A University of Maine-based center that aims to improve outcomes for individuals with autism spectrum disorder through leadership, training, collaboration and research continues to grow with funding from the Maine Department of Education (DOE).
The Maine Autism Institute for Education and Research (MAIER), recently was awarded more than $150,000 from the Maine DOE to advance its work as the state’s first autism institute.
The funds are in addition to the $209,802 the department and UMaine’s College of Education and Human Development contributed to open the institute in January 2014. The collaborative partnership between Maine DOE and the college was formed to create a statewide system of supports for Mainers who serve children with autism and their families.
“Our vision was that parents of kids with autism would say, ‘I’m glad I live in Maine because of the resources available for our family here,’” said Jan Breton, director of special services at Maine DOE. “In a short time, the institute has made incredible progress in realizing that vision and improving the quality of life for children with autism and their families.”
The institute serves as Maine’s primary source of education and training related to evidence-based practices for professionals working with children and families with autism spectrum disorders, and for undergraduate and graduate students aspiring to serve children, families, schools and community service providers. For families seeking assistance, the institute offers services, resources and information; support and guidance; as well as tools to contribute to awareness.
In its first 16 months, the institute has supported hundreds of professionals who work with children with autism and their families.
“We are working to ensure that educators receive the most current, relevant and research-based tools and strategies to support and teach children with autism,” says Deborah Rooks-Ellis, an assistant professor of special education at UMaine and the institute’s director. “This impacts both the individual with autism and their family, and ensures that all children receive consistent and reliable educational experiences, no matter where they live in Maine.”
Autism is a developmental disability with varying degrees of severity that affects a person’s ability to communicate, reason and interact with others. It can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. An estimated one in 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Much of the institute’s latest funding will be used to expand training in evidence-based practices for teams from Maine school districts to help increase the academic and social success of autistic students. About 9 percent, or 2,776, of the identified children with disabilities in Maine’s K–12 public schools have been diagnosed with autism, according to the Maine DOE.
In response to this need, MAIER provides training to teams that represent educators working with children with autism from Maine Child Development Services sites and school districts. To date, 28 Maine Autism Leader Teams have been established around the state and applications are being accepted to add a dozen more.
The teams focus on students in their district for the purposes of collecting data, implementing evidence-based practices and measuring outcomes.
“The overall goal of these teams is to create sustainable change,” Rooks-Ellis says. “MAIER helps to support this change by providing both districtwide training and team coaching.”
Teams receive six days of advanced training throughout the school year to better prepare staff to work with individuals with autism and their families. Teams also are provided on-site coaching from MAIER staff in between training dates to help as they work through training materials, implement strategies, and develop goals such as creating universal strategies for all children in their schools or raising awareness of autism to staff and students. Success of the training and coaching strategies is based on each team’s goals and goal attainment.
“I consider it a success for schools to recognize the need to put together an autism team and to support the team through the training process,” Rooks-Ellis says.
An additional support to measure progress is being piloted by Maine Autism Leader Teams, according to Rooks-Ellis. MAIER staff developed an autism program assessment tool to help teams review their delivery of services and practices, as well as create action plans for improvements. The online tool and user guide, along with training and technical assistance, will be available statewide to agencies and districts in spring 2016.
Several strategies that have been shown to work well for students on the autism spectrum can be universally beneficial for many students, Rooks-Ellis says.
“Team members are responsible for sharing the training information and teaching others within their agency or district, building the understanding and knowledge of all staff,” she says.
The institute’s Maine Family Partnership, a family-led initiative, is working to create a support system for families affected by autism. The group offers online resources and guides as well as educational and social events. Individuals with autism, family members and caregivers are welcome to join the partnership.
With the Maine Child Development Services, the institute launched an initiative in July 2014 to support young children with autism and their families through the Early Start Denver Model. The model is a home-visiting, early-intervention program designed to promote language, learning and engagement for children ages 12 to 36 months.
Working with UMaine, the institute also established a three-course Graduate Certification in Autism Spectrum Disorders to prepare educators, administrators and related service providers for a leadership role in the development and implementation of educational programs for students with autism. Six students have earned the certification and 14 are currently enrolled. The Maine DOE’s funding will allow expansion of the certificate program.
In the first year, the institute has provided training to nearly 400 people at 13 professional development opportunities around the state. The institute will host the second annual Professional Development Series throughout the 2015–2016 academic year. More information and registration is online.
