BELFAST — If you have had any contact with the Hutchinson Center, or know anyone who has attended a class or community function at the Belfast facility along Route 3, there's a 99.9 percent chance you have met or heard of Nancy Boyington. She has worked there since it opened in the summer of 2000 and quite frankly, she's been one its greatest cheerleaders, not to mention super supportive of everyone who has been fortunate enough to further their education there.
"We provided for students first from the beginning, and that's how it should be," said Boyington on her last day with the University of Maine as assistant director of the Hutchinson Center. "The Hutchinson Center works, it really does."
Boyington has been with the Hutchinson Center for 14 years, but her career with the University of Maine system has stretched 25 years. Boyington retired Feb. 27, and on Feb. 28 her colleagues, friends and family feted her for her achievements and accomplishments at a retirement party. Many just also wanted to take the opportunity for a final hug and a kind exchange of words.
The mission of the Hutchinson Center, opened as an outreach center for the University of Maine in Orono, has been to provide education opportunities to anyone seeking them. It was created via a partnership between UMaine and the MBNA Foundation to bring high quality education to the Midcoast area.
"When we first opened, a huge number of MBNA employees were students. They could take as many classes as they wanted without fear of debt. It was all prepaid for them," said Boyington. "And the school districts were then able to pay for the teachers to take classes, and businesses in general used to be able to afford to pay for education for their employees, but with budget cuts and the economy that's all been cut back and it's different now than back then."
Those changes prompted the center to expand conference services and community programs in the past six years, along with even more technology. Boyington said another big change she has seen in the community has been the increase in options for students to learn.
From local school district adult education classes and community college options, to a variety of online college opportunities, there is a lot more competition for learners of all ages, as well as aspiring students with time constraints and other financial obligations.
The growth of the Hutchinson Center's scholarship program, under Boyington's guiding hand, has helped many Mainers realize their education aspirations, which at one point for many of them seemed like distant and unachievable dreams. In 2012, the Hutchinson Center awarded more than $41,000 in local scholarships to both new and returning students and in 2013, they were able to give even more — nearly $50,000 in scholarships.
There are also technology improvements that have made taking courses online a popular choice for busy parents, single parents and older adults seeking to improve or add a skill, as well as young people who just can't afford traditional college or want an alternative to a traditional two-year or four-year college education, among others.
Boyington said that whenever a student walks inside the Hutchinson Center, she makes a point to seek them out and introduce herself. Sometimes it's a potential student curious about how they might be able to take a class, and sometimes it's a student already taking courses via ITV with some question or another.
"For a variety of reasons, we don't see as many students now as we used to because they can take so many classes via ITV and online, but I make it a point to find the student when they DO come in, make sure they feel welcome and find out what do they need, because they always seem to need something," said Boyington. "That personal touch is so important.”
Boyington's personality is magnetic and ever-curious, bubbly and friendly. She talks a mile-a-minute, but she's a great listener. She is very sensitive, and has a very big heart. It's easy to see why then-director Jim Patterson hired her 14 years ago to work alongside him as they opened the Hutchinson Center together.
Boyington knows exactly what it means to want to go back to school as an adult, with children, little spare time and little spare money, to boot. Originally from Bridgeport, Conn., she was a student at Mt. Ida College in Newton, Mass., when she met her future husband, Mike.
"He was in the Marine Corps and he found Mt. Ida and me," said Boyington. "I didn't know it at the time, but the guys stationed at the naval yard in Portsmouth came to Mt. Ida looking for girls. When we met, I was 18 and he was 22, and after going to Viet Nam, it was his last year in the Marines and he was looking to settle down."
Boyington said she finished her two-year degree and then they got married. They moved to Bangor, where Mike became a Bangor Police officer, a job he ultimately retired from 20 years later. But two years after they were married they built a house in Holden and had two daughters, Holly and Jill.
"I was a stay-at-home mom for five years," said Boyington. "When the girls were old enough for school, I went to work for a job training program in Bangor. And then I worked near them while they were at school, and that's when I realized I wanted to go into teaching. It was around 1988 when I knew I wanted to go back to school myself, but the question was how was I going to pay for it?"
It's a dilemma that so many students have now, said Boyington, and one she has always been able to relate to.
Back in 1988, Boyington ended up getting a tuition waiver to attend UMaine in Orono, and she had to work as part of the waiver. She became an administrative assistant with the school while taking classes, ultimately launching her career with the university system.
"I started back to school to finish my bachelor's degree in elementary education and graduated and got my teaching certificate,' said Boyington. "In fact when I graduated in 1992, I stood on stage and got my diploma alongside my daughter Holly."
Boyington kept her eyes open for teaching jobs, but found that most often they were looking for someone with a master's degree, so she went back to school again and got a master's degree in literacy education. All the while, Boyington was still working for the university as an administrative assistant.
It was around that time that the Hutchinson Center was getting ready to open, and Boyington said someone in human resources at UMaine suggested she should "check it out."
