University of Maine News
Students in a University of Maine communication class assigned to study how to effectively share information about and attract volunteers to support seasonal farmworker health also learned a great deal themselves.
Visiting assistant professor Karen Hutchins Bieluch says students participating in the service-learning project with Maine Migrant Health Program (MMHP) officials gleaned a deeper appreciation for seasonal farmworkers and the important role they play in the state’s economy.
They also learned a lot about MMHP — the state’s lone farmworker health organization that annually tends to 1,200 patients and offers mobile medical care at farmworker camps. MMHP providers who speak Spanish and Creole are among the professionals who travel around the state to intersect with workers harvesting everything from blueberries to boughs for wreaths.
Senior wildlife ecology major Matthew Owens McCullough says the project was educational, rewarding and humbling.
Bieluch says students in the small group communication class also discovered a thing or two about their individual interaction approaches and processes involved in small group decision-making, problem solving and negotiation.
“Working on the project helped them understand their communication styles, such as how they handle conflict,” says Bieluch. “Do they shy away from it or address it head-on?”
McCullough, from Gorham, Maine, says his communication style is straightforward.
And he recommends the approach for others. “Don’t keep any of your skills hidden, they can be very important during the process of developing project goals,” he says. “Some skill you don’t consider applicable may spark an idea for somebody else and end up being the driving factor in the success of the project.”
In addition, Bieluch says the project provided an opportunity to contribute to, and build a partnership with, a Maine-based community organization.
“While service-learning courses require significant amounts of preparation and coordination, they often provide students with a richer, applied learning experience, while also giving back to the citizens of Maine who support higher education in Maine,” she says.
Class members divided into three groups for the hands-on endeavor. One group evaluated MMHP’s website (mainemigrant.org), another focused on the organization’s PowerPoint presentation and another critiqued its brochure.
McCullough was part of the group that evaluated the MMHP website and recommended changes based on answers to an online survey. “The most-popular change requested by people was identifying the mission statement,” he says. MMHP’s mission is to “improve the health status of migrant and seasonal farmworkers and their families by providing culturally appropriate care and services.”
The website group also recommended rearranging some information and provided a flow chart for effective website design and presentation. Students said the website had a number of positives, including color scheme, photographs, testimonials and use of multiple languages.
In general, Bieluch says students recommended ways to increase Mainers’ awareness of MMHP and how citizens can become volunteers for MMHP.
Migrant workers, say MMHP officials, are sometimes an invisible population. While the fruits and vegetables they harvest contribute greatly to Mainers’ health and the economy, seasonal workers often live below the poverty line in substandard housing, do not have health insurance and due to isolation and language barriers, may not be familiar with available resources.
Linda Silka, director of UMaine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and a professor in the UMaine School of Economics, recommended the class intersect with MMHP for the CMJ 345 project. Silka, who specializes in building community-university research partnerships, is also on MMHP’s Board of Directors.
Bieluch says MMHP officials appreciated the students’ input. “They [students] felt listened to and that their work was valued,” she says. “And I think that increased the quality of their [students'] work and their learning experience.”
McCullough concurred. “They [MMHP officials] try very hard to provide for immigrant workers and were very appreciative of the analysis of their website we presented,” he says.
Taking apart a broken laptop, learning how to repair it and putting it back together is a typical exercise in one University of Maine English class. For students in the technical editing and document design course, learning how to diagnose and repair electronics is essential to writing about the process in the form of easy-to-use consumer guides.
Since 2011, students in Charlsye Diaz’s class have been required to create an e-manual for iFixit, a website that offers free step-by-step guides to help consumers repair devices to keep more electronics in use and out of landfills. During the fall 2014 semester, Diaz’s students will write manuals for toys.
“This experience is important because it is messy,” says Diaz, an associate professor of English and coordinator of UMaine’s professional and technical writing program. “When things ‘fall apart’ or the projects don’t go as well as I would like, I love it. Because they’ll face those obstacles on the job every day.”
Students work with iFixit’s technical writers to adhere to the company’s guidelines. They receive feedback from someone besides the professor while working in a supportive classroom setting.
