UMS TRANSFORMS discussion: Boston Executive Club of UMaine (BECUM) meeting (video)
The video in this post is a portion of a presentation and discussion of the Harold Alfond Foundation UMS Transforms grant to a March 24, 2021 meeting of the Boston Executive Club of UMaine (BECUM).
Obviously, you’ve heard about the Harold Alfond Foundation’s commitment to the state of Maine, some $500 million of which, to our surprise, a pleasant surprise, almost half of that money was dedicated [to the University of Maine System], $240 million. It falls into four different buckets: a Black Bear Athletics Division I/athletics and facilities at the University of Maine to the tune of $90 million, with a requirement to raise an additional $20 million; on the issue system-wide of student success and retention, a commitment of $20 million requiring a match of $25 million; to an old, but now new, concept again, the establishment of the Maine College of Engineering, Computing and Information Sciences, touching on all of our universities, a commitment of $75 million with a $75 million match required; and the Maine Graduate Professional Center, the coming together as it has so far taken place and will continue to take place of our law program, our MBA program, and the Muskie School programs at the University of Southern Maine has received a commitment of $55 million — a large share of that to go to a Maine Graduate Professional Center building, presumably on the campus of the University of Southern Maine, but used by their various entities. That has a $55 million commitment with a $50 million match required, obviously, looking toward money for that new building at some time in the future.
We’re going to focus on UMS Transforms, which is the Alfond funding that the chancellor has mentioned, and so I’d like to begin by asking the members of the panel to give their own brief introductions with their name and title, so that then we can move into the panel itself. Jim, I believe you’re first.
Sure, thank you. Again, my name is Jim Thelen; Jeff briefly introduced me earlier. I’m the vice chancellor for strategic initiatives and chief legal officer for the University of Maine System, and for the purposes of the grant and very generous Alfond gifts that we’re talking about here today, I’m honored to be a co-principal investigator in managing the grants and gifts with President Ferrini-Mundy and I’ll let her explain the significance of that principle investigator role later. Thank you.
Good evening. I’m Kimberly Whitehead, I’m vice president and chief of staff at the University of Maine, and for UMS Transforms I serve as the project director. I’m very delighted to be here with you this evening.
Good evening everyone. My name is John Volin. I’m the executive vice president for academic affairs and the provost at the University of Maine, and for UMS Transforms, I am the co-lead of the student success and retention.
Hi, good evening everybody. I’m Ken Ralph, I’m director of athletics on the Orono campus, and for the Alfond project I am the lead on the Black Bear Athletics Initiative.
Hi, my name’s Dana Humphrey. I’m dean of engineering at the University of Maine and I’m the lead for the thread that’s for the Maine College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science.
Good evening everyone. I’m Leigh Saufley. I am a very proud 1976 graduate of the University of Maine, that really dates me, but I am just delighted to be here tonight in my role as dean of the law school, and also lead of the Maine Center for Graduate and Professional Studies. I’m looking forward to talking with you about it all.
Thanks everybody, and I’ll be moderating the panel. We’ll turn to that in a moment but there are a number of other members of the team who are here and we’ve been trying to keep an updated list, so I’ll just very quickly run through who I think is out there or may have been at one moment. Dan Demeritt, who’s leading the communications and publicity part of the project; Jeremy Qualls from the University of Southern Maine, who is a co-lead on the Maine College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science and who is representing President Glenn Cummings tonight as I understand it; Penny Rheingans from UMaine, director of the school of computing and information science, another co-lead on the MCECIS — we’ll get it so that that rolls off of our tongues eventually, but I’m working at that now. Faye Gilbert, executive dean of the Maine Business School who is co-lead for the Maine Center for Graduate and Professional Studies; Terry Sutton, CEO of Maine Center Ventures who is a co-lead on the Center for Graduate Professional Studies; Margaret Nagle at UMaine, in public relations working on communications; Sam Warren, director of community and government relations and working on a piece of the project that has to do with bonding and debt service; Chip Gavin, UMS general services officer who’s leading the capital project planning. I just have to pause, I didn’t know Chip very well before the pandemic but having watched him in action every single day as the lead for the management of operations through the pandemic has just been incredible. If you don’t know Chip, he can tell you pretty much anything you would ever need to know about testing, about vaccine, about prevalence rate, about positivity, about wastewater testing, about distancing, about how you set up spaces to make them work. It’s just been phenomenal to work with him. Jason Charland, a senior adviser to me who is helping to co-lead part of the matching fundraising with external grants; Renee Kelly, a UMaine assistant vice president for innovation and economic development co-leading pathways to careers; and dean Emily Haddad from our College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a professor of English, co-leading gateways to success. I’m sure I’ve missed somebody, but in any case, I think it’s important to recognize what it takes to actually do the work of a $240 million project and I’m delighted that everybody is here.
