Archive for the ‘News Releases’ Category

Wheeler Awarded $500,000 to Study How Common Pathogens Become Killers

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

How does a normally peaceful agent break through a previously impenetrable barrier and become a potential killer?

Robert Wheeler has just received a five-year, $500,000 fellowship from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) to figure that out.

The University of Maine Assistant Professor of Microbiology will study how and why Candida albicans — the most common human fungal pathogen — transforms from an innocuous yeast in the digestive tract of a person with a healthy immune system to a potentially fatal fungus in vital organs of a person whose immune system has been compromised.

“This award marks a new high point in my research career,” says Wheeler, one of 12 scientists nationwide to receive the 2014 Investigators in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease Award. After internal competitions at colleges and universities, each institution may nominate two investigators; this year, 144 scientists were put forward.

“This provides substantial funding that we can use to pursue high-risk projects with the potential to change our perspective on how dangerous infections begin.”

The goal, he says, is to improve diagnosis and therapy of fungal infection due to better understanding of the interactions between host and pathogen cells.

Wheeler’s lab will explore the host-fungal dialogue at mucosal surfaces where C. albicans — the leading cause of hospital-acquired infection that annually kills several thousand patients in the U.S. — is normally kept in check. “We expect that this will allow us to understand how the healthy immune system normally inhibits infection and how C. albicans invades past the epithelial wall,” he wrote in his application.

What happens at the earliest stages of active infection is one of the biggest mysteries about opportunistic pathogens, he says. And solving that mystery is imperative as infections complicate treatment of diseases, including leukemia, that require suppressing the immune system.

Wheeler’s lab will use zebrafish models of candidiasis at multiple levels — holistic, cellular and molecular genetic — to investigate the interaction between fungal cells and host cells during the earliest stages of infection. The integrated approach will utilize a new set of tools to address questions that have previously been inaccessible, he says.

His lab already has conducted pioneering studies with transparent zebrafish, which model infections caused by bacterial and fungal pathogens of humans. The resulting findings, he says, “opened the door to a deeper understanding of host and pathogen activity at the beginning stage of infection.”

Wheeler credits the previous scientific breakthroughs, and the work on the grant, to the talented, highly motivated and hard-working students and post-doctoral fellows in the laboratory. “The award is based on the pioneering work that they have done to change our perspective on fungal infection over the last five years,” he says.

With this fellowship, Wheeler says his lab will seek to exploit “that opening to discover the mechanistic underpinnings of the dialog between C. albicans and innate immunity at the epithelial barrier.”

On a personal level, Wheeler says he’s humbled to join the creative group of scientists that have previously held or currently hold BWF grants. “It pushes me to further excel and tackle the most important problems in infectious disease,” he says.

Wheeler’s peers lauded both his prior research and his potential.

Aaron Mitchell, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, says Wheeler has “been an insightful innovator for his entire scientific career.”

This award, Mitchell says, will allow Wheeler to build upon his initial findings “to look at the way that the host manipulates the pathogen, and how the pathogen manipulates the host. The remarkable zebrafish toolbox will allow Rob to look for key features of host defense that we can strengthen to thwart the pathogen before it gets a foothold.”

Joseph Heitman, chair of the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University Medical Center, says Wheeler’s research on how “Candida albicans … shields its immunogenic cell surface from immune surveillance in a variety of ways, which can in part be circumvented by drugs that unveil immunogenic signals” has blazed trails.

Heitman says the award will allow Wheeler, a “highly creative and innovative” investigator, to continue to be a leader in the field.

Gerald Fink, the Herman and Margaret Sokol Professor at the Whitehead Institute/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the award “recognizes [Wheeler’s] preeminence as a leader in the battle to combat Candida, a feared human fungal pathogen … for which we have no satisfactory protection.”

Fink anticipates Wheeler’s research will “provide critical insights into our natural immunity from Candida infections, which is the first step towards developing antifungal agents.”

