Emma Marie-Banks

Emma-Marie Banks, Maine Public Policy Scholar

University College Student Chosen as Maine Public Policy Scholar from UMA, Will Study Maine’s High School Equivalency Test

Augusta and Parsonsfield, Maine — Do students seeking their high school equivalency certificate who are from rural Maine communities have adequate support? Is Maine’s high school equivalency examination fair?

These and a variety of related questions will be examined by Emma-Marie Banks, a resident of Parsonsfield, during her year as a Maine Public Policy Scholar.

One student from each of the System’s seven campuses is chosen to work with a faculty advisor to address a real-life policy issue currently facing Maine.

Banks was recently named the 2016 Maine Public Policy Scholar from the University of Maine at Augusta (UMA).

Public Policy, Comprehensive Service

A UMA social sciences major with a behavioral sciences minor, Banks pursues her bachelor’s degree online and at a distance through University College, which offers over 100 degree and certificate programs administered by its eight Centers in communities across Maine. She was chosen to be UMA’s Maine Public Policy Scholar from a pool of diverse applicant proposals.

The successful proposal that Banks submitted was evaluated by two UMA faculty members, James Cook, an Assistant Professor of Social Sciences, and Lorien Taylor Lake-Corral, Assistant Professor of Social Sciences.

Now in his third year as UMA’s faculty advisor to the Maine Public Policy Scholar program, Cook will guide Banks and hopes that her recommendations will ultimately influence policymakers. She will begin her work in May, when the 2015 Maine Policy Scholar from UMA graduates.

“The Maine Policy Scholars Program is an opportunity to connect with Maine policymakers, and act as a bridge to a number of rewarding and influential careers in public policy, advocacy, activism and leadership,” noted Cook.

As a resident of a rural Maine community, Banks knows the special challenges that distance can pose. Banks will evaluate the HiSET test in Maine and identify ways to improve it. HiSET is Maine’s version of the General Educational Development (GED) high school diploma equivalency test. Maine adopted the HiSET test in January 2014, contracting with Educational Testing Services to provide its high school equivalency test.

“Emma Banks’ proposal showed intellectual depth, timeliness, and the ability to connect strong academic skills to the resolution of real problems affecting Mainers,” Cook said.

In her application letter, Banks characterized herself as an online student who is passionate about education, especially adult education and high school certificate programs.

Banks serves as a tutor for the University College virtual online academic writing lab, known as VAWLT, which bills itself as a learning resource for today’s distance learners and educators.

“Working as a course embedded writing mentor and tutor through UMA, I have seen how computer mediated communication can play an important role in education,” Banks wrote in her application letter. She raised the question of whether Maine’s adult education centers would benefit from an expansion into online based services for geographically and / or economically disadvantaged students.

Scholarship, Service and Commitment

The level of scholarship, skill, and ability to address complex issues that Banks displays on a daily basis has impressed her professors and supervisors.

“VAWLT has been a stepping stone for Emma,” noted Michelle Lisi, Coordinator of UC VAWLT. “Whenever I encourage her to take a step, she’s ready for it.”

Lisi says that Banks is self-directed and able to pace herself.

“She’s really become more like an Assistant Coordinator to the writing lab than a tutor,” Lisi said. “She demonstrates an exceptional capacity for leadership. She is a peer leader and role model for her fellow students.”

Banks sees great potential for the expansion of online education to level the playing field between rural and urban or suburban students in Maine.

“I have seen the expansion of online educational resources and support for higher education and K through 12, but I have yet to see that level of support for adult education and high school equivalency examinations,” Banks said. “The high school equivalency tests require tutoring to even qualify to take the exam. This is a hurdle for some students.”

The scope and diversity of her policy research will be extensive.

“This project will involve research and interviews in the adult education field to find out what types of support are currently available, and to determine how this support could be expanded or improved,” Banks explained. “I would like to determine if expanding adult education service into the online world or computer mediated communication would be beneficial to these adult learners and the staff that tutor them.”

A 2009 graduate of Sacopee Valley High School, Banks is passionate about education and the role that technology may play in improving access to resources.

“I think that computer mediated communication is an underutilized tool in education,” Banks stated. “Its implementation in the adult education world could be life-changing for many people. Maine’s population is dispersed across a large geographic area, so exploring options that allow learners to connect with resources that allow them to gain access to educational resources at a distance is invaluable.”

Online Education: An Important Resource for Maine

As a University College student Banks has seen firsthand how transformative an experience that access to well-designed and administered online courses can be.

“I have seen how computer mediated education can open up a whole new world to people who otherwise would not be able to even consider the idea of obtaining a higher education,” Banks said. “I would be incapable of attending college in my current place in life right now if it were not for the online option. I would love to see this availability expanded into adult education and high school completion.”

The level of scholarship, focus on improving access to educational resources, and drive to learn that Banks has demonstrated has impressed faculty and staff.

Cook feels that Banks’ achievement reflects well upon the University of Maine at Augusta’s learning community.

“This shows that students at the University of Maine at Augusta are actively engaged not only in their own education, but with the welfare of the public education system in Maine,” Cook stated. “Emma is demonstrating just one way in which a University of Maine at Augusta Education represents a return on investment. That return accrues not just to the student, but to the benefit of communities across Maine.”

University College: Online, Affordable and Local

Online, affordable and supported by eight local Centers across Maine, University College allows students – traditional, adult, and those returning to complete their degree – access to over 100 certificate and degree programs from the University of Maine System. Students access the resources of campuses while studying online, at their local Center, or pursuing a mix of online and traditional classroom instruction while staying close to home.

University College is located on the UMA campus, and operates Centers at Bath/Brunswick, East Millinocket, Ellsworth, Houlton, Norway/South Paris, Rockland, Rumford/Mexico, and Saco.

University College offers financial support to students with programs such as the Adult Degree Completion Scholarship, in addition to providing comprehensive advising services. It is online at learn.maine.edu.

Click here to read the Bangor Daily News article on Emma-Marie.