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Student Perspectives - Bri’s Blog

About Bri

Brianna Hughes of New Gloucester, Maine, is a Ph.D. candidate in food and nutrition sciences. Her current research, advised by Dr. Denise Skonberg, focuses on the evaluation of nonthermal shellfish processing methods. She received her bachelor’s degree from McGill University in 2007, and her master’s degree from UMaine in 2010 with value-added food product research focused on the utilization of fish oils for omega-3 fatty acid fortification of soft cheeses. She is also working toward a graduate certificate in Innovation Engineering.

Brianna’s academic and research achievements have earned numerous awards, most recently second place in the Natural Sciences Poster Competition of this year’s GradExpo, and the Outstanding Service Award from the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture in 2012. She also is a three-time recipient of the Suppliers’ Award for Outstanding Achievement from Northeast Institute of Food Technologists, and her research won first place in the Product Development Division of the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting & Food Expo in 2010.

For the past two years, Brianna served as the graduate student representative to the University of Maine System Board of Trustees. She chaired two Graduate Student Government committees as well as the K-12 Outreach Initiative, and is the student vice president of UMaine’s chapter of Phi Kappa Phi. For the 2013-14 academic year, Brianna received the first Blue Sky Fellowship, an initiative of Blue Sky Pathway 4 intended to increase the number of Graduate Fellowships. Brianna is working with President Ferguson to facilitate implementation strategies in year three of the Blue Sky Project.

In 2011, Brianna was one of two students named to the UMaine Blue Sky Strategic Planning Leadership Team and she is a member of Blue Sky Pathway 4 — Transforming Lives: Strengthening the UMaine Undergraduate and Graduate Student Experience.

She plans to pursue a career in research and development in the food industry.

Progress on Student Life Initiatives – March 27, 2014

For my fourth blog on Blue Sky strategies integration, I had the privilege of meeting with Dr. Robert Dana, Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students, to talk about all of the exciting initiatives going on in Student Life.  VP Dana described Student Life initiatives as constantly evolving, and all serving the ultimate goal of having a safe campus with universal engagement, from academic and intellectual engagement to social and cultural engagement.

VP Dana identified the most important Student Life initiative as the conversion and expansion of the Safe Campus project. The Office of Sexual Assault and Violence focuses on prevention, intervention, and training around issues of sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking.  Having Student Life oversee the OSAV has enabled UMaine to focus on prevention and training in a way that was not possible before.  There is also a cross-disciplinary Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention committee which helps to direct efforts to engage students, faculty, and staff in a way that helps them to understand other perspectives, to intervene if they see something, and to not be a by-stander who watches but does nothing to intervene in a way that protects a fellow student.

Student Life is moving forward with the Greek Life sorority village concept as part of initiative 4i.  The study of best practices has been completed, and the request for proposals is being prepared to go out.  The Memorial Union committee is busy overseeing initiative 4k for the on-going upkeep and maintenance of the Union which gets an incredible 2.5 million visitors annually! Initiative 4h is an emerging strategy currently requesting one-page proposals for STRIDES – Students, Technology, Responsibility, Inclusivity, Development, Engagement, Staff – the Student Life strategic plan which is aligned with the Blue Sky Plan.

Residence halls are at 107% occupancy right now, which is being addressed through initiative 4b.  Improving retention and graduation, initiative 2d, is shared with Academic Affairs and the Provost and VP Dana are partnering to identify national best practices that have not been implemented at UMaine but really need to be.  The CLAS Advising Center, funded by a PRE-VUE grant, is an example of UMaine’s responsiveness to these pressing needs.

Other great examples that are in the discussion phase are an early warning system for at-risk students, and the initiation of first year seminars.  The early warning system would replace the current system where it might be the 15th week of the semester before an advisor realizes a student is struggling.  This is a particular concern for first year students who are in big classes.  Part of that discussion is the idea of establishing advising centers in each college, and the use of first year seminars to match students with advisors, resources, help with test taking, and specific math and writing centers.  As VP Dana described the student experience, “all students are at risk – if you provide these resources to good students, they will do better, too.”  This inclusive and holistic approach is central to the tenets of Student Life and demonstrates their efforts to live up to UMaine’s Blue Sky Vision to be the “most distinctively student-centered and community-engaged of the American Research Universities”.