And Deborah Hogan, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, says, “Ultimately, this work is likely to provide important insight into better ways to prevent and fight these often dangerous infections” in babies, in people undergoing chemotherapy and in those with suppressed immune systems.

The first installment of the award will be sent to UMaine on July 15, according to BWF, an independent private foundation based in North Carolina that supports research to advance biomedical sciences.

Victoria McGovern, senior program officer at BWF, says Wheeler’s selection was “based on the scientific excellence and innovation” of his proposal, as well as the strength of the scholarship at UMaine and Wheeler’s accomplishments as a researcher.

Wheeler says he’s pleased the award showcases UMaine and the laboratory to the national research community and he’s excited for opportunities to be in “contact with a number of the best and brightest infectious disease investigators in the U.S., through yearly meetings and a number of networking opportunities at national conferences.”

“The University of Maine is very proud of Dr. Wheeler’s achievement,” says Carol Kim, UMaine vice president for research.

“The BWF is a very prestigious award and identifies Rob as a leader in his field.”

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

UMaine Researchers Find Lakes Rebounding More Rapidly From Acid Rain Effects

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Lakes in New England and the Adirondack Mountains are recovering from the effects of acid rain more rapidly now than they did in the 1980s and 1990s, according to a study led by a former University of Maine researcher.

Acid rain — which contains higher than normal amounts of nitric and sulfuric acid and is harmful to lakes, streams, fish, plants and trees — occurs when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere mix with water and oxygen.

In the United States, about two-thirds of sulfur dioxide and one-quarter of nitrogen oxide result from burning fossil fuels, including coal, says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Sulfate concentration in rain and snow dropped 40 percent in the 2000s and sulfate concentration in lakes in the Northeast declined at a greater rate from 2002 to 2010 than during the 1980s or 1990s, says Kristin Strock, a former doctoral student at UMaine, now an assistant professor at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania.

Also during the 2000s, nitrate concentration in rain and snow declined by more than 50 percent and its concentration in lakes also declined, Strock found.

The Clean Air Act enacted in the U.S. in 1970 has been modified several times, including amendments implemented in 1994 that regulated emissions, especially from coal-burning power plants. The Clean Air Interstate Rule issued in 2005 by the EPA sought to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by 70 percent. Total emissions of sulfur and nitrogen in the U.S decreased by 51 and 43 percent, respectively, between 2000 and 2010, Strock says, which was twice the rate of decline for both in the 1990s.

Strock and the research team analyzed data collected since 1991 at 31 sites in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and southern New York and 43 sites in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.

The research team included Sarah Nelson, assistant research professor with the Senator George J. Mitchell Center and cooperating assistant research professor in Watershed Biogeochemistry in the UMaine School of Forest Resources; Jasmine Saros, associate director of the Climate Change Institute at UMaine and professor in UMaine’s School of Biology & Ecology; Jeffrey Kahl, then-director of environmental and energy strategies at James Sewall Company; and William McDowell of the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of New Hampshire.

“Data collection for over two decades in this study is part of the EPA-LTM network, which also includes over 30 years of research and monitoring at 16 remote lakes in Maine, and over 25 years at the Bear Brook Watershed in Maine,” Nelson says.

“These long-term monitoring data allow us to observe patterns like changes related to climate, as well as to evaluate the effectiveness of environmental regulations like the Clean Air Act. The new findings reported here underscore the importance of such long-term monitoring, which can often be difficult to keep funded.”

While results reveal a recent acceleration in recovery, the researchers say continued observation is necessary due to variability of results. In New England, Strock says variability might be due to the effect of human development, including road salt, on lakes.

A number of other factors can affect watersheds and interact with acid rain, say the researchers, including depletion of calcium in forest soils, long-term increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, long-term changes in air temperature, and changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme wet and dry seasons.

The study, “Decadal Trends Reveal Recent Acceleration in the Rate of Recovery from Acidification in the Northeastern U.S.” was published online in March on the Environmental Science & Technology website.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Mayewski Featured in Showtime Series

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

It’s Showtime for Paul Mayewski. Check out the preview of the season finale of Years of Living Dangerously that airs at 8 p.m. Monday, June 9. The episode also features President Obama, Thomas Friedman and Michael C. Hall.


