Signature and Emerging Areas of excellence in research and education at the University of Maine have been announced by UMaine Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Jeffrey Hecker.
The designations, which resulted from months of campus dialogue and faculty forums led by the provost, will inform strategic and focused planning and resource allocation to preserve UMaine’s national stature and impact in Maine. The initiative to define UMaine’s Signature and Emerging Areas is a significant component of Blue Sky Pathway 1 — Serving Our State: Catalyzing Maine’s Revitalization in the five-year strategic plan. It will be followed this fall by campus-wide dialogue about foundational areas of research and education for a 21st-century land grant university.
“In this time of rapid change in higher education, it is more important than ever that institutions think strategically about their programs,” Hecker says. “In the Signature Areas UMaine has achieved national and international distinction, and these areas will be key in our planning for the future, including our fundraising and development efforts. The Emerging Areas are those with the great potential to reach that next level of excellence. Together, they make a compelling statement about the distinctiveness of UMaine among America’s research universities.”
The Signature Areas, identified by their strengths in research and education: Forestry and the Environment, Marine Sciences, College of Engineering, Advanced Materials for Infrastructure and Energy, Climate Change, STEM Education, and Honors College. These interdisciplinary Signature Areas are world-class and will feature prominently in UMaine planning for the future.
Emerging Areas represent those programs that may have not yet achieved critical mass or reputation, but have begun to capitalize on interdisciplinary collaboration; have a track record of success with external support from a variety of sources; and involve integration of the research, teaching and service missions. They are: the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering; Northeastern Americas: Humanities Research and Education; Data Science and Engineering; Sustainability Solutions and Technologies; Aging Research; and Finance Education.
Provost Hecker convened the first of three Academic Affairs Faculty Forums on Dec. 3, 2013 to discuss and gather feedback on the Signature and Emerging Areas initiative. In early January, the Advisory Committee for Signature and Emerging Areas drafted the selection criteria, which included: demonstration of a strong “fit to place” meeting Maine’s cultural, workforce and economic needs; international and national reputation; high level of productivity; proven record of sustainability; ability to leverage existing resources; interdisciplinary and/or multidisciplinary; integration of research, teaching and service missions.
A call for concept papers was issued to the campus community, resulting in 58 submissions. These concept papers were reviewed by a team comprised of UMaine faculty and administrators, a member of UMaine’s Board of Visitors, and external reviewers from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Association of the Advancement of Science. Twenty submissions were selected for participation in the full proposal phase of the review.
Public forums were held May 21 and May 22 that included brief presentations on the proposed Signature Areas. Ongoing community feedback was essential in helping the Provost’s team determine the final list of Signature Areas.
Brief descriptions of the Signature Areas:
Forestry and the Environment, focusing on sustainable forests and the forest-based economy, and education in forests, wildlife and the environment. UMaine is nationally and internationally recognized in its advanced wood composites, wood processing, biofuels, wood chemistry and forest resources research. A signature strength for teaching is UMaine’s location, providing unique opportunities for hands-on educational experiences in Maine’s forest and aquatic resources, and in communities statewide. Lead faculty: Hemant Pendse, Forest Bioproducts Research Institute; Robert Wagner, Center for Research on Sustainable Forests; Stephen Shaler, Forest Resources; Doug Bousfield, Paper Surface Science Program; Mike Bilodeau, Process Development Center; Amy Luce, Technology Research Center; Dan Harrison, Wildlife Ecology, Aram Calhoun, Ecology and Environmental Sciences
Marine Sciences, including a multidisciplinary Marine Research Solutions initiative to improve understanding of the physical, biological and socioeconomic processes that shape the ocean; to be a reliable, deeply engaged partner with policy makers, fisheries stakeholders, marine industries and coastal communities, helping to develop solutions for the broad array of issues associated with Maine’s marine resources; and to provide high-quality, interdisciplinary undergraduate and graduate education, outreach and research for the Gulf of Maine. Lead faculty: Fei Chai, Pete Jumars, Mary Jane Perry, Rebecca Van Beneden, William Ellis, Sara Lindsay, Rhian Waller, Marine Sciences; Paul Anderson, Aquaculture Research Institute; Mario Teisl, Economics; Krish Thiagarajan, Mechanical Engineering
STEM Education, including research that investigates the complex intersection of individual content knowledge, social learning environments, pedagogical knowledge of our teachers, and development and use of materials for the classroom. Understanding this complex system requires deep knowledge of disciplinary content and of models of teaching and learning. This area supports expanded and improved teaching and learning of STEM from pre-school through graduate school. Lead faculty: Michael Wittmann and John Thompson, Physics; Jonathan Shemwell, Education; Harlan Onsrud, Computing and Information Science; Susan McKay, RiSE Center; Mohamad Musavi, Engineering
