When Margaret McCollough graduates from the University of Maine at the institution’s 213th Commencement on May 9, her immediate family will hold nine degrees from the university.
McCollough, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in sustainable agriculture, is the daughter of Catherine Elliott and Mark McCollough of Hampden, who met at UMaine in the 1980s.
Elliott, a sustainable living specialist with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, came to UMaine in 1980 to pursue a master’s degree in wildlife management, which she completed in 1983. As a student, she met her now-husband, Mark McCollough, who also was working on a master’s in wildlife management, which he earned in 1982.
The pair stayed at UMaine to complete their doctoral degrees in wildlife. Mark McCollough earned his Ph.D. in 1986 and Elliott earned hers a year later.
In 2011, the couple’s son Aaron McCollough completed a bachelor’s degree in computer and electrical engineering while also a student of the Honors College. He continued at UMaine to earn a master’s degree in computer engineering in 2013. While pursuing that degree, he became engaged to Morgan Burke, who completed her bachelor’s degree in wildlife ecology in 2012 and brought the family’s degree total to seven.
Margaret McCollough’s boyfriend Garth Douston, who she also met at UMaine, has a bachelor’s degree in sustainable agriculture, which he earned in 2014. With Margaret McCollough’s graduation, the family will hold nine UMaine degrees among six members.
“Margaret’s graduation will be wonderful,” her mother says. “Going to college was not at the top of her list of things to do when she completed high school, so having her graduate from a program she has loved is incredible. And to have had her at UMaine for the past four years has been icing on the cake. We are very proud of her.”
Margaret McCollough says she hadn’t planned to go to college after graduating from high school. She worked for a summer on a couple of farms out west before she discovered that UMaine had a sustainable agriculture program. She decided it was time to make a change and came back to enroll in the program that fall semester.
The program provided her with opportunities to network and build relationships with those already working in agriculture throughout Maine, she says.
“To be a good farmer you have to have a good working understanding of multiple disciplines. It won’t happen for you just out of a love of nature and an ability to do physical work. UMaine has provided me with a breadth of knowledge and analytical skills that will certainly serve me well as I work to build both a sustainable and profitable farm,” Margaret McCollough says.
Margaret McCollough and Douston now run Sweet Thyme Farm in Arundel, Maine. This past summer was the pair’s first season. They planted about 1.5 acres of crops and plan to add another acre this year. The farm, which has been certified by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), produces a variety of vegetables and some herbs, as well as raises ducks and chickens for eggs.
Margaret McCollough credits two student-run agricultural programs for giving her and Douston the confidence to start the farm. For two summers, Douston managed the Black Bear Food Guild, a student-run community supported agriculture (CSA) program; and she managed UMaine Greens, a winter greens production program run by student volunteers.
“Both of these programs require those students who participate to take on a lot of responsibility,” she says, adding they allow students the chance to grow at production scale while managing customers and co-workers, meeting deadlines, staying on budgets and keeping accurate records.
Margaret McCollough says UMaine has allowed herself and her family to do work that makes them happy.
“My mom, dad and older brother love the work that they do; they’re so passionate about their disciplines, and also really good at what they do,” she says. “I will feel proud to join them in doing good work in a field that I feel really passionate about. I know that my parents are really proud of my brother and I; recognizing the value in education.”
While Elliott, Margaret McCollough’s mother, was finishing her Ph.D., she was hired as a research associate in the Department of Wildlife Ecology. After graduating, she became a faculty member with UMaine Cooperative Extension. By June, Elliott will have been employed by UMaine for 29 years.
Elliott’s husband Mark McCollough works on endangered species recovery at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Ecological Services Maine Field Office in Orono.
“My parents still gather with a large group of friends that they made while studying here, and they’ve become mentors and basically extended family members to my brother and I growing up,” Margaret McCollough says.
Aaron McCollough and his fiance Burke live in Manchester, New Hampshire where Burke is pursuing a doctorate in physical therapy at Franklin Pierce University. Aaron McCollough works for L-3 Insight as an embedded software engineer. They will be relocating to Portland, Maine in June while Burke does clinical rotations to complete her degree.