I’m going to go straight into the presentation, but I’m going to alert the panelists that we’re going off script a little, but I’ll give you a warning. The question I’m going to ask you to respond to, because there’s already going to be quite a bit of detail about what we’re doing in each part of the project, the chancellor’s given us a first a first look at that — we’ll go a little more but if you wouldn’t mind, panelists, being prepared to kind of reflect on the following. You all have key leadership roles in executing and implementing a $240 million grant that’s going to span 10–12 years, that requires us to raise an astounding match, and that will influence generations of students in Maine and in our University System and will benefit our state for decades. So I just want to hear your thoughts on what it’s like to be in a key role for something so momentous, something so significant, something so historically important, and to share that with this group because you will all find if you don’t know these folks on this call, they are unbelievably loyal supporters of the University of Maine and of our system and I think they’re out there ready to help. And indeed, we don’t need to raise all the money tonight although that’d be nice, but we really do need help in many forms, in many ways — in many ways that we can reach out to you and that you can reach to us.
So in any case, let me jump to my slides if that’s okay, Monique, I believe you’re going to help me project these. We’ll go straight to the first slide. The chancellor mentioned, and we’ll show it again so that everybody is oriented as we move into the panel, four parts to this project. Any one of them alone, by the way, would be historic. Putting them all together and thinking about this as a coherent whole that’s going to shape us from now until quite a long time from now is amazing. Black Bear Athletics, and Ken will say more, $90 million coming in, 20 million in leveraging or match. The student success and retention which is focused on students across the system but also will at the beginning have some key UMaine pieces that will be become then the pieces that we test out and scale, $20 million with an expectation of $25 million more in leveraging. That one by the way has, I think, probably significant potential for seeking federal and external funding for the leveraging, and you’ll learn more about why that is in a minute. The Maine College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science, this is meant to signal the importance of growing our capacity in the state of Maine in the fields of engineering, computing and information science. It will bring together efforts that occur, certainly here at the University of Maine with our partners at the University of Southern Maine in engineering areas, together with computing and information science work that goes on across the system, and in particular the UMaine School of Computing and Information Science, into an entity that becomes an incredible force for the state, for the future, $75 million, and then the Maine Graduate and Professional Center. Many of you know quite a bit about that already, and you’ll hear about what phase two will look like. Let’s go to the next one please, Monique.
We’ve been working on how to think about this as a whole, because there’s so much activity to be done in each of the groups that we want to stay focused on what we’re about in a coherent way. And so the first, and I think most important feature, is that this whole project must focus on serving students and on the University of Maine System’s role in improving the Maine economy. So that needs to guide discussions, and we sometimes find ourselves saying wait a minute, we’re not talking about students at all today, we’re not talking about the economy today, we need to reorient and get back to why what we’re doing is so important for our state. The four different areas need to place diversity, equity and inclusion at the core for a long list of reasons that we are happy to discuss in some detail. All of these areas need to include and benefit all of the University of Maine System institutions. That doesn’t mean that they all start in the same place or that they all will engage in exactly the same ways, but we’re reminding our leads that that’s a part of the work. Fourth, the project will build in mechanisms for optimal integration across the four areas of funding. So the idea that as the College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science folks are thinking about what they need to do to prepare future leaders for our state, there will be natural connections to be made to the Maine Graduate and Professional Center, and we’re asking people early on to try to think about how to do that. Of course, that’s on top of asking them to lead massive projects. And then finally the matching funds can be used to complement or extend the work of the prospectus as we agreed to it with the Alfond Foundation. That’s kind of technical and we can talk about any of this at much more length. Thanks Monique, next slide is fine.
