Archive for the ‘Student and Alumni Stories’ Category

Forging a Healthy Partnership

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

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 (, 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

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

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.

Christine Lamanna: Using plant ecology to study climate change

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Plants that grow in alpine environments are often the proverbial “canary in the coal mine” when it comes to climate change. A number of plants have disappeared from Acadia National Park despite being protected for nearly a century. Climate change is the prime suspect. Christine Lamanna, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Maine’s Sen. George J. Mitchell Center, is working with stakeholders and citizen scientists to figure out what this means for the future of native plants.

Working as part of the Effects of Climate Change on Organisms (ECCO) team at Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI), Lamanna and a diverse working group including citizen volunteers are conducting research at Acadia to find out why 20 percent of the park’s plant species have disappeared since the late 1800s. Additionally, Lamanna is creating maps predicting how important species in the state may respond to future climate change — and how those changes could affect the state economically, culturally and ecologically.

A major goal of the ECCO project is to help state decision makers understand and think about climate change impacts in Maine. It is that kind of collaborative engagement that has made working for SSI such a valuable learning experience, Lamanna said.

“My background is plant ecology and climate change. As part of SSI, I’m able to use that knowledge, but turn it to real-world problems that are impacting Maine right now,” she said.

“Through SSI, I’ve been exposed to so many different ways of approaching a problem, several of which challenged my own way of thinking. It wasn’t easy. But I think the experience of working toward a common goal with different people with different views has been invaluable. The breadth of problems SSI teams are tackling and the span of approaches are exciting,” Lamanna said.

She also values the role introspection plays in SSI projects.

“I’m so inspired by the success stories that have come out of SSI, but one thing that I value in particular is that we also turn a critical eye on ourselves, and think about what makes some projects so successful, while others struggle. That self-reflection improves the work we do and makes us all better scientists and collaborators in the future,” she said.

Soon, Lamanna begins a new adventure. She has accepted a research position with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) at their world headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. ICRAF is part of a global consortium of independent research organizations that work on food security, global change and development. As part of her new job, she’ll be helping governments and institutions in East Africa develop climate-smart agriculture portfolios through decision analysis, stakeholder engagement and modeling. The goal is to both increase food security and decrease the environmental impact of agriculture in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and other countries.

Supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.

See more about ECCO.

Contact: Tamara Field, 207.420.7755

Frances Foehrenbach: Engineering Positive Impacts

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Click here to view more student profiles

Every year the Society of Automotive Engineers sponsors the Clean Snowmobile Challenge — an intercollegiate design competition that encourages students to reduce emissions and noise by modifying snowmobiles to run on ethanol. Inspired by the competition, University of Maine mechanical engineering student Frances Foehrenbach of Saco, Maine, and her 11 teammates converted a snowmobile to run on compressed natural gas.

In April, the team displayed the snowmobile at the 2014 Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) World Congress in Detroit, Michigan, where many of the automotive industry’s top companies gathered. There, in competition with 11 other engineering universities, the UMaine team took third place for its snowmobile design.

The team’s snowmobile was also shown at the New Hampshire SnoDeo, one of the Northeast’s premier snowmobile events held to bring snowmobilers together near the season’s end to test new sleds.

Foehrenbach and another teammate were in charge of the team’s technical report writing. She also was the team’s sole Web designer — a task she had never done before the project.

In May 2011, Foehrenbach began working at the Bangor-based engineering consulting firm Woodard & Curran. Since graduating in May 2014, she has begun a full-time job with the company in the food and beverage service line, where she works on process piping to integrate new systems as well as adding equipment to existing systems.

Foehrenbach is a Tau Beta Pi engineering honors society and Pi Tau Sigma mechanical engineering honors society member. She was named one of two outstanding seniors in the Mechanical Engineering Department.

More information about Foehrenbach and her team’s project is online.

Why is engineering important to you?
Engineering is important for me because I have always had a desire to learn about the world around me, and I feel that my education in engineering will allow me to make a positive impact on the world.

What have you learned about yourself while doing this project? What has the project taught you about engineering?
Since I am the secretary for the team as well as the Web designer, I have discovered my strength of organization. Additionally, I have developed some Web designing tools and have found that I enjoy the aspect of creating and maintaining Web pages.