 

 University of Maine professor Paul Mayewski is featured in the Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously starring Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Matt Damon.

It’s a thriller with an ending that hasn’t been written yet.

Executive producer James Cameron, who has also directed the blockbusters Avatar, The Terminator and Aliens, describes Years of Living Dangerously as the biggest survival story of this time.

The documentary, developed by David Gelber and Joel Bach of 60 Minutes, depicts real-life events and comes with an “adult content, viewer discretion advised” disclaimer.

The nine-part series that premiered April 13 shares life-and-death stories about impacts of climate change on people and the planet.

Correspondents, including actors Ford and Damon, as well as journalists Lesley Stahl and Thomas Friedman and scientist M. Sanjayan, travel the Earth to cover the chaos.

They examine death and devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy; drought and lost jobs in Plainview, Texas; worsening wildfires in the U.S.; and civil unrest heightened by water shortage in the Middle East. The correspondents also interview politicians, some of whom refute the science or are reluctant to enact legislation.

And they speak with scientists who go to great lengths, and heights, to do climate research. Mayewski, director of UMaine’s Climate Change Institute (CCI), is one of those scientists. He is scheduled to appear in the series finale at 8 p.m. Monday, June 9.

Climate change, he says, is causing and will continue to cause destruction. And he says how scientists and media inform people about the subject is important.

“There are going to be some scary things that happen but they won’t be everywhere and it won’t be all at the same time,” he says. “You want people to think about it but not to terrify them so they turn it off completely. You want them to understand that with understanding comes opportunity.”

In February 2013, Sanjayan and a film crew joined Mayewski and his team of CCI graduate students for the nearly 20,000-foot ascent of a glacier on Tupungato, an active Andean volcano in Chile, to collect ice cores.

Sanjayan calls Mayewski “the Indiana Jones of climate research” for his penchant to go to the extremes of the Earth under challenging conditions to retrieve ice cores to study past climate in order to better predict future climate.

Sanjayan, a senior scientist with Conservation International, wrote in a recent blog on the Conservation International website that while people may distrust data, they believe people they like.

He thought it would be beneficial to show the scientific process at work and to introduce the scientists’ personalities to viewers. “He’s the sort of guy you’d want to call up on a Wednesday afternoon to leave work early for a beer on an outdoor patio,” Sanjayan writes of Mayewski.

So for the documentary, Mayewski was filmed in the field — gathering ice cores at an oxygen-deprived altitude of 20,000 feet atop a glacier with sulfur spewing from nearby volcanic ponds. “It’s a strange place to work,” Mayewski says, “but it’s where we can find amazing, productive data.”

He was also interviewed at home, where he enjoys his family, dogs and sailing.

Mayewski likes the series’ story-telling approach. Scientists, he says, need to explain material in a way that is relatable, relevant and empowering.

Take for instance Joseph Romm’s baseball analogy. Romm, a Fellow at American Progress and founding editor of Climate Progress, earned his doctorate in physics from MIT.

On the Years of Living Dangerously website, Romm writes, “Like a baseball player on steroids, our climate system is breaking records at an unnatural pace. And like a baseball player on steroids, it’s the wrong question to ask whether a given home run is ‘caused’ by steroids. Home runs become longer and more common. Similarly climate change makes a variety of extreme weather events more intense and more likely.”

Mayewski says it’s also imperative to provide tools that enable people to take action to mitigate climate change as well as adapt to it.

“When we have a crystal ball, even if the future is bad, we can create a better situation,” he says. “We have no choice but to adapt.”

Maine is in a good position to take action, he says, especially with regard to developing offshore wind technology. “Who wouldn’t want a cleaner world, to spend less money on energy and have better jobs? We will run out of oil at some point but the wind won’t stop,” he says.