We won’t take a long time on the details of this but of course it’s available to you. We’ve put in place a structure. We’re advancing the work because even though the funding will come in over the 10–12 year period, we are starting and we want to make some things happen right away, and we are. And this is just an incredible team so you’ll hear from a few of these folks, but there are many others, some of them are on this call. What we have, because it’s familiar, is a PI/Co-PI kind of model typical of what you’d see in federal funding, with Chancellor Molloy as the executive chair responsible really for the whole thing, and for all of this execution, but then Jim Thelen and I serving as Co-PIs, co-principal investigators, the day-to-day oversight management and accountability, our interactions with the funder, which are significant, happen a lot. And then Kimberly Whitehead as project director, you’ll hear from her. Ryan Low is the financial director, he’s the vice chancellor for finance and administration. So it’s a big process. And then here in the actual areas, student success and retention, you’re hearing tonight from John Volin, but you see again the breadth of involvement from across the entire system. The Maine College of Engineering, you’ll hear tonight from Dana, but again many, many people involved. And all of these teams are now building out sub teams and working groups and task groups and steering groups and making their own arrangements for how to advance the work. The Maine Center, you’ll hear from Dean Saufley, but this is of course crossing all of our institutions and engaging the Maine Center Ventures organization significantly, and then Ken with the co-lead of Professor Rosenbaum-Andre.
This goes on, and for those who are very interested in organizational matters, this is here. I won’t go through all of this. We have an operational side that involves the fundraising, the grant management, the communications and the project planning for the capital aspects. And we’ve mentioned this already, it’s a $240 million award, a match of $170 million, 10–12-year time frame. The expectations of the projects are starting now. There is annual review with our funder, which is a very beneficial kind of arrangement where we will be in constant communication about our benchmarks. We will adjust, and we’ll introduce new ideas that come in as we do the work. And as the chancellor mentioned, the fundraising can come from several different places, including more traditional fundraising that so many of you have been such generous participants in, competitive federal grants and awards which means we need to put up a whole apparatus to help people get ready to think about how their grant proposals can tie to this work across the entire system. We look to advance our work with corporate partners and philanthropy, and here at UMaine we’re discussing the idea of a corporate roundtable. More on that eventually when we get a chance to talk, and then state funding state bonds.
I have a slide for each portion of the grant but I’m going to actually stop and ask Monique if you could back up now, and possibly take the slides down unless someone really would like their piece to come up. And I’d like to turn to our panel now and invite them each to make a few remarks, but then to leave us time for questions from the group as we begin to wrap up. So with that let’s go first to Jim Thelen.
Thank you Joan, President Ferrini-Mundy, for the introduction to the project. I will take you up on your invitation a moment ago to talk about what it means to be part of the project. I did have the honor and the privilege of being there from the beginning as the chancellor and President Ferrini-Mundy were beginning discussions with the Alfonds, beginning to flesh out ideas and proposals and putting them down on paper, and starting to define the concepts and ideas and the outcomes that we saw really advancing and improving the University of Maine System, and of course the University of Maine, in that effort. I think I’ll stick with the word “privilege.” It’s a privilege to be part of that and to now be in a position to help communicate and conceptualize that, and now translate it out into our communities of faculty, and donors, and others who want to really make these initiatives successful. Joan mentioned, as one of the roles of a co-principal investigator, of course, is to continue very close dialogue with our funders, our benefactors at the Alfond Foundation in understanding that we are properly pursuing the matching, the $170 million in matching opportunities and how we connect those to the projects to really drive them forward to amplify and to increase the scale and impact of the initiatives. So in many ways it’s undefined work, but that allows for tremendous creativity and thinking about really expanding the impact of the initiatives, and it’s just a wonderful seat to have at the table, working with all of the colleagues and many dozens more that you saw mentioned on the screen in the last couple of slides. So I’ll leave it at that, Joan, but it’s of course a wonderful project to be connected to.
