George Sakellaris, a Greek immigrant who earned an electrical engineering degree from the University of Maine in 1969 and went on to become a leader in energy conservation and the founder of Ameresco, Inc., the largest independent energy solutions provider in North America, has been awarded the highest honor for alumni by the College of Engineering.
Sakellaris, who created two other highly successful energy conservation companies, was given the Edward T. Bryand Distinguished Engineering Award in November for his contributions to the energy industry and to his community.
“I’m pleased and honored, but at the same time humbled, because there are so many other graduates who deserve this more,” said Sakellaris in an interview before the ceremony where UMaine President Robert Kennedy presented him with the award.
Sakellaris lives in Milton, Mass., with his wife, Cathy, and children, Christina and Peter.
Committed to making a positive contribution to the health and welfare of the planet, he established Ameresco in 2000, aiming to help customers lower energy costs, increase energy reliability and enhance the environment.
Headquartered in Framingham, Mass., with offices throughout the U.S. and Canada, Ameresco has worked with hospitals, schools, public housing, government and businesses to modernize infrastructure, manage power supply, and build and operate renewable energy projects such as small scale windmills and hydroelectric dams and landfill gas-to-energy systems.
“There is no building that we haven’t gone into that we haven’t reduced their energy consumption by 25-40 percent,” said Sakellaris.
Known as a pioneer in solving tough energy conservation issues, Sakellaris was asked in 2005 to be among the technical experts to join the Clinton Climate Initiative, launched by the former President Bill Clinton. The partnership between the Clinton Foundation and some of the world’s largest cities aims to lessen the impact of harmful greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy demand.
“I was thrilled to be part of it,” said Sakellaris. Today, Ameresco is helping out by auditing energy use and performing building retrofits at no cost to homes in Louisiana.
Participating in the initiative has given Sakellaris the opportunity to spread his message that energy conservation is one of our best global supply options. “If everybody saved 20 percent of their energy costs that would translate to 25 billion barrels annually and emissions would be reduced by 9.55 billion metric tons of CO2 per year.”
His words have resonated, he added happily, noting that Bill Clinton and others have been repeating those numbers.
UMaine administrators praised Sakellaris for his many professional accomplishments and his foresight.
“For more than 35 years George has been at the frontier of tough energy conservation issues,” said President Kennedy, who hopes to work with Sakellaris on the University’s own energy plan.
“We at the University are very committed to energy conservation, so I have a special appreciation for the work that George has done and will continue to do.”
President Kennedy also noted Sakellaris’ “deep sense of integrity, powerful personal initiative, and respect for others.
“An unwavering commitment to family and community are also important to George, as is a sense of humility and the ability to be flexible and to think “out of the box.’’’
Professor Mohamad Musavi, chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, who nominated him for the Bryand Award, said Sakellaris had the courage to try new approaches and that his experience and influence have been helping to shape the energy industry for more than two decades.
“He was thinking about these issues 25 years ago when very few people were making the case that energy conservation made sound business sense. This is what distinguishes him. His accomplishments ultimately will benefit not only humankind but also the environment.”
Sakellaris’ story typifies the American Dream. He grew up on a farm in Sparta, Greece, where the importance of education, hard work, integrity and determination was instilled in him at an early age. His goal always was to attend college in the U.S., so after graduating from high school he packed his bags and moved to Bangor to live with the Brountas family who were relatives.
“You’ll be close to Orono. There is a great engineering school there,” they told him.
He enrolled at UMaine speaking little English, but armed with a fierce determination to build a better life for himself. He credits the flagship University with giving him a strong academic foundation thanks to excellent courses, such as power engineering and engineering economics, and patient, helpful professors such as Carlton Brown, Ned Sheppard, Fred Irons and Dick Hill.
“Socially, UMaine helped me too,” Sakellaris said. “I was exposed to different cultures and different people. It broadened my horizons.”
The days were jam packed as he juggled studies with jobs as a clerk in a variety store and a short order cook in the family restaurant. During the summer, he’d pick up the pace, working 16 hours a day seven days a week.
But he found time for fun, too, socializing with classmates and area families who would take foreign students under their wing.
The cold weather took some getting used to, Sakellaris admitted. “That first winter, I said to myself, ‘what am I doing here?’ But I stayed focused on the mission I came here for.”
After graduation, he began his career at New England Electrical Systems (NEES) where he adapted quickly thanks to his UMaine background.
“I knew so much that after four months, I told them I had enough training and that I wanted to really do something,” he told his boss. While working, he earned graduate degrees in electrical engineering and business from Northeastern University.
In 1979, he was recruited to analyze whether it made better economic sense for the company to promote energy conservation and energy management or to build a power plant.