How does the project relate to your job with Woodard & Curran?
My job has certainly helped with this project. Having worked at Woodard & Curran since my freshman year of college, my experience in the consulting industry has helped me better understand how to go about the designing aspects of this project.

Why did you choose to work at Woodard & Curran after graduation?
I enjoy how the consulting industry has a variety of projects, which allows for continued learning in many aspects of engineering. Additionally, Woodard & Curran has a great atmosphere and truly values the well-being of its employees.

What excites you most about entering the workforce?
Entering the engineering workforce as a full-time engineer instead of an intern is exciting because it allows me to have more ownership over the projects I work on, and I will also have the opportunity to see a project through from design to completion.

Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who has made your UMaine experience better, if so how?
I have worked closely with a few professors, but my senior project adviser, Mick Peterson, has been a great asset for our team. He clearly cares about the senior capstone projects and wants his students to get the most of their experience at UMaine. He has also hired me to do extra work for him, which has allowed me to make some extra living money.

What is the most interesting, engaging or helpful class you’ve taken at UMaine? Why?
I took controls with professor Senthil Vel, which was an engaging class as it taught us how control systems work and incorporated feedback loops. The most valuable part of this course was the Arduino Micro boards that we were able to use along with fans and LEDs in order to learn how to program our own feedback loops.

What advice do you have for incoming students?
Make your time here worthwhile. Get involved in as many different clubs and activities as you can. It is incredibly important to get an internship as early as possible, so start applying freshman year.

Have you had an experience at UMaine that has shaped the way you see the world?
Attending UMaine has showed me that everything I love can be found in my own backyard: the outdoors, mountains, lakes, friendly people, great adventures, etc. As someone who grew up in Maine, I had lost sight of all Maine has to offer, and attending UMaine has brought back my love for this great state.

Ryu Mitsuhashi: The Power of Music

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

Click here to view more student profiles

When Ryu Mitsuhashi was a toddler, her grandfather advocated that music be part of her life.

Her grandfather, an elementary school teacher and Japanese prisoner of war in Russia during World War II, believed music had the power to bring people together in harmony and peace.

Mitsuhashi’s parents heeded the advice. When Mitsuhashi was 3, she and her mother learned — via the Suzuki Method — to play violin in her hometown of Tokyo.

Mitsuhashi, a 2013 University of Maine graduate, was a fast learner. When she was 9, her family moved to Westchester, New York and at age 10 she was accepted into The Juilliard Pre-College Division — “a program for students of elementary through high school age who exhibit the talent, potential, and accomplishment to pursue a career in music” — in New York City.

When Mitsuhashi and her family returned to Japan a couple of years later, she toured Europe with the Tokyo Junior Philharmonic.

For much of her 23 years of life, Mitsuhashi has been spreading goodwill through her music. She has shared her talents in concerts broadcast on network TV as well as on stages around the world, at UMaine, with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra and in area retirement homes.

Mitsuhashi, who has played solo violin concertos with the University of Maine Orchestra, recently returned from a tour of Croatia and Slovenia with a professional orchestra — Orkester Camerata Austriaca — from Linz, Austria. On the tour, she performed a solo of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 4 in D Major.

She credits Anatole Wieck, who teaches violin and viola and conducts the University of Maine Chamber Orchestra, with helping her relax on stage.

While she worries she might forget the music or that a violin string could break, she says Wieck encourages her “to enjoy what she’s doing and to give pleasure to other people by enjoying to play.”

And she says she’s thrilled and energized when concertgoers tell her that they have been entertained by her performance.

While she’s used to living in New York and Tokyo, with populations of 8 and 13 million respectively, Mitsuhashi says she has not been homesick in Orono.

Initially, though, she was “light sick.” Mitsuhashi says in Tokyo she was used to 24-7 bright lights and big-city action. Here, “everything closed at 9 p.m. and it was dark.”

Soon, she’ll again be amid the lights and action as she’s returning this summer to Japan for a monthlong visit. In addition to spending time with family and friends, she’ll play in two concerts.

Since graduating from UMaine with a bachelor of music degree in performance in 2013, Mitsuhashi has been taking part in Optional Practical Training — working in her field of study, which includes teaching music at Bangor Montessori and providing private music lessons.

This fall, Mitsuhashi plans to begin pursuing a master of music degree in performance at UMaine.

Careerwise, she dreams of being a musician with Cirque du Soleil. The Montreal-based company’s shows are celebrated for their “dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment.”

