Archive for the ‘Knox County’ Category

UMaine Researcher Strives for Effective Innovative STEM Initiatives

Friday, October 18th, 2013

A University of Maine researcher is participating in five projects aimed at improving nationwide science instruction and assessments.

Michelle Smith, assistant professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology, is the principal investigator on four projects and co-principal investigator on another granted $6.8 million in total funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF); UMaine’s portion is $1,012,269.

The projects, three of which are collaborative with other universities, involve UMaine administrators, faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students, undergraduates and area K-12 teachers. “All of these stakeholders … will contribute to national initiatives to improve science education,” says Smith, a member of the Maine Center for Research in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education (Maine RiSE Center).

In August, Smith was returning from a reunion with family members when she learned about the possible funding. “We stopped for lunch and I looked down at my phone and realized my inbox was full of messages from the NSF requesting that I provide them with more information on four different grants within 48 hours,” she says. “I told my family they had to eat ‘right now’ because we had to get home.”

Susan McKay, UMaine professor of physics and director of the Maine RiSE Center, as well as Smith and several other colleagues, will receive $299,998 to transform K-12 STEM education by restructuring teaching methods courses to align with national standards. They’ll also work to attract and retain STEM majors in college as educators and form partnerships with area school districts.

Researchers say the project could make a difference in Maine, where more than 50 percent of students in more than half the school districts are eligible for free or reduced lunch and the resource-based economy could benefit from more technology jobs.

Smith and colleagues MacKenzie Stetzer, Susan McKay and Jeff St. John will receive $249,851 to establish a UMaine program to broaden use of evidence-based teaching and learner-centered practices in STEM courses. UMaine faculty and area K-12 teachers will observe and document instruction in university STEM courses. Their data will be used to develop workshops targeting faculty members’ needs and implement innovative teaching practices.

Smith will receive $219,966 of a $528,459 collaborative project to develop assessments called Bio-MAPS (Biology-Measuring Achievement and Progression in Science) that gauge whether undergraduate college biology students understand core concepts. The University of Washington and University of Colorado-Boulder are partners in the endeavor “to articulate common learning goals and monitor longitudinal student learning in biology.”

The assessments will identify areas in biology in which students struggle. They’ll also help two-year community colleges evaluate how effectively they’re preparing students to transfer to four-year institutions. Assessment data will inform faculty about where changes need to be made in the biology curriculum.

Smith will also receive $187,968 to expand a national network for open-ended assessments called Automated Assessment of Constructed Response (AACR) in which computer software programs analyze answers of students in large-enrollment science courses. The assessments provide more insight into student thinking on common conceptual difficulties than multiple-choice questions.

Michigan State, the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Georgia, and Stony Brook University, are also participating in the $5 million project, in which researchers will create a community Web portal to improve alliances among STEM education researchers and promote nationwide implementation of innovative instruction materials.

Smith will receive $54,486 of a $718,000 collaborative award with four other universities to build a national network of Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs) that provide professional development opportunities so more faculty can use constructed response assessments to reform teaching in biology. UMaine faculty members Seanna Annis, Farahad Dastoor and Brian Olsen will work with Smith to develop the UMaine FLC.

The project seeks to provide insight into factors that facilitate or hamper faculty using modified teaching materials and practices. It also lays the foundation for a national network of FLCs and subject-based virtual communities with access to real-time automated analysis of AACR assessment items, faculty-developed teaching resources and support.

Smith, who says she chose a faculty position at UMaine in order to work with fantastic researchers and supportive peers, appreciates that her colleagues helped her think about research questions and mentored her during the grant-writing process.

She’s also grateful for the contributions of K-12 teachers. “The pilot data the K-12 teachers collected about university-level STEM instruction was featured in the grant to broaden use of evidence-based teaching and learner-centered practices in STEM courses,” Smith says. “That grant earned the highest scores of any I submitted. My colleagues and I are incredibly lucky to work with such a talented group of teachers who are also excellent researchers.”

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

 

Maine Development Foundation, UMaine Issue Report on Personal Income in Maine

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

On Oct. 17, the Maine Development Foundation and the University of Maine’s School of Economics and Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center released the second quarterly report analyzing critical economic indicators in Maine. The latest report looks at Maine’s relatively low per capita personal income. The first report, released in August, addressed Maine’s comparatively low level of worker productivity. Ann Acheson, a research associate at the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, wrote the new report that analyzes the relative contribution of the three sources of personal income — earned income, investment income and transfer payment income — in Maine and in comparison to the national average. The Maine Development Foundation news release and the full report are online.

 

UMaine Graduate Student Awarded $15,000 Fellowship, Cited as Positive Driver of Environmental Change

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

A University of Maine graduate student is one of 22 scholars nationwide awarded a $15,000 Switzer Environmental Fellowship for driving positive change.

Caitlin Cleaver, whose master’s thesis is titled “The Maine green sea urchin fishery: Scale mismatches, trophic connectivity, and resilience,” is on target to graduate in May 2014 with dual master’s degrees in marine biology and marine policy.

For marine resource management to be effective, Cleaver says it’s important to understand how science, policy and the fishing industry intersect. She’s interested in incorporating sea urchin harvesters’ knowledge into science and management processes to better understand the collapse of sea urchin stocks and to develop effective strategies for maintaining the fishery.

Cleaver, who grew up in Kennett Square, Pa., works as a marine programs associate at the Island Institute in Rockland, Maine. In 2010, she earned a Master of Public Administration in environmental science and policy at Columbia University and in 2006, she received a bachelor’s in environmental policy at Colby College.

The Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation, which is based in Belfast, Maine, annually awards $15,000 to at least 20 promising environmental leaders. The foundation has awarded nearly $14 million in grants over a 27-year period.

“Today’s environmental issues are increasingly complex and require an ability to translate scientific, ecological and social knowledge across disciplines and apply it in real world settings,” says Lissa Widoff, executive director of the foundation. “The 2013 Switzer Environmental Fellows are at the cutting edge of science and policy and will be supported with funding, professional coaching and a network of leaders to help them achieve results. Their problem-solving abilities and innovation will make a difference.”

Other 2013 fellows attend Yale and Stanford universities, as well as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California Los Angeles. Fellows are pursuing degrees in such areas as library and information science; veterinary medicine; urban planning, human and environmental geography; and biological engineering.

To read an interview with Cleaver, visit go.umaine.edu/explore-umaine/student-profiles.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

 

‘Sustainable Maine’ Series to Air on MPBN

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

MPBN will air season three of the Maine EPSCoR produced “Sustainable Maine” series, highlighting the research of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI), based at UMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center. SSI is helping communities solve interconnected economic problems while advancing sustainability science. Information about the MPBN documentary series is online.

The broadcast schedule is:

Return of a River – Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 9 p.m.
(Repeating on Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 10 AM and Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 1 p.m.)

Tipple Bottom Line – Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.)

Culvert Operations – Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 9 p.m.
(Repeating on Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 10 AM and Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 1 p.m.)

Desperate Alewives – Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.)

Preserving Paradise – Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 9 p.m.
(Repeating on Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 10 AM and Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 1p.m.)

Saving Our Lakes – Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.)

Basket Trees – Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 9 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 1 p.m.)

Pools, Policy & People – Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.)

Maine and New Hampshire EPSCoR Receive $6 Million to Address Health of Coastal Ecosystem

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Maine and New Hampshire’s coastal tourism and shellfish industries contribute millions of dollars annually to the regional economy. In Maine in 2010, coastal tourism and recreation added $1.1 billion to Maine’s gross domestic product, while shellfish landings in that same year generated revenues of $347 million. But these industries and the coastal environment they depend on are vulnerable to a variety of factors, including pollution, climate change and invasive species.

A team of researchers led by the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire will conduct a three-year study of the many factors affecting the health of their shared coastal ecosystem. This collaboration, funded by a $6 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), aims to strengthen the scientific basis for decision making related to the management of recreational beaches and shellfish harvesting. This research is a direct outgrowth of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative, supported by the NSF EPSCoR program.

The project, titled the New England SusTainability Consortium (NEST), is managed by the EPSCoR programs at UMaine and UNH in partnership with College of the Atlantic, University of New England, University of Southern Maine, Great Bay Community College, Plymouth State University and Keene State College. In Maine, researchers will also collaborate with several state agencies and other stakeholders, including the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Maine Department of Marine Resources, Maine State Department of Education and Maine Healthy Beaches.

“I am delighted that the National Science Foundation selected the New England SusTainability Consortium, for this Research Infrastructure Improvement grant,” said Sen. Susan Collins. “Through both tourism as well as commercial fishing, our state’s economy is highly dependent on the ecological well-being of the Gulf of Maine. This grant will help fund the vital research performed by faculty and students at the University of Maine as they seek to find ways to reduce pollution caused by coastal runoff and assist local governments in making informed decisions regarding the closure of beaches and shellfish beds.”

“This is good news for Maine, and indeed for all coastal areas,” said Sen. Angus King. “Our shellfish industry is facing many threats an climate change, warming oceans, acidifying waters, and an increase in green crabs, which are decimating clam flats. Our state simply can’t lose another fishery. I look forward to seeing the results of the good work that this grant will enable, like hopefully more targeted closures of flats. Our changing environment is a big problem, and while we work out broad solutions, we must also focus on mitigating the direct impacts on people and ecosystems.”

UMaine President Paul W. Ferguson affirmed the project’s importance, stating, “This NSF grant recognizes the leadership and contribution of University of Maine scholars who aim to support coastal ecosystems, economies, and communities by promoting sustainable policies and practices in Maine.”

The project combines scientific knowledge and local expertise to improve resource management decisions. There is widespread agreement among resource managers and scientists in both states that current beach and shellfish management decisions are challenging and can be improved by strengthening partnerships among scientists, managers and communities.

NEST uses a collaborative process where resource managers and other stakeholders participate in defining problems, identifying research needs, interpreting results and designing solutions. The team will select a number of study sites in each state to investigate how natural processes like water flow in rivers, and human activities like land development, in coastal watersheds influence bacterial dynamics. Project research will advance understanding of how environmental and climatic conditions affect the dynamics of bacterial pathogens. The project studies how human activities contribute to and are affected by these bacterial dynamics and related public resource management decisions. Coupling these distinct strands of research offers a more comprehensive view of beach and shellfish management. This innovative approach seeks to generate cost-effective strategies for reducing bacterial pollution. By identifying solutions that strategically avert risks to humans, while supporting economic development and ecosystem health, NEST will develop regional capacity between Maine and New Hampshire to advance sustainability solutions through science.

Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI) is supported in large part by a $20 million, five-year investment through the National Science Foundation’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF EPSCoR Program). SSI enhances Maine’s research capacity and promotes innovation and societal benefit through the field of sustainability science. This innovative initiative represents an extensive network of over 350 researchers and students and more than 200 community-based stakeholders working together to advance solutions across Maine.

Contact: Andrea Littlefield, 207.581.2289