The Mitchell Institute Higher Education Professional of the Year Award

The Mitchell Institute Higher Education Professional of the Year Award recognizes higher education professionals whose extraordinary service to students supports the Institute’s mission of helping young people from Maine to pursue, afford, and achieve a college education.

“These are the advisors, coaches, career counselors, and members of admission, financial-aid, and student-life staffs, who are boots-on-the-ground and working longer than normal work weeks to lift up and support Maine students,” said Mitchell Institute President and CEO Jared Cash.

In partnership with Educate Maine, which manages and administers the Maine Teacher of the Year program with the Maine Department of Education, the Mitchell Institute Higher Education Professional of the Year Award will be announced at large at the annual Educate Maine Symposium, held this year on Friday, December 8, at Holiday Inn by the Bay in Portland.


Candidates for the Mitchell Institute Higher Education Professional of the Year must have 10+ years of service to the field of higher education in Maine and represent higher education professional staff that support student enrollment, growth, and success, such as personnel in Academic Advising; Admissions; Athletics and/or Recreation; the Bursar’s Office; Career Services; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; Financial-Aid; Orientation; the Registrar’s Office; Residential Life; Student Life; and other student-facing departments on college campuses.

Nominations for the Mitchell Institute Higher Education Professional of the Year will close at midnight on September 15, 2023.

A photo of Mercedes Pour

Mercedes Pour is the Director of College Access and Secondary Partnerships within the Maine Community College System. Since 2014, she has provided system-wide leadership and strategy for all Early College initiatives at Maine’s seven community colleges. During her leadership and with intentional policy shifts that prioritized equity of access, the number of Maine high school students earning college credit through Early College programs has grown to a record fall-semester enrollment of over 5,000 students. Nationally, these dual and concurrent enrollment programs are widely credited with encouraging high school students to enroll in college, achieve higher grades, save on educational expenses, and earn a college degree.

To ensure that the benefits of early college were accessible to students who might gain the most, Pour launched the Spring Ahead program in partnership with Southern Maine Community College. Available to high school seniors who have completed most or all graduation requirements but may be uncertain of their post-secondary path, Spring Ahead provides students with the opportunity to spend their final spring semester on a community college campus enrolled in a full-time schedule. Spring Ahead students concurrently finish high school and start college tuition-free, with support from a dedicated college coach and peer cohort, as well as a book allowance and meal plan. Since the first SMCC cohort was initiated in 2019, the program has grown to over 70 students from 14 area high schools. To date, 85% of Spring Ahead participants continue on to pursue higher education degrees after graduating from high school.

Among the initiatives Pour is helping to lead in partnership with the Maine Department of Education is Math Pathways for Maine high school and college students. Part of the Launch Years Initiative, a national educational endeavor guided by the research and expertise of the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas–Austin, Math Pathways recognizes that math is one of the key barriers to student engagement with higher education and an obstacle to degree completion. The goal of the program is to better support student learning and success by ensuring that students are enrolled in math courses that align with their academic and career pathways.

Pour earned her bachelor’s at the College of William and Mary, her Master of Arts in education in education policy at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and her Ed.D. with a concentration in instructional technology at the University of West Georgia. She and her wife, Malik, are proud parents to two children, both of whom enjoy their public schools.

See the Mitchell Institute’s full story on Pour being named the 2023 Higher Education Professional of the Year.

Ron Milliken, the longest-serving director of financial aid at a Maine college or university in recent memory, retired from a 47-year career at the University of Maine at Farmington in early September 2022. During his leadership at UMF, Milliken developed and piloted the highly successful Peer-to-Peer Financial Literacy Program, which trains students to provide other students with personal financial education and help with navigating financial decisions.

Milliken launched the innovative program at UMF in 2013, and the University of Maine System invested $1.3 million to expand the financial literacy program statewide in 2017. As part of the five-year expansion, trained peer financial educators at each of the University of Maine System campuses assist systemwide students with financial issues such as accessing financial aid, managing consumer debt, borrowing wisely and saving money. In the later years of the program’s growth, Financial Literacy Peer Educators provided outreach and training to middle and high school students in Maine.

For his work to increase financial literacy among young people statewide, the Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) presented Milliken and the financial literacy program with its 2019 Education at Work for Maine Award.

Milliken’s service to the profession includes leadership positions within the Maine Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (MASFAA), which honored him with the Candace Johnson Vinette Award for Distinguished Service in 1991. The honor is given periodically to an individual who has made “special contributions of energy, spirit and dedication to increase access to higher education for the citizens of Maine and who has, by example, inspired others to greater professionalism in the financial aid community.”

He also has served on FAME’s Educators for Maine Committee and was nominated to the MELMAC Education Foundation’s board of directors in 2009.

Milliken is a 1975 graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington, which presented him with its Lifetime Achievement award in 2016.

See the full story on Milliken being named the Mitchell Institute’s inaugural Higher Education Professional of the Year.