Goal One

Make Maine the best state in the nation in which to live, work, and learn by 2030

We propose this goal as an aspiration to unify efforts across the System and beyond because of its breadth and importance for Maine, and its alignment to focused investment in R&D along several dimensions. Achieving this goal would require addressing several related “grand challenges” that focus on solutions to problems that affect people both locally and around the globe, such as energy, food production, and health and wellness. Many research universities across the country have organized grand challenge initiatives, allowing the integration of research, student learning, and public engagement to identify solutions that inherently require innovative and interdisciplinary approaches.xlii

Howell labMaine can address its own grand challenges by cultivating a quality of life so compelling that people are drawn to move to, and remain in, Maine, contributing to its workforce, diversity, and communities. Maine has the opportunity to build a robust, inclusive infrastructure for livability, including autonomous and public transit, high-quality education and health systems, digital connectivity, cultural diversity and experiences, and abundant recreation. This goal also directly addresses the demographic challenges articulated in the Board of Trustees’ Declaration of Strategic Priorities. By investing in and elevating the status of the public higher education R&D enterprise, Maine will increase its ability to attract new and highly skilled talent for the innovation economy, as well as retain existing talent, of all ages, who currently choose to leave the state to pursue their careers.

One ranking of states’ “livability” is provided by U.S. News and World Report. The “Best States” rankings are based on metrics across categories of health care, education, economy, opportunity, infrastructure, crime and corrections, fiscal stability, and quality of life. Maine currently ranks 22nd.

System institutions can address this goal and the related grand challenges through research and development that could lead to new jobs in biomedicine, renewable energy, and data science/artificial intelligence. Researchers and scholars can build models for inclusion to enrich Maine through diversity; develop strategies to reduce poverty; expand recreation and tourism; provide cultural enrichment through the arts and humanities; and create media strategies to inspire young workers and families to move to Maine. We have researchers and students who would be very committed to these directions, but we currently lack resources to pursue them in a concentrated and strategic way.

We propose an initial list of grand challenges in support of this goal that align with current and needed research and development capacity. In the implementation of this plan, we hope that other grand challenges will be formulated and advanced.

Grand Challenge: Build a healthier Maine

Maine could become the healthiest state in the nation by squarely facing the many challenges arising from its aging population, stressed health care system, and lack of sufficient awareness of healthy choices. Strategies developed in Maine could be national models to transform how we address health challenges, especially in rural settings.

System institutions can contribute through research into new opioid addiction therapies, a cure for dementia, new biopharma solutions, precision health methods, models for delivering high-quality low-cost preventative health care, data discovery to support improved health, methods for creating transportation networks embedded within the healthcare system, models for understanding human and animal health and their connections, technologies for helping control vector-borne diseases, collaborative networks that assist with healthy aging, sociological approaches to addressing mental and behavioral health issues, and media strategies for raising health awareness and encouraging healthy life choices. These directions fit within the current technology sectors of biotechnology, environmental technologies, and information technologies.

Grand Challenge: Strengthen education to increase opportunity

Maine deserves the best possible educational system in order to provide the most opportunity to its citizens, and it has a great foundation on which to build. In order to maximize opportunity for all in Maine, we must face substantial challenges, including a lack of resources, difficulty implementing the most effective educational methods at scale, the rural nature of our state, and teacher shortages in key areas. Ultimately, improvement in this area links directly to the preparation of a workforce for Maine, one that capitalizes on the multiple forms of diversity (socioeconomic status, race/national origin, ethnicity, gender, experience, family) for innovation and creative problem-solving. And it involves working closely with all education systems in the state to build on the many strengths of teachers and faculty, and to expand effective innovations and improvements that are underway.

