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Calhoun Quoted in Press Herald Article on Wood Frog Die-Off

Aram Calhoun, a professor of wetland ecology at the University of Maine, was quoted in a Portland Press Herald article about research being done by Bowdoin College biologist Nat Wheelwright, who says he has found evidence of a mass die-off of wood frog tadpoles. “The die-off is significant; however, in warm weather, we do see mass mortalities of wood frogs from ranavirus in some years,” Calhoun said. “We don’t know enough about the synergistic effects of all the stressors in a frog’s environment.” Calhoun told the Press Herald that UMaine is using a four-year National Science Foundation grant to study the effects of urbanizing landscapes on pool-breeding amphibians. Calhoun said she agrees with Wheelwright that researchers should encourage citizen scientists to monitor vernal pools. “However, these events happen quickly and in our experience, the carcasses are scavenged in less than 24 hours so people could easily miss die-off events,” she cautioned.

Bayer Speaks with Press Herald About Lobster Restaurant Owner

Robert Bayer, executive director of the Lobster Institute at the University of Maine, was quoted in a Portland Press Herald article about Cape Elizabeth native Luke Holden who owns 13 Luke’s Lobster restaurants, with locations in New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, as well as a processing plant in Saco. Last year, Holden became more involved in efforts to boost the Maine lobster industry and joined the board of the Lobster Institute, which works on conservation, outreach, research and education to sustain the lobster fishery, the article states. “Because he’s at the end of the food chain — serving lobster to the customer on an everyday basis — and he has his own processing facility he has more than knowledge. He has an understanding that’s helped us all,” said Bayer.

MPBN Interviews Brewer About Gubernatorial Debates

University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer spoke with the Maine Public Broadcasting Network for a report titled, “In Maine political debates, which candidates will be no-shows?” According to the report, Republican Gov. Paul LePage has declined to participate in several debates, and Democratic challenger Mike Michaud says he will only participate in a debate if LePage does. Meanwhile, 2nd District GOP candidate Bruce Poliquin says he will not participate in any debate that includes independent challenger Blaine Richardson, the report states. Brewer said LePage likely turned down MPBN’s debate invitation because he would change few opinions among the station’s more progressive audience. He also said Michaud’s reasons for declining debates might also be strategic. “If I were advising Michaud, the last thing I would want to do is to recommend that he go to participate in a debate where the other major party candidate is not there and then that lends further legitimacy to [independent candidate] Eliot Cutler.”

UMaine Building Photos to be Taken in August

In August, University of Maine Police Department officials will be photographing the exteriors of all campus buildings to update its photo inventory. The photography team will wear safety vests and helmets, and use a green John Deere Gator to travel around campus. Members of the UMaine community with questions can call UMaine Police Chief Roland LaCroix at 581.4053, or dispatch at 581.4040.

UMaine Extension Serves up ‘Dining with Diabetes Down East’

University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s free Dining with Diabetes Down East series starts Wednesday, Oct. 1 at HealthWays Regional Medical Center at Lubec. The series continues Oct. 8, 15 and 22. All sessions are from 10 a.m. to noon at the medical center, 43 South Lubec Road.

The community-based program is intended to complement medical care by teaching people with Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes, as well as their family members and caregivers, how to select and prepare foods that help control blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. UMaine Extension registered dietitian and nutritionist Alan Majka will make presentations, lead discussion and prepare nutritious food.

To register, or to request a disability accommodation, call 207.255.3345, 800.287.1542 (in Maine) or complete a confidential online preregistration survey. When 10 preregistrations have been recorded, a series will be scheduled in the Columbia/Milbridge area. To express interest in the series being offered elsewhere in Washington County, and for more information, contact Majka at 255.3345 or alan.majka@maine.edu.

Forging a Healthy Partnership

Students in a University of Maine communication class assigned to study how to effectively share information about and attract volunteers to support seasonal farmworker health also learned a great deal themselves.

