Maine’s approach to igniting curiosity about research featured at national conference

A novel model for fostering innovation among Maine’s undergraduate students was showcased at the National Council on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) annual meeting in Long Beach, Calif. this April. 

The University of Maine System’s Experiential Programs Innovation Central, or EPIC, was the subject of a dedicated session attended by faculty and research administrators from higher education institutions across the nation.  

“At the University of Maine, we believe in empowering our students with the knowledge and skills that will enable them to excel in the outside world,” said Kody Varahramyan, UMaine’s vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School. “The EPIC program is a key cornerstone of this commitment, providing a platform for students from diverse disciplines to excel in their educational objectives, while collaborating on innovative solutions to real-world problems.”

The EPIC program offers a one-semester crash course on innovation, INT 125, for students from any major, from arts and humanities to engineering, and the sciences, education and business. Students learn how to tap into resources on campus to pursue their research, creative and enterprising interests, and work cooperatively to solve real-world problems.  The four-course EPIC Certificate fosters skills in project management, business communications, research and problem-solving. 

“The EPIC program not only attracts a broad range of students, it also provides on-campus and off-campus employers with trained students with research skills,” said Ali Abedi, associate vice president for research at UMaine who leads EPIC. 

Since 2020, 42 students in EPIC courses collaborated on multi-disciplinary projects, learned soft skills, and completed their ethics requirements and responsible conduct of research training. All University Of Maine System campuses later developed similar experiential learning courses through a gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation. This growth was bolstered through a grant from the Davis Educational Foundation to the University of Maine System to advance statewide interdisciplinary education at Maine’s public universities. EPIC’s presentation to NCUR opened the model to universities nationwide. 

EPIC was established by the office of the Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Maine in close collaboration with the Center for Undergraduate Research, as well as several additional centers and institutes at UMaine.