I asked VP Dana what he thought the best thing was about the Blue Sky Project as it pertains to Student Life.  His answer was that “it provides a continuous mode of assessment.  It is a sound scaffold to build from, but it is also cutting edge and accommodates new demands. The Blue Sky Project is a good forum for what we are doing and what we should be doing at the moment.”  VP Dana felt that the Blue Sky Project really is living up to its Blue Sky Vision, and that it is a value-added and student-centered plan.  He said that all one has to do is to walk through campus to feel the level of engagement we have here – “When we say we want to be student-centered, we really mean it. Active engagement is not an accident – students matter and are part of the solution.  They are not disenfranchised here. They are supported at all levels from student government to the President.”

The momentum and enthusiasm of Student Life for Blue Sky thinking and student-centered progress are contagious.  As Student Life moves toward completion of their emerging and in-progress initiatives, the positive impacts of the Blue Sky Project for student success will be unmistakable.

Progress on Research Initiatives – March 18, 2014

For my third blog on the integration of Blue Sky strategies throughout campus, I met with Dr. Carol Kim, Vice President for Research, to discuss the Blue Sky Research Initiatives that she and her office are working on. First though, I asked her about two challenges I feel UMaine is facing with regard to its role and identity as an American Research University in Maine:

  1. Finding how to explain, in a meaningful and lasting way, the importance and implications of research to our constituents and stake holders.
  2. Quantifying the relationship between research and academic success.

A recurring theme in Blue Sky meetings is how to best communicate all that we do at UMaine – we know what we do, but do others? As George Bernard Shaw said, “the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”  VP Kim agreed that communicating the importance and relevance of UMaine’s research mission is critical, especially now in such an uncertain, and competitive, fiscal climate.

While quantifying the connection between a student’s academic and future success and UMaine’s research mission is hard to do, it is an on-going effort and there are many ideas about how best to do that.  Improving communication across and off campus will lay the groundwork for future successes.  One way VP Kim is addressing research communication is through the updated, more user-friendly Research website, and the re-launching of the “Along the Mall” faculty highlights blog to further connect Maine citizens to the great things going on at UMaine.

VP Kim also described Human Resources (HR) and Marketing and Communication as catalysts for positive change on campus. Under VP Kim’s leadership, Research Center directors have embraced HR and Marketing and Communications as full partners which has led to increased communication and problem solving.  These efforts promote honest and evaluative conversations about current needs and concerns, while encouraging creativity, team-work, and feedback among directors.

Finally, VP Kim fully utilizes her Research Advisory Team, comprised of University Research Council (URC) representatives, to plan strategies for completing Blue Sky initiatives.  One of the ideas that emerged from these meetings was an Aging Initiative meant to “enable every unit to contribute in creative ways to improving health, maximizing community engagement, encouraging productivity, and preserving independence among older Mainers and their families.”  Maine is the oldest state in the U.S., and VP Kim is being proactive in her inclusive and interdisciplinary approach.  The Aging Initiative will flow through the Center on Aging and potentially involve the entire campus in innovative ways.

VP Kim’s goal for the Aging Initiative is to have other states with aging populations ask “What is Maine doing?” and look to Maine for examples of best practices for aging and technology. VP Kim is working with state-wide leaders, as well as Senator Susan Collins, who chairs the U.S. Special Committee on Aging, in the development of the Aging Initiative.  VP Kim also emphasized the importance of having students involved at every level, which goes back to the conversation about tying UMaine research to student success.  An example that is already in place is a biological engineering capstone in which students are working with residents at Dirigo Pines to help seniors “live and thrive in place.”  That kind of community partnership is exactly what it means to be a Land and Sea Grant institution – and through VP Kim’s leadership of the Aging Initiative more examples like this will surely emerge.