System institutions can contribute to achieving these goals through research on learning and pedagogy to enrich education, from preK to seniors — research that must be done collaboratively with educators across the state. That research would help us better understand effective approaches to teacher preparation, including continuing professional development; the knowledge and skills needed by teachers to successfully enable all of their diverse students to reach their full potential, including those who come from poverty or are new to this country; models for reducing gender disparities in educational opportunities and completion rates; data-science-based approaches to improving learner success and graduation rates; techniques for increasing the integration between the arts and STEM education; impactful and innovative distance and online education; and professional development programs for teachers, counselors, and community educators. Education is a key area for community-engaged and action research, working with outstanding teachers across Maine on these challenges. Our institutions can enhance their engagement in the continuing development and support of educators; provide information on research-based best practices for effective education; promote integration across disciplines; collaboration networks that cross geographic and institutional boundaries; and develop enrichment opportunities through departments, colleges, research labs, field sites, centers, and institutes. Research and development should be a resource in continued efforts to partner with school districts, across System campuses, with other Maine higher education partners, and with the Maine Department of Education to expand innovative strategies to improve schools. It might be advisable in the first phases to focus this work in the STEM disciplines, including computer science. Some of these initiatives would fit within the information technologies sector.

Grand Challenge: Empower rural sustainability

Maine’s rural nature is both a challenge and an opportunity, necessitating the availability of education, employment, and community services, regardless of location. Expanded broadband and transportation infrastructure are critical to enabling Maine people to study and work anywhere, helping to close the income and opportunity gap between urban and rural Maine through access to expanding high-tech jobs.

System institutions can contribute to achieving these objectives through research on broadband technology, autonomous transportation, new technologies for effective distance education and collaboration, rural health care, aging in place, and the social dynamics of thriving rural communities. Additionally, such assets as Maine’s quality of place, arts and cultural breadth, and our annual attraction of visitors through tourism, outdoor recreation, and seasonal residencies could be further studied in the context of economic development and rural sustainability. Many of these initiatives fit in the information technologies, biotechnology, aquaculture and marine sciences, and composites and advanced materials technologies sectors.

Grand Challenge: Address climate change and protect our natural resources

Maine is already a leader in developing new ways to reduce the progress and impact of climate change, understand the potential and vulnerabilities of our ecosystem, and protect our natural resources. We can continue to build on that leadership.

System institutions can contribute to achieving these goals through research and development about clean energy; carbon emission reduction technology; cost-effective electric vehicles; technology and policy solutions to changing Arctic challenges; sustainable agriculture technology and practices; aquaculture; effects of ocean acidification on fisheries industries; economic models for balancing competing interests; approaches to help governments and schools be more green; and stewardship models for water, air, and marine environments. This work is encompassed in the environmental technologies, composites and advanced materials technologies, precision manufacturing, and advanced technologies for forestry and agriculture sectors.

Grand Challenge: Make Maine the Northeast’s premier food basket

Maine’s food production capability could be expanded by increases in aquaculture and extension of the growing season, providing both economic opportunity and a mechanism for eliminating hunger in Maine. System institutions can contribute to achieving these goals through research on effective hydroponics, low-cost solar technology, greenhouses, sustainable farming methods, diversified fishery management, and innovative forest products. System institutions have long-standing strengths in many of these fields and are poised to continue their significant contributions. The sectors addressed are aquaculture and marine sciences, and advanced technologies for forestry and agriculture.

The proposed grand challenges set the System on course to continue advancing the needs of the people of Maine. Each of these grand challenges has associated milestones that provide assessment tools for the System and the state.

Metric for Goal One

Each grand challenge component will have clear metrics and public dashboards in place by the end of FY20, and multiple efforts across Maine are aimed at achieving number one status in an appropriate ranking system, such as U.S. News and World Report.

Key Milestones for Goal One

  • System leadership generates statewide conversation about the Goal One-related grand challenges, and announces research and development emphases for the next five years beginning in fall 2019.
  • Within the System, R&D and instructional resources are directed as appropriate toward the goal and related grand challenges, beginning with implementation of the FY20 budget.
  • Grand challenge initiatives are evaluated on an annual basis to optimize impact and implement needed changes on a continual basis.
  • The System supports state leaders with data and research evidence in discussion of reconsideration/expansion of the current set of technology sectors to ensure a focus on growth industries for Maine, and advancement in small communities and the rural parts of our state.