IFixit was started in 2003 by two Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo students who struggled to fix an iBook without instructions. In 2009, the company started the iFixit Technical Writing Program as a way to engage students with a hands-on, repair-focused technical writing project. Students from 20 universities — including UMaine — have created 5,000 repair guides for electronics, which have helped more than nine million people fix their devices, according to the company’s website.
Diaz says the project also benefits potential employers by sending students into the workforce with real-world experience.
“It’s one thing to go to an interview and claim to be able to write instructions because you practiced during a class assignment. It’s another thing to say you took apart a scanner and wrote instructions for replacing the scanner lamp and then provide a link to a published guide that people use,” Diaz says.
KC Collins Cook, a 2013 UMaine graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in professional and technical writing, is now an information developer for IBM in North Carolina. She says every day she applies the knowledge she learned from Diaz’s classes.
“My core understanding of technical documentation began in her classrooms, and it gave me a foundation to build on and innovate with my fellow IBMers,” Cook says. “From grammar to design software to how people read; it’s all vital to my job. In fact, all of my textbooks are in my desk for reference when I need them.”
Although many of Diaz’s students find aspects of the iFixit project challenging — learning how to take apart small devices, take photos without shadows and follow iFixit’s criteria — most are proud of the end result, she says.
“Some students embrace the project and really thrive working with and writing about small electronics. Others dislike it because the project falls outside their comfort zone,” Diaz says. “Who needs a toolbox for a writing class?”
The positive feedback comes later, Diaz says. Students have told her they’ve talked about their experience during interviews and appreciate having a professional portfolio piece.
“During the project, I see their confidence skyrocket,” she says.
An education in professional and technical writing is important, Diaz says, because almost everyone has to write at work in the form of reports, memos or emails. Professional writers take these skills a step further and learn to design documents, write for the Internet and edit — skills Maine employers seek, she says.
Professional writing is offered as a minor to any UMaine student, and English majors can concentrate in professional and technical writing. Diaz says graduates work in several areas including technology, marketing, health care, research and development, government, law, magazines and museums. She says most students find work within six months of graduation, and most have jobs before they graduate.
Since Cook began her full-time job in September 2012, she has seen IBM hire two more professional and technical writing students from UMaine.
“If you go in with a thirst to work, your resume and experience will be soundly rewarded,” Cook says. “We leave campus with a competitive skill set that sets us apart from other new college graduates in our field.”
University of Maine scientists are partnering with multiple agencies to improve the accuracy of forecasts of hurricanes, superstorms, blizzards and floods that endanger people and animals and destroy property.
UMaine received $1.5 million of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s $5.5 million award to increase the precision of predictions of extreme weather events and coastal flooding in the northeastern United States.
“This project allows us to develop rapid response capability and deploy ocean observing assets before extreme weather events, and use these targeted observations to constrain ocean models and issue timely forecasts for coastal cities and towns in the Northeast United States,” says Fei Chai, professor and director of UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences, and one of four university co-investigators taking part.
The three other UMaine co-investigators are Neal Pettigrew, professor of oceanography; Mary Jane Perry, professor of oceanography and interim director of the University of Maine Darling Marine Center; and Huijie Xue, professor of oceanography. In addition, program manager Linda Magnum, research associate Ivona Cetinic, graduate student Mark Neary and postdoctoral researcher Saswati Deb, will take part in the project.
The UMaine faculty and researchers are among the 39 researchers engaged in the two-year study. The group will build, deploy, garner and analyze data from state-of the-art outfitted floats, gliders and moorings during two winter storms and two summer storms that hit the Gulf of Maine or the area from Cape Cod, Massachusetts to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
As a severe storm approaches, aircraft will deploy 15 miniature, expendable floats along the forecasted storm track and launch four reusable gliders in the middle of the shallow continental shelf. Researchers will also anchor 10 portable buoy moorings near estuary mouths where storm surge causes significant flooding and damage.
The floats, gliders and moorings are designed to collect three new levels of ocean observations. The new data will be integrated into computer models that predict currents, sea level and turbulent mixing of cold sub-surface water with the surface ocean.
Meteorologists will be provided with a more complete picture about sea surface temperature and upper-ocean heat content, which will result in better-informed storm forecasting, say the scientists.
