Monday, May 29th, 2017

USM’s role in the North Atlantic region continues to grow

Posted on April 22, 2017 in News
By USM Free Press

By: Sarah Tewksbury, Staff Writer

The Maine Economic Improvement Fund at USM (MEIF@USM) is currently working hard to increase and improve Maine’s relationship with the North Atlantic region.

In 1997, USM received a portion of the MEIF, a fund that was established by the state legislature to spearhead research projects. The initial value of the fund was $482,000, roughly one quarter of the University of Maine System’s total MEIF allocation from the state legislature.

“None of [the projects] are really possible through [USM’s] own funds,” said Glenn Cummings, president of USM. “We just don’t have enough money in our reserves to be able to spend this kind of money in terms of developing our partnership.”

Each year, money is set aside by the state legislature to support the MEIF, which, in turn, supports the growth and development of seven target areas: biotechnology, aquaculture and marine technology, composite materials technology, environmental technology, advanced technologies for forestry and agriculture, information technology and precision manufacturing technology.

MEIF@USM is focused on funding initiatives that have significant economic development impacts, fit community needs, produce measurable workforce development outcomes and are focused on one of the MEIF target areas. Due to the focus of science and technology courses at UMO, the majority of the MEIF goes to Orono.

“The emphasis is more at UMO than USM, but we do get about 20 percent of the allocation,” said Terry Shehata, MEIF Coordinator. “We started to invest in initiatives that made sense for USM, primarily to provide our students with international exposure so they can become globally competent. More and more companies want to hire folks with a better appreciation for the global economy and cultural awareness.”

According to the MEIF@USM Strategic Framework for fiscal years 2017 to 2021, initiatives and projects that are results of the program share a common goal: “To strengthen USM’s research and workforce development capacities in strategic areas that are responsive to the needs of one or more businesses and industries in the seven MEIF technology areas and/or support ecosystems.”

Cummings said that the allocation USM receives is used to help foster the interest of the next generation of USM students in the North Atlantic region. Current projects within the North Atlantic Initiative that USM is working on are intricate and interdisciplinary. One of the most well known programs is the partnership between USM and Reykjavik University (RU), which, spearheaded in 2015, is finally allowing USM student participation this summer.

In June, a trip of 15 matriculated students will travel to Iceland with the USM Honors Department with funding from both MEIF and an endowment from a private donor. The rising sophomore honors students will spend four weeks on the island participating a semester-long honors seminar course. The cost of the trip for participants could be as low as zero.

“Students have to procure their own passport, so that’s the only potential cost, but all the travel, food, lodging and transportation are paid for by the honors program. The honors program is also paying their tuition,” said Rebecca Nisetich, the director of the Honors Program.

Not only will honors students experience international travel during summer 2017, but students also enrolled in an ethics lab course or a tourism and hospitality course will travel to Iceland. The Tourism and Hospitality Department is offering the travel course to the public as well as USM students. With plans to transfer to USM next spring and expand her studies in the tourism industry, SMCC student Alysa Grindlinger will be among those traveling to the North Atlantic in June.

“I’m really enjoying this partnership,” Grindlinger said, in reference to the USM-RU alliance. “It’s giving me a lot of opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. The value of the real world experience that I’ll be getting is fairly balanced with the cost of the course.”

Students who do not travel with the honors program are not able to take advantage of grant money, as it was designated for students with high GPAs.

Internships, research opportunities and innovative projects are just some of the additional benefits MEIF@USM has been able to provide to students and faculty members. However, the impact the entire MEIF@USM and North Atlantic Initiative have on the community surpasses the benefit for the USM community.

By creating opportunities for coalition work between businesses, such as EIMSKIP, research institutions and academic institutions throughout the North Atlantic, connections and relationships have been established.

“USM and RU are two small, isolated communities that have had the opportunity to network and gain knowledge of other communities,” said RU’s president, Ari Jonsson, at a formal event during an RU visit to USM on March 17. “It would have been impossible to have connected RU to the United States without a partner.”