SMCC comes to Brunswick Landing

Posted Wednesday, November 23, 2011 in Features

SMCC comes to Brunswick Landing

Ronald G. Cantor, new president of SMCC

by Kitty Wheeler

BRUNSWICK — Ronald G. Cantor stepped into his new role as president of Southern Maine Community College (SMCC) this past summer. In his few months as a Maine resident, Cantor is delighted with the two SMCC campuses, writ large in South Portland on the former Fort Preble site and now at Brunswick Landing, where Brunswick Naval Air Station used to be. “A college is at the heart of a community, and soon we will be an integral part of Brunswick in the same way we have immersed ourselves into South Portland’s life.”

Hailing from the state of New York, Cantor earned his Ph.D. from Syracuse University in the field of Cultural Foundations of Education. His immediate past job was president of New York’s Mohawk State Community College. This college had one main campus and a new branch, similar to SMCC’s recent growth. He has enjoyed his 15 years working with community colleges; before that, he was part of the higher educational system in New York.

When the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA) assumed responsibility for the future of BNAS land and buildings five years ago, it wanted to attract state-of-the-art-businesses. Other goals were to activate the airfields for private planes and welcome post-high-school educational programs for students as well as underemployed and unemployed Maine residents. 

Steve Levesque, executive director of MRRA, commented last summer, “Brunswick Landing is one of the business engines for Maine with many companies already on the former base, and SMCC is eager to offer courses this fall.” Some of these companies such as Resilient Corp., Harbor Technologies and Kestrel Aircraft will need composite-trained graduates as future employees. They are embracing the community college’s presence and course work in composite technology and pre-engineering. New partnerships have already formed, and these industries hope to underwrite scholarships for those who qualify in these fields.

Brunswick Landing’s SMCC campus is located at 29 Sewall St. (729-2273). Its South Portland address is 2 Fort Road (741-5500). SMCC is one of seven community colleges in the state; these colleges started in 2002, growing out of vocational education institutions. There are now 18,500 students attending these institutions. Maine community colleges are a separate system from the University of Maine campuses; they both fall under the state Department of Education.

The South Portland campus has a student population of 7,500, and 100 students have already enrolled for fall courses in Brunswick. The hope is to have 3,000 students admitted at Brunswick Landing in the next five years. Pre-registration for spring courses can be handled on line, at, starting on Nov. 28; for new students, registration will occur during December.

Five study areas that will award an associate degree are currently available in Brunswick: nursing, composite technology, pre-engineering, business administration, and liberal studies. The South Portland campus offers 45 fields. Any student who has graduated from high school or received a G.E.D. may be admitted to the community college. The cost is $86 for one credit hour and less than $3,000 for two semesters or 30 credit hours.  These fees are the lowest in New England. Scholarships are available.

The annual budget for SMCC is $40 million; the state covers only one-fourth of that amount. Tuition and private fund-raising contribute the remaining dollars. Several weeks ago, an $11.3 million injection from a private-sector foundation was announced for all the community colleges.  Some of these donations will help increase SMCC’s student enrollment to help fulfill the state’s and Brunswick Landing’s demand for a more highly skilled work force.

At present, there are two buildings for instruction at the former BNAS. Ultimately, five buildings will form the campus. Culinary arts and hospitality will offer classes and support a café in the future student union. Cantor is excited about the long-term plans for this second campus. “We started some classes two months ago, but our grand opening will be next fall when a crowd of young adults will be filtering through the buildings. A state bond measure allotted $4.7 million for us to renovate the base’s buildings, and we are carefully monitoring the monies to update the spaces we need.”

There might well be 25,000 students jamming the facilities of these two campuses one day. Some faculty and staff now rotate between the two sites, and students, likewise, may attend classes at either place. The hope is not to duplicate programs, but nursing and other health-care classes are offered on both campuses. The University of Maine System plans to extend its outreach in engineering to the Brunswick Landing campus in the future.

This community college offers a comprehensive program in liberal studies and technical fields. The composite technology field is wide open for opportunities in boat building, airplane design, wind turbines, and bridges. The state’s infrastructure needs trained graduates with this kind of technological background. Precision machine knowledge along with tools for construction is also in high demand.

“Maine has been a latecomer to the community college system. SMCC, however, has become a successful institution in South Portland in only nine years. With our second campus in Brunswick well under way, we are in a prime position to train more people for the new economy,” Cantor says. The new president has an exciting vision for the largest community college in the state. Under his leadership, these hopes will materialize.

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