“You’d better do the analysis if you want to move ahead,” a senior vice president advised him.
So Sakellaris asked for a team of bright young colleagues and they got to work and ultimately proved that indeed it was cheaper and better for the environment to encourage energy conservation and reduce consumption.
“We developed some analytical tools that are still being used today,” Sakellaris said.
He subsequently launched NEES Energy, a subsidiary of NEES, and pioneered the Energy Savings Performance Contract Concept (ESPC) which has since become a cornerstone in the industry. It operates under a simple premise, Sakellaris explained: “If I tell you you’ll save a million bucks, and you don’t, I’ll make up the difference.”
It’s all about integrity, he added. “Deliver the customer what you promise.”
Under Sakellaris’ guidance, NEES Energy implemented the first ESPC at the Mercantile Wharf in Boston in 1981.
In 1987 NEES was converted into NORESCO, an energy conservation company serving municipalities, government agencies, school districts and hospitals. Sakellaris served as president and CEO until 1997 when the company was acquired by Equitable Resources, an integrated energy company. He then served as president and senior vice president of that corporation.
Reflecting on the twists and turns his life has taken, Sakellaris said it’s hard to believe how far he has come. The personal motto that he adopted nearly 30 years ago has stood him in good stead: “Work harder than the other guy, be persistent and focus.”
Image Description: UMaine President Robert Kennedy, George Sakellaris, College of Engineering Dean Dana Humphrey, Chair of Electrical and Computer Engineering Mohamad Musavi
University of Maine students received the majority of scholarships presented this year by a Washington, D.C.-based group that promotes educational opportunities for Maine residents.
The Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. and its Foundation presented 12 students from the flagship University with scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $2,500.
Altogether this year, the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. and its Foundation awarded 16 scholarships – a record for the group which has been providing financial assistance since 1990 to students who are Maine citizens or residents, are attending accredited four-year higher-education institutions in Maine, and have a grade point average of not less than 3.0. Students from the University of Southern Maine and Colby College also received scholarships this year.
The Maine State Society was founded in 1894 as a “home away from home” for people with connections to Maine who live and work in the Washington, D.C., area. The oldest and most active of the state societies in our nation’s capital, the Maine State Society has approximately 1,000 members who provide the primary source of funding for the Foundation’s annual scholarship program. The Maine State Society also functions as a defacto alumni group, holding events nearly every month in which many of the more than 1,800 UMaine graduates who live and work in the Washington, D.C., area participate.
With the annual scholarship program, the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. and its Foundation helps students at the flagship University achieve their potential.
Joan Beach, vice-president of the Foundation, says the selection committee was impressed with the caliber of UMaine students.
“They are spectacular kids – motivated, enthusiastic, bright, and dedicated to their community. They are the best and the brightest,” says Joan, who has a summer home on Phillips Lake in Lucerne-in-Maine. She noted that in addition to earning stellar grades, the young people are involved in a host of outside activities including community service projects and mentoring programs.
UMaine students who received scholarships are:
Joan Hunter, president of the Foundation and past president of the Maine State Society, says the applicants are “so individual in their pursuits, yet all are outstanding as both citizens and students.
“The scholarship selection process reaffirms for me that young people from Maine are its most worthwhile and valuable asset,” she says. “I take a lot of pride in that. The students themselves are what motivate me to do this kind of work.”
Each year she gets thank you notes from recipients who tell her that the scholarship was a tremendous help as they pursued their education.
“It’s clear that this means a lot to them,” she says.
More than 70 students from colleges and universities throughout Maine applied for a scholarship this year, says Joan Beach, noting that UMaine Development Officer Pat Cummings helped boost the number of applications from Orono.
“I mentioned that it was unusual that we had only a handful of applicants so far. She got on the ball and the applications started rolling in.”
The trick, says Pat, was to alert UMaine deans and associate deans to the wonderful opportunity provided by the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. and its Foundation. They then passed the word along to their students who “responded with enthusiasm.
“There is a great need for scholarships,” Pat says. “The average student graduates with $18,000 in debt. We are so appreciative of the opportunity for our students to receive scholarships from this wonderful organization, and for our students to learn how a group of Mainers now living in our nation’s capital continue to give back.”
The scholarships given by the Maine State Society of Washington, D.C. and its Foundation afford young people “the opportunity to get a first class education at a terrific land grant school with a great heritage and a critically acclaimed academic community,” says Charles Stanhope, vice president of the Maine State Society and a 1971 UMaine graduate, noting the scholarly awards and the innovative research and development grants that the flagship University continues to receive.
