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Grad student recognized for research project

Karen Hutchins, a University of Maine Ph.D. candidate in Communication and Journalism and a graduate research assistant for Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative, was recognized by the National Science Foundation for her research poster on partnerships between universities and municipalities. That recognition came at NSF’s National EPSCoR Conference in October.

Hutchins won the Judges’ Pick Runner-Up Prize for her poster “Linking Knowledge with Action Through Municipality-University Partnerships: Predicting Interest in and Preference for Partnerships.” The poster presents preliminary results from Hutchins’ new statewide survey of 1,176 Maine municipal officials.

Hutchins and her colleagues found that the strongest predictor of municipal officials’ interest in developing partnerships with universities is their belief that researchers can help solve problems in their communities. The study also found that trust and past experience with university and college researchers significantly influence these partnerships.

“The survey shows that there’s a strong potential for partnerships,” Hutchins says, noting that more than 50 percent of respondents indicated that they were likely or very likely to be interested in pursuing a partnership with university researchers.

Hutchins observes that researchers and municipal officials are focusing on some of the same issues, such as energy production, but that academic institutions need to make more effort to reach out to communities.

“Universities and colleges need to do a better job connecting with communities so that both parties understand that they can benefit from each other’s knowledge and resources, thus improving the likelihood of developing partnerships and creating sustainable solutions to pressing issues in Maine.”

Ongoing research by Hutchins and her colleagues will help improve these connections. Their findings will contribute to models for strengthening collaboration between researchers and community stakeholders.
Study co-authors include UMaine faculty members Laura Lindenfeld, Communication and Journalism; Linda Silka, director, Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center; Kathleen Bell, School of Economics; and Jessica Leahy, School of Forest Resources.

Hutchins and her colleagues are members of the Maine Sustainability Solutions Initiative’s Knowledge-to-Action Collaborative, an interdisciplinary team of researchers working to improve communication between university researchers and community stakeholders.

Launched with a 5-year, $20 million EPSCoR grant from the National Science Foundation in 2009, SSI creates and supports innovative research partnerships between Maine’s colleges and universities and stakeholders and communities throughout the state to help find solutions to intersecting economic, social and environmental problems. It is among the nation’s largest and most innovative research programs in sustainability science.

Nov. 3, 2011

Contact: Joe Carr (207) 581-3571

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