BELFAST — The doors opened wide Monday at the University of Maine’s spanking new Hutchinson Center, whose director wants to make sure students as young as grade-schoolers know their way around the campus.
It’s the latest entry in a push by universities and technical colleges to spread their presence to communities lacking easy access to higher education. Eastern Maine Technical College already has an office in Belfast.
So, in its first year, UM’s Hutchinson Center will offer 89 courses, 26 of which will be taught by UMaine professors. Courses will be offered in the liberal arts, sciences, business and education.
The center is supposed to provide students with an opportunity to obtain credits for the first two years of a bachelor of arts degree, a master of business administration, a pre-MBA program in business administration, graduate courses in K-12 education and other credit and noncredit courses and programs.
From its glass atrium-lobby to its wired classrooms and auditorium, the facility appears to pay close attention to the amenities needed for an up-to-date, interactive college setting.
The center is named for former UMaine President Frederick E. Hutchinson.
Current UM President Peter S. Hoff presided over a morning reception Monday and introduced the center’s first director, James Patterson, to local business and political leaders.
Hoff commended credit card giant MBNA New England for having the campus ready, eight months after breaking ground. “It’s amazing how quickly and how well this facility has been completed,” Hoff said. “All of the touches which are signature touches of MBNA are in this facility.”
Patterson, who served as the first director of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics magnet school in Limestone, told the gathering that he welcomed the challenge of heading the Hutchinson Center and engaging the community to take advantage of its services. Besides its daytime classes, the center also will offer courses at hours suitable to working families.
Patterson said he intends to get area elementary, middle and high school students familiar with the campus as well.
“Our expectations are very high. And I plan to work with the community to see that those expectations are provided,” Patterson said. “This center will provide an opportunity for a large number of people who have not had an opportunity for higher education. I’m pledged to see that this center is available to a large number of people.”
Patterson said he expects local businesses and groups to use the 124-seat auditorium for industry and tourism development.
“I enjoy start-ups very much,” said the director, who helped get the magnet school up and running. “I like to come in where there are challenges and provide access and remove barriers to people.”
The building has eight classrooms, many of which are outfitted with computer and audiovisual technology necessary for interactive teaching.
The Hutchinson Center will combine courses, programs and events offered on site with lectures and meetings offered through distance education media, including courses delivered through the University of Maine System Network for Education and Technology Services (UNET).
A series of open houses at the Hutchinson Center will be held during July and August in preparation for September’s classes. For information, the center can be reached at R.R. 3 Box 653, Belfast 04915. Telephone: 338-8000 or (800) 753-9044, fax 338-8001, or on the Web at www.hutchinsoncenter.umaine.edu.