News icon Mitchell Scholar Michelle Henaire reflects on her six-year run as chair of the MIAC MILE II Committee

Scholars and Alumni, if you have enjoyed a MILE II event at Unum over the past eight years, Mitchell Scholar Michelle Henaire is among those deserving of your thanks.

Henaire, the 2012 Scholar from Thornton Academy, has the distinction of being one of the most steadfast leaders of the Mitchell Institute Alumni Council’s MILE II Committee in the organization’s nearly 30-year history. And if you didn’t know that, it’s probably because of the way Henaire rolls—never calling attention to herself or her contributions, but always working tirelessly to ensure the best possible MILE II experience for Scholars and Alumni.

Henaire, who will soon complete her six-year term on the Mitchell Institute Alumni Council (MIAC) and end her tenure as chair of the MILE II Committee, first gained experience with planning and operationalizing the day-long career- and professional-development program in early 2018.

Back then, she had yet to be nominated to join MIAC and officially serve on the group’s MILE II Committee. But her love of the event caught the attention of then-MIAC member Brandy (Egan) DeMerchant, who asked Henaire if she would consider executing the event’s first-ever Employer Expo, the mini-career fair in which representatives from Maine’s top employers make themselves available to discuss internship and career opportunities.

“MILE II was always my favorite part of being a Mitchell Scholar,” Henaire said. “When I was at UMF, the Mitchell Scholars rented a van to make the drive down to Unum together. It was such a fun and strong bonding experience.”

University of Maine at Farmington Mitchell Scholars (left to right) Kayla Girardin ’13, Nick Georgen ’13, Mary Delorenzo ’10, Rachel Goding’ 13, Henaire, and Taylor McCafferty ’11 strike a pose before piling into a UMF van for the 2014 edition of MILE II at Unum.

When she joined MIAC later in 2018 and was named chair of the MILE II organizing committee in 2020, Henaire was well positioned to realize her goal for the event—and for Scholars.

“MILE II made such an impression on me that I wanted to make sure Scholars had an even better experience than I had,” she said.

Henaire says her investment of time in planning the early March event begins the prior May.

“I start thinking about MILE II once I learn who is on my committee for the year. I also spend some time before then writing out my plan for the annual MIAC retreat, which is the big kickoff held in June,” she said. “There, I try to establish the tentative agenda, assignments, and discuss the overall theme of the event. Since it’s usually the only time we meet in person, I like to get a lot of stuff done that weekend.”

Following the June MIAC retreat, Henaire says the MILE II Committee meetings fall into a monthly cadence. On top of setting the agenda for and running those meetings, Henaire steadily chops down the to-do list, holds one-on-one sessions with committee members to answer questions and keep things moving, and communicates with employer representatives about the Expo.

Although Henaire’s day job is serving Kennebunk Savings Bank and its customers as a Consumer Underwriter II, MILE II is never far from her thoughts 10 months of the year.

“I spend a lot of time just thinking about the event without specifically working on it, or I may just jot down notes somewhere when I think of something I need to do,” she said. “It really depends on what is happening at the time and where we are in the process.”

Since 2018, the Employer Expo has occupied a lot of Henaire’s thinking. Assembling the lineup of representatives from businesses and organizations requires considering a matrix of questions. Among them, who attended last year, who indicated a desire to return next year, were there industry gaps in last year’s lineup, and are there Mitchell Scholar Alumni working at organizations who would be willing to staff a table at the event and engage with attendees?

Despite all its moving parts, the Employer Expo remains Henaire’s favorite part of the signature program that has been generously funded and hosted by Unum. The payoff for all the hard work, she says, comes from reading attendee survey responses year after year.

“It’s a challenge to put together,” she said of the Employer Expo. “But it’s consistently very highly rated by survey respondents. When I see comments like, ‘Because of the Employer Expo, I got a job,’ that’s when I know why I do it.”

Michelle Henaire ’12, has the Kennebunk Savings Bank table set up for the Employer Expo at the 2020 edition of MILE II. The event was held just days before Maine and much of the nation shut down in response to the pandemic.

Now that the 2024 edition of MILE II is in the books, Henaire is working to set the table for her MIAC successor with lots of legacy documentation about the event. Her notes include a comprehensive list of all Employer Expo invitees over the years, as well as some pro-tips, like putting two weeks between MILE II and its snow date.

“It’s a good idea to give yourself that time in case you need to find alternates for session presenters who can’t make the snow date,” she said. “You also have to be OK with the reality that despite all the preparation and hard work, sometimes things don’t always work out and it’s not always going to be perfect. But Scholars are going to appreciate it.”

Although Henaire says she doesn’t know who her successor will be, she recently met an incoming MIAC member who raised her hand for the role, declaring, “I want to be Michelle 2.0.”

“It was a very cool moment that made me feel great,” Henaire said.

Whoever has the privilege of attempting to fill Henaire’s shoes, she has this parting advice for gauging success: “When you read lots of ‘I’m really glad I came’ in the participant feedback, that’s what you want to see. That’s when you know it was a good one.”