A number of this year’s scholarship recipients are in UMaine’s Honors College, something that pleases Charles for a couple of reasons. His class dedicates its fund raising endeavors to the Honors College and, as a student at UMaine, he was a member of the Honors Program – the predecessor of the Honors College.
“I’m proud of what I learned and the experiences I had in the Honors Program,” says Charles, a Portland, Maine, native who has hosted events for Honors College student delegations when they visited Washington.
Honors College students “represent the diversity of strengths of the University of Maine,” says Dean Charlie Slavin. “They excel in their individual disciplines while exploring the interdisciplinary issues that expand their horizons and prepare them as citizens and leaders.”
Jay Cromarty graduated from the University of Maine nearly 30 years ago. But the Boston financial services executive still remembers his finance professor for his intellect, good humor and expertise.
Now Jay is spearheading an effort to raise $1 million to create the Dennis McConnell Professorship and has helped to get the ball rolling by making a generous pledge of $100,000 through the Office of University Development.
“Mac was someone who made a lasting impression,” says Jay, Class of ‘78, and president of the Eastern Region, Boston Private Financial Holdings. “He was a dynamic speaker and he had a great sense of humor. He clearly was having so much fun teaching and this came through. Finance can be a very dry subject, but he brought it to life. He helped propel a number of us into the field of finance.”
Other alums also like the idea of honoring Professor McConnell who retired in 1995 after nearly 20 years at UMaine. He now lives in Surry with his wife, UMaine business Professor Virginia Gibson. Although business majors Ed Keefe ‘86 and Scott Duggan ‘87 didn’t have him as a teacher, they contributed generously toward the professorship — which will be held at the University of Maine Foundation — and have become members of the Stillwater Society.
As supporters of Campaign Maine – UMaine’s largest-ever private fundraising campaign — all three loyal Black Bears are helping to achieve one of President Robert Kennedy’s goals of increasing the number of endowed professorships to draw national and international visibility and attract and retain quality faculty.
Noting that the UMaine Business School has been ranked among the top 150 business programs in the country, Ed, a chief financial officer with a venture capital firm in Boston, says more endowed professorships “will only help us move up in the national rankings.”
Endowed professorships are the hallmark of a great University, lending prestige, attracting top notch students and helping “weather the storm a little bit during down times with the state budget,” he adds.
A partner with the Boston law firm of Goodwin & Proctor, Scott says his support is “in appreciation of the quality of undergraduate education I received at UMaine.” After visiting the campus last summer, he was impressed with both the students and the facilities and says he is determined to give back to the UMaine Business School.
For his part, Professor McConnell says he was “stunned” when he learned of the plans to honor him.
“It’s such a magnificent act of kindness.”
Although he and Jay had not been in touch over the years, Professor McConnell says he immediately recalled his former student and says he always was confident of the young man’s success.
“It’s a special mark of respect and a unique honor that a group of students decided to get together and name an endowment after a faculty member,” says Dean John Mahon.
As UMaine Business School’s third endowed position, the McConnell professorship “will help it continue to survive and prosper. It’s an enticement to bring in new faculty and reward the wonderful existing faculty. It’s great because it allows the chair to move around. For several years it could be in finance, then in marketing, then in management. It allows the school some flexibility in its use.”
Another UMaine graduate who credits Professor McConnell with helping her launch a successful career is Elizabeth Maker Michaud ‘88, who says creating a professorship in his name is a fitting way to honor his “passion to inspire his students to achieve anything.”
Elizabeth, who works for Lockheed Martin and is responsible for helping the corporation modernize its business systems, says her former professor had a “magical” effect on her life.
“Denny was very inspirational, supportive and encouraging,” she recalls. “Whenever I felt down I’d go and sit in his office. He’d make me feel like I could do anything.”
Although he originally planned to major in history and English literature in college, Professor McConnell says he was hooked on finance as soon as he was introduced to the topic.
“It’s just so ordered. All the questions have answers and all the processes have sequences and solutions. After all these years I still enjoy the structure of it.”
Professor McConnell is more than an academician. Before joining the UMaine business faculty, he served as a consultant with Arthur Andersen and Company in Chicago and as a retail banker with the international banking division of American Express in Germany. While a member of the faculty, he founded and served as chairman of the board and chief financial officer of Butterfield Bottling Company in Bangor, and he co-founded and served as vice president of finance of Field Technologies, a manufacturer of hydraulic fluid-control valves, also in Bangor.
It was this real-world experience coupled with love of his subject that helped make Professor McConnell a gifted teacher, according to Jay Cromarty.
“It was a winning combination.”
Associate Dean Gloria Vollmers says she and other colleagues also enjoyed Professor McConnell’s quick wit and easy going personality.
“He was very good natured and outgoing. He loved the students.”