Thank you, Jim. We’ll turn next to Kimberly Whitehead.
Thank you, Joan. I’m so excited to be here, as I mentioned earlier, and I will say that I volunteered to be the project director. When I heard about the phenomenal gift, having been in higher education for more than 20 years, I was excited and thought about what the impact of the gift could be, and looking at the initiatives as a lifelong student success advocate, I was happy to be able to join the team in this capacity. If you saw me moving around in the beginning, that’s what I do — I kind of multitask so that I can drive and support, so that I can drive progress and then support the internal as well as external stakeholders who will be our partners, to ensure that this project is successful. I look at it as an opportunity for the University of Maine System to create a national model for higher education in terms of fostering collaboration among institutions, external partners, in an effort to provide educational opportunities that are sustainable for students, faculty, staff administrators, but most importantly for Maine people. So if I had to describe my role in a few words, I would say that I consult, I guide, I coordinate, strategize and monitor, and I am really excited to be working with such a talented cadre of individuals who will compose the executive leadership group and the leads on the various initiatives. I thank you for the opportunity to talk about my role. I hope that you can hear my excitement because I’m very excited to be a part of this wonderful project.
Thank you, Kimberly. And I just want to point out that we’re thrilled that Kimberly’s here with this, doing this work with us, and that she mentioned that she volunteered, and so that’s a fine model. Anybody who wants to help, we can find a way, so let us know. I’m also watching the chat and we’ll try to take your questions up as they come up, so please don’t hesitate to put them in and John, the answer to your question is yes, you’re up next.
Great, thank you, Joan. I appreciate that. I also appreciate how you framed this question, and both Kimberly and Jim before me said how excited they were, and that’s for sure. It is incredibly exciting, it’s also a privilege. So I am the lead, but with an exceptional team of people that are already volunteering to be on the student success and retention piece, and my co-lead is the president of the University of Maine at Fort Kent, Deb Hedeen, and she’s absolutely wonderful, to be a partner with this. And I would say, I’ve actually had some people say, well, you only have $45 million, which is a really funny thing to say, right, so $45 million at a minimum. We have $20 million that will come from the Alfonds that will leverage $25 million and I hope we do much more than that. But it’s an exceptional gift to put towards student success and retention over the next 10 years, and I’m privileged because for me this is the core, this is why we are here. At the end of the day, we want to see our students succeed. So when I look at this, we accept a large number of students across Maine that come to us, but then it’s very important that we help them with those tools to be able to be successful, to retain them and have them graduate successfully in a four-year time period, which is always a great thing for financial reasons as well. And so, this area, if you saw earlier on the slide, there’s three core areas that we’re going to be looking at and they’ll grow from there, but the first one of these areas is called research learning experiences. These are designed to give these research learning experiences to all first-year students so we want to scale it. We’re going to, in this first one, one-and-a-half years, pilot this at the University of Maine, but as the president and the chancellor said earlier, the goal is that these go across all seven universities. So the research learning experience — what’s unique about this is a lot of universities do research learning experiences for students at their junior and senior year. We want to do this for our first year students and do it to scale so that they all have this opportunity. These are experiences that are designed to introduce students to discovery and knowledge creation, really early in their college careers. We will do this by engaging students in research, scholarship, community engagement — really to help prepare them as they move on in their college career. And it’ll actually have much greater benefits post-graduation as well.The other two areas that we’re focusing on are something that we call gateways to success, as probably you all know there are those critical gateway courses, they call them, that could be very difficult for many students, and so we want to help improve the teaching and student learning in these critical gateway courses. They often are STEM courses, those introductory STEM courses. We’ll do this to essentially redesign curriculum of these courses, engaging proven approaches to learning, et cetera. So very excited about that. I know Dean Emily Haddad was on here, she’s one of the co-leads on that. She’s here tonight joining us so that’s wonderful. And then the third one is pathways to careers. This is to improve our visibility and effectiveness, really, of career placement activities, including accelerating an effective student access to such things as internships — paid internships, mind you — certificates and credentialing courses and other experiential learning opportunities that we see like with our research learning experiences. So these are our three areas that we’re going to be focusing on; we already have over 50 faculty and staff across the seven universities that have volunteered, put their hands up, and so we are kicking this off right now and we’re very excited about it.