Progress on Administration and Finance Initiatives – January 27, 2014

This is my second blog focusing on the integration of Blue Sky strategies throughout campus. The Division of Administration and Finance is led by Senior Vice President Janet Waldron, who graciously met with me to discuss how she and her division have been working collaboratively to integrate a balanced financial model into all facets of the University of Maine.

As you can probably imagine, Administration and Finance is at the heart of Pathway 2, “Securing Our Future: Ensuring Financial Sustainability” and Pathway 5, “Restoring the Dream: Renewing Pride and Stewardship of Place”. Vice President Waldron’s leadership and expertise have enabled UMaine to successfully implement the Blue Sky Financial Model.

So what is the Blue Sky Financial Model? It is a budgetary model designed to consider all funds and balance them in a way that assures financial sustainability now and in the future. The Blue Sky Financial Model is different in that it is not meant to be a fixed solution, but rather will evolve as the financial climate does. It is highly sophisticated, and its cutting-edge metrics are informing national best practices as well as serving as a model within the University of Maine System.

Vice President Waldron and I discussed what it was that made the Blue Sky Financial Model so different, and so effective, compared to other financial models. Besides being all funds, she explained that a big difference was the diversity of attendance at the original Blue Sky Pathway 2 meetings. “It led to an enrichment of the language, we had accounting talking to development, and all of those different ideas helped to inform and evolve the financial model…it also took the best practices in all areas – development, research, academics, facilities – and synced them into one model to optimize the best return on investment.”

Administration and Finance is a division necessarily and naturally integrated into all of UMaine. Thanks to its stewardship of the Blue Sky Financial Model and gifts such as the Thomas P. Hosmer Fund, $83M in capital projects at UMaine have been completed. These include classroom and laboratory upgrades, building renovations, new construction, painting, and of course our beautiful new UMaine signs (just in time for graduation photos in the spring!).

It is easy to focus on the immediate needs of a campus, but it requires much more resolve to look forward. The Blue Sky Plan’s emphasis on sustainability has been at the forefront of the Division of Administration and Finance. Since 2002, there have been savings of $16M in avoided electricity and fuel use, a 35% reduction in trash, a 37% increase in recycling, and a 24% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions! Dining Services and Cooperative Extension partnered to start on-campus composting, and the UMaine Greens Project was started by Dr. Eric Gallandt to provide student-grown salad greens to our dining halls.

These are just some of the reasons why UMaine was one of only 16 universities nationally to make the Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll. The Division of Administration and Finance is always looking for ways to re-invest our hard-won resources back into the university. The Blue Sky Financial Model allows for constant reassessment of where we are, where we want to be, and how best to get there.

Progress on Academic Affairs Strategies – November 22, 2013

This Fall, it seems campus is just buzzing with positive and exciting things. The enhanced Blue Sky news website has been launched, which seamlessly links University of Maine news to the Pathways in one convenient location. The website also allows easy searching by keyword to connect everyone to progress as it occurs. The integration model is complex, involving all facets of campus, but in true UMaine spirit, it is a model of cooperation, collaboration, and community. The past year has been a tremendous success for UMaine despite many external challenges. As President Ferguson detailed in Blue Sky Impacts, the UMaine 2013Annual Report, UMaine achieved enrollment increases, a balanced budget, bold and unified branding, numerous student initiatives, broad outreach through public and private partnerships, and an investment of approximately $85M in campus improvement. These achievements are the work of the entire campus community through the individual Pathways and the support and leadership of our administration.

This year, the integration of these Blue Sky initiatives began with the deliberate responsibility for the Pathway strategic initiatives moving to specific Cabinet members and their campus advisory teams. The UMaine mission to be the most student-centered and community engaged of the American Research Universities is well under way, and in my Blog, I will be highlighting specific progress of the Blue Sky Strategies through the perspective of each Cabinet member. This first Blog to begin this series will focus on the Division of Academic Affairs.