Drawn to UMaine because of its nationally known business faculty including then Dean Stan Devino and then Professor Neil Murphy, Professor McConnell says he enjoyed teaching here from day one.
“It was so much fun I couldn’t believe they paid me. The students made the whole process interesting. They paid attention, were always tuned in and had a great work ethic.”
Professor McConnell himself may have been instrumental in inducing several hundred high achieving students to come to the UMaine Business School after he wrote letters to applicants with stellar SAT scores and grades and invited them to attend the flagship University.
“I thought it would be a way to get students who really cared about school and the subject matter. It seemed to work. We had a lot of top students in the finance department. I enjoyed the personal contact and they were pleased and proud that they had been personally asked to come to the UMaine Business School.”
Determined to help all students get the most out of their education, Professor McConnell served for a number of years as advisor to the Maine Chapter of the Financial Management Association, a national organization that seeks to provide opportunities for students to interact with practitioners and to enhance the quality of finance education.
“My role was to act as cheerleader and get students enthusiastic about their studies and about doing well in the world of business,” says Professor McConnell who brought in speakers to discuss a myriad of topics involving finance.
“It was a way of establishing contact with people outside the University and showing students there was indeed life after school.”
His work with the Maine chapter of the FMA was one of his proudest career accomplishments. “It made students’ time at UMaine meaningful,” he says. “The University has an obligation to pay attention to students and tell them ‘we’re glad you’re here.’”
Retirement hasn’t slowed Professor McConnell down. He has been working with the U.S. Agency for International Development helping universities in eastern Europe and central Asia develop business programs. Traveling to these far-flung places has been “an interesting experience,” he says.
But he still manages to squeeze his favorite pastime into his busy schedule.
“There’s always time to sail,” he says.
Image Description: Finance Professor Dennis McConnell
University of Maine graduates living in the Atlanta area are one step closer to forming an alumni chapter.
They recently got the ball rolling thanks to Pete and Ada Lee Correll who hosted a dinner at their Atlanta home attended by more than 50 UMaine alums as well as by President Robert Kennedy and representatives from the University’s Office of Development.
The idea was to see if there was any interest in developing a UMaine alumni chapter.
Several Atlanta alumni pronounced the event a huge success. They praised the Corrells for their graciousness and said they welcomed the opportunity to meet other Black Bears. They said they enjoyed listening to President Kennedy discuss the exciting projects in which UMaine is involved. With more than 350 graduates in the Atlanta area, the time is ripe to create a UMaine alumni organization, they agreed. Members could build support for UMaine, spread word of the impressive things happening on campus, and even recruit students.
“All it takes is two or three people with some ideas and the willingness to pull people together,” says Patrice Krant ‘78, who planted the seed for the Atlanta event and co-hosted with the Corells.
For Patrice, it’s an especially fitting time to form an alumni group. “We’ve got Campaign Maine to tie it to,” she says, referring to UMaine’s $150 million campaign currently underway.
David Driscoll ‘87 is ready to roll. “I’d like to start laying the groundwork. I think there’s enough people who have shown an interest. I got several business cards from folks and I definitely will start getting in touch with them.”
The event was the first opportunity for Dan Lawless ‘75 to meet alums from Atlanta. He says he looks forward to more occasions to connect with UMaine grads.
“It would be great to build relationships around the University – it’s something we all have in common.”
Dorcas Goodwin Wilkinson ‘78 and ‘80 also is enthusiastic about the prospect of an alumni organization.
“Our primary mission should be to help share information about the great things that are happening at UMaine and engage alumni in supporting our alma mater. When you hear Dr. Kennedy and others speak about the important research going on and the great students we are recruiting, you want to give back because you realize you can have an impact.”
Alumni agreed that among the highlights of the dinner event was President Kennedy’s presentation about the cutting edge research and development initiatives UMaine is spearheading — such as the work being done in the Antarctic to find solutions to global warming — and the new educational opportunities the flagship University is providing – including the creation of the new school of policy and international affairs.
“It’s good to know UMaine is still growing,” says David.
Atlanta alumni say they were impressed with President Kennedy’s vision and leadership as well as his focus on economic development.
Patrice noted his obvious pride in UMaine and in the widespread recognition the flagship University is receiving both from in and outside the state.
“He’s a very good leader, very engaging,” she says. “He’s humble but his confidence in the school comes across.”
Alumni agree it did their collective hearts good to belt out the Stein song and reminisce about old times.
“It just warmed my heart to see to see so many people with fond memories and a strong connection to Orono,” says Patrice. “Everybody had a different story.”
Image Description: UMaine alums gather at Atlanta home of Pete and Ada Lee Correll
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.