PRI’s “The World” mentioned two University of Maine researchers in the article, “Here’s what climate change looks like from the edge of the Greenland icecap.” According to the article, Greenland is melting fast, which is bad news for sea level rise and other effects of climate change. Glaciologist Gordon Hamilton, an associate professor in the Climate Change Institute and School of Earth and Climate Sciences, is leading a research team in Greenland. His team is using laser-mapping to image the calving of Helheim Glacier into Sermilik fjord in unprecedented detail, according to the article. The report also included photos of icebergs in Greenland contributed by Ellyn Enderlin, a research assistant professor in CCI and School of Earth and Climate Sciences.
The Sun Journal published an article on James Barker, a University of Maine senior studying business finance, and his pellet business. Barker of Turner is director of operations and sales for his family’s business, Barker Enterprises Inc.’s Wood Pellet Warehouse on Route 17 in North Jay, according to the article. The business also has a satellite location on Route 4 in Turner. Barker handles all management and coordination of deliveries from Orono, the article states. “I’m a very driven and outgoing individual. Not many kids would work 80 hours a week,” he said. “What drives me is achievement. I want to be the best.”
The Kennebec Journal carried a University of Maine release on archaeological research conducted by Marissa Bovie, a double major in anthropology and Earth science at UMaine. The Vassalboro native traveled to Croatia in 2014 as part of a team to help build a collaborative network of colleagues from different fields in relation to an archaeological study on urban transformation and landscape change along the Adriatic Sea. This summer, Bovie returned to Croatia as a research assistant with Gregory Zaro, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Anthropology, as well as researchers from the University of Zadar, Croatia, and students from both the University of Zadar and UMaine. The excavation, which is funded by the National Geographic Society, is the next phase in building a long-term program of study concerning human society, environment and climate in the eastern Adriatic region.
The Maine Edge advanced an Aug. 19 gallery talk at the University of Maine Museum of Art in downtown Bangor. Artist Niho Kozuru will give an informal talk at noon on Inter/Dimension, an array of sculptures and new two-dimensional works currently on exhibit through Sept. 19. During UMMA’s Art@Noon event, Kozuru will discuss her background, process, inspiration and materials, with a brief question-and-answer session to follow, according to the article. All Art@Noon talks are free and open to the public.
The Maine Edge reported on scheduled public star shows in August at the University of Maine’s Emera Astronomy Center. The Maynard F. Jordan Planetarium shows are held 7 p.m. Fridays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Additional shows at 11 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays will run throughout the summer. Friday nights in August feature “Origins of Life” and Sunday afternoons feature “Trip Through Space.” “Cosmic Colors” will be shown on Tuesdays, with “Black Holes” on Thursdays. Admission to all shows is $6, and seating is limited.
University of Maine Cooperative Extension will offer a free introductory workshop on designing, constructing and maintaining root cellars for winter food storage 5:30–7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, at the UMaine Extension Somerset County office, 7 County Drive, Skowhegan. Register by Friday, Aug. 28. To register, or request a disability accommodation, call 474.9622 or 800.287.1495 (in Maine), or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time, Discovery News, Wired, Science, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Business Insider, Climate Central, The Verge, The Conversation and Coastal Review Online reported on a new study of the United States coastline that found the confluence of storm surges and heavy precipitation can bring dangerous flooding to low-lying coastal regions, including major metropolitan areas. The research team was led by Thomas Wahl, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of South Florida and University of Siegen, Germany, and involved four other researchers, including Shaleen Jain, a University of Maine associate professor of civil engineering. The team found the risk of such flooding is higher on the Atlantic coast than the Pacific, and the number of these compound events has increased significantly in many major cities in the past century. Their findings were published in the journal Nature Climate Change. Jain and Wahl wrote a guest post for The Carbon Brief about the study, titled “How storm surges and heavy rainfall drive coastal flood risks in the US.” Bloomberg Business published an article on the study and New York’s increased chance of flooding, and Phys.org carried the University of South Florida release on the study.
Marcella Sorg, a research professor with the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine, was quoted in a Washington Post article about a Falmouth, Maine family’s painful experience with heroin addiction. The article focused on a 29-year-old man who died of an overdose at his parent’s home after briefly getting clean. The man died from an overdose of heroin cut with fentanyl, an opiate that in its legal, prescription form is used to treat post-surgery pain, according to the article. Fentanyl was found in 11 of Maine’s 57 heroin overdose deaths last year, according to Sorg, an epidemiologist who is a consultant to the state on drug issues. In its powdery, synthetic, illegal form, fentanyl has been showing up in overdoses around the country. When addicts ingest heroin laced with fentanyl, they consume a more intense dose than they had anticipated, the article states.
