‘Adventure therapy,’ ‘fermentation science’ and ‘social media activism’ are just some of the untraditional courses at Maine colleges.

Dangling off a cliff with your significant other is a great time to start listening without judgment and working out what needs to be worked out because, hey, you’re dangling off a cliff.

Things can get worse.

“It’s not going to come together unless you work together,” said Ryan Howes, 34, who leads therapeutic rock climbs. “You’d be really impressed by the things that people say to each other when they’re stressed. That was a perfect moment where you’d be like, ‘Stop for a second. I just heard this . . .'”

Howes, from Belfast, has used his adventure therapy degree, part of a double-major, to work with couples, Wounded Warriors and at-risk teens. He’s also started two businesses, Northern Vertical Climbing Guides and Ryan Howes’ Health.

“I’m an outdoor-based counselor,” he said. “Instead of sitting in a chair or a couch, you’re going to be sitting down by a fire or going climbing with me.”

Sound pretty appealing?


You can pursue a career in adventure therapy or animation or beer making or social media activism, right here in Maine.*

* Cliff-dangling optional.

We scoured schools across the state for the newest, coolest programs. With college applications due in a few months, it’s the perfect time of year to take it all in.

Cinema studies minor; Colby College in Waterville

Offered since 2011, students learn the history of cinema, cinema from different countries, genres and decades and get hands-on experience in filmmaking.

Associate Professor Steve Wurtzler calls it an “intense focus on perhaps the most important mode of expression from the 20th century.”

The program graduates about 10 to 15 students a year.


Cool factor: Most teachers assign one evening screening a week, some two. Students have also snagged internships at the Maine International Film Festival.

So you’ve graduated. Now what? Possibilities are pretty endless.

“I was just yesterday looking at last year’s minors who had graduated and they had majors like econ, global studies, Spanish, art, neuroscience,” said Wurtzler. “Last year, three of our students started graduate programs that combine filmmaking with film theory. Even though it’s a minor, for some of them, it becomes the focus of what they want to do.”

Shout-out: The University of Southern Maine and Bowdoin College also offer cinema studies minors. So much cinema to go around.

Social media activism minor; University of Southern Maine in Portland

It’s only a year-and-a-half old and born from three strong departments — political science, sociology and communications, and media studies, according to Francesca Vassallo, associate professor of political science.

Students learn how to engage others, understand people’s behavior and successfully build support for a cause beyond just getting “likes.”


“Anyone can get online and post a tweet, for instance, or anyone can create a Facebook page,” Vassallo said. “The point is how to do it effectively.”

The program will have its first graduates in May.

Cool factor: Fewer than a handful of colleges in the country offer social media activism as an official minor. How cool that it’s in your backyard?

So you’ve graduated. Now what? The field is pretty darn broad.

“Political parties, candidates, official government agencies, private organizations, not-for-profit organizations — nowadays they’re pretty much required to have an online presence in which they are able to engage their supporters,” said Vassallo. “In the past . . . most of these positions went to sociology majors or poli-sci majors, but they needed some retraining when it came to the way people operate online: What to do, what not to do and how to connect.”

Adventure therapy major; Unity College in Unity

The program has between 30 and 40 students, and when it was created by Don Lynch and Mac McInnes in 2003 it was ahead of its time.


“They got a little bit of flack, folks thinking, ‘Oh, you can’t really do that sort of work at this level.’ But they had the vision and saw it through and it’s been successful,” said William Hafford, assistant professor of adventure therapy.

In addition to the technical skills needed to pull off major outdoor adventuring, he said, students learn philosophy, setting boundaries, expectations and working in a team — then go outside and learn and do.

Cool factor: Field trips! There’s canoeing, backpacking, sea kayaking, rock climbing and winter climbing, and much, much more. 

“(Maine) is our classroom and it’s a good one,” said Hafford, who led a weeklong trip to Acadia National Park earlier this month. “Acadia has some of the most amazing ocean-front cliff climbing anywhere in the world.”

