NEWRY – Three years after the University of New Hampshire system established a branch at Sunday River Ski Resort, a lone graduate emerged.

Lisa Jacques, 35, of Rumford, graduated from the system’s College for Lifelong Learning branch on June 7 with an associate of science degree in business management.

“Going to college was one of the things I’ve always wanted to do, but it wasn’t accessible,” said Jacques, a single mother who is raising a son and working full-time.

Jacques, who graduated from Dirigo High School in Dixfield in 1986, has been employed by the American Skiing Company at Sunday River as its production and advertising manager since 1997.

So when the college branch opened in September 2000, she jumped at the chance to realize her dream of earning a college degree.

“It’s nice to prove to everyone that it can be done. To graduate. It took me three years to do it, taking two classes each semester, but I can’t believe it’s over. It seemed like it took me forever, but I’m glad I stuck it out,” Jacques said.

Deb Piccirillo, program coordinator for the College for Lifelong Learning at Sunday River, said Jacques and 10 other students signed up for classes in the first year.

Despite losing 50 percent of its freshmen class that spring, “like most colleges,” Piccirillo said, the student population now numbers 17 full-time and a handful of part-time students.

Unlike some college branches that only offer classes by way of the Internet or videoconferencing, CLL at Sunday River classes are taught for 3.5 hours once a week, Piccirillo said.

Because of mandates from the state, however, the branch can only offer classes that enable students to get either an associate of arts degree, and associate of science degree in business management, or a bachelor of science degree in business management, she said.

However, because the branch is based at Sunday River, it helps people like Jacques, who must work full-time to support a family, earn a degree that will better their future.

“We have yet another way to allow individuals of western Maine to pursue whatever their dreams are. The program is developed around the idea that individuals are already working and this enables them to still work full-time and continue going to college.

“It meets the needs of any local individual who is looking to get a degree but can only take one or two hours a week of classes. Lisa is now able to move on to avenues that weren’t open to her individually,” Piccirillo said.

As for the degree, Jacques hopes to use it as a foundation to build a better future for herself and her son.

“Hopefully, it will reinforce and give credence to the skills I’ve gained working for the marketing department. These days, it’s hard to be taken seriously without some kind of degree,” she added.

And while Piccirillo said two other CLL at Sunday River students were pursuing bachelor degrees, Jacques needed a break.

“I could have kept going, but I’m starting to burn out and I need a break because it’s difficult to keep up that pace for very long: being a single mom with a son, working and doing classes and homework. So I’m going to take some time off, say four to five years and support my son through high school and be there for him, and then go back and get my bachelor’s,” Jacques said.

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