Excellent. I’m going to turn to Jim to take up a question that has come in from John Sorensen.
Thank you, Joan. I apologize, I wanted to make sure I was off mute. The question that came in was essentially about how the flow of money is coming in — can we use Alfond dollars before they’re matched, what if we don’t make the matching goals? Are we floating bonds to initiate some of the initiatives? So that’s the whole question if anybody didn’t get it in the chat. So the reality is yes, the cash flow of the Alfond money coming in extends over 12 years. We have a proposal for a schedule of how we will bring in matching dollars over a 10-year period. They roughly correspond — there’s no strict prohibition on using Alfond money before the match comes in, but the Alfond money comes in slowly, particularly in the beginning, and at least with respect to some of the capital projects, some of the new buildings, the renovations to the engineering infrastructure, even some of the athletics infrastructure improvements that we’re going to see in the Division I Athletics plan at the University of Maine — so yes, we will have the opportunity to bond some of that and then reimburse ourselves with Alfond dollars as they come in. Certainly happy to go into more detail but that’s the basics of how we’re managing the money and that’s why we have a finance director for the project in our vice chancellor for finance and administration.
Thank you, Jim. Let’s now go to Ken Ralph and hear about athletics.
Good evening everybody. It’s good to see you. Thanks for joining us at this event. I’ve had a chance to go to BECUM a few times and really enjoy it. This is a really exciting time in athletics. We have so many positive things going on and to see the support from the Alfond Foundation just makes you feel really great about the future of athletics here at the University of Maine, and how we’re going to be able to serve our students going forward. The gift from the Alfonds will go towards all 17 of our varsity athletic programs. That was something that was very deliberate. We do not have any programs currently where the facility infrastructure is such that it can really support the efforts of the women and men involved in these varsity programs. We also recognize that we had some pretty significant challenges in meeting federal guidelines regarding gender equity in athletics. These are not something that we can play around in the margins with, these are federal laws and we are bound both legally and ethically to make sure that we abide by the provisions of those laws. And the plan we’ve put together will do a spectacular job in making us an industry leader in the area of gender equity in athletics and we’re really excited about that. And it’s something I know the president is passionate about, and the president knows from the very first day I stepped on campus this was something I really wanted to take care of. So we’re going to improve the athletic facility infrastructure, we are going to improve our compliance with gender equity in athletics, and we are going to make these facilities significantly more accessible. And what I mean by accessible is not just accessible to the varsity athletes, we are talking accessible to individuals with disabilities. We have not been good with our ADA accessibility. We are going to improve it. We are going to make our facilities more accessible to recreational athletes here at the University of Maine. That’s talking about groups like intramurals and club sports. We are going to make our facilities more accessible to the community so we can act like a true flagship university and be a beacon in this state and drawing students from the high school and youth levels to the University of Maine to participate in high level athletic events, and hopefully convert them into students down the road. In fact, Chris Richards and I just talked about that this afternoon. So we have a lot of really bold plans for athletic facilities.
We have to be very, very smart with how we manage this project. We’re trying to do an awful lot with the money we have available, and some look and say wow, you’ve got $90 million and you’re raising another $20 million, that’s a spectacular amount of money. The reality is, in athletics it isn’t, and the University of Oregon just spent $270 million on track. So we’re trying to do an awful lot with this envelope of money, but we know we have a plan to get there. We’re going to have to be very strict in how we execute it, and Dr. Rosenbaum-Andre, who is serving as the co-lead in this project, is assisting to make sure we get there, but we have to be very thoughtful about how we move forward to make sure we maximize what’s available with this gift. We know we can do a good job with this. I know the president asked us to talk about what it means to be part of these projects. Fortunately, in my background, I’ve had an opportunity to be involved with large-scale athletic building projects. The East Campus Athletic Village at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was a $92 million project; I loved working on that one. I was also involved in the sports center and fitness center projects at Colorado College and also did all the fundraising and design for Robson Arena — this just feels like second nature, so I’m really excited to dig into this. This is going to have an impact on the university, but it’s also going to have an impact on the entire community, and we also believe we’re going to be able to assist our fellow campuses within the system with different types of events and projects that they’re going to be doing through their athletic programs. This could — we use the word “transformational” a lot, but from an athletics perspective, this fits the bill and we’re excited to get started.