Provost Jeff Hecker was appointed September 1st, and he immediately began working to implement the many Academic Affairs-related initiatives in the Blue Sky Project. Strategies that had been completed prior to his move to the Provost’s Office included establishment of the PRE-VUE funded UMaine Humanities Center (Strategic Initiative 1b), review of UMaine organizational structure and focus (Strategic Initiative 2h), and enhancement of undergraduate research through the PRE-VUE supported Center for Undergraduate Research (Strategic Initiative 4a). There are 11 strategies still in progress, and to demonstrate the integrated nature of Year 3, only three of those strategies are solely the responsibility of Academic Affairs. The other eight are shared initiatives among other university divisions.

I met with Associate Provost Jeff St. John to discuss what strategies were coming out of the Provost’s Office to ensure continued progress. He explained that on shared initiatives, the Provost is taking the lead as Chief Academic Officer, informed by input from the Deans’ Council, the Provost’s Council, and the Provost’s Executive Council, as well as the Cabinet members sharing the initiative and their respective advisory teams.

Provost Hecker has certainly hit the ground running since September, spearheading a number of critical changes for Academic Affairs supporting the Blue Sky Plan including:

These are just a sampling of the many initiatives coming out of Academic Affairs, but it is easy to see the positive effect throughout campus already. The Provost’s leadership in just the past few months has been highly inclusive and effective. His commitment is clear for achieving integration of Academic Affairs throughout all of the Blue Sky Plan Pathways.

The Blue Sky Plan “Creation to Integration” – July 19, 2013

I have been very fortunate to have been a part of the Blue Sky Plan since its inception in the fall of 2011. The 26 members of the Blue Sky Team were chosen for their campus engagement and diverse interests in the future of the University of Maine. There were members from each college, alumni, undergraduates and graduate students, faculty and staff, administration and outside constituents. It has truly been an inclusive experience, made even more so by President Ferguson’s Community Conversations and the entire Team’s effort to host over 30 information gathering sessions. We read each and every submission that was made, which I felt really spoke to the President’s goal of having the Blue Sky Plan be a campus-owned initiative, and not just an on-paper strategic plan.

In our first meetings as a group, discussions revolved around our mission and our vision, essentially asking who are we? Our first discovery was that while we were all familiar with our own niche on campus, we had limited knowledge of what was happening not only across campus, but sometimes within our own buildings or colleges. It was as if a spark had been set off, and suddenly the discussions were transformed from “who are we?” to “who do we want to be?” These revelations gave rise to the five Pathways, which describe who we want to be at the end of 2017. The Pathways contain the specific goals of the Blue Sky Plan, and are tribute to an incredible year of discovery, partnership, creativity and commitment.

Year 2 was all about Implementation, and transforming the 30,000-foot perspective of the Pathways to boots-on-the-ground reality. The Blue Sky Team broke into individual Pathway groups, as well as a Communication Team and a Leadership Team. The integral aspects of inclusivity and diversity were maintained from Year 1, but the groups worked individually to balance and prioritize the initiatives within their own specific Pathways. Along the way, community engagement was achieved through videos, numerous presentations by President Ferguson across the state, and a newly launched website. Progress was mapped, so everyone could see what each Pathway team was working on and what they had already finished. Some initiatives were completed very quickly, while others will take the full five years to finish. In all though, Year 2 was really about working together to organize and deliver a feasible and fiscally sustainable plan.

Now we are getting ready for Year 3, the moment-of-truth Integration phase, where all of our momentum as a campus has led. Year 3 will really bring the Blue Sky Plan to every level as the Pathway initiatives are achieved. We have the opportunity through the Blue Sky Plan not only to transform the University of Maine right now, but to take hold of our future. The Blue Sky Plan is not a strategic plan fixed in time, but is a continual improvement process fueled by the cooperative sense of spirit that has been so fundamental to the Blue Sky Plan all along. As Henry Ford so aptly put it, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” Year 3 is going to bring about many exciting changes to the University of Maine, and I am excited to be a part of them!

Image Description: Brianna Hughes

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