Climate Change, including internationally recognized research, and highly integrated undergraduate and graduate educational opportunities, as well as an emerging academic focus on changing ecosystems and climate — impact on animal and human health. The Climate Change Institute has evolved beyond a singular focus on research to be a leader and a vehicle for broad integration of climate change strengths across campus and statewide. Lead faculty: Paul Mayewski, Jasmine Saros, Ivan Fernandez, Gregory Zaro, Climate Change Institute; Eleanor Groden, School of Biology and Ecology; Mario Teisl, School of Economics; Susan Erich, Anne Lichtenwalner, School of Food and Agriculture
Advanced Materials for Infrastructure and Energy, developing the use of advanced materials in civil infrastructure, energy, aerospace and defense applications. As an interdisciplinary research center, the Advanced Structures and Composites Center focuses on development of novel advanced composite materials and technologies that capitalize on Maine’s manufacturing strengths and natural resources, while creating new industries and job opportunities, and educating students. Lead faculty: Habib Dagher, Stephen Shaler, Larry Parent, Douglas Gardner, William Davids, Eric Landis, Krish Thiagarajan, Advanced Structures and Composites Center
College of Engineering, focusing on the role of the state’s only comprehensive engineering program that features a high level of synergy between teaching, research and public service. Engineering leads the campus with respect to the quality of students it attracts, retention and graduation rates, as well as job placement. Lead faculty: Eric Landis, William Davids, Donald Hummels, Hemant Pendse, Scott Dunning, Engineering; David Batuski, Physics
Honors College, increasing the recruitment and retention of students in preprofessional programs, involving faculty campuswide in the honors education enhancing study abroad and off-campus partnerships that expand and strengthen community-engaged research, and involving students in the creation of new knowledge. Lead faculty, Francois Amar, Honors
Brief descriptions of the Emerging Areas:
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering (GSBSE), leveraging Maine’s academic and nonprofit biomedical research institutions, specifically UMaine, University of Southern Maine, University of New England, The Jackson Laboratory, Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory and Maine Medical Center Research Institute through a unique educational model. GSBSE student research focuses on issues prevalent in the state of Maine, such as cancer- and aging-related illness. Lead faculty: David Neivandt, Chemical Engineering and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering
Northeastern Americas: Humanities Research and Education, focusing on scholarship of New England, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. The area is distinctive in its international scope, its multicultural depth and its array of campuswide programs, including the Canadian-American Center, Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, Maine Folklife Center, Franco American Programs, Native American Programs and Humanities Initiative, as well as the departments of History, English, Art and Modern Languages. Interdisciplinary, regional research contributes to understanding Maine’s cross-border economy, and it provides interpretative resources for the state’s “creative economy” and its heritage-based tourist industry. Lead faculty: Richard Judd, History; Pauleena MacDougall, Folklife Center; Darren Ranco, Anthropology and Native American Programs
Data Science and Engineering, leveraging UMaine strengths in data science and engineering, and data-sensitive science areas by applying data-centric methods to issues relevant to Maine’s interests and natural and economic sustainability. DSE brings together computer scientists, mathematicians, statisticians and engineers with domain scientists to address critical challenges of capturing, storing, managing, sharing, and analyzing massive data sets for new scientific discoveries and insights. Lead faculty: Kate Beard-Tisdale, School of Computing and Information Science; Ali Abedi, Yifeng Zhu, Electrical and Computer Engineering
Sustainability Solutions and Technologies, using the field of sustainability science and other interdisciplinary approaches to address the intersecting environmental, sociocultural and economic dimensions of diverse societal challenges, including renewable energy, urbanization, forest resources, water resources, marine fisheries, agriculture and climate change. Faculty conduct sustainability research in collaboration with stakeholder organizations representing government, business and industry, and nongovernmental organizations. Lead faculty: David Hart, Senator George J. Mitchell Center and School of Biology and Ecology; Jonathan Rubin, Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and School of Economics; Aram Calhoun, Wildlife Ecology and Ecology and Environmental Science; Shaleen Jain, Civil and Environmental Engineering; Hemant Pendse, Chemical and Biological Engineering; Darren Ranco, Anthropology and Native American Programs; Mario Teisl, School of Economics; Robert Wagner, School of Forest Resources
Aging Research, advancing successful aging in Maine and the nation as it addresses: maximizing individual productivity; minimizing institutionalization and the need for costly long-term care; preventing and mitigating the impact of illness and injury; and promoting community integration, social engagement, full accessibility, personal independence, vitality, mobility, elder friendly communities and citizen safety. Utilizing a research incubator model, this area will maintain productive partnerships with the business and nonprofit sectors. Lead faculty: Len Kaye, Center on Aging and Social Work; David Neivandt, Chemical Engineering and the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering; Laura Lindenfeld, Communication and Journalism
Finance Education, addressing the critical need of the state of Maine to educate business professionals who can carry out economic development and improve job opportunities for the people of Maine. Student learning is enhanced through state of the art technologies and information science, opportunities to invest and manage funds, and engagement with businesses in Maine and nationally. Lead faculty: Ivan Manev, Maine Business School
Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745