ORONO — Gov. John Baldacci and other state leaders joined University of Maine and University of Southern Maine officials on Wednesday morning to announce a $20 million National Science Foundation EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) grant for a wide-ranging new project called the Sustainability