Sorg also spoke with The Forecaster for the article, “Portland drug addiction, overdose rates exceed the rest of Maine.” Sorg, who has been reviewing overdose data provided by the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner since 1997, said the state’s increasing problem with opioids is complex and worse in Portland than the rest of the state. The number of overdose deaths in Maine increased 18 percent from 176 in 2013 to 208 in 2014. When Sorg began compiling data, 34 overdose deaths were reported, according to the article. Sorg’s data through 2014 shows Portland and Cumberland County recorded 21 percent of the state overdose deaths and 22 percent of overdose deaths due to at least one pharmaceutical opioid, the article states. When measuring deaths caused by illicit drugs including heroin or cocaine, the percentage increased to 33 percent, Sorg said.
A breakdown of the University of Maine’s cost of attendance — tuition and fees — was featured in a Boston Globe opinion piece on rising tuition at the University of Massachusetts. At UMass, tuition is kept “ridiculously low while fees are piled high like pancakes on a freshman’s plate,” according to the article. At the flagship UMass Amherst campus, a variety of fees for 2015–16 add up to more than $13,000, while tuition is $1,714, the article states. Some of the fees are going to shrink or vanish, while tuition gets significantly larger. “That’s how it’s done in other places, such as Maine, where resident tuition at the University of Maine is $8,370 and fees are $2,240. Simple,” the article reads.
The Portland Phoenix spoke with Steve Barkan, a criminologist and professor of sociology at the University of Maine, for an article about crime trends in Maine. State data revealed that crime decreased 9.1 percent overall in 2013 — the largest decrease in 20 years, according to the article. However, a recent increase in murders, armed robberies and manhunts have some wondering about changes in statistics, the article states. “I haven’t seen this year’s crime statistics yet, but even if there are more serious crimes so far than last year, the year is barely more than half over, and it’s far too early to know whether this represents a trend or just a blip,” said Barkan, whose areas of expertise include criminology, deviant behavior, and law and society. “So many things can affect crime statistics, including whether people are more or less likely to report victimizations to police and whether the police have consistent crime recording processes from year to year. One bottom line is that Maine remains one of the lowest crime (and therefore safest) states in the nation, even when controlling for population size.”
Research being conducted at the University of Maine was mentioned in the Ozy article, “Lost? Send in drones and robots.” Today, search-and-rescue operators — first responders, law enforcement and even volunteers — are using drones and robots to locate individuals more accurately and efficiently than ever before, according to the article. At UMaine, students are creating medical emergency pods that drones will be able to drop. The university’s partnering with a drone manufacturer to develop pods customized for specific situations, such as if someone suffers a bee sting allergy or cardiac problem. The researchers plan to distribute the pods along the Appalachian Trail on an as-needed basis in 2016, the article states.
Jon Ippolito, a new media professor at the University of Maine, was a recent guest on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s “Maine Calling” radio program. The show, titled “Raising kids in the digital age,” focused on the positive and negative effects of digital culture and screen time on children.
Noodls published a University of Maine profile on Heather Leslie, the new director of the Darling Marine Center in Walpole. Leslie is a marine scientist with expertise in coastal marine ecology; human-environment interactions, particularly those related to coastal marine fisheries; the design and evaluation of marine management strategies; and the translation of knowledge to inform policy and practice. She was named director of the center effective Aug. 1, 2015.
A 1996 University of Maine study on water quality was mentioned in the Morning Sentinel article, “Belgrade Lakes water quality could dive in a decade.” A recent analysis of 40 years of water tests indicates that water quality on the lakes is on a downward trend, and if not reversed, could lead to serious water quality issues and widespread algae blooms in as few as 10 years, according to the article. The landmark UMaine study found that water quality has an effect on property values, meaning reduced quality could cause a drop in tax dollars, the article states.
John Bear Mitchell, Wabanaki Center Outreach and Student Development Coordinator at the University of Maine and University of Maine System Native American Waiver Coordinator, was quoted in a Morning Sentinel article about Wabanaki representatives planning to protest the American Indian sports mascot of Skowhegan schools. A rally representing the four tribes of Maine’s Wabanaki federation is planned for Aug. 6 during Moonlight Madness, part of Skowhegan’s annual six-day River Fest, according to the article. Mitchell said the demonstration will be a learning and teaching opportunity. “Any kind of social awareness is beneficial to the message, and the message in this case is to end a very negative imagery associated with the word ‘Indian,’” Mitchell said. “When it comes to mascots, we would like to have the final say as to whether or not it’s OK that our imagery be played with. The school district should really be utilizing students in trying to find a more appropriate name that honors the history of that town and the surrounding towns.”