"So, I had an interview with Jim [Patterson]. It went really and by the time I had driven home to Monroe, where we lived at that point, Jim called and said I had the job," said Boyington. "He's a man of action, and that was cool. It was a magic moment and I knew I was wanted and I never regretted a single moment and I never looked back."
She was hired in July 2000 and two months later, the Hutchinson Center officially opened. Boyington was hired as the administrative assistant, and back then it was just she and Patterson. In 2003 she was promoted to assistant coordinator and in 2005 became assistant director, the title she has held until last week. Along the way, they hired an IT director and the staff has grown to seven.
Back in the early days, Boyington said the hardest part of the job was the fact they were open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. on weekdays and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.
"We built the Hutchinson Center around a lot of distance education, because so many of our students were often working full time, and they only had time for school at night or early in the morning, and on the weekends too," said Boyington.
Now the Hutchinson Center is open during weekdays, and Saturdays until noon. But it's still a busy place. And the Hutchinson Center doesn't just provide learning to local students, but to students from all seven UMaine campuses and the center proctors exams on site as well. In addition to being able to watch classes live via video conference, some classes can now be captured via video conference for viewing at a later date.
"They can still work and have their other lives, and then watch a tape of a class at a different time, when time permits," said Boyington. "We're trying to make learning and education 'your way,' that's what is needed today."
Boyington said it goes back to the original focus as well as the current realization that education is a competitive environment for providers, and that "students and their needs should come first."
The other competitive factor remains the high cost of education. And the cost of education has been a consideration for the past 10 years, all the way back to 2002 when they started an annual fund scholarship at the Hutchinson Center. At the time, Patterson was the director and adviser, and he chose the scholarship recipients too.
"He met with each student and he knew how much money he had to give and who needed it and who needed it most," said Boyington. "It worked and it brought us more students, but more importantly it showed us that we were in the business of hope."
Scholarships are especially dear to Boyington, because it was how she was able to further her education. Overseeing the Hutchinson Center's scholarship program was also something she inherited when Patterson left in 2006.
And she wouldn't have changed it for the world. By her own admission, Boyington is a people person, and she really likes working with people over working alone. It's probably why she makes it a point to seek out everyone who comes into the Hutchinson Center. She has learned that so many who come in need something, and she won't know what it is unless she asks.
Helping people realize their dreams has always been important to Boyington, and its made her job and so very rewarding.
"Scholarships provide that helping hand for all parts of their college career. They come in and they know somebody cares," said Boyington. "And the scholarship fund at the Hutchinson Center has grown and some are now endowed, with some scholarship recipients coming back and wanting to pay it forward."
It takes more than one person to make those dreams come true for students, said Boyington. It's that understanding that led to the creation of the center’s scholarship committee, and eventually the annual scholarship recognition luncheon.
During her conversations connecting students in need of education funding help with scholarship funders, Boyington realized the two wanted to get to know each other. The funders wanted to know the personal stories and how their donations helped people, and the students wanted the opportunity to thank the donor(s) and tell them the difference their donation, and the education it was providing, was making a difference in their lives.
A proud moment for Boyington came last year, when Jeff Mills, president of the UMaine Foundation, attended the Hutchinson Center's scholarship luncheon and was exposed to the impact the event had for scholarship donors and recipients.
"He had never done that before, attended one of our luncheons, and I'm do proud he did it for the first time with us and I'm so glad to set an example and that we are now paying it forward, what we do for our students and donors and what they do for each other," said Boyington.
Reflecting back upon her 25 years with UMaine, and how she originally ended up working there part-time while taking classes and earning her teaching degree, part-time, Boyington smiled warmly.
"Sometimes, careers aren't what you planned, but wherever I ended up along the way, it was the best job I ever had," said Boyington. "If you know you're doing good work and making a difference, it's the best. I made a lot of friends, because I look at all the people in my life as my friends. I treasure friends, having grown up in a family with a lot of children and not enough time or room in the house for friends. But I treasure friends, because it's what I do."
As for what's in Boyington's future, she wants to travel, bike and hike and enjoy the outdoors, read some books, and maybe catch up an old favorite pastime – quilting. She also wants to spend some quantity and quality time with her two grandchildren.
"I am getting ready for a trip down south to see relatives, and then next will be a trip to Alaska," said Boyington. "And you know, I haven't read a book in years so I want to start that again, and then I joined a quilt group recently at church. I haven't done it in 39 years but I loved it and after I officially joined the group I told them I would be there just as soon I finish my babysitting gig."
You can count on Boyington to continue making friends, no matter where life takes her next. Because it's what she does.
"Throughout my life, throughout my career, I always told people I met I'm not your boss, I'm not your student director, I'm not your assistant, I'm your friend," said Boyington. "And my parting words, if I can have some, are 'thank you for being a friend.'"
No, thank you Nancy Boyington for being a friend.
Editorial Director Holly S. Edwards can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-6655.