Wind is up Mayewski’s research alley. He has recently been studying ice cores from the melting glacier that serves as the drinking water supply for 4 million residents of Santiago. Temperature in the region is rising, greenhouse gases are increasing and winds from the west that have traditionally brought moisture to the glacier have shifted, he says.

And the glacier is losing ice.

“Our biggest contribution is understanding how quickly wind can change,” Mayewski says. “Wind transports heat, moisture, pollutants and other dusts.”

By understanding trends, Mayewski says it’s possible to better predict where climate events will occur so plans can be made. Those plans, he says, could include determining where it’s best for crops to be planted and where seawalls and sewer systems should be built.

Harold Wanless, chair of the University of Miami geological sciences department, says sea levels have been forecast to be as much as 3 to 6 feet higher by the end of this century. On the Years of Living Dangerously website he says, “I cannot envision southeastern Florida having many people at the end of this century.”

In Maine, Mayewski says climate change is evidenced by the powerful 2013–2014 winter, the lengthening of summers, increased lobster catches and northward spread of ticks.

While climate change has become a political topic, Mayewski says it’s a scientific and security issue. He says it’s notable that previous civilizations have collapsed in the face of abrupt, extreme changes. And climate change, he says, is far from linear in the way it evolves.

For decades, Mayewski has been interested in exploring and making discoveries in remote regions of the planet. “When you go all over the world, you get a global view,” he says. “By nature, I’m an optimist. That is tempered with this problem. I do believe there will be a groundswell of people, or governments, or some combination so that there will be a better future in store.”

To watch clips from previous episodes of Years of Living Dangerously, as well as the entire first episode, visit yearsoflivingdangerously.com.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

UMaine President Named 15th President of Ball State University

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Rick Hall, Chair of the Ball State University Board of Trustees, announced today that Dr. Paul W. Ferguson, currently President of the University of Maine, has been appointed the 15th President, effective August 1, 2014.  President Ferguson will replace Dr. Jo Ann Gora, who is retiring after 10 years of service.

Ball State University is a comprehensive public research university categorized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a research university, high research activity (RU/H). The university enrolls more than 20,000 students and has distinguished itself with a distinctive approach to teaching and learning called immersive learning. Undergraduate and graduate degree programs from the baccalaureate to the doctorate are offered through the Colleges of Applied Sciences and Technology; Architecture and Planning; Communication, Information, and Media; Fine Arts; Sciences and Humanities; the Miller College of Business, and Teachers College. Ball State University is located in Muncie, Indiana, one hour northeast of Indianapolis.

President Ferguson commented that, “Grace and I are immensely proud of the work and spirit that the UMaine Community has so admirably demonstrated during the development and implementation of the Blue Sky Plan, and this Plan can remain as the foundation for UMaine in the years ahead as a proven strategy for growth and success in an era of limited resources. UMaine provides the clearest and most successful model in Maine for student success, academic excellence, research and economic development, as it truly reflects the quality of UMaine’s faculty, staff, students and alumni.” 

A Ball State University news release about the appointment is online.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

Spanish Conquest Affected Coastal Change in Peru, UMaine Researchers Find

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Human activity resulting from the Spanish conquest had a profound effect on coastal change in northwestern Peru, according to researchers at the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute.

Daniel Belknap, a professor of Earth sciences, and Daniel Sandweiss, a professor of anthropology and Quaternary and climate studies, researched how demographic and economic effects of the Spanish conquest of the Inca Empire altered landscape development on the Chira beach-ridge plain in northern coastal Peru.

The findings were documented in an article, “Effect of the Spanish Conquest on coastal change in Northwestern Peru,” which was published the week of May 19 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The researchers determined that human activity, specifically the disposal of mollusk shells, was essential to preserving the sandy beach ridges along the Chira River in Peru.

“This type of interdisciplinary research is a hallmark of the Climate Change Institute at UMaine and contributes to better understanding of the impacts of humans on coastal systems,” Belknap says.

The study illustrates the value of comparing historic, archaeological, climatic and geological data and demonstrates that human activity alters landscapes, as well as cultures. The research also provides evidence of a previously unrecognized consequence of the Spanish conquest, according to the article.

