How the Island Institute’s Fellowship Program Became a Maine Coast Fixture

At the program’s quarter-century mark, we look back at fellows’ local impacts and lasting connections to host communities

Downeast Magazine
Posted 2024-06-28

Published by Downeast Magazine on June, 2024. 

In 1999, fresh out of college, two women signed up to be dropped into small island communities as part of the Rockland-based nonprofit Island Institute’s fellowship program. Except that there was no fellowship program, at least not really. The institute’s mission, since its founding 16 years earlier, had been to support the economic and social well-being of coastal towns, but it had never tried this before. The inaugural fellows were Jes Stevens and Susan Olcott. Stevens was assigned to Monhegan, 10 miles offshore, Olcott to Chebeague, tucked into Casco Bay. Their job was to work with local fishermen to do sea sampling, to advance a scientific understanding of lobster populations that could inform fisheries policy. During their time on the islands, though, the two fellows found themselves engaging with a lot more than just work. They formed friendships, helped out in the local schools, and attended social functions. They became part of the community.

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