Mitsuhashi says that recently she also has been considering following in her father’s footsteps and becoming a surgeon.

William ‘Nick’ Smith: Bringing Management Skills Back to the Farm

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Click here to view more student profiles

Every week in September, University of Maine business management major William “Nick” Smith has been on campus taking classes and participating in student organizations. But come Friday afternoon, he was on the road, driving 90 miles south to Bull Run Farm in the small coastal town of Cushing, Maine. Overlooking a brook lined by lush fields of vegetables, he spent his weekend filling 700-pound totes with the fall harvest he has grown — pumpkins, buttercup squash and sunshine squash — to sell in the area. When Sunday night rolled around, he packed up his truck again and headed north to Orono.

September was always a long month for Smith, but the fourth-generation Maine farmer wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The money Smith has made in the past five years from selling his produce, coupled with a handful of scholarships, has been enough to pay the balance of his tuition — something he has been saving for since he was 12 years old. He’ll graduate from the University of Maine this month with no debt.

Smith, 21, grew up “ingrained” with the black bear mascot, knowing he always wanted to come to UMaine. On campus, Smith has been a student leader as a member of Alpha Lambda Delta and Sophomore Owls honor societies; a UMaine Student Government Inc., senator and vice president of student organizations; vice president of the Class of 2014; and president of the Senior Skull honor society.

Throughout his academic excellence and community engagement at UMaine, Smith has kept true to his goal of applying all he has learned to his family farm, which he will manage once he graduates. Whether it’s his small-business economics class or learning to live in a dorm, Smith utilized every opportunity he had to make his college career the best it could be. And he doesn’t plan to stop using those opportunities.

When Smith graduated high school, his father asked him to start on the farm. But Smith knew he had to get an education first. At UMaine, he majored in business and now not only knows how to keep track of his finances, but also has a few new ideas on how to run his farm.

“I’ll take a few more risks, (because) if you don’t take risks you get left in the dust,” he said. “College taught me to be more open-minded. It was more about learning about life and people. At the end of the day, we’re all human. Just appreciating everyone, not ruling people out because of a social issue.”

One of Smith’s goals at UMaine was to meet as many people as possible. The hundreds of new people he has met as a member of the university community have informed his business perspective on the products his customers will want in the future and, in many cases, have resulted in friendships that will last a lifetime.

Growing up on a farm, Smith says, “taught me to live small, taught me to live within my means. On a farm, if you don’t put labor in, you don’t get your three squares a day. You learn a lot of work ethic on a farm.”

Going above and beyond applies to Smith’s life. His father taught him to always give his customers a little extra per pound.

“It doesn’t hurt. You just want to make sure you’re fair,” he says. “That’s who people want to do business with — someone who is above and beyond fair.”

Taking over Bull Run Farm, which his father started in 1975, will be an education in itself for Smith. He will move from the vegetable division to manage the entire farm — beef, vegetables and hay. But feeling prepared by the Maine Business School, Smith is excited.

“It’s a little odd having friends who already have jobs set up to make $65,000 to $67,000 a year,” he says. “But I have no debt. I can eat all of the food that I grow. It will be a crude lifestyle for a little bit, but it’s going to pan out because I’m motivated to do it.

“If I don’t do it, who will?”

Ian Jones: Diving into Research

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Click here to view more student profiles

Third-year marine sciences major Ian Jones of Canton, Conn., is studying how ocean acidification impacts lobster larvae, an important resource for the Maine economy.

Jones works with American lobsters raised at UMaine’s Aquaculture Research Center (ARC). The lobster larvae were raised last summer at various pH levels, replicating natural environments and the impact of ocean acidification. Jones weighed and photographed approximately 700 lobster larvae to monitor their growth in these different environments. The hypothesis: slower growth and more irregular development occur at lower pH. This creates adaptation problems for lobsters dealing with increased environmental CO2 levels.

“We will certainly see greater ocean acidification in the future as an effect of climate change. As atmospheric levels of CO2 continue to increase from human input, so do the CO­2 levels of the upper ocean,” says Jones.

Along with lobster larvae, Jones also monitored seahorses in Tim Bowden’s lab. The seahorses, which were dealing with a mycobacterial infection, were in the care of Jones while an antibiotic treatment was created. He also raised juvenile seahorses last year. Through this experience, Jones learned about seahorse aquaculture, proper feeding protocols, tank chemistry and more.

