Class Year


Current Hometown:

Ellsworth, ME

Job and Employer

Semi-retired; house painter, educator, academic, activist


There’s a link between my work in painting, in academics, and in activism. I have loved working with students on painting projects – it’s what re-inspired me academically and it’s what reactivated my interest in going back to school for my master’s degree. While I was doing my master’s degree, that retriggered my interest in activism and justice. All three are linked and I’m passionate for all three. I may pay the bills through house painting, but the other two areas are crucial for my spiritual well-being.

Community work & family

My community is both here in Maine and in Ireland and I work on projects in both places. I have been working with the Humanists and Quakers on history projects here in the US, asking how those groups provided a measure of justice during the famine in Ireland. The Quakers, for instance, helped during the famine way more than the English government. How did they do that?

In Ireland I’m working with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs and am working on transitional justice for those incarcerated by the infamous “mother and baby” homes.

In terms of family, I have a partner here in Ellsworth and we have a wonderful life together. But I also have a large extended family – friends from COA, members of groups with whom I work. I make family wherever I go. I have two “daughters” from COA and I have four “sons” – they’re all COA alumni with whom I’ve worked through the years.

Graduate School

I went to the National University of Ireland in Galway for a masters degree in Irish Studies. There, I asked the question: “Did the labor performed by the government sanctioned Irish Industrial Schools mount to a kind of forced labor according to the Irish Constitution or the International Labor Organization.” I concluded that, yes, unfortunately, that seems to be the case.

Senior project:

I was student at COA in the mid 1990s when people were dying of HIV/AIDS because blood-born pathogen protocols weren’t being followed. For my capstone project I developed and implemented a community-based educational training course to change that and also to combat the notion that HIV/AIDS was a “gay” disease.


I worked at the Downeast AIDS Network and I put on a statewide conference for HIV/AIDS education.

Human ecology in action:

Human Ecology remains central to things I do each and every day. When you look at the institutions in Ireland, for example, you can see that there was malpractice and serious injuries caused to women and children over the course of history. That’s easy to find, but you cannot take that on its own. You have to look for interconnectedness and go back to the beginning to see where and how this all started. It’s akin to drawing disparate stands together to form a thread. Unless we understand that interconnectedness, we cannot solve issues as complex as transitional justice. I also practice Human Ecology in storytelling. The greatest methods of connecting people and raising awareness, in my opinion, is through the act of storytelling. COA and Human Ecology have very, very strong traditions of learning the practice of storytelling and storytelling is precisely how we can begin to act on behalf of others.

A COA experience that was particularly significant or memorable:

There are two that come to mind. The first involved faculty member Don Meiklejohn. Don’s course on the US Constitution absolutely opened my eyes to the whole world of legal precedent. But I’m also passionate about bears and the second memorable experience involved bears. I pestered faculty member Steve Ressel when he was doing a hibernation study. I begged to go with him, but couldn’t because it was a full class. Steve said, “Mary, if someone doesn’t show, we’ll find a way to take you along.” At the last minute, one of the guys in the class reported in sick and didn’t show up. I got to see and touch and hold a bear. For me, that was an emotional and spiritual experience. Smelling the pine in the fur and stroking that bear’s forehead – I cannot really describe how or why that was so meaningful – but it most certainly was.

Why I Give

I hear from and reach out to prospective students all the time. I’ve explained and described the wonderful experience about being free to explore your passions in academia. I don’t like that young people are being forced or expected to find and go into high paying, high prestige jobs. Young people are increasingly expected to “achieve” and not “explore” – COA is able to combine the two in a way that doesn’t crush the students’ excitement about exploration. I’ve seen other students at other institutions who are crushed by such expectations. When you leave COA, young people are confronted with amazing possibilities and they should revel in that.