AUGUSTA, Maine - Wayne Newell, a Passamaquoddy educator and tribal council member, has been nominated by Maine Gov. John Balducci to the board of trustees for the University of Maine System.
Newell will be the first American Indian to serve on the board. The distinction is important, Newell said.
''I'm pretty happy about it. It's very meaningful because it's good for our children to see us participate in a larger role. When we were brought up, my grandparents, even though they didn't go to school themselves, said, 'You've got to go to school and learn different skills.' That's very important. You want to keep strong the cultural traditions and languages, but you also want the children to be able to participate in the bigger world,'' Newell told Indian Country Today.
Newell was reached at the Indian Township School where he serves as the director of bilingual education, administering the Native Language and Cultural Program for students in pre-K to grade eight. Indian Township is a BIA contract school. The students receive their high school education in the area's public schools, one of which offers a program of study in the Passamaquoddy language, an Algonquian language.
Newell has worked as a tribal planner with the Indian Township tribal government and developed a tribal health delivery system. He has held a wide number of appointments developing programs for Native people, including in the area of education.
Newell received his Master of Education degree at Harvard.
He and his wife have four grown children and several grandchildren. He will turn 65 in April.
Newell said he likes to serve as an inspiration to young people.
''In my case, I'm legally blind. I like to inspire kids that you can set your mind to whatever you want to do, and physical handicaps are not really debilitating obstacles. You can work with whatever the Creator has given you and make a good life,'' Newell said.
Newell's ''unique perspective'' is part of the reason Balducci nominated him to the post. The governor announced Newell's nomination on Feb. 26 in a news release.
''Wayne brings a unique perspective, level of skills and experience to the board,'' Balducci said. ''He will use his talents to promote the University of Maine System and continue its ability to meet the needs of Maine students and the work force in this global economy. The university system is one of the most crucial links to the economic development of Maine now, and in generations to come.''
The board of trustees is responsible for the overall operation, maintenance and supervision of the multi-campus university. The board approves the establishing and elimination of academic programs, confers tenure on faculty members, and sets tuition rates and operating budgets.
''It's an oversight board for policy for the entire system for the state. There are at least 10 campuses, I think, if not more. And Maine is quite a large state, so the campus furthest north would be about six hours away from the campus furthest south,'' Newell said.
Penobscot students live only 12 miles from one of the biggest University of Maine campuses, but the Passamaquoddy tribe is relatively isolated further north - around two hours away from the nearest campus. Still, with improved transportation, Passamaquoddy students are participating more than they did, Newell said.
Newell has worked with the university for several years and was one of the founders of the Native Studies program in Maine.
When asked if, as a board member, he would be a voice for Maine's Native students, Newell replied, ''Very much so. We have a center for Native people as well as an academic Native Studies program; and Maine also offers a full scholarship for all Native students in the state to go to the university system absolutely free, so it's a wonderful program. They've had it for years. So I'll continue, of course, to watchdog that and see that it continues and expands. It's very successful.''
The Senate is scheduled to confirm Newell's appointment within 30 days from the date of his nomination. Newell said he expects to begin his term on the board in April.