FARMINGTON — University of Maine at Farmington has launched an “Almost Alumni” project to help former students with a large amount of credits obtain their degrees and graduate.

The project is run by Ashley Montgomery, assistant dean of teaching learning and assessment.

Earlier in the year, Montgomery was looking for something positive to work on during “an emotionally taxing” year.

She said she knew someone who was an “almost alumni,” a former student at UMF with over 80 credits (of the required 128) who hadn’t finished their program and graduated.

With the help of other administrators and faculty on campus, Montgomery began collecting a list of what is now 400 students that dates back to the 1970s who fall into the “almost alumni” category. While some of these “almost alumni” are community members who have taken courses over the years, many now live outside of Franklin County, all over the country.

Once she created the list, Montgomery began working with students (after going to lengths to contact them) to help them graduate. This process includes understanding what requirements they need to graduate, adjusting their degree, working with the registrar, enrolling them in courses, setting up an independent study and/or helping them obtain credit for work or courses they’ve done in the real world.

The process is much more extensive, however. Montgomery describes the work as “time consuming” as she offers her services and time as “direct access, 24/7” for the students.

“I’m always checking in and making sure that they have everything needed and I have all the right information for them,” Montgomery said. “Some of it is about trying to find out what their options are and I’m doing email exchange with all different kinds of people.”

Montgomery believes helping these former students gets them “closure” and “validation.” She said many of these students are often “really excelling in their field” but have faced challenges without a degree.

“This thing that has been in the back of their minds for sometimes 20 years or more is done,” Montgomery explained. “I think it also adds a really great connection back to UMF.”

So far, Montgomery said she’s helped 20 students obtain their degrees and another 15-20 are on the way to graduating. One of those new-alumni is Ashley Parziale.

Parziale, a director of human resources in Sanford, Florida, attended UMF from 1993-1998. She enrolled in courses in May and obtained her degree in August.

Parziale said she “almost fell out my chair” when Montgomery informed her that she was only six credits away from graduating.

“I cried … Because (it) seemed so out of touch for me, I didn’t think I was ever going to be able to afford to go back or have the time to go back,” Parziale said. “(Not finishing at UMF) is the one thing that has haunted me, that has been in the corner of my mind, always nagged at me that I never finished.”

Parziale could have finished her degree anywhere, but especially appreciates graduating at UMF because “I had so many amazing memories from in my early years (at UMF), it was just something that meant a lot to me.”

Parziale said that attending college after all these years has reignited her love of learning and she is now considering going for her master’s degree. She believes any “almost alumni” should “not hold back, go for it. Sky is the limit. Don’t be afraid to try and ask the question. It’s not too late.”

Montgomery said that every “almost alumni” she has contacted has been appreciative of the work she’s doing and open to considering their options.

“Everybody has been so positive,” Montgomery said. “It was for many of them, ‘I’ve been thinking about this for years and I’ve been too nervous or too scared or too busy to think about making this happen.'”

Every University of Maine-System campus has a similar program, but Montgomery believes UMF’s is especially strong for the close-knit campus and its “very personal experience.”

Comments are not available on this story.