“We show that humans had a clear effect on a coastal system that now appears to be an uninhabited, natural landscape, yet is the product of millennia of anthropogenic modification of the environment,” the report states.

The Chira River carries primarily sand at its inlet. The ridges, or narrow dunes that run for miles parallel to the shoreline, are built entirely of sand. Most ridges with sharp crests are covered by shells that are associated with fire-cracked rocks, fire pits and other artifacts that suggest the shells were deposited by humans. The shells act as armor, protecting the ridges from erosion caused by onshore winds, according to the researchers.

For more than 30 years, archaeologists and geologists have been studying beach ridges in northern Peru to better understand maritime economies, the influence of El Nino cycles and the effects of sea-level change and sediment supply on coastal systems, the article states.

Previous research has shown disposed shells are instrumental in holding sand ridges in place in the face of persistent winds. Belknap and Sandweiss, who conducted a field examination of the ridges in 1997, hypothesized that only the shell-armored ridges are stabilized and would maintain their shape and prevent winds from blowing sand inland.

The studied region was the first area in Peru to experience the direct effect of European presence, according to the researchers. In 1532, Francisco Pizarro and his conquistadors moved to the Chira Valley, where they founded the first Spanish settlement in what is now Peru.

The Spanish conquest caused extreme depopulation of the Chira coast within a century, which drastically changed the economy and devastated traditional coastal shellfish harvesting. North of the Chira River, the changes affected the evolution of beach ridges, the article states.

The researchers found the last well-preserved ridge corresponds in age with the Spanish conquest of the region, and they correlate the devastation of the coastal population after European contact with a distinctly different geomorphology.

Population growth into the 19th and 20th centuries no longer resulted in shell waste on the coastal ridges because of mollusk exportation to interior markets. For the past 500 years, demographic decline and economic change have eliminated shell heaps on the coast, causing the newly formed dune ridges to dry up and eventually blow inland.

The researchers suggest there may have been more ridges than the nine documented dunes in the Chira beach-ridge plain, but for cultural and climatic reasons, there was no shell waste to stabilize them and some of the ridges may be composites of several events.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

UMaine Astronomy Professor, Grad Student to Travel to Chile

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

A University of Maine astronomy professor and graduate student will travel to Chile in July to spend one night of observation at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, east of the city La Serena.

The observatory is home to the newly developed Dark Energy Camera or DECam; the only one of it’s kind. The DECam is part of a 4-meter diameter Victor M. Blanco Telescope, which a few years ago was the largest in South America. The DECam is a set of 62 cameras totaling 570 megapixels.

David Batuski, a physics professor, and Andrej Favia, his graduate student, were allotted one night of observation with the telescope on July 2. The highly competitive proposal application process accepts about one in eight proposals.

Batuski and Favia will spend about four hours looking at two superclusters of galaxies in the search for dark matter, what Batuski calls “one of the greatest mysteries of cosmology right now.”

Dark matter makes up 27 percent of the universe’s content. All observed ordinary matter adds up to 5 percent, while dark energy accounts for 68 percent, according to NASA.gov.

Dark matter doesn’t generate or interact with light, making it only observable through deduction of other observations of its gravitational effects.

According to Batuski, the effects of dark matter have been observed on the small scale — seen as galaxies and clusters of galaxies with too much mass. It has also been observed on its largest scale — the entire universe.

Batuski and Favia’s research will attempt to observe dark matter on a medium scale — roughly 40 million light years — the first of its kind to their knowledge.

With only one night of observation Batuski and Favia are excited, but most of all are hoping for clear weather.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Building Community Through Cultural Works

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

The University of Maine Humanities Initiative will host the second annual Downtown Bangor Public Humanities Day at various downtown locations on Saturday, May 17.

From 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., free events for participants of all ages will be offered at venues such as the UMaine Museum of Art, Bangor Public Library, Maine Discovery Museum and the Brick Church.