“Not much is known about seahorse aquaculture relative to raising other fish, so although information on raising newborns was limited, it was a fun challenge figuring out our own system that worked.”

This fall, Jones will travel to the Darling Marine Center on the Damariscotta River, where he and other UMaine students will further the hands-on work they do in the classroom through the Semester By the Sea program.

Jones plans to attend graduate school to study sensory biology and/or the effect of climate change on marine animals.

Why is your lobster research important?
Research on American lobster growth at lowered pH is incredibly important first, because there has been little climate change study on this particular species and second, any slowing or other adverse effects on lobster growth could have serious impacts on the health of the lobster fishery, which Maine, of course, greatly depends on. Delayed lobster larvae development means it will take longer for lobsters to get to market size, and predation risk may increase as well, causing fewer individuals to grow into adults and lowering the overall abundance of adult lobsters. Changes in lobster abundance can in turn upset ecosystem balance by changing the abundance of organisms that depend on lobster as prey and organisms lobsters prey on. These trophic cascades have the power to reduce the presence of many species in addition to just the lobster, consequently reducing biodiversity.

Are you excited about heading to the Darling Marine Center in the fall?
I am really excited to be able to SCUBA dive in the area on the weekends; there is a dive locker on campus. I’m also excited for many of the courses offered this fall, such as the scientific diving course and the marine invertebrate biology course. I look forward to the seminar class, which teaches students how to tackle job interviews and graduate school applications for pursuing a career post graduation. Generally, I look forward to interacting with the marine environment on a near daily basis as I learn more about it and gain skills for marine research.

Why did you choose UMaine?
My primary reason for choosing UMaine was their excellent marine science program, which was more attractive than those at other colleges due to its emphasis on hands-on experience, such as through their Semester by the Sea program, expert faculty and it covers fundamentals of marine biology, chemistry and physics, not just the area you choose to concentrate in. Also driving me to UMaine were the strong nondiscriminatory policies and minority services on campus, making me confident that I can be myself at UMaine and face minimal to no prejudice, especially from faculty and administrators.

Have you worked closely with a mentor, professor or role model who has made your UMaine experience better, if so how?
Working with Tim Bowden has greatly improved my experience here, and the opportunities he’s granted me to assist with seahorse aquaculture and lobster larvae research have not only been very enjoyable but have helped define my research interests and add to my qualifications for future research experience. Additionally, his constructive feedback on my performance in his lab has allowed me to improve as a researcher.

What difference has UMaine made in your life, helping you reach your goals?
My professors at UMaine have made a major impact on what it means to have a career in science and beyond. They share advice on the mentality, skills and process necessary toward being successful in particular research fields. Also, the abundance of research facilities here, such as the Aquaculture Research Center, has allowed me to build a lot of hands-on experience that I can apply to future positions in marine biological research.

What advice do you have for incoming students?
I advise students to get involved with at least a couple student organizations that suit their interests. There’s a club for almost anything you could think of, from fencing to SCUBA diving to various political, academic and religious and social groups. Also I recommend science students look for work in a faculty member’s lab as soon as possible, even if it’s just volunteer work. You don’t need to know what your interests are yet, but any research and lab experience gained early can really help you in the long run. Just ask around.

What is your favorite place on campus?
My favorite place is the Littlefield Garden on the north end of campus. The garden is especially nice to study in, or to just hang out and have a picnic at — given warm weather of course.

Have you had an experience at UMaine that has shaped the way you see the world?
Unrelated to marine science, I took the Intro to LGBT studies course offered by the Women’s, Sexuality and Gender Studies department, which vastly increased my understanding of the complexity of the LGBT community. I knew a fair amount about LGBT culture and identities going into the course but I did not realize how much I didn’t know until taking the class. For example, I didn’t know that there is opposition to same-sex marriage within members of the LGBT community and that historically there has been plenty of conflict of interest between feminist and lesbian organizations, as well as lesbian and gay people who have spearheaded “LGBT” movements that often leave the B (bisexual) and T (transgender) out of the equation. I now view the LGBT community differently than before, recognizing that people won’t always get along or share common goals just because they all belong to a minority. I also better understand the importance of full inclusiveness in LGBT organizations, due the diversity and intersectionalities with race, class, etc., of LGBT people.

