ORONO — The University of Maine System has launched a new scholarship program made possible by the Harold Alfond Foundation for students from historically underrepresented backgrounds who wish to pursue graduate degrees full time in a vibrant, interdisciplinary environment.

Each year, Harold Alfond Foundation Ambassador Scholarships will provide full tuition and other funds to six incoming students enrolled in graduate-level programs in business, law, public health, planning, public and nonprofit management, and policy offered by one of the Maine Graduate and Professional Center’s collaborating academic programs, including the University of Maine Graduate School of Business, the University of Maine School of Law and the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service. The scholarship program is part of a broader effort by UMS to make higher education affordable and accessible to students with financial need and diverse lived experiences, and to establish a pipeline of diverse professionals entering the Maine workforce. 

The inaugural Alfond Ambassadors are: Mahmuda Alam, a master’s student of public health in USM’s Muskie School of Public Service; Wilsan Mohamed, a master’s student of policy, planning and management with the Muskie School; Jean de la Passion Ilunga and Cindy Padilla, both MBA students with the UMaine Graduate School of Business; and Zion Mercado and Susan-Caitlyn Seavey, both Juris Doctor candidates with Maine Law. They will begin receiving funds this fall to conduct their studies, all while engaging with career development services, networking with members of the employer community and participating in interdisciplinary activities.

“We are deeply grateful to the Harold Alfond Foundation for its student-focused altruism. Supporting interdisciplinary graduate and professional education is so important in today’s world,” said Maine Law President and Dean Leigh Saufley. “The generous scholarship support from the foundation affords the Alfond Ambassadors the experience and financial assistance that will allow them to thrive in a complex and changing economy.”

Alam has a passion for community public health and is pursuing a graduate degree in public health at the Muskie School to enable her to work professionally in the field. She is particularly interested in helping the New Mainer community expand its access to tailored and comprehensive healthcare.

“I am excited to explore ways in which my experience as a first-generation, Muslim, Bangladeshi woman can serve marginalized communities seeking to navigate public health systems in Maine,” said Alam.

“The interdisciplinary learning opportunities the Alfond Ambassador program is offering will allow me to approach public health concerns from multiple perspectives, and I am eager to take what I am learning and embed in the community around me.”

Mohamed seeks a career in state or local government and is passionate about policy making. He hopes that with a degree in policy, planning and management, he will be able to help communities and people with the most need gain a voice in the political process. 

“I am very humble for this golden opportunity and I would not let this chance pass,” said Mohamed. “I am hoping to use my knowledge and connections that I’ll be gaining from the Alfond Ambassador program to create something that will leave a legacy.”

Before attending Maine Law, Mercado wore many hats, working as a property manager and later as a stone mason. He is a Latinx student who grew up in Limerick as a committed academic and star basketball player. His undergraduate studies led him to Maine Law, where he plans to study transactional law. 

“We have amazing opportunities here to specialize in areas that go hand-in-hand with business,” Mercado said. “I am confident that the cross-disciplinary environment provided by Maine Law and the Graduate School of Business will provide amazing opportunities and guide my legal education.”

Seavey is a first-generation college student who grew up in Cape Porpoise after her parents adopted her from China when she was 11 months old. In addition to the potential to effect positive social change, Seavey was compelled to pursue her law degree because of the potential for cross-disciplinary work. 

“I will work to create resources and foster impactful relationships to try to remedy the disparities experienced across our state,” she said. “From a legal perspective, collaborating across disciplines will create stronger and more informed advocacy, as well as help me give back to the people I work with and for.”

Ilunga grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo. After a 13-year career as a civil servant and a manager for a non-governmental organization in the DRC, he immigrated to the U.S. in 2018 and currently works as a bank teller for Bangor Savings Bank. 

“After obtaining my MBA degree, my goal is to serve the international community, especially developing countries, as an expert at the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund,” said Ilunga. 

Born and raised in Mexico City, Padilla immigrated to the U.S. in 2004 and graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso. Padilla has previously worked as a language service specialist, and a licensed stockbroker and retirement services manager. 

“I am excited about the Alfond Ambassador program because it is allowing me to get back to school and my dream has always been to get into a master’s program,” said Padilla. “I will be the first in my family to obtain a master’s degree and I want to set an example for the community. I want someone to see this and know that it is possible.” 

The Harold Alfond Foundation Ambassador Scholarship program is part of the UMS TRANSFORMS initiative, of which the Maine Center is a key component. Through interdisciplinary, experiential and market-driven education, the Maine Center prepares students to enter the Maine workforce with the skills to solve most pressing challenges Maine faces and to strengthen its economy into the 21st century.