The Downtown Bangor Public Humanities Day was created in 2013 as part of the University of Maine Humanities Initiative (UMHI) to create a better forum for connecting UMaine faculty, staff and students with the general public in our region of the state, according to organizer and UMaine history professor Liam Riordan.

“The goal of the day is to share high-quality cultural work of all sorts that stimulates thought in a fun and informal setting. From student research to music, movies, visual arts and conversation, the day offers a range of engaging events,” Riordan says.

Local partners of the day are Bangor PechaKucha, Downtown Bangor Arts Collaborative, KahBang, Northeast Historic Film, River City Cinema and the string ensemble of The Eastern Maine Pops Orchestra (TEMPO) for Young Musicians.

Featured events include:

10:30 a.m. to noon

  • National History Day Open House at the Bangor Public Library where prize-winning research by middle and high school students will be on display

11 a.m.

  • Graphic novel author and illustrator Jimmy Gownley at The Briar Patch

12:30 p.m.

  • University of Maine Museum of Art sculpture lecture by Andy Mauery, UMaine art professor, and a photography exhibit tour led by George Kinghorn, UMMA’s director and curator

1:30 p.m.

  • TEMPO youth string ensemble performances at the Maine Discovery Museum

3 p.m.

  • Student and parent discussion at the Bangor Public Library about National History Day’s national competition in Washington, D.C.

4 p.m.

  • Northeast Historic Film’s world premiere public showing of three short films shot by Bangor resident Charles E. Gilbert in 1929, co-hosted with River City Cinema and KahBang at the Brick Church

6 p.m.

  • Humanities 20×20 PechaKucha presentations by UMaine faculty and local practitioners at the Brick Church, co-hosted with PechaKucha Bangor and the Downtown Bangor Arts Collaborative

The Downtown Bangor Public Humanities Day is one of several UMHI events planned for 2014. The initiative, housed in UMaine’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and established in 2010, advances the teaching, research and community outreach of the arts and humanities to enrich the lives of all Maine residents.

More information about UMHI and a complete Bangor Public Humanities Day schedule are online. Details are also available on the Bangor Public Humanities Day event page on Facebook.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

categories: blue sky news, liberal arts and sciences, outreach, pathway 1

Second Annual Maine Humanities Summit to be Held May 16 in Augusta

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

The University of Maine Humanities Initiative (UMHI) and the Maine Humanities Council will host the second annual Maine Humanities Summit at the Governor Hill Mansion in Augusta on Friday, May 16.

This year’s summit, “The Humanities and Public Policy,” will feature speakers from across the nation who will discuss ways humanities administrators, faculty and the general public can effectively communicate the value and importance of the humanities to residents and media.

“The summit offers the opportunity to speak to the public and legislators in concrete terms about how important humanities are to our state’s civic and economic well-being,” says Justin Wolff, UMHI director and an associate professor of art history at UMaine. “We hope to persuade policymakers that funding these areas from kindergarten up through higher education is a strong investment with a high return.”

Wolff says in a time of increasing emphasis on STEM education, it’s important to remember the value of the humanities, as well.

“The humanities form the foundation of all disciplines,” he says. “They teach critical writing and communication skills, as well as awareness and sensitivity to place and identity.”

For example, Wolff says, if an engineer plans to build a bridge, it’s important for them to understand the cultural heritage and the needs and desires of the people who live in the region that would be affected by the bridge.

Humanities advocates are often faced with the challenge of not having the hard data that STEM backers may have, according to Wolff.

“It’s very hard for humanities advocates to find and share the hard data to prove what we know. We know the value of critical thinking, and we know employers want workers with the skills the humanities teach, but it can be hard to prove it with charts and graphs,” he says. 

About 60 humanities constituents from throughout the state attended last year’s summit. Participants came together to talk about areas of broad concern, new initiatives and programs, and ways to coordinate efforts to advocate humanities. Wolff says the inaugural event led to encouraging conversations, including the idea to make future summits more instrumental.

