BAR HARBOR — College of the Atlantic alumni and supporters, including Nell Newman of Newman’s Own Organics, gathered at the estate known as Deep Cove Saturday to kick off the college’s largest fundraising effort in its history. Another event was held at Skylands, Martha Stewart’s Seal Harbor estate, on Sunday.
The $50 million capital campaign will fund priorities identified in a recent strategic planning process, including student scholarships, academic and residential buildings, endowed faculty chairs and a transition to a fossil fuel-free campus.
“I always come back to the island, and to the college, and to the people that live here, because they have provided me with the confident inspiration to truly become a human ecologist,” said Newman, a member of the COA Class of 1987, referring to the college’s single major.
She was lucky to end up at COA, she said, “and so is every other student that comes here, and finds themselves on a beautiful summer day, staring across the water, and wondering what their niche might be.
“Your investment in the future of this college is an investment in humanity and our mother Earth that sustains us all,” Newman told the group.
The Broad Reach capital campaign has already raised $41 million in gifts and pledges, according to the college. A $7.5M challenge grant from an anonymous donor will mean that for every gift given, the donor will add an additional 50 percent.
“At College of the Atlantic we cultivate students’ passions and abilities to take on the wicked problems at the boundary between humanity and the environment,” COA president Darron Collins said. “If ever there was a need for a College of the Atlantic in this world, it’s right now.”
But he also stressed that the college’s connection to the local community has always been central to its mission. “The campaign and the college are about two things, they’re about serving the wider world and serving the island,” he said. “COA and MDI are made better by and through one another.”
MDI resident and COA Trustee Cookie Horner said the college “has become the cultural/educational center of our community, a terrific partner to the towns and organizations on MDI, and to Acadia National Park, as both students and faculty develop projects and solutions of all kinds to improve our lives and our environment.
“It is remarkable that this small college, in a relatively short time, has turned out these amazing human ecologists doing such great things for our planet and its people all over the globe,” she continued.
Some of those students and alumni are tackling issues affecting the oceans such as plastics pollution, including Scott Kraus, who was in the earliest graduating class, and is now a member of senior leadership at the New England Aquarium, and recent graduate Abby Barrows, who is conducting research to quantify and understand how microplastics affect the local marine environment around Mount Desert Island.
New academic space, beginning with the Center for Human Ecology already under construction, is a focus of the campaign.
“We’ve been operating in an academic space that was built immediately after the 1983 fire that almost put us under,” Collins.
The faculty and student body have both nearly doubled in number since then, he said. But more than that, the college hopes the new academic spaces will “encourage the arts, sciences, human studies to speak to one another
that’s the intention,” he said. “There’s a way that architecture can help bring people of different minds together.
“We are a college first and foremost about people. It’s the people that make this place work really well, and architecture can either help or hinder that.”
With an earmark of $3.5 million, the fossil fuel-free campus initiative is a key part of COA’s campaign.
New buildings will also include a new art gallery and experimental theater, and a new welcome center for the admissions department, which will act as an intentional “front door” for the college.
“We want the admissions office to be the way we speak to the outside world, because that’s who serve, the students,” Collins said.