The University of Maine, in partnership with the Maine Technology Institute, is building a startup seed accelerator for Maine entrepreneurs. The pilot program, called Scratchpad Accelerator, starts Aug. 31 in Bangor.
Scratchpad Accelerator will work with up to four high-potential, high-growth entrepreneurial teams to validate their customer base, value proposition and business model. The selected startups will participate at no cost and will each receive $25,000 in seed funding. Participating entrepreneurs will work full time on their businesses, with daily learning sessions, extensive mentor interactions, and a push to develop and test hypotheses as frequently as possible to ensure that their companies are moving in the right direction.
The program will culminate with a Demo Day, at which each team will pitch its company to a group of potential investors for additional funding.
The accelerator will help entrepreneurs get to “go” or “no-go” decisions quickly — saving them time, money and energy — with the help of the Scratchpad team and statewide supporters. Ideally, the business ideas will lead to commercialization, but even a “no-go” result is considered a win if it shaves off months or years figuring it out.
The planning team is building on expertise from the University of Maine and the Maine Technology Institute (MTI). Leading the team is Jason Harkins, associate professor of entrepreneurship in the Maine Business School, in collaboration with Jennifer Hooper, entrepreneur and mentor coordinator at UMaine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation, and Joe Migliaccio, MTI’s director of business development.
The pilot program has long-term implications. The team also will create a Maine accelerator “playbook” that can be shared with other areas of the state, broadening the accelerator to a replicable model for any region.
Scratchpad is currently taking applications on its website. The application deadline is Aug. 14. To be eligible, entrepreneurs must have an idea with high-growth potential, a team of collaborators, a commitment to living in the Bangor area during the accelerator and a willingness to work long days for three months.
Nicholas Giudice, a professor in the School of Computing and Information Science who directs the Virtual Environment and Multimodal Interaction (VEMI) Laboratory at the University of Maine, and Richard Corey, the lab’s director of operations, spoke about the lab with Portland Monthly for an article about the variety of innovation in Maine. VEMI is one of the few laboratories in the country — and the only lab in Maine — to research and study applications of virtual reality and augmented reality technologies with a multimodal focus, according to the article. “People are horrible at imagining things. What we do is allow people to get inside scenarios and actually experience them,” Giudice said. VEMI was created in 2008 to serve as a research resource, the article states. “The idea is how we use technology to understand how we interact with our environment. For example, navigation. How do you get from one place to another, and how can technology be used to better navigate a physical space?” Giudice said. Corey said the real-world applications of the research being done at VEMI are broad — from rendering a digital model of proposed wind turbines to assisting the visually impaired with navigating physical spaces.
The Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald reported University of Maine head softball coach Lynn Coutts has been promoted to senior associate director of athletics, and Mike Coutts, the associate head coach of softball, has been named head coach. Lynn Coutts, a former Black Bear star player, was named softball coach in 2010. In her new role, she will oversee compliance, Title IX, financial aid, student-athlete conduct, sports medicine, sports performance and equipment. She will serve as the liaison to academic support, the NCAA-designated senior woman administrator and a sport program administrator. “I love change. We have some great things coming up at the university and I want to be a part of it,” Lynn Coutts told the BDN. “When I look at my job, I don’t see it as being administrative. I’m still going to be coaching but I’ll be coaching different people.” Mike Coutts joined the softball program as an assistant in 2012 and was promoted to associate head coach in 2014.
The Bangor Daily News reported University of Maine’s sustainable agriculture program is growing and studying winter rye, red fife wheat, triticale — a cross between wheat and rye — and other grains to increase local, organic bread-grain production. The research also will help Bangor native Alex Bennett, who is developing a drinking straw made from the stalks of the grain plants. He is selling straws grown and harvested in Germany and is preparing for his first Maine harvest, according to the article. Ellen Mallory, a professor with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and in the School of Food and Agriculture who heads the sustainable agriculture program, said UMaine researchers already are studying 10 varieties of wheat and other grains to see how they handle the Maine climate, so adding extra data points for Bennett was easy to accomplish — especially because he’s looking to change the discarded straw into a “value added product,” the article states. The Maine Public Broadcasting Network and Sun Journal also published the report.