As we move into the first full month of summer — with high hopes that actual summer weather will arrive soon — there is no shortage of news and information to report about the University of Maine. Our campus is a busy place, with summer classes underway, activities such as sports camps for children and the usual ongoing activity in research facilities, offices and other areas across campus an in our many affiliated facilities around the state.
I’ll begin this month’s Go Blue message with a couple of comments about the draft report issued last week by the University of Maine System’s “New Directions, New Challenges” task force. That group, assembled by the chancellor in January, has worked extremely hard over the past few months. It was given a difficult task and I think we all owe its members our gratitude for their commitment to this effort, aimed at finding ways to improve Maine public higher education. There is much to like in the task force’s draft report. It appropriately outlines many of the broad goals that can lead to the more efficient, more effective system necessary to assure a brighter future for our state and its residents. At the same time, as I have told the task force in a response I provided last week, there are elements that concern me, both in my role as UMaine’s president and as one who cares deeply about this state and its future. I encourage each of you to read the report carefully and to make your voice heard, if you are so inclined. While the initial window for comments has closed, there will be many more opportunities as the task force, the chancellor, the board of trustees, the presidents and the public continue to work our way through this difficult, but critical, issue.
Let’s now turn to a few items more typical of my monthly updates, reflecting on the accomplishments of UMaine’s faculty, students and staff.
The rainy June weather has led to a great deal of news and other public discussion about the rain’s impact on Maine’s agriculture industry. I am always pleased to note the extent to which UMaine Cooperative Extension takes the lead in helping manage this kind of issue and in helping the public understand the implications. Whether it’s David Handley commenting on the strawberry crop, Steve Johnson or Jim Dwyer helping provide information about managing late blight on tomatoes or Jim Dill explaining how homeowners can manage pest issues associated with unusual conditions, Extension is front-and-center, bringing UMaine expertise to these discussions that are so important to people all around Maine.
Extension is also partnering with Whole Foods Markets to provide food preservation outreach activities, including classes at Whole Foods Market’s Portland store, throughout the summer and into the fall. Kathy Savoie, an Extension food safety expert based in Cumberland County, is taking the lead in this project that will bring important advice and information to people in southern Maine. Of course, that information is available to people who can not attend those workshops online at www.extension.umaine.edu/food/.
When Maine voters approved a $50 million bond in 2007, the state created a demanding process for researchers to follow to apply for those funds in two cycles, over the course of two years. While we expected UMaine researchers to compete effectively for that funding, their success in the program has exceeded our expectations. Last summer, the state funded six UMaine projects; this year’s awards, announced in June, included four more projects to be conducted at UMaine. In addition to those four UMaine projects, the university is involved as an R&D partner in seven other projects announced in last month. The total awards for the 11 projects involving UMaine is more than $16.1 million, all for work that will lead to significant economic benefits for Maine.
While a news release describes all the projects in which UMaine will play a part, let me just note those four for UMaine-specific R&D:
- $3.69 million to create the New Media Innovation, Research and Development Center at UMaine (Owen Smith)
- $1.2 million to establish a coordinated technical center for autonomous survey vehicles for measuring Gulf of Maine ocean properties and making that information available to business, the public and other researchers (Neal Pettigrew)
- $1.08 million to upgrade UMaine’s Process Development Center in Jenness Hall, a facility that’s critical to collaborative projects that benefit the pulp and paper industry (Michael Bilodeau)
-$883,000 for a wide-ranging, innovative project that will support STEM education in Maine while enhancing biotechnology research and education infrastructure (Susan McKay and Sam Hess)
It’s important to note that every one of these projects includes collaboration with outside research institutions and/or business concerns. That collaborative approach is truly a hallmark of UMaine R&D, and it is a key reason that the state’s investment is paying off.
I am pleased to announce that the Campaign Maine total stands at $110 million toward its $150 million goal. This total is up $24 million from one year ago, when the Campaign stood at $86 million. Campaign Maine is broadly focused on student and faculty support, and all pledges and contributions made between July 1, 2005 and Dec. 30, 2011 will be counted. We are grateful to those who have contributed to date and to our development staff, fundraising partners, deans, directors, and faculty for their continued dedication to the achievement of university priorities.
Congratulations to Mary Cathcart and her colleagues at UMaine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center on the great success of Maine NEWLeadership, a program that’s new to Maine, but based on Rutgers University’s successful efforts based at its Center for American Women in Politics. Maine NEWLeadership was a six-day program for college women interested in careers in government and politics. The group spent most of its time on campus, but also visited the State House in Augusta to observe first-hand Maine’s wonderful tradition of women in leadership roles. Of course, Mary Cathcart herself — a former Maine State Senator — occupies a prominent role in that tradition. Cooperative Extension helped to present the program, with Jen O’Leary and others from Extension having key roles in making it such a success.
I was also pleased to note recently that Sharon Barker, director of UMaine’s Women’s Resource Center, received the 2009 Achievement Citation Award for Maine from the American Association of University Women. Sharon, who has made incalculable contributions to community and women’s groups around Maine for many years, was also inducted earlier this year into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame.
Researchers at UMaine’s AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center have received a patent for new technology that could have a significant impact on the building construction industry. Doug Gardner and Steve Shaler have developed an improved version of Oriented Strand Board that is more resistant to water absorption and swelling. OSB has been used extensively, especially in single family homes, for more than 20 years and this new product really helps solve some significant issues.
I noticed an interesting news story in mid-June, with UMaine education professor (and associate dean) Jan Kristo talking about the importance of summer reading for children, and offering advice parents can use to promote that kind of activity. Jan’s perspectives were interesting, and her insights helped to draw attention to UMaine’s outstanding literacy education program, which has a real impact on people across Maine through the education it provides to teachers.
Kimberly Dean, a recent graduate of UMaine’s College of Education and Human Development, had the opportunity to serve as a panel speaker at the National Association of Young Children’s Professional Development Institute in North Carolina last month. Kimberly is co-president of UMaine’s Early Childhood Organization (EChO), which provides advocacy for early childhood education and is the largest of its kind in the nation. At the North Carolina conference, she discussed the creation of the organization and the group’s planning activities. What a wonderful opportunity for a new alumnus to gain valuable experience and share an important message.
Congratulations to athletic director Blake James and his staff for a very successful weekend event honoring former Black Bear baseball coach John Winkin. UMaine’s former major leaguers — including Bill Swift and Mike Bordick — were on hand, along with Baltimore Orioles and ESPN radio play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne, also a UMaine graduate. The tribute to Coach Winkin was touching, and a most appropriate gesture for a Black Bear legend.
I will conclude this month’s message by mentioning two long-term faculty members who are leaving UMaine to pursue career opportunities at other institutions. Education professor Dianne Hoff is leaving UMaine for an associate dean’s position at the University of West Georgia. Dianne’s teaching, scholarship and service at UMaine have been exemplary and we will always remember with fond appreciation her service as Faculty Senate during this past academic year. Bahman Baktiari, a political science professor (Middle East expert) and driving force behind UMaine’s School of Policy and International Affairs, is also leaving UMaine. Bahman will become director of the Middle East Center at the University of Utah. I wish Dianne and Bahman the best and I hope they will take with them fond memories of their time serving UMaine and its students.
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