In addition, more targeted ocean surface data (air pressure, air and sea temperature, ocean waves, sea-level, etc.) collected by the moorings, in conjunction with current coastal flooding models, should enhance forecasting of flooding, they say.
Pettigrew is taking part in the design and manufacturing of the moorings for atmosphere and surface ocean measurements and he and Perry are in charge of glider deployments and data analysis. Chai is heading up ocean ensemble modeling and Xue is specializing in coastal flood modeling.
“Integrated Rapid-Response Observations and Ocean Ensemble Optimization to Improve Storm Intensity Forecasts in the Northeast U.S.” is the name of the study, which is being led by Glen Gawarkiewicz, senior scientist in the Physical Oceanography Department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.
The Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Rutgers University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science are partners, and the Cooperative Institute for the North Atlantic Region (CINAR) is the cooperating institute.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Julie Gosse, University of Maine assistant professor of molecular and biomedical sciences, is examining how a synthetic antimicrobial common in soaps and deodorants inhibits cells that sometimes fight cancer.
Triclosan (TCS) was once limited to use in hospitals. But in the 1990s, manufacturers began putting the chemical into antibacterial soaps, toothpaste, body washes, facial cleansers and a multitude of other over-the-counter hygiene products.
TCS also is used in fabrics, plastics and clothing — from yoga mats to kitchenware to socks — to slow or stop the growth of bacteria and mildew. Because of its pervasive presence in products, Gosse says it’s also now in waterways.
When TCS inhibits the function of mast cells in skin, allergic disease may be eased. But Gosse says mast cells are complex players and are involved in both pro- and anti-cancer roles, in fighting bacterial infections and in central nervous system disorders such as autism.
“The results of this study will fulfill an urgent need by providing insights into the impact of TCS on public health, as well as insights into the inner workings of this crucial cell type, and will point to either pharmacological uses for or toxic impacts of this ubiquitous chemical,” she says.
The National Institutes of Health awarded Gosse more than $420,000 for the three-year project that begins Aug. 1.
In 2012, she and several UMaine undergraduate and graduate students published a paper about TCS that concluded it “strongly inhibits several mammalian mast cell functions at lower concentrations than would be encountered by people using TCS-containing products such as hand soaps and toothpaste.”
This grant, she says, will allow continued exploration of the molecular mechanisms underlying the effects. She and her research team will use a variety of methods and tools — including the fluorescence photoactivation localization microscopy (FPALM) technique invented by UMaine physicist Sam Hess. The technique images individual molecules.
Hess is participating in the research, as are Lisa Weatherly and Juyoung Shim, graduate students in Gosse’s lab, and students from the Hess lab.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
The University of Maine School of Nursing has been awarded a federal grant to defray educational costs of family nurse practitioner (FNP) students who will provide primary health care for rural Mainers in medically underserved areas.
The Advanced Education Nursing Traineeship grant, totaling nearly $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will aid eligible, full-time FNP students in the School of Nursing master’s degree program in 2014 and 2015.
“Reducing the financial burden associated with graduate education is a tremendous benefit for the RNs enrolled in UMaine’s rigorous FNP program,” says Nancy Fishwick, director of UMaine’s School of Nursing.
Family nurse practitioners provide comprehensive primary health care services to people, from infancy through adulthood. Since the inception of UMaine’s FNP program in 1992, the majority of its graduates have lived and worked in medically underserved and rural areas in the state.
Maine is both the oldest and most rural state in the nation, according to the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau. More than 61 percent of Mainers — whose median age is nearly 43 years — live in areas with fewer than 2,500 people.
Mary Shea, UMaine assistant professor of nursing and graduate program coordinator, is directing the project titled “Ensuring Access to Primary Health Care for Rural Maine.” The project’s objectives align with federal health care workforce goals and initiatives that seek to improve access to quality health care for all.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Members of the University of Maine student group Engineers Without Borders will travel to Ecuador for two weeks in August on an assessment trip they hope will open the door to a long-term project to improve water security in the region.
From Aug. 16–28, six UMaine students and two mentors will stay in La “Y” de La Laguna in the coastal rain forest of Ecuador. La “Y,” which means the “Y” or a fork in the road, is a 300-person community that is struggling with an insufficient supply of drinking water.
