Michael Delorge: UMaine 2024 Co-Valedictorian

Michael Delorge of Biddeford, Maine, is a 2024 valedictorian. Pursuing dual degrees in political science and biology, Delorge crafted coursework focused on public health policy with the goal of generating skills to improve medical care. Originally a pre-med student, he altered his studies to meet his interests and spent class time integrating topics such as plant biology with substance use policy. 

Having enrolled during the COVID-19 pandemic, Delorge sought to improve his experience by finding community in a way that joined leadership and public service. For the next four years, he participated in student government and UMaines Partners for World Health (PWH) chapter, a nonprofit organization that distributes recycled medical supplies to global communities. His senior year he became student government president, responsible for leading a 30-person team, making administrative decisions and advocating for undergraduates with an organizational budget of $1 million and oversight of 150 student groups. Delorge became co-president of UMaines PWH chapter his sophomore year, serving as president for the next two. In addition to distributing medical aid to communities in Senegal and assisting in sending 22,000 pounds of medical supplies to Ukraine, he more than doubled the number of student volunteers and secured $30,000 in grant funding. Through his commitment, he found a home in UMaine and learned the gratitude of leaving a community better than when he arrived. 

While he solidified connections to student groups, Delorge forged a relationship with the professor who would become his mentor and advise the research he continued for three years. His research aimed to understand and communicate the factors that make someone more likely to recover from substance use disorder a critical public health concern nationally and in Maine and was influential in informing a statewide response in policy. 

The research started in a collaborative practicum assisting the Maine Recovery Advocacy Project that Delorge independently extended as a Margaret Chase Smith Public Affairs Scholarship recipient. He is an intern for the Maine Primary Care Association and formerly interned for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and the Maine Medical Association. His internships have focused on researching, advocating and capitalizing on outreach to improve legislation through evidence-based public policy. 

Delorge plans to spend several years working in federal health policy in Washington, D.C. before pursuing a masters degree in public health and then returning to work in Maine. 

Do you have a specific person or memory that drives you to lead and advocate for community service?
My extracurricular involvement on campus was an effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. I arrived at UMaine in the height of the pandemic, fall of 2020. I knew that Id have to get involved to make college feel like home, make new friends and find success here. Getting involved is a feature of college, but the pandemic made it more apparent and exacerbated the problem of social isolation. Students were encouraged not to congregate. Meals were eaten alone in dorm rooms. Dorm lounges had little to no furniture. In-person club meetings were sparse, and meeting friends through classes was nearly impossible online.

To overcome that isolation, I joined UMaine Student Government and Partners for World Health, two commitments Ive stuck with for four years. Through these programs and others like it, Ive been able to meet like-minded students and create lifelong friendships. Ive also learned what it means to commit to something and have experienced the gratitude of leaving a community better than I found it. The pandemic pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me experience college outside of the classroom.

I began transfer applications to leave UMaine after my first semester because of the isolation I felt. But when I met Professor Rob Glover, developed connections to student groups and gained strong friendships, I knew I was in the right place. Ive been able to experience a lot here, and I owe much of that to Professor Glover. He was supportive of my ambition to become more involved. With his support my freshman year, I wrote an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News and pursued a voting engagement fellowship with him as my faculty advisor. During my sophomore year, I took his engaged policy studies practicum. When the course ended, Professor Glover agreed to be my research advisor while I continued my teams work independently. He advised my research for the next year and a half, helping me find financial support and providing other opportunities for my growth. Im on my way to a career in health policy because of his mentorship and care.

Explain how you plan to pursue your passion for public health and policy. How did pursuing dual degrees inform that passion? 
Although I was accepted to UMaine for biomedical engineering, I arrived as a biology

student with a pre-med concentration and originally wanted to go to medical school. I quickly realized that I missed the type of class discussion my humanities classes provided and began studying political science. It was a perfect choice. I loved my schedule each semester and how my days rotated around completely different topics. Every day was completely new and exciting.

I crafted my experiences and courses as best I could to create my own multidisciplinary public health policy program. For example, one of my favorite classes was plant biology, a course seemingly not at all related to what I want to do in the future. I took it to fulfill a bio credit, and when we were told to pick a plant and research its biology, I chose cannabis. I found a way to merge my interest in a plants biology with my work in substance use policy.

Ive learned about data analysis, deciphering different types of complex research literature, human anatomy, health and the legislative process. Id like to be able to use these skills to improve healthcare. Cost, affordability and access to medical care are important metrics, and Id like to utilize my undergraduate education to improve upon these for the people around me.

What inspired your work with substance use disorder in your practicum and as a Margaret Chase Smith Public Affairs scholarship recipient? 
As Ive grown up, naturally Ive learned more about peoples struggles with mental health and addiction. Their effect on many people, including those close to me, increased my understanding and empathy of the issue. I also began to understand how prevalent the substance use crisis is around the U.S. and in Maine. Many Mainers know someone with an addiction or someone who has been impacted by an overdose. With that said, Maine is on the cutting edge of a lot of substance use work: the most powerful Good Samaritan Law in the nation, a renowned overdose data-sharing system and a powerful advocacy community with whom my capstone group and I were lucky to work. Change is possible in Maine, and it was an encouraging place to engage with this research.

How do you find time for personal enjoyment or recreation with your commitment to academia and volunteer service? And how do you spend that extra time?
I love all of my academic and volunteer commitments, but Ive learned that when Im tired or burnt out I can recharge by spending time with other people. I have a great group of friends at college who are also busy with school and extracurricular activities. We all work similarly and support each other. Orono always has a fun activity to do, and Ive loved going on adventures with my friends both on and off campus.

I also love to cook, which has been a great way to refuel both emotionally and physically. One of my earliest memories is standing on a chair in the kitchen and stirring a pot for my mom while she made dinner. I love challenging myself to try new cooking recipes, and last year I started an Instagram account for the food I cook. I love that cooking is a hobby you can share.

Contact: Ashley Yates, ashley.depew@maine.edu