University of Maine civil engineering students will have better access to state-of-the art laboratory equipment thanks to a $75,000 pledge from a Gray company co-founded by the son of a professor who taught at the Orono campus for close to 40 years.
The gift from Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers will be put towards an endowment to maintain and upgrade the Soil Mechanics Lab in Boardman Hall where each year approximately 100 students in civil engineering and construction management technology receive training on how to investigate subsurface conditions and materials.
“This is one way to give back to the university. It will help establish a predictable funding stream that’s independent of the legislative process,” said Thomas Gorrill, son of UMaine civil engineering professor William Gorrill who retired in 1986. Thomas Gorrill and his partner, Al Palmer, founded the engineering company in 1998.
The gift will help ensure that the UMaine students the company regularly hires are prepared for the workforce, said Palmer. “We’d like to see that graduates out of UMaine have a thorough knowledge of the fundamentals in geotechnical engineering because it’s the basis of all civil engineering projects,” he said.
In honor of the firm’s generous contribution the facility has been named the Gorrill-Palmer Consulting Engineers Soil Mechanics Laboratory. During a dedication in April, 2007, UMaine President Robert Kennedy thanked the company and its 24 employees, many of them UMaine engineering graduates.
“This is really a wonderful example of how companies in Maine can step up to the plate and make a lasting difference to the College of Engineering,” Dean Dana Humphrey said. Gorrill-Palmer is highly regarded in Maine and throughout northern New England for its transportation engineering work, he added.
The gift comes as part of UMaine’s $150 million capital campaign – the most ambitious in the history of the flagship campus — and makes the third named laboratory in the civil engineering department and the tenth in the College of Engineering.
Endowments are more important than ever because technology becomes obsolete so quickly, according to Humphrey. “We have to replace our equipment on a much more frequent basis and we need to have endowments like Gorrill-Palmer to provide that critical level of support,” he said.
A faculty member in UMaine’s civil engineering department for nearly 40 years, William Gorrill taught soil courses and was instrumental in hiring Humphrey as his replacement, the interim dean recalled.
The gift “is just a wonderful connection between father and son,” Humphrey said
His father “probably would be very pleased” about the gift, said Gorrill, who has maintained close ties with UMaine over the years. He is a member of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering advisory board. And he has been a guest speaker at the Orono campus on numerous occasions.
“The gift is going to be huge for us,” said Eric Landis, interim chair of the civil engineering department, noting that a first-rate lab would help recruit top faculty and students.
“We want to be a state-of-the-art facility and this will help us do that,” he said.
A University of Maine graduate wants to make it easier for Boston-area alumni who are active in the business community to stay connected with one other and with their alma mater.
Edward Keefe, who earned a bachelor’s degree in business in 1986 and now lives in Belmont, Mass., hosted a cocktail reception in Boston on April 11, for UMaine alumni and friends to socialize, network, and catch up on the latest news about the campus.
President Robert Kennedy was on hand to provide an overview of some of the University’s recent accomplishments. He was accompanied by business Professor John Mahon, founding director of the new School of Policy and International Affairs, who discussed the shrinking international economy. Dean Dan Innis of the College of Business, Public Policy and Health, also attended.
“This is really about the University making an effort to reach out to alumni here in Boston,” Keefe said.
Approximately 80 invitations were sent, he said.
UMaine grads are looking for ways to link up, according to Keefe, chief financial officer at M/C Venture Partners in Boston. He came up with the idea of holding an “outreach event” last fall during a breakfast for Orono alumni at the UMaine/Boston College football game. The morning gathering was jam-packed with enthusiastic UMaine supporters from throughout the Boston region, he recalled.
“It was a great turnout. For me, that’s when the light went on. It just proved that people wanted to network, but that there needed to be events to draw everyone together. The interest was definitely there,” he said.
Keefe was optimistic that the reception at the Union Club inspired many former Black Bears to develop and strengthen their relationship with the University.
“Not everyone can get to Orono as much as they’d like, so this was the perfect opportunity to bring people together,” he said. “Once they become more connected, this will feed on itself. If everyone who leaves the room can talk to one more person and spread the word, it’s one of those things that could build on itself. In five years, we could easily get to 200 members. It’s not a hard goal.”
Todd Saucier, president and executive director of the University of Maine Alumni Association, said creating a smaller group of alumni who share a common interest would “be a great complement” to the general Boston-area alumni organization and would strengthen UMaine’s presence in the region.
“They’re our largest population outside the state of Maine,” he said.
Keefe plans to do some follow-up after the meeting and call participants to garner ideas about how they’d like to proceed. “We’ll do some market research about what we can do to better serve the group,” he said.
For example, members could start out by gathering two to three times a year “to see how it feels,” Keefe said. Meetings could be held in different locations, including Portsmouth, N.H., and even Portland.
“We could rotate the meetings, so it’s not just a Boston focus,” he said, noting that athletic events could be used as the setting for some get-togethers. Each meeting would feature a guest speaker as well as a representative from UMaine who would provide an update about the goings-on at the flagship university.
It’s not just alumni who would be drawn in, according to Keefe. “Many people in the Boston area grew up in Maine and have a real fondness for the University, whether they went there or not, he said.
A native of Watertown, Mass., Keefe decided he wanted to go to UMaine when he was visiting the campus as a high school senior. “I still remember walking across the mall with my dad, headed to Fogler, and thinking that I felt at home here â€” that there was something special about this place.”
For him and for countless other alumni, that feeling endures, according to Keefe.
“People want to find a way to connect back with the University and make sure it succeeds for another 150 years,” he said.
The new group he has started is likely to do just that.
TD Banknorth employees discovered recently they have more in common than just their jobs.
They also are University of Maine alumni.
Early in April, the Portland-based bank held a reception so staff members who graduated from the flagship University could connect with one another and hear from President Robert Kennedy about the exciting new academic programs, research and development initiatives and construction projects happening on campus.
“The purpose was to explore ways that the bank and the University could come closer together,” said Ted Scontras ‘71, TD Banknorth executive vice president for higher education. “Every single person there left so impressed with what Dr. Kennedy outlined – not only the accomplishments but his vision. It was quite exciting to hear about where the University is going.”
UMaine alumni from the last five decades attended the afternoon gathering at the Cumberland Club in Portland.
“It was fun to see the bank employees, from a number of locations in Maine, meet each other as colleagues and alums,” said Karen Boucias, director of international programs at UMaine. She graduated from the University with Ted and was instrumental in getting the reception off the ground.
While some of the alumni who attended the event regularly return to UMaine, others hadn’t seen the campus in 15 years, she pointed out. But the recent get-together may have turned that around.
“We think they’ll come back.”
University officials and representatives from the Development Office, the Alumni Association and the Foundation also attended the event and were pleased to see graduates who care about supporting the University so it can continue to thrive.
“We all get involved in our business world and it’s often hard to take time to talk about and think about what helped you get there,” said Ted. “But, clearly, UMaine helped us get where we are.”
With offices throughout the state, TD Banknorth has nearly 9,000 employees, many of whom are UMaine graduates, he said. Because organizers aimed to keep the recent gathering small, they primarily invited staff only from the southern part of the state.
But since the event was so successful, the bank likely will hold more UMaine alumni get-togethers down the road. In fact, President Kennedy suggested the company hold a reception right here on campus.
“We’d love to do that,” Ted said.
Image Description: Ted Scontras, TD Banknorth Executive Vice President is on the left, and UMaine President Robert Kennedy is on the right.