Visiting assistant professor Karen Hutchins Bieluch says students participating in the service-learning project with Maine Migrant Health Program (MMHP) officials gleaned a deeper appreciation for seasonal farmworkers and the important role they play in the state’s economy.

They also learned a lot about MMHP — the state’s lone farmworker health organization that annually tends to 1,200 patients and offers mobile medical care at farmworker camps. MMHP providers who speak Spanish and Creole are among the professionals who travel around the state to intersect with workers harvesting everything from blueberries to boughs for wreaths.

Senior wildlife ecology major Matthew Owens McCullough says the project was educational, rewarding and humbling.

Bieluch says students in the small group communication class also discovered a thing or two about their individual interaction approaches and processes involved in small group decision-making, problem solving and negotiation.

“Working on the project helped them understand their communication styles, such as how they handle conflict,” says Bieluch. “Do they shy away from it or address it head-on?”

McCullough, from Gorham, Maine, says his communication style is straightforward.

And he recommends the approach for others. “Don’t keep any of your skills hidden, they can be very important during the process of developing project goals,” he says. “Some skill you don’t consider applicable may spark an idea for somebody else and end up being the driving factor in the success of the project.”

In addition, Bieluch says the project provided an opportunity to contribute to, and build a partnership with, a Maine-based community organization.

“While service-learning courses require significant amounts of preparation and coordination, they often provide students with a richer, applied learning experience, while also giving back to the citizens of Maine who support higher education in Maine,” she says.

Class members divided into three groups for the hands-on endeavor. One group evaluated MMHP’s website (mainemigrant.org), another focused on the organization’s PowerPoint presentation and another critiqued its brochure.

McCullough was part of the group that evaluated the MMHP website and recommended changes based on answers to an online survey. “The most-popular change requested by people was identifying the mission statement,” he says. MMHP’s mission is to “improve the health status of migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families by providing culturally appropriate care and services.”

The website group also recommended rearranging some information and provided a flow chart for effective website design and presentation. Students said the website had a number of positives, including color scheme, photographs, testimonials and use of multiple languages.

In general, Bieluch says students recommended ways to increase Mainers’ awareness of MMHP and how citizens can become volunteers for MMHP.

Migrant workers, say MMHP officials, are sometimes an invisible population. While the fruits and vegetables they harvest contribute greatly to Mainers’ health and the economy, seasonal workers often live below the poverty line in substandard housing, do not have health insurance and due to isolation and language barriers, may not be familiar with available resources.

Linda Silka, director of UMaine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and a professor in the UMaine School of Economics, recommended the class intersect with MMHP for the CMJ 345 project. Silka, who specializes in building community-university research partnerships, is also on MMHP’s Board of Directors.

Bieluch says MMHP officials appreciated the students’ input. “They [students] felt listened to and that their work was valued,” she says. “And I think that increased the quality of their [students'] work and their learning experience.”

McCullough concurred. “They [MMHP officials] try very hard to provide for immigrant workers and were very appreciative of the analysis of their website we presented,” he says.

Writer’s Toolbox

Taking apart a broken laptop, learning how to repair it and putting it back together is a typical exercise in one University of Maine English class. For students in the technical editing and document design course, learning how to diagnose and repair electronics is essential to writing about the process in the form of easy-to-use consumer guides.

Since 2011, students in Charlsye Diaz’s class have been required to create an e-manual for iFixit, a website that offers free step-by-step guides to help consumers repair devices to keep more electronics in use and out of landfills. During the fall 2014 semester, Diaz’s students will write manuals for toys.

“This experience is important because it is messy,” says Diaz, an associate professor of English and coordinator of UMaine’s professional and technical writing program. “When things ‘fall apart’ or the projects don’t go as well as I would like, I love it. Because they’ll face those obstacles on the job every day.”

Students work with iFixit’s technical writers to adhere to the company’s guidelines. They receive feedback from someone besides the professor while working in a supportive classroom setting.