Christopher Burns: Working with Picasso

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Click here to view more student profiles

Christopher Burns is a senior English major from Winterport, Maine, who has explored many roles during his years at the University of Maine, but he says his current position at the University of Maine Museum of Art is easily the most rewarding. The museum, located in downtown Bangor, boasts a collection of more than 3,800 works of art and offers free admission six days a week.

“If you had asked me a couple years ago if I would have a chance to carry a Picasso in my arms, I would’ve said no,” says the student literary magazine editor and aspiring writer.

What’s your role at the Museum of Art?
I’m a student administrative assistant. One of my primary roles is in guest relations, so as people come in, I greet them, make them feel welcome at the museum and let them know whose work is on display. That means telling them what makes it significant or unique, or telling the story behind it. It’s about helping people understand and make the most of their experience with the art. I also help put together the announcements and whatnot. Everything works collaboratively there — everyone helps with every part of the process — so since I’m an English major and have done a lot of writing and editing, they ask me to look over stuff. It’s great to be able to take part in almost every stage of the museum process.

Do you have the opportunity to work directly with the pieces?
I’ve helped install two shows so far, and there’ll be probably at least two more that I’ll be able to help work on. I remember when I was first asked to work on the process; I asked if I could help, and they said “sure, just put these gloves on and start bringing some paintings in here so we can wrap them up.” I thought, “Uh, am I qualified for this? I mean, I think you need some kind of special education to handle precious art, but okay, let’s do this.”

A couple years ago, I would’ve said there’s probably not a Picasso within a couple hundred miles of here, and it turns out there are several not even twenty miles away.

What do you think while you’re handling such incredible pieces?
That’s sort of an otherworldly experience. Holding a Picasso in your hands and realizing “this is worth probably more than I’ll ever be.” It’s like seeing the Ark of the Covenant or beholding Zeus, and it’s just right there in your hands.

What can you say about the museum’s collection?
There are 3,800 pieces in the permanent collection. It’s really great to have a chance to be around that kind of work. You can make a checklist of fine artists and you’re just going to accumulate a huge list of them all in that one collection. I think letting people know about that helps reinforce the value of the museum. A really unique place, and that’s one reason why I’m so glad to have the opportunity to work there. It’s probably the best northernmost collection in the United States.

How did you come to the museum?
I actually gained access to the Museum of Art through the Maine Edge when I was covering the art and culture beat. I was seeing the programs and shows the museum was putting on and I started getting to know the people there. When August came around, one of the old work studies mentioned the museum would be looking for people to fill in and suggested I should talk to the assistant museum coordinator.

How do you think you’ve benefited from working there?
Having the opportunity to see and work with great art is eye-opening. There is this larger, beautiful world out there, and much of it is right there, just feet away from me while I work. It shows you how much this area has to offer — and how much the university itself really has to offer. It’s one of the best services that the university provides to the state. We try to emphasize that — this is in line with the land grant mission for the university: to serve the citizens of Maine.

Has your time at the museum influenced your plans after graduation?
I’ve been considering trying to make it into newswriting business. I’d like to write about art and culture — to highlight and share these places and events with other people, and make it accessible to people. Art has its own specialized language, and oftentimes people, especially with modern art, look at it and don’t understand it. Being able to write about art and culture for a newspaper, magazine or journal could help contextualize things for people in a way they can understand.

An example would be when I had the opportunity to cover an intermedia MFA show for the Maine Campus. There was a display with a bunch of broken pencils and pens, and someone might wonder how they should understand that. When you really break through it, it’s an act of anthropology where you’re studying a group or culture by the items they throw away. Each pencil could be broken, be never used, or have the eraser chewed away. It all gives you insight into the mind of the person who owned it. Those little details tell you a lot about people.

What brought you to UMaine?
I guess economy and geography worked well. This was more affordable than some of the other options I had, and it’s located near my support networks, so it’s a win-win in that respect. In the past two years, I’ve taken a lot more out of being here than in my first two years. Once I started to find more of the opportunities that would allow me to further myself, I started to realize how much there is to offer here at UMaine.

Did you start finding opportunities through a particular experience or person?
The moment that changed everything for me was in Neville Hall. I happened to be going past one of my professor’s offices, and he called me in and asked me to sit down. Then he said that he had recommended me to be the fiction editor for the English Department’s magazine, The Open Fields. He said I should think about it before saying yes — and I was saying yeah, I’ll think about it, but I already knew I was going to do it. Then from there everything kind of blossomed — one thing led to another thing. The Open Fields brought me to working for the Maine Edge, and I was with them for several months before starting with the museum.