A long dry season and inadequate storage is responsible for the low water supply. Residents are now dependent on buying untreated river water from an improvised tanker truck, according to EWB-UMaine members. The group aims to improve water security by helping the community find an adequate source, appropriate treatment, and reliable distribution.
“This trip will help us assess the needs of the community and build relationships that are vital to project success,” says EWB-UMaine member Logan Good. “Thinking ahead, this trip is just the beginning of a great companionship with the people of La ‘Y’ and a fantastic chance to experience global engineering.”
EWB-UMaine is a student chapter of Engineers Without Borders-USA. It was founded in 2007 and is made up of students and professional mentors who introduce communities in developing countries to sustainable engineering projects that aim to improve residents’ quality of life. Students from any major can join the group.
Good, a mechanical engineering student from Presque Isle, Maine, is the team’s project leader, co-design leader and assistant health and safety officer. During the trip, he will be responsible for ensuring all scheduled tasks are accomplished and for providing a safe, educational and exciting experience for team members.
This is the second EWB-UMaine trip for Good, who traveled with the group to Honduras in March 2013.
“Engineers Without Borders provides many opportunities to enrich students’ global perspectives and create responsible leaders,” Good says.
During the summer assessment trip, EWB-UMaine members will meet with the community, collect water quality and health data, and discuss possible storage solutions.
Edwin Nagy, a civil and environmental engineering lecturer at UMaine, is the group’s interim adviser and will attend the trip as an engineering mentor. His focus will be on the students’ relation-building efforts as they try to understand the community’s needs and organizational structure. Robert Sypitkowski, an environmental engineer and UMaine alumnus, will provide the main technical guidance on the trip, Nagy says.
Sypitkowski traveled to La “Y” in December to meet community members. While there, he learned that five years ago, a water pump system was constructed, but the system immediately failed and there is no funding to fix it. After conducting water quality tests, he determined a new source and a storage system are needed, and the community agreed, according to Sypitkowski.
Involving the community is an important aspect of the project, according to Nagy. Community members also will be given cameras and encouraged to take photos to spark discussions with EWB-UMaine about future potential projects.
“Having the community involved from the beginning means that the people who benefit from the project are involved in keeping it alive, and it means that needs identified are needs that the people themselves believe they have,” Nagy says, adding the group’s short-term goal is to get to know the community well enough to assess and understand their needs while making friends.
“I am very interested to know their story, make new stories with them, and of course, play some futbol,” Good says of the local residents.
After the assessment trip, the students will work with the mentors to design a suitable water system. Over the next several years, the group will take a series of implementation and monitoring trips to assist La “Y” with at least water storage, if not water quality. Nagy expects the project will take three to five years to complete.
In between trips, the group will work on perfecting their design; raising funds; and analyzing data on water quality, health, satisfaction and political status collected from the community. The data will help the group determine what effect their work is having on the perceived quality of life in the region.
Educational programs will be provided to community members throughout the project term to keep residents informed and encourage sustainability. Programs will include discussion about coliforms and related health risks, as well as information about operation and maintenance of the water system the group implements.
“If all goes well, this will overlap with other projects within this community or neighboring communities and we can have a long-term relationship with the people in and around La ‘Y,’ slowly helping them get to a point where they have the infrastructure for long-term, self-directed growth,” Nagy says.
In 2013, EWB-UMaine completed a five-year effort to implement a community septic system for 28 homes in Dulce Vivir, Honduras. In 2012, the project earned a $25,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation and the EWB-USA “Premiere Project Award” — the only award of its kind given to a student chapter that year. The project taught students how to work with a community to develop and implement a sustainable project, such as the one they are now pursuing in Ecuador.
“I hope the students will gain an appreciation for the many alternative ways of living in the world, a more practical approach to engineering and an increased sense of the options available to them as engineers,” Nagy says.
In February, the group was awarded a $10,000 Projects for Peace grant for work to be completed in Ecuador during the summer. Projects for Peace grants are funded by the Davis Foundation and are awarded to efforts that address conflict resolution and reconciliation, foster understanding, provide opportunity and build community, according to the foundation.
