Alumni Spotlights: Cara Cushing ’20

This month our spotlight shines on Cara Cushing, a 2020 graduate of UMM’s college studies program. Originally from Philadelphia, Pa., she currently lives in Washington County and has stayed on at the University of Maine at Machias as a staff member in the public relations department.

Tell us a little bit about what you are doing now.  

I’m the assistant director of marketing and communications at the University of Maine at Machias — which means that, somewhat awkwardly, I’m the person responsible for editing this spotlight feature, publishing it to the web, and boosting it on social media. I promise that I’m answering all the questions not as a marketing person, but as a proud alumna of UMM.

What is the most valuable thing you learned while at UMM?

I had a lot of valuable experiences, but what I value the most came from participating in peer workshops in creative writing courses. It’s fascinating to hear how other people experience your creative work, and the feedback I received from my professors and my classmates during the draft and revision process was really helpful.

These courses are special because they’re so small. You get the kind of attention you might expect from a graduate-level writing workshop, in terms of the class really getting to spend a lot of time on each student’s draft.

I also really valued my experience in Marcus Librizzi’s publishing class, where students work together as a team to annotate, copy edit, proofread and ultimately publish a scholarly edition of a historical Maine novel through the University of Maine at Machias Press.

Do you have any advice for current students at UMM?

Take advantage of the benefits of being a student on a very small campus. It’s possible to stand out in a crowd here and to advocate for your own advancement in a way that some students would find more challenging at a larger campus.

Also, say yes to opportunities as they arise. UMM faculty and staff are very skilled at connecting students with suitable internships and other opportunities in their respective fields. I started here as an intern in the public relations office, an opportunity I learned about from my English professor. I worked a few hours a week editing calendar notices and event press releases, taking photographs and writing a few brief news stories, and I’m now a full-time professional staff member.

How did your time at UMM prepare you for what you are doing now?

I enrolled at UMM as a transfer student with around 60 credits – half of the 120 credits needed for a bachelor’s degree. I was a little ambivalent because I’d taken a really wide range of classes at two different community colleges and I wasn’t sure how they’d fit into a degree.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to enroll in the Bachelor of College Studies (BCS) program, which allows students to develop their own self-designed concentration. I am interested in narrative journalism and I wanted to take courses that would help me develop skills that are very specific to that profession.

Because I was able to design my own concentration, I was not only able to graduate within a reasonable time frame, but also was able to take courses that suited my interests and prepared me for a career in public relations or journalism. I took most of my courses at UMM, but also took a handful of distance courses at other University of Maine System campuses. And I was able to do that while working the entire time, which I know is a reality for most non-traditional students.

I really recommend the BCS program, especially if you’re an adult transfer student like I was, wanting to turn the eclectic credits you’ve taken into a viable program of study.

How has UMM made a positive impact on your life?

I feel very fortunate to have been able to join the staff at UMM. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support I received from my internship supervisor and from my faculty advisor, Tora Johnson.

I took courses for many years as an occasional part-time student at a couple of different community colleges and frankly, I was not necessarily expecting to earn a bachelor’s degree. When I transferred to UMM, I actually met with an academic advisor for the first time in my college career. That kind of support wasn’t offered to me when I was at other schools. It really made the difference in helping me figure out a path to graduation.