IFixit was started in 2003 by two Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo students who struggled to fix an iBook without instructions. In 2009, the company started the iFixit Technical Writing Program as a way to engage students with a hands-on, repair-focused technical writing project. Students from 20 universities — including UMaine — have created 5,000 repair guides for electronics, which have helped more than nine million people fix their devices, according to the company’s website.

Diaz says the project also benefits potential employers by sending students into the workforce with real-world experience.

“It’s one thing to go to an interview and claim to be able to write instructions because you practiced during a class assignment. It’s another thing to say you took apart a scanner and wrote instructions for replacing the scanner lamp and then provide a link to a published guide that people use,” Diaz says.

KC Collins Cook, a 2013 UMaine graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in professional and technical writing, is now an information developer for IBM in North Carolina. She says every day she applies the knowledge she learned from Diaz’s classes.

“My core understanding of technical documentation began in her classrooms, and it gave me a foundation to build on and innovate with my fellow IBMers,” Cook says. “From grammar to design software to how people read; it’s all vital to my job. In fact, all of my textbooks are in my desk for reference when I need them.”

Although many of Diaz’s students find aspects of the iFixit project challenging — learning how to take apart small devices, take photos without shadows and follow iFixit’s criteria — most are proud of the end result, she says.

“Some students embrace the project and really thrive working with and writing about small electronics. Others dislike it because the project falls outside their comfort zone,” Diaz says. “Who needs a toolbox for a writing class?”

The positive feedback comes later, Diaz says. Students have told her they’ve talked about their experience during interviews and appreciate having a professional portfolio piece.

“During the project, I see their confidence skyrocket,” she says.

An education in professional and technical writing is important, Diaz says, because almost everyone has to write at work in the form of reports, memos or emails. Professional writers take these skills a step further and learn to design documents, write for the Internet and edit — skills Maine employers seek, she says.

Professional writing is offered as a minor to any UMaine student, and English majors can concentrate in professional and technical writing. Diaz says graduates work in several areas including technology, marketing, health care, research and development, government, law, magazines and museums. She says most students find work within six months of graduation, and most have jobs before they graduate.

Since Cook began her full-time job in September 2012, she has seen IBM hire two more professional and technical writing students from UMaine.

“If you go in with a thirst to work, your resume and experience will be soundly rewarded,” Cook says. “We leave campus with a competitive skill set that sets us apart from other new college graduates in our field.”

More information about iFixit and the iFixit Technical Writing Program is online.

Fine-Tuning Forecasts

University of Maine scientists are partnering with multiple agencies to improve the accuracy of forecasts of hurricanes, superstorms, blizzards and floods that endanger people and animals and destroy property.

UMaine received $1.5 million of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s $5.5 million award to increase the precision of predictions of extreme weather events and coastal flooding in the northeastern United States.

“This project allows us to develop rapid response capability and deploy ocean observing assets before extreme weather events, and use these targeted observations to constrain ocean models and issue timely forecasts for coastal cities and towns in the Northeast United States,” says Fei Chai, professor and director of UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences, and one of four university co-investigators taking part.

The three other UMaine co-investigators are Neal Pettigrew, professor of oceanography; Mary Jane Perry, professor of oceanography and interim director of the University of Maine Darling Marine Center; and Huijie Xue, professor of oceanography. In addition, program manager Linda Magnum, research associate Ivona Cetinic, graduate student Mark Neary and postdoctoral researcher Saswati Deb, will take part in the project.

The UMaine faculty and researchers are among the 39 researchers engaged in the two-year study. The group will build, deploy, garner and analyze data from state-of the-art outfitted floats, gliders and moorings during two winter storms and two summer storms that hit the Gulf of Maine or the area from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

As a severe storm approaches, aircraft will deploy 15 miniature, expendable floats along the forecasted storm track and launch four reusable gliders in the middle of the shallow continental shelf. Researchers will also anchor 10 portable buoy moorings near estuary mouths where storm surge causes significant flooding and damage.

The floats, gliders and moorings are designed to collect three new levels of ocean observations. The new data will be integrated into computer models that predict currents, sea level and turbulent mixing of cold sub-surface water with the surface ocean.