UMaine chemistry student Bryer Sousa also won a Projects for Peace grant in 2013 to install biosand water filters in 50 households in an impoverished rural region of Honduras.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747
The Portland Press Herald interviewed Mary Ellen Camire, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine, for the article “Want to help the planet? Put down that burger.” Camire, who is also president-elect of the Institute of Food Technologists, said “you don’t have to go whole hog and go vegan” to reduce your carbon footprint. She suggested not having meat every night and eating more fruits and vegetables instead. Recent studies also show eating meat contributes to climate change, the article states. “It would help if large numbers of people adopted a couple meatless nights a week,” Camire said.
A Huffington Post quiz titled “How much do you know about the sex lives of college students” cited a 20-year study conducted by Sandra Caron, a University of Maine professor of family relations and human sexuality. Caron surveyed more than 5,000 college students between 1990 and 2010 for her research on the sex lives of college students.
Tri-Town Weekly interviewed Kate McCarty, a food preservation community education assistant with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, in advance of UMaine Extension’s sixth annual Backyard Locavore Day on Aug. 9. McCarty will be one of several experts on hand for guided tours of backyards in Freeport and Brunswick for the event. During McCarty’s tour in Freeport, she will demonstrate how to increase self-sufficiency to meet food needs through backyard gardening techniques and food preservation methods. “I love Maine and believe it produces incredible food. I take every opportunity to support our local food producers, and it’s easy to do so with so many talented chefs, farmers, bakers, cheese makers and brewers,” McCarty said.
Vernal pool research being conducted at the University of Maine was cited in a Maine Public Broadcasting Network report titled “Maine scientist: Wood frogs at risk after unprecedented die-off.” Nat Wheelwright, a professor of biology at Bowdoin College, who has found evidence of a mass die-off of wood frog tadpoles says the deaths underline the importance of stepping up monitoring efforts and mobilizing citizen scientists. “There’s a wonderful program of monitoring vernal pools done by the University of Maine at Orono, and mostly they look at egg-laying, but maybe we want to be involving citizen scientists to go back to those same vernal pools to see how the tadpoles actually do, just to understand if this pattern of die-off is common,” he said. The report also linked to more information on UMaine’s vernal pool monitoring efforts.
Elizabeth J. Allan, an associate professor of higher education leadership at the University of Maine, was interviewed by The Chronicle of Higher Education for an article about a recent hazing incident at Ohio State University. Allan, co-author of a national study on hazing with UMaine research professor Mary Madden, described why few hazing victims identify themselves that way and what might help prevent hazing. “When we ask students to define hazing, they can often articulate the key components: That it’s doing something that could be potentially harmful emotionally and/or physically in order to become a member of the group. But then there’s this disconnect between defining it and recognizing it when it happens to them,” Allan said.
Natalie Springuel of Maine Sea Grant spoke with the Bangor Daily News about the Downeast Fisheries Trail, which showcases the state’s fisheries heritage at about 50 sites, including historical societies, fisheries museums and places such as the Cherryfield Cable Pool, a favorite spot for Atlantic salmon fly fishermen, the article states. “A trend in travel is that people want to connect to the real thing on the ground,” said Springuel, the coordinator of the trail. “They want to connect with local people. They want to know how they make a living. They want to know how to lobster, and how to pull up a trap. They want really concrete experiences to understand a place on a deeper level, and then they want to taste it at the end. So yeah, I think the fisheries trail provides a deeper understanding of a place and its people.”
The Associated Press and the Portland Press Herald reported the Maine Ocean Acidification Committee will hold its first meeting on Aug. 1 at the University of Maine Darling Marine Center (DMC) in Walpole. The committee is studying the effects of ocean acidification on the state’s environment and economy. “Maine is taking the lead on ocean acidification on the Eastern Seaboard. We understand that it is a real threat to our marine environment, jobs and way of life,” said Rep. Mick Devin, D-Newcastle, House chairman of the commission and sponsor of the bill that created the panel. Devin also is a researcher and shellfish hatchery manager at DMC. The Maine Public Broadcasting Network and WLBZ (Channel 2) carried the AP report.
