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Student Success Stories - Nathaniel Wildes

Nathaniel WildesNathaniel Wildes
Political Science major
Innovation Engineering minor
Honors College
Cumberland, Maine

How did you get into Innovation Engineering?

The Foster Center for Student Innovation is one of the reasons I chose to come to UMaine. I was looking for a place that had a liberal arts foundation so I could get into the theory and science of political science. But I also wanted to have that grounding of real-world research — something that was real now — so I was focusing on schools that offered an engineering major, and when I found the innovation center, it was the best of both worlds for me.

For the uninitiated, what’s Innovation Engineering all about?

Its purpose is to bring together people from across the academic spectrum and help them make their ideas real, whatever those ideas may be. It’s about taking the principles of engineering — it’s a system and a process — and applying it to innovation, to creativity.

Innovation Engineering is not like anything I had experienced before. It’s open and accepting of everyone in such a way that it allows every student to excel. The diversity in the classroom is enormous — you have engineers, English majors, philosophy majors, microbiology majors — and that diversity is what makes it so great. It’s what drives innovation in the classroom. The more diverse thinking skills you have in a room, the better the ideas.

How does it apply to your own course of study?

With political science, I’m learning how to best create, communicate and make political ideas, whether it be law, convincing people to vote for you, to make legislation real, or to make it more effective.  Government exists to make our lives better; from security to encouraging economic growth, using a process like Innovation Engineering can help make government work more effectively.

How has UMaine shaped your plans for the future?

At the University of Maine, you develop a huge tool kit, a huge set of skills, resources and knowledge. When you graduate, you may have a certain profession as a goal, but really, you’ll enter the real world knowing you have the skills to go anywhere. I think college is more about developing a tool kit for life. If you do what you love, the money will come.

You were a summer intern at Eureka! Ranch, the Ohio-based innovation think tank run by UMaine alumnus and faculty member Doug Hall. What was that like?

There were four of us. We had all been in Innovation Engineering classes, and the Innovation Engineering curriculum at UMaine is essentially the business model behind Eureka! Ranch. It helps companies, nonprofits and government come up with new ideas that create a positive impact on people’s lives. The internship gave me the motivation and courage to take risks in the classroom that I might not normally have taken. Doug Hall’s philosophy is “fail fast, fail cheap,” which frees you up to take small, incremental risks without sinking the ship. For me, that has meant challenging my professors. It has meant approaching my education in the classroom as a much more dynamic entity — of trying to find out what the courses I’m taking mean to me and to the world.

What was a typical week like?

On any typical project, 120 hours of work had to be done in 48. Everyone at Eureka! Ranch treated us like real employees. They gave us the responsibility of real employees and we were expected to perform like real employees.

What about the networking opportunities?

I met hundreds of leaders from the private sector, nonprofits and the U.S. government that I never would’ve met on my own.  It was a great learning opportunity, and opened a lot of doors. Especially in politics, who you know is very important to making valuable connections for the future.

Who are your mentors?

Doug Hall is an inspirational leader, a visionary, and he has endless energy for doing what’s right and doing what you love.  Renee Kelly and Jesse Moriarity of the Foster Center for Student Innovation are clearly focused on the students and very supportive of your dreams.

How are the professors?

Innovation Engineering professors are here because they want to be here and they believe in the impact of what they’re doing. That sets them apart, adds to the value of the classes, and in that regard, the professors are clearly people to look up to.

How has UMaine shaped your outlook?

To have a day when you don’t learn something new? That doesn’t exist here. You’ll have experiences that alter what you value in the world. You’ll have experiences that change your perspective, your perception and your outlook. I have peers here from all different disciplines from all over the world. When you have that much diversity in one location, that sheer volume of resources, you can’t not grow.

How would you describe UMaine students?
There is no such thing as a ‘typical’ UMaine student, but a love for hockey, the outdoors, and the color blue are definite trends.

What surprised you about UMaine?

I was pretty intimidated by the fact that there are 12,000 students here, but the reality is, it becomes a small world pretty quickly. It’s a tight community of students. Now, it’s impossible for me to walk anywhere without seeing someone I know on a first-name basis, but at the same time, it’s impossible for me to go a day without meeting someone new.

Tell us about a memorable UMaine moment

There was a time at a hockey game when I was sitting in the bleachers and I realized the people sitting next to me were two professors who co-taught the first class I took as a freshman. They were all riled up. Everyone was yelling and screaming and having a great time on a Friday night. When one of those professors turned to me, jabbed me in the shoulder and said, ‘Good game, huh, Nate?’ that really clarified how close-knit of a community this is.

What is your favorite UMaine tradition?

It’s not a formal tradition, but the fact that everyone holds the door open for someone else speaks volumes about the people here. In my experience, UMaine is the only place where if you don’t hold the door open for someone, even if they’re 50 feet away, it’s considered rude. Black Bear courtesy is something that defines the community very well.

What do you think of the location?

It’s the perfect distance from everything. It’s just far enough away from downtown Orono and Bangor that we have a real community on campus, but we’re still within a few hours’ drive of the tallest mountain in Maine, ski resorts, Acadia National Park and some of the most beautiful places to get outdoors. You can see the first sunrise in the United States. The opportunities to go places are boundless. We’re not here to have our college experience defined by a campus boundary. We’re here to have our college experience defined by the entire state of Maine.

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