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July 17, 2017

UMA's new president eyes expansion of cybersecurity degree program

Courtesy / University of Maine at Augusta
Courtesy / University of Maine at Augusta
Rebecca Wyke is the new president of the University of Maine at Augusta. She succeeded James Conneely on July 1 under a three-year contract.

The new president of the University of Maine at Augusta is off to a running start as she looks into expanding the commuter school's cybersecurity studies program and offering interim credentials to those pursuing professional certificates.

Rebecca Wyke succeeded James Conneely on July 1 under a three-year contract.

Previously vice chancellor of finance and administration for the University of Maine System, Wyke served as UMA's interim president from July 2015 to January 2016. She told Mainebiz that her new job "feels very much like coming home."

"Hopefully I am picking up things more quickly than the first time," she said.

Besides campuses in Augusta and Bangor, UMA has University College locations in eight underserved communities, early college partnerships with high schools, and offers extensive online and distance learning opportunities. It switched from a two-year mission to a baccalaureate focus in 2003.

The incoming freshman class — 384 enrolled as of July 11 out of 903 admitted — includes more traditional students coming fresh out of high school.

"It's a reflection of families making choices to start their college-age children closer to home so they can still live at home and keep costs down," Wyke explained. "That is a bit of a trend, and a good opportunity for UMA."

The school offers 19 baccalaureate and five post-baccalaureate programs, including a bachelor of science degree in the emerging field of cybersecurity, offered in partnership with the University of Maine at Fort Kent and the University of Southern Maine.

"We're exploring furthering that by offering potentially a master's degree in that area," Wyke said. "There's a huge need for individuals with those skills. If they can't find it here they're going to go elsewhere … In a resource-scarce environment, one of the huge advantages of being part of the UMaine System is to leverage the collective resources that we have."

She added that the idea is still in the planning stages.

Another short-term priority for Wyke is exploring the possibility of offering interim credentials to students enrolled in certificate programs, which range from accounting to web development.

"If it's going to be a seven-year process, then they'd be getting some certification as they move through that process," Wyke said, "to encourage them to continue and to serve their own career goals in the interim until they achieve their baccalaureate degree."

Asked about new undergraduate majors at UMA, she pointed to aviation, launched in 2013 and still the only one in the state, which includes the opportunity to get a full pilot's license. "There's high demand for that as pilots in the baby boom generation are retiring," she said.

Wyke said the field of study now includes a component on drones, formally known as unmanned aviation systems, which will also be the topic of a conference to be hosted by UMA Aug. 2-4 looking specifically at drone applications for business.

Finance background

Wyke, who has lived in Augusta for 20 years, was appointed vice chancellor for finance and administration in 2008, following a stint as Commissioner of the Maine Department of Administration and Finance, the agency that oversees the state budget and administrative functions.

In her finance and administration role, Wyke was credited with saving the UMaine System $82 million a year and with developing a statewide approach to administrative functions within the seven-campus system. Maine's universities also froze in-state tuition for six straight years during that period, until in May trustees approved an average 2.5% hike for the fiscal year.

As for UMA students with debt concerns, Wyke said there's a major effort to make sure they're financially literate and that they have a positive educational experience.

"Debt isn't necessarily bad as long as there's a clear return on that investment," she said.

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