LEWISTON, Me– It’s been my pleasure to work collaboratively with Professor Mary Rice-DeFosse, at Bates College, through our participation on the Franco-American Collection’s board, at the University of Southern Maine Lewiston Auburn College (USM LAC). Her expertise about the Franco-American language and culture are helping to inspire students and others to learn more about Maine’s largest ethnic group. During her 33 years teaching at Bates, she has participated in many and various important community programs to help connect Franco-Americans with their history and cultural heritage. In so doing, she also educates Bates students about how Franco-Americans are connected to French-Canada and to France. She is a professor of French and Francophone Studies. Her leadership includes documenting Franco-Americans in publications and in video documentaries based on data obtained from oral histories.
Dr. Rice-DeFosse’s efforts are also supported by the mission of the Bates College Community Engaged Learning program, through the Harward Center. In this program, students are encouraged to volunteer in the Lewiston and Auburn communities and programs. She is a recognized faculty leader for the students who are interested in engaging in Franco-American learning experiences.
In 2015, she was honored to receive the Donald Harward Faculty Award for Service Learning Excellence. Also, in 2013, she received the Harward Center Faculty Award for Sustained Commitment and Community Partnership.
“I enjoy the opportunity to teach about the Franco-American connections that are rooted in France, and in the French language and culture,” she says. “We can take pride in our connections to French-Canada and to the culture brought here by the colonial settlers and French immigrants.”
In fact, the Harward Center fosters opportunities for meaningful and academically rigorous collaborations between a wide range of community partners, and faculty and students. In a typical year at Bates, more than a quarter of the faculty include a community-engaged component in their academic courses, and about 50% of students undertake a community-engaged learning project within the context of an academic course. In 2015-2016, more than fifty courses included significant community-engaged learning or research projects involving collaborations with community partners.
Among her academic credentials, Rice-Defosse holds a B.A. summa cum laude degree from Boston College, received in 1978, with a major in Romance Languages. Her graduate degree and Ph.D. in French were received from Yale University. She is well deserved recipient of dozens of recognitions, and awards. In this regard, she was named to the Franco-American Hall of Fame in 2014, by the Maine Legislature. Her Bates College website provides a list of her publications
She is the co-author of “Franco-Americans of Lewiston-Auburn“, with James Myall.
In her Franco-American research, she obtained oral histories to create the documentary “The Grey Nuns /Les Soeurs Grises: They Came, They Served Elles sont venues, elles ont servi” (2012), with Rita Dube and Annette Bourque. Lewiston’s Franco-Americans recognize the Grey Nuns as the dedicated group of religious women who came to the area from Quebec in 1878, to provide charitable social services, health care and children’s welfare programs. Information about this project is available to the public at the Franco-Center, in the former St. Mary’s Church, on Cedar Street, in Lewiston.
Bates students who participate in the Franco-American Community Engaged projects can assist in “Fun in French” classes, taught to children, at the USM LAC Franco-American Collection. “Fun in French”, is for kids and their parents, grandparents or caregivers, with children ages 3-10 years old. They enjoy songs, puppet shows, and stories in a creative, total French immersion setting (No particular language skills are necessary.)
Moreover, students can also help new immigrants by teaching language skills and they teach French to children at the Auburn YMCA. One particular project the students participated in was creating the French and English translation on the stone memorial in Lewiston’s Defresne Plaza, a park in the city’s downtown district.
During a recent academic sabbatical in Avignon and in Paris, she researched the work of French woman poet Louise Colet, who was a 19th century writer.
There are plenty of future projects we’re looking to support together, along with the USM LAC Franco-American Collection. Our efforts are interesting projects that raise awareness about the Franco-American heritage and culture. Together with the FAC Board at the “Collection”, we strive to welcome a diverse population of local community leaders and new immigrants to experience the large data base of information and educational programs offered at the campus, on Westminister Street, in Lewiston.
More information about the Franco-American Collection is available at this website: https://usm.maine.edu/franco