What draws you to writing?
There is more to English than Charles Dickens. I realized there is an industry as well, which is supported by the stalwart soldiers of the English departments across the country. That really got me thinking I had to find other venues for writing, and so I found the Maine Edge. That was my school of hard knocks in news and culture writing.

I consider myself a lifelong learner, so that’s another reason I want to be a writer. You have to commit yourself and learn your subject well if you’re going to write about it with any sort of conviction or authority. If you’re going to write about an art show, you need to know about the artist. If you want to write about new legislation, you have to read the legislation. For everything, you have to know the context it’s coming from, so you have the opportunity to learn about a diverse array of subjects.

What do you enjoy most about UMaine?
I’ve made quite a few good friends in my time here, from students to faculty and people behind the scenes. There’s a really great supporting staff that works endlessly to make it possible for professors to do their jobs and make it possible for students to keep learning. I’ll give a shout-out to the secretaries and administrative assistants who are sending emails, making sure everything’s coming in on time, and making sure you get to where you need to be.

Do you think you’ll stay in Maine after graduation?
I’ve thought about it. I do love the state, for all the good and all the ill. Travis Baker’s play at the Penobscot Theater right now, One Blue Tarp, is a good illustration of the state. There’s always a conflict between the perceptions of a place. There’s a whole history here — you have the unknown river drivers, people who suffered a lot, but also people who made it big here — Joshua Chamberlain, Hannibal Hamlin, and the likes of them. There’s a great literary and art scene. If I can make an honest living for myself, where I feel content with where I am, then yes I’ll stay here. Being within a stone’s throw of Katahdin — it’d be nice to say that’s my backyard.

Do you have any advice to offer students following your footsteps?
Think about what you love. Your first year is a good time to explore to see where you fit in best. After that, it comes to a point where you have to make a choice. Like Hamlet’s dilemma, you can’t stay indecisive forever. You have to pave your own path. There’ll be times of questioning, but you have to do the best you can to keep that in check. You’ll have bad times along with the good times, but eventually, if you keep going, you’ll have earned your way into the world.

Liam and Logan Nee: Double Majors

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

Click here to view more student profiles

Liam and Logan Nee never expected they would stay in Maine for college. They also never expected to share a school — or a major or off-campus housing.

The senior identical twins from Cornish, Maine, both applied to “about a dozen” schools, but ultimately chose UMaine because of the Division I track program and in-state tuition.

“We certainly didn’t choose it to be near each other,” Liam says.

“We strategically chose our living spaces specifically to avoid each other,” says Logan. “Not in the sense that we didn’t want to see each other. This was sort of our only way of differentiating ourselves.”

That was when they were freshman. Three years later, they both live in the same off-campus house.

“Freshman year, we were not talking to each other, really. People made jokes like ‘oh, are you going to stay together in the same dorm room?’ And we said, ‘We’ll do track and that’ll be our only thing together,’” Liam says.

Since arriving at UMaine, both brothers have competed in the same track event — the 800.

“We always liked to compete in every aspect, but track just puts it in the perspective of an actual race,” Liam says. “Logan’s definitely winning the GPA race, though, so I guess you could say I’ve controlled the track, but he’s controlled the books.”

Logan came to UMaine as a financial economics major, while Liam pursued journalism. Eventually, they both decided to add political science as a second major, but they have never taken a class together. After UMaine, both brothers say they intend to pursue jobs in their fields — Liam as a journalist and Logan as a financial consultant — wherever they need to go.

“Logan and I are pretty strong, and we don’t let a lot of stuff come between us and our goals,” Liam says. “I think we’ll find ways to work or go to graduate school — or both.”

Both brothers have been involved in the many out-of-class offerings at UMaine. Liam is on the staff of the Maine Campus, UMaine’s student-run newspaper, and WMEB 91.9, the campus radio station, where he has hosted five shows. One, an electronic dance music program, he cohosts with Logan.

Logan helped found UMaine’s chapter of No Labels, a national political group that works to promote problem-solving and bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. The group hosted a debate during the United States Senate race in 2012, which drew both major party candidates, although not the election’s eventual winner, Independent Sen. Angus King.

