPG

By Max Lorber

Most people will agree that the best way for a student to learn and grow as an artist and an individual is in the field working with experienced, professional men and women who can show them the way in which the real world operates. Some call it trial by fire: “When there’s a will, there’s a way.” Walking into a studio or onto a film set, not knowing up from down, sky from rock, entrance from exit. But you give a motivated person a deadline and the equipment to get that deadline met, they will figure it out because they know if they do not, they are the one that suffers the consequence.

This is the main reason why the Communications and New Media Boot Camp film program is so effective. Students are given six weeks to produce a narrative short at least 12 minutes long. And every summer roughly 12-16 CNMS students willing throw themselves to the wolves and create absolute magic.

Students walk into the first class and are introduced to Huey Coleman and Corey Norman, both experienced filmmakers and professors at the CNMS program at SMCC. They sit in a roundtable-style production meeting and pitch film ideas. These ideas are voted on, a tally is taken, and groups are formed within roughly an hour. Some bring scripts they have already been working on, others bring treatments, and some just cough up ideas they make up on the spot.

After the groups are formed based on the students’ interests and how they vote, the beautiful exercise of lofty artistic collaboration combining with realistic practicality, otherwise known as pre-production, officially begins. The next two weeks are dedicated to this back-and-forth process: Scripts are ironed out, shooting schedules are set up, jobs are delegated, actors are found and auditioned, locations are secured, and the two-week deadline must be met or the students will not receive 3 out of the 9 credits. It is not uncommon for students to work eight to ten hours a day to get the job done.

Then production begins. Mistakes and miscalculations are inevitable, of course, but this is how students learn. Adjustments are made on the fly, locations are switched, actors are replaced, scenes are cut and rewritten. Again, that two-week deadline is absolute. Principal shots and scenes must be executed or the students will not receive credit for this portion of the Boot Camp program. Group bonds and friendships are often tested under such pressure, but oftentimes relationships become stronger through this harrowing grind, and lifelong friendships and collaborative partners are formed.

The last two weeks are dedicated to post-production. This is when the film is edited, the sound is mixed, and the soundtrack is selected. Adobe Premier is the program used for the above mentioned tasks, but many students have never used it before. They learn trial-by-fire style, with a strict deadline looming.

In the end, the films are screened at the Boot Camp Gala event in the South Portland Campus’s Hildreth building. Students, professors, parents and friends pack into the room to watch the films, and the Boot Camp crews stand up for a Q&A after their film has been screened.

This past summer the films “Drought,” “Bullpen” and “Emergence” all met the post-production deadline, were screened on schedule, and received strong applause and enthusiastic questions from the audience.

If you are reading this and wondering if you would ever be able to create a film — maybe you even have some ideas rattling around up there or have something already put down on paper — remember you go to school at SMCC, a school that employs professors that have been or currently are professionals in the field, and that dream has the potential to become a reality. Like anything else, it just takes a little guts and a lot of hard work.