In an effort to make the second summit more focused, the organizers decided to give this year’s event a theme — “Humanities and Public Policy.” The summit will feature speakers from around the nation who will discuss subjects in one of three areas: advocating the humanities through the use of data and media; the humanities and education policy; and the importance of cultural tourism and the humanities to the state’s economy.

Scheduled speakers include Maine residents, including Hugh French, director of the Tides Institute & Museum of Art in Eastport; and Laura Lindenfeld, an associate professor of communication and journalism at UMaine; as well as national leaders of humanities advocacy, such as Stephen Kidd, executive director of the National Humanities Alliance; and Theda Skocpol, director of the Scholars Strategy Network and Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology at Harvard University.

UMaine President Paul Ferguson; Jeff Hecker, UMaine’s executive vice president for academic affairs and provost; and Hayden Anderson, executive director of the Maine Humanities Council, are slated to give opening remarks.

“Anyone interested in humanities will gain something from the summit,” Wolff says. “It’s meant to initiate lasting partnerships and collaborations. We want to throw possibilities out and see them take root. It offers a place for people to share ideas for coherent and effective advocacy.”

The summit is one of several UMHI events planned for 2014 and serves as a key program in the initiative’s outreach efforts. The initiative, housed in UMaine’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and established in 2010, advances the teaching, research and community outreach of the arts and humanities to enrich the lives of all Maine residents.

The mission of UMHI is twofold: To support and promote the excellent humanities scholarship being created on campus, and to bring that research and scholarship into contact with all Maine residents through an aspect known as public humanities, according to Wolff.

“UMHI is a very strong advocate of the public humanities and efforts to break down walls between the university and the community at large,” Wolff says, adding that UMaine humanities professors and students are working on behalf of all Maine residents.

More information on the Maine Humanities Summit and UMHI is online.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

UMaine’s 212th Commencement

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

More than 10,200 family members and friends attended the University of Maine’s 212th Commencement ceremonies in Harold Alfond Sports Arena on campus today.

Most of the 1,660 students — undergraduates, master’s and doctoral — receiving degrees from UMaine this year were on hand for one of the two ceremonies at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. In addition, a Graduate Student Recognition Ceremony was held Friday afternoon.

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This year’s honorary degree recipients were Maine singer-songwriter David Mallett of Sebec and international best-selling author Dr. Tess Gerritsen of Camden.

As the Commencement speaker for the morning ceremony, Mallett performed two of his legendary songs, “I Knew This Place” and “Garden Song.” He told the audience that he discovered songwriting as a University of Maine student studying theater. He also met his wife at UMaine.

“I wrote my first well-known song two miles from here in Old Town,” said Mallett, whose performance ended with a standing ovation.

Gerritsen’s address focused on creativity — “making connections between things that no one else has tried combining before,” and finding ways to blend unrelated elements into something new and remarkable.

She talked about her creative writing process and encouraged the students to become similar lifelong collectors of information by reading, exploring and cultivating new interests.

“A builder studies an anthill and sees a new design for an underground parking lot,” Gerritsen said. “A musician goes bird-watching, hears a robin sing, and it becomes the melody of his new song. A scientist walks on a beach, picks up a seashell and admires its beautiful internal curves. Years later, as he’s struggling to understand the structure of a protein, he remembers that seashell and suddenly the protein makes sense. When he first picked up the shell, he had no idea that studying it would ever be important until one day, it is.”

Others honored in the Commencement ceremonies were this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian — Sierra Ventura of Belfast, Maine, and Jennifer Chalmers of Foxborough, Mass., respectively. Ventura received a bachelor’s degree in music education. Chalmers, an honors student, received two bachelor’s degrees in English and in history. She also minored in education and Spanish.