We do have slides of some of the plans for Athletics but I want to be sure we hear from Dean Saufley and Dean Humphrey so let’s go to you, Dana.
Thank you, Joan, and it’s great to be here this evening and to be able to see so many of my friends at the three executive clubs that are represented here tonight. Joan asks what it’s like to work on a project like this. Well, I would say it’s both the most challenging and the most exciting project I’ve worked on in my 35 years at the University of Maine. And the excitement really stems from the real impact this can have on students across the system — faculty across the system — and in the entire state, especially Maine’s economy. And also it’s exciting because some days it feels like we’re trying to fly an airplane while we’re building it, but I’m an engineer so we just keep forging ahead. The MCECIS, or the Maine College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science, really has two parts. One is facilities upgrades; this is $50 million of the gift from the Alfonds. This is to renovate or replace Boardman Hall, Barrows Hall, Jenness Hall and Crosby Hall, and the chancellor noted about the age of our infrastructure — none of those buildings have been renovated in any significant way since they were built and the oldest one is Crosby Lab completed in 1924. Even Al Ehrenfried probably doesn’t quite remember when Crosby Lab was built. But the other part is the formation of the Maine College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science. My partners on this are Penny Rheingans and Jeremy Qualls. Both were introduced earlier and are on the event tonight. What this new college is going to be, it’s going to be formed from its core with the UMaine College of Engineering, the UMaine School of Computing and Information Science, and the University of Southern Maine Department of Engineering. What we’re really trying to do is to capitalize on the natural synergy between engineering and computing, and that synergy will even become more important as we move forward into the future. Exactly how the parts are being connected, that’s what we’re working on now. And beyond that, we’re going to have partnerships with campuses across the system to create pipelines for engineers and computer scientists to earn their degrees. We’re going to be partnering with community colleges, partnering with K–12 again to really build those pipelines. There are computing offerings throughout the entire system and we will be in some way connected to all of them. The big goals that we have are to double the number of graduates to meet engineering’s workforce needs. We have a tremendous shortage in Maine and beyond, for engineering, computer scientists or related computer disciplines. So I want to double the number of graduates to meet the needs of our economy. To do that we need to double the number of faculty so we can properly teach those students. We want to have expanded scholarship opportunities; there’s going to be opportunities for new degree programs, expanded research opportunities for our faculty and students, and we really want to be a hub for innovation in Maine. We’ll have strong ties with K-12, community colleges and across the University of Maine System. And as President Ferrini-Mundy mentioned in her remarks, we’re going to be strongly tied to the student success portion of the initiative and the initiative for the Maine Graduate and Professional Center. Thank you.
Thank you. Let’s go right to Leigh, and keep sending you questions if you have them.
Thank you very much, President Ferrini-Mundy. There is so much to talk about. I love the way you have framed the question, and I want to say very quickly that I am envious of Ken Ralph, who indicates that so much of what he’s doing is second nature to him. I’ve never been involved in a project of this size or time dimension, and one of the things that strikes me as we start working on all the ways that we’re going to improve the university for students, for the economy, for the future, is that there are students who are in second and third grade right now who will be coming into the University of Maine when the decade of our work is just really coming fully into fruition. And that is just an enormous responsibility. So one of the things that it strikes me that the system is doing exactly right right now is creating the structure that will carry these projects forward for a full decade. Because some of us will not be here when the 10–12 years of the Alfond grant are being completed. Now I’m so young that it’s very likely that I will certainly still be here, notwithstanding my Medicare card, but I want to thank the partners on the Maine Center piece and partnering with me are Terry Sutton, Faye Gilbert and President Cummings from USM. The Center piece, I think, is actually the centerpiece. It cuts across the campuses, it cuts across programs, it is what is going to encourage all of us to collaborate and to create force multipliers throughout the system.