Logan also has been a Farm Credit Fellow and served a term in student government. He has written political commentary for the Maine Campus and PolicyMic, an online outlet for young voices.

Being involved with activities is useful for both resume building and socializing, they say.

“This culture’s very close-knit,” Liam added. “It’s a big school, but you feel like you know everyone.”

In a way, it’s easier to make more friends if you have a twin. “Our freshman year, I’d be walking on the mall and I’d get a wave from someone, and I’d just have no idea who it is. I’d start out the conversation with ‘I’m Logan’s brother, by the way. But I’ll meet you, it’s just not the person you think it is,’” Liam says.

“UMaine helped us reach a comfort level with the twin stuff.”

Steven Kydd: Connecting the World Through Food

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Steven Kydd, a 1991 University of Maine graduate who majored in business administration, remembers growing up in Orrington, Maine, with a passion for food and an awareness of where his food came from. His family grew their own vegetables and his uncle was a lobsterman.

In 2012, Kydd and his business partners Joe Perez and Larry Fitzgibbon took their shared love of food and converted it into Tastemade, the world’s first global food network built for digital platforms.

Tastemade’s mission is to connect the world through food by allowing creators to make and share video programming instantly on a global and social scale. Tastemade has more than 100 food channels in the Americas, Europe and Asia, and has had episodes uploaded from more than 250 cities, 25 countries and in 10 different languages.

Tastemade’s YouTube channel offers original programs featuring recipes, cooking and travel. Many Tastemakers film their shows for free in the company’s California studio that was designed to create high-quality productions and inspire collaboration. The company also offers a mobile app that allows users to produce and share their own one-minute episodes about their favorite foods and restaurants.

Before Tastemade, Kydd was part of the founding team of Demand Media and executive vice president of Demand Studios, was vice president of business development and strategy for Yahoo! and served as vice president of Internet marketing with 20th Century Fox International in Hong Kong, Indonesia and Los Angeles.

Kydd now lives in Santa Monica, Calif., with his wife and two children, where he shares his passion for food at home and at work.

Tell us about Tastemade and why it was founded:
We created Tastemade with one goal in mind — to connect the world through food. A generation ago the cable industry launched category-defining brands in food and lifestyle, and we believe the same opportunity exists for today’s global, social and mobile digital platforms. My partners and I founded the company in 2012.

Are you a good cook? What’s your favorite dish to prepare and/or eat?
I have no culinary training whatsoever, but growing up I learned some baking tips from my mum and recently learned a lot about cooking from my wife Sal. My favorite dish to eat is a simple steamed lobster which we catch from my parents’ traps off Deer Isle, Maine.

Tell us about your previous jobs and how they have influenced your professional life:
I have been working in the media business for most of my career, and I love that it is a combination of art and commerce. Early in my career I made it my mission to find mentors and learned from them what it takes to be a senior executive at a big company.

I was fortunate to work at great media brands like 20th Century Fox and Yahoo!. However, along the way I learned that I was at my best when starting something new, and that led me toward leaving the corporate world and into startups.

What are you professional and personal goals?
For me, personal and professional goals must be linked. When you start your own company it becomes part of your family life. Fortunately, my family gets to be involved in the development of the company, and that is rewarding for everyone.

What are your biggest professional accomplishments to date:
I had always dreamed about ringing the bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to celebrate the IPO of a company I helped build. I was fortunate to be part of the founding team of Demand Media, and in January 2011, my dream came true.

Another highlight was being asked to speak at Google Zeitgeist this year to tell the story of how my partners and I formed Tastemade.

Both of these events were shared with my partners Joe Perez and Larry Fitzgibbon, who were co-founders of both companies with me.

What difference has UMaine made in your life and in helping you reach your goals?
For a couple years I served as the head of the UMaine tour guides — showing prospective students and their parents around campus. Looking back on this, it was a great way to build my storytelling skills. Any entrepreneur will tell you that storytelling is critical to starting and growing a new business.

Most memorable UMaine moment:
The day I was accepted to the study abroad program in France for my junior year.

Any advice for current students?
First, study abroad — it is one of the best things you can do to grow personally and professionally. Second, start a business — any business. You will learn more from being an entrepreneur than you will from any textbook. Lastly, find great partners — everything in life is better when you can share it with people you care about.