Meteorologists will be provided with a more complete picture about sea surface temperature and upper-ocean heat content, which will result in better-informed storm forecasting, say the scientists.

In addition, more targeted ocean surface data (air pressure, air and sea temperature, ocean waves, sea-level, etc.) collected by the moorings, in conjunction with current coastal flooding models, should enhance forecasting of flooding, they say.

Pettigrew is taking part in the design and manufacturing of the moorings for atmosphere and surface ocean measurements and he and Perry are in charge of glider deployments and data analysis. Chai is heading up ocean ensemble modeling and Xue is specializing in coastal flood modeling.

“Integrated Rapid-Response Observations and Ocean Ensemble Optimization to Improve Storm Intensity Forecasts in the Northeast U.S.” is the name of the study, which is being led by Glen Gawarkiewicz, senior scientist in the Physical Oceanography Department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Rutgers University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science are partners, and the Cooperative Institute for the North Atlantic Region (CINAR) is the cooperating institute.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Scrubbing Below the Surface

Julie Gosse, University of Maine assistant professor of molecular and biomedical sciences, is examining how a synthetic antimicrobial common in soaps and deodorants inhibits cells that sometimes fight cancer.

Triclosan (TCS) was once limited to use in hospitals. But in the 1990s, manufacturers began putting the chemical into antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, body washes, facial cleansers and a multitude of other over-the-counter hygiene products.

TCS also is used in fabrics, plastics and clothing — from yoga mats to kitchenware to socks — to slow or stop the growth of bacteria and mildew. Because of its pervasive presence in products, Gosse says it’s also now in waterways.

When TCS inhibits the function of mast cells in skin, allergic disease may be eased. But Gosse says mast cells are complex players and are involved in both pro- and anti-cancer roles, in fighting bacterial infections and in central nervous system disorders such as autism.

“The results of this study will fulfill an urgent need by providing insights into the impact of TCS on public health, as well as insights into the inner workings of this crucial cell type, and will point to either pharmacological uses for or toxic impacts of this ubiquitous chemical,” she says.

The National Institutes of Health awarded Gosse more than $420,000 for the three-year project that begins Aug. 1.

In 2012, she and several UMaine undergraduate and graduate students published a paper about TCS that concluded it “strongly inhibits several mammalian mast cell functions at lower concentrations than would be encountered by people using TCS-containing products such as hand soaps and toothpaste.”

This grant, she says, will allow continued exploration of the molecular mechanisms underlying the effects. She and her research team will use a variety of methods and tools — including the fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) technique invented by UMaine physicist Sam Hess. The technique images individual molecules.

Hess is participating in the research, as are Lisa Weatherly and Juyoung Shim, graduate students in Gosse’s lab, and students from the Hess lab.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

 

A Shot in the Arm

The University of Maine School of Nursing has been awarded a federal grant to defray educational costs of family nurse practitioner (FNP) students who will provide primary health care for rural Mainers in medically underserved areas.

The Advanced Education Nursing Traineeship grant, totaling nearly $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will aid eligible, full-time FNP students in the School of Nursing master’s degree program in 2014 and 2015.

“Reducing the financial burden associated with graduate education is a tremendous benefit for the RNs enrolled in UMaine’s rigorous FNP program,” says Nancy Fishwick, director of UMaine’s School of Nursing.

Family nurse practitioners provide comprehensive primary health care services to people, from infancy through adulthood. Since the inception of UMaine’s FNP program in 1992, the majority of its graduates have lived and worked in medically underserved and rural areas in the state.

Maine is both the oldest and most rural state in the nation, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau. More than 61 percent of Mainers — whose median age is nearly 43 years — live in areas with fewer than 2,500 people.

Mary Shea, UMaine assistant professor of nursing and graduate program coordinator, is directing the project titled “Ensuring Access to Primary Health Care for Rural Maine.” The project’s objectives align with federal health care workforce goals and initiatives that seek to improve access to quality health care for all.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777


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