FORT KENT, Maine — Careers in criminal justice and rural public safety are among the fastest growing in Maine.

Thanks to an articulation agreement between the University of Maine at Fort Kent and four regional technical centers, access to the degrees needed to fill those positions just got a bit easier for high school students from Hancock County to Aroostook.

“This agreement will offer postsecondary opportunities for high school students in the areas of criminal justice and rural public safety,” Scott Voisine, UMFK dean of community education, said at the agreement-signing event Monday at UMFK. “Maine has identified those fields as high wage potential and high opportunity areas in the workforce.”

Representatives from St. John Valley Technical Center, Caribou Regional Technology Center, and Region Two School of Applied Technology in Houlton were on hand for the signing. Joining those schools as part of the new agreement is the Hancock County Technical Center in Ellsworth.

“High school students from any of these schools can now complete criminal justice programs at their school [and] then matriculate into our criminal justice or rural safety programs,” Voisine said. “This is going to provide a lot of opportunities for students to get their feet wet in a field with high earning potential and be able to hit the ground running when they enroll at UMFK.”

UMFK offers a four-year baccalaureate degree in rural public safety administration and a two-year associate degree in criminal justice. High school students taking part in the program can earn credits toward a UMFK degree in addition to real world experience in law enforcement.

Under the partnership agreement, the technology centers’ existing criminal justice programs have been approved for UMFK credit.

“Once they have completed their program at the high school level, we will waive one entry-level, three-credit class in our criminal justice or rural public safety program,” Voisine said. “It makes a wonderful start for them here at UMFK.”

Faculty members at the university and secondary school partners include retired state and local law enforcement personnel.

“Students get a skewed view of law enforcement from what they see on television,” said Darrell Ouellette, retired Maine State Police detective and associate professor of criminal justice at UMFK. “DNA results don’t come back by the third commercial.”

Instead, law enforcement is often about paperwork, filing reports and keeping up with changing laws and legislation, he said.

Students taking part in the high school and tech centers’ existing criminal justice programs are already able to gain experience training with and shadowing working members in Maine’s public safety sector.

“This way they can not only learn a great deal before they enter into the university, they can determine if this is a career they really want,” Reed Nonken, faculty member with the Caribou Region Technology Center, said. “For some of the kids, it can really light a fire under them, and they can get bitten by the law enforcement bug.”

Knowing they can come out of their postsecondary programs with three university credits waiting for them is an additional incentive, Nonken added.

The new partnership will keep UMFK at the forefront of education in Maine, Wilson Hess, UMFK president, said.

“As Maine shifts to a common core high school agenda we all have to work together more often and more closely,” Hess said. “This is the type of partnership we all need to be working on as we help young men and women achieve their career goals.”

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.