The St. John Valley Times reported an Aug. 14 “fact-finding conference” will address the past, present and future efforts of local organizations, including the Franco-American Centre at the University of Maine, to preserve the history and cultural heritage of the upper St. John Valley. The conference, put on by l’Association Française de la Vallée St-Jean, will be held at the St. David Catholic Church. The public is invited to attend and participate in the discussion.
Samuel Hanes, an assistant professor of anthropology, received a $28,444 grant from the National Science Foundation for the proposal, “Social capital and policy networks: Exploring the factors that influence adoption of pollinator conservation.”
The project aims to better understand obstacles and influential factors growers face when attempting to diversify pollination sources.
According to the proposal, insect pollination produces about $19 billion worth of crops in the U.S. annually. Farmers rent commercial honeybees to supply most of their crop pollination but the number of hives in the U.S. has dropped by more than 30 percent since 1980, leading to interest in alternate pollination sources.
The project will look at factors affecting lowbush blueberry growers’ use of wild, native bees to supplement honeybees.
UMaine graduate student Kourtney Collum will conduct the doctoral dissertation research project under Hanes’ supervision, and as part of UMaine’s anthropology and environmental policy doctoral program.
Collum will examine the factors that influence farmers’ adoption of pollinator conservation practices through a comparative study of blueberry growers in Maine — where there is an adequate honeybee supply — and Prince Edward Island, Canada — where there is a severe honeybee shortage.
The researchers will look closely at growers’ interaction with and perceptions of agricultural agencies and programs, as well as effects of agricultural policies and overall farm management, according to the proposal.
David Fuller, an agricultural and non-timber forest products professional with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, was interviewed by the Portland Press Herald for an article about the increase of garlic in Maine gardens. According to UMaine Extension, about 100 farmers around the state grow garlic and that number is on the rise, Fuller said. He added Mainers are now growing about 70 different varieties. Fuller also spoke about the Maine Garlic Project, a research study he started in 2010 with crops specialist Steven Johnson. The study, which concluded last year, was intended to encourage more garlic production in the state among both farmers and home gardeners. “You start talking garlic with some people, and they just don’t stop,” Fuller said of the passionate farmers he has met.
Bill Livingston, an associate professor of forest resources at the University of Maine, was quoted in a Bangor Daily News article titled, “‘We need laborers’: Maine forest-products industry urging teachers to steer students its way.” The article focused on a field trip to Jackman taken by 25 teachers as part of a four-day professional development workshop organized by the Maine TREE Foundation and Project Learning Tree. The goal of the workshop is to enhance educators’ level of knowledge and perceptions of the forest-products industry so they can teach their students about the industry and present it as a viable career option, the article states. “They’re not out there trying to promote a specific use of the forest. They’re out there to show the range of the uses of the forest and help teachers understand that better,” Livingston said of the program organizers. The Sun Journal also carried the BDN report.
Jimmy Jung, vice president for enrollment management at the University of Maine, was interviewed for a Bangor Daily News article about Study Group, a company that recruits international students, and its work with two campuses in the University of Maine System. According to the article, the company signed a contract with the system with a goal of recruiting 50 students to UMaine. Jung said even though the goal hasn’t been met yet, the university has been pleased with its partnership with Study Group. “When we first signed the contract, we’d really missed that recruitment cycle already,” said Jung, adding that close to 40 is “not a bad number.” He said he expects it will take UMaine five to 10 years to establish all the contacts necessary to get a robust international student program going, the article states.
The Bangor Daily News published the opinion piece “The shock of a husband’s death — and the loss of all Social Security benefits” by Sandra Butler, a professor of social work at the University of Maine, and Luisa Deprez, a professor and department chair of sociology and women and gender studies at the University of Southern Maine. Butler and Deprez are members of the Maine Regional Network, part of the Scholars Strategy Network, which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications.
The Associated Press advanced a July 31 public meeting in Penobscot to provide information on the science of shellfish aquaculture. State officials will also inform the public about the ecological impacts of aquaculture, according to the article. Maine Sea Grant staff are facilitating the meeting and officials with the Maine Department of Marine Resources will lead discussions. WLBZ (Channel 2) and the Maine Public Broadcasting Network carried the AP report.