Thomas College Names School of Education for Peter and Paula Lunder

In a ceremony on Sept. 16, Thomas College honored Peter ‘56 and Paula Lunder. The newly minted Peter and Paula Lunder School of Education celebrates the Waterville natives, whose gift of more than five million dollars financed the Center for Innovation in Education. Thomas administrators and students, as well as local education advocates and business leaders, attended the naming ceremony in Thomas’ Ayotte Center. Thomas President Laurie Lachance enthusiastically thanked the Lunders, who were accompanied by Margie Lunder, their daughter, and Kevin Gillis, their nephew and president of the Lunder Foundation.

The Peter and Paula Lunder School of Education allows students to earn an accelerated bachelor’s degree in early childhood, elementary, or secondary education or a master’s of science in education, education leadership, or literacy education, a program unique to the state of Maine.

The Lunder’s generosity is not restricted to Thomas College. In 2017, they donated more than 100 million dollars to Colby; their gift sponsored the creation of the Lunder Institute for American Art, which made Colby the only liberal arts college with an art museum for cross-disciplinary study and a research center for American art. In 1998, both Peter and Paula Lunder received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the College.

The Echo spoke with Pamela Thompson, chair of the Lunder School of Education and professor of early childhood education. Thompson hails from Wells, Maine and has taught at Thomas for eleven years. According to Thompson, the Lunder School of Education offers four different bachelor’s degrees: a BS in Early Childhood Education, a BS in Elementary Education, a BS in Secondary Education, and a BS in Childcare Management, a one-of-a-kind program that “is a blend of the areas of child development and understanding child advocacy and state licensing. And you blend that with startup business practices and entrepreneurship and management so the intent for that particular degree is for individuals seeking the ability to run high quality programs in early childcare and education.” The School also offers master’s degrees in Education, Educational Leadership, and Literacy. It serves between 100 and 120 students.

A great deal of forethought and effort combined with the Lunder’s gift to produce the School. Thompson believes that if a college is to properly run a school of education, it first needs “to have a vision.” She continues, “you have to have a mission, and our mission here is basically to support students in their professional and personal lives to prepare them…Our overall vision for the School of Education is to prepare those educators to be 21st Century thinkers and to experience the art and science of teaching through creative innovation.”

Thompson is responsible for much of the School’s success. As School Chair, she faces both internal and external challenges. Internally, she is “responsible for schedules, responsible for the overall day-to-day management operations of our human resources as well as curriculum.” Externally, she communicates with “the State Department of Education, making sure that there’s the lines of communication within the community, nurturing relationships with local area schools so that our students have field experiences and student teaching experiences. Being active in service., being up in the field in research and education so that we can really truly be innovative.” On top of her demanding position, Thompson finds time to attend conferences in her own field of interest, Montessori education, and to continue her research.

Thompson acknowledges the longstanding relationship between Thomas and the Lunders and thinks that the Lunders “recognize through their most recent gift that the cost of education of a college degree is growing in expense and there’s a great need for support for our students.” Thanks to the Lunder’s charity, Thomas can provide scholarships and financial support to their students. In the same vein, the Lunder School of Education’s degree programs all take three years to complete, which is “a significant cost savings for college.”

Strong relationships with local schools are important to Thompson and the School. Thompson says, “I’m very proud that we have had a long-standing relationship with area schools, preceding me taking Chair and certainly when I arrived 11 years ago…We have schools ranging from private to public to childcare and education. We have a strong relationship with EduCare of Central Maine. So there’s a number of area schools, within Waterville and beyond, that we have relationships with. But we’re always looking to nurture, to grow, to develop the current relationships we have as well as to grow new ones.” As leader of the School, she is dedicated to the development and growth of schools in the Waterville area. “We are active in participating with Colby and the initiatives that David [Greene] has been leading with the Waterville educational environment. We’ve been at the table from the beginning and we want to be a good partner in that renewal and in that growth of the Waterville area,” stated Thompson.