So you’ve graduated. Now what? Students frequently becomes guides, start their own businesses, go to graduate school or find other work in the field, such as program coordinators. 

Turfgrass management; University of Maine in Orono

Part of the Environmental Horticulture major, the school added the turf grass science concentration three years ago.


“We’re promoting to students that it’s a great option,” said Sue Erich, director of the school of food and agriculture. “We have some businesses in the state that grow turf and sell turf — there’s a workforce piece to it.”

It hasn’t had any graduates yet, but several are in the pipeline and interest is, ah, growing.

Cool factor: You’ll spend senior year in Massachusetts. The concentration is set up so most of the more intense turf classes are taken at the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

So you’ve graduated. Now what? Jobs include athletic grounds superintendent, golf course design and groundskeeper.

Fermentation science; University of Southern Maine in Portland

This one’s a course offered at USM for the last two years for students and craft brewers in response to Maine’s booming brew market.

It’s a high-level science class taken largely by nutrition, chemistry and biology majors, according to Lucille Benedict, associate professor of chemistry.


Students can also take their interest further with research projects in the Quality Control Collaboratory in partnership with the Maine Brewers’ Guild. The lab, for instance, will test samples for measures like alcohol by volume and bitterness in advance of the second annual New England Craft Brew Summit in March.

“(It’s) closing the gap between the fear of science and getting students to understand the concepts, (to) want to dive into science,” Benedict said. 

Cool factor: Two words: Brewery internship. It could be yours!

So you’ve graduated. Now what? Well, work inside a brewery or testing lab, for one.

“Both years I’ve had community members that have taken the course,” Benedict said. “That’s given us more depth to the discussions and help guide our content. I think the biggest impact to the students, they get to see somebody who is either working in a brewery or distillery, or wants to open up a brewery, taking the knowledge they’re learning in real time and applying it to their craft. Sometimes when you’re in a college course, it’s like, ‘Why am I taking this? Am I ever going to use this in the real world?’ This is real-time use in the real world. It’s pretty cool.”

Digital media associate degree with animation concentration; York County Community College in Wells

Added as a concentration in 2008, students learn skills like 2D and 3D animation, digital imaging, 3D modeling, 2D game design, photography and traditional drawing skills.


“Our students learn about the creative process – rough concepts through development,” said Michael Lee, a faculty member in digital media/art. “We teach foundational principles and try to apply them through the use of the creative digital softwares.”

Cool factor: Bringing homework to life. Students’ past projects have included animating Shakespeare passages and creating a graphic design magazine.

So you’ve graduated. Now what? Go get creative! Students have gotten jobs at marketing, design and game companies.

“I have a recent graduate working for an architectural visualization company in Kittery,” Lee said. (That company has a second office in Austria and does stunning mock-ups — everything from rooms to whole buildings.) “I also have a student who is a credited animator on the recent Sony Interactive game ‘Uncharted 4.'”

Network security/computer forensics associate degree; Central Maine Community College in Auburn

“They do everything from knowing how a network works at the very basic (level) to actually learning how to do some penetration testing, actually testing that network to make sure it’s secure,” said Ashley Hayes, chair of CMCC’s computer technology department. “In forensics, they learn how to monitor the network to a mild extent and they learn how to get information from devices, whether it’s mobile phones or a computer, things that people might try to hide and how we can find them.”

The program, which has about 30 students, has been offered for three years. Interest has definitely been growing, she said.


Cool factor: Most college programs offer network security degrees or computer forensics degrees — consider this a cool two-for-one.

So you’ve graduated. Now what? An obvious answer is to work for the police, but there are a host other job avenues at nearly any sizable company.

“Banks have forensic analysts. A lot of enterprises do,” Hayes said. “(Say) they’ve had someone break in and they’ve done stuff to the server on the back end: Well, what have they done, when did they do it, can we follow the tracks?”

Grads can also transfer into the bachelor’s degree program in cyber security within the University of Maine system.

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