Between the Commencement ceremonies, five faculty members were honored at the annual Faculty Appreciation and Recognition Luncheon — Mary Jane Perry, professor of oceanography and interim director of UMaine’s Darling Marine Center, as the 2014 Distinguished Maine Professor; J. Malcolm Shick, professor of zoology and oceanography, the recipient of the 2014 Presidential Outstanding Teaching Award; School of Computing and Information Science Professor M. Kate Beard-Tisdale, the 2014 Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award; the 2014 Presidential Public Service Achievement Award recipient it Bruce Segee, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and director of the University of Maine System Advanced Computing Group; and Sandra Sigmon, professor of psychology, recipient of the 2014 ADVANCE Rising Tide Center Excellence in Faculty Mentoring Award.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

 

Two UMaine Students Win George J. Mitchell Peace Scholarship to Study in Ireland

Friday, May 9th, 2014

Two University of Maine sophomores have been named winners of the George J. Mitchell Peace Scholarship for the 2014–15 academic year and will study abroad in Ireland as part of the student exchange program.

George J. Mitchell Scholars Morgan Gustin and Hilary Warner-Evans will each spend a semester at the University College Cork in Ireland. The scholarship honors the 1998 Northern Ireland peace accord brokered by Sen. Mitchell between Ireland and the United Kingdom and is open to full-time undergraduate students in the University of Maine system.

The scholarship allows one student to study for a year in Ireland or two students to study for a semester each with all expenses paid, including airfare. This year — for the second time — both winners are from the Orono campus.

Gustin, an animal sciences major from Merrill, Maine, will study in Ireland during the fall 2014 semester. Warner-Evans, an anthropology major from West Bath, Maine, will make the trip in the spring of 2015. Both students are enrolled in the Honors College.

While in Ireland, Gustin plans to pursue animal science courses from a new perspective, specifically through integrating Ireland’s farming, livestock and agricultural techniques into her learning.

“Studying in Ireland will allow me to broaden my understanding of life in a different culture, expand my horizons within animal sciences, and gain experience that will help me decide whether my goal of living abroad long term is a desirable reality,” Gustin says, adding that she is looking forward to pushing herself out of her comfort zone personally and academically.

In the long term, Gustin aspires to explore a variety of areas within animal science, particularly field research on large animals and management practices within the context of a ranch.

She has worked as a student farm intern at the University of Maine Witter Farm Equine Cooperative and as a tour guide and carriage driver with Carriages of Acadia in Bar Harbor. At Carriages of Acadia she leads narrated historic tours of Acadia National Park and the carriage road system while driving and handling draft horse teams in a variety of situations.

Gustin also is a College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA) Level 1 certified tutor for the UMaine Tutor Program and a member of the student leadership group for Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU). She has taken mission trips to Chile and Haiti as a member of CRU, volunteering her time to serve others and raise funds for the expeditions.

“I hope to return with an even deeper insight on how to step into the unknown and rise up to meet the challenges it presents,” Gustin says of her next adventure.

Warner-Evans, who is pursuing a degree in anthropology and aspires to become a folklorist, will study Irish folklore while abroad.

“Folklore is a discipline uniquely suited to celebrating both cultural variation and universality,” she says. “An understanding of it provides insight into both the specific identities of groups and the dynamics between them.”

Since 2012, Warner-Evans has volunteered at the Maine Folklife Center, where she has contributed to the center’s community outreach efforts by conducting research for its Maine Song and Story Sampler webpage. She also volunteers as a UMaine Conversation and Cultural Partner and is a member of Maine Peace Action Committee, the UMaine German Club and the Honors College Student Advisory Board.

“The Mitchell Scholarship will give me an unprecedented opportunity to broaden my understanding of the field of folklore, as it will expose me to a second interpretation of the discipline,” says Warner-Evans, who is currently working on a research project about reactions to the discovery of the North Pond Hermit and how those reactions relate to Maine identity.

Warner-Evans says she is driven by her dream of living in a world where tradition and tolerance are valued equally, and where groups with different views can take pride in their own identities while acknowledging that does not mean they are inherently superior to others.

“The ability to study folklore at University College Cork is an invaluable tool for me to further the implantation of my vision of a more tolerant and empathetic world,” she says.

More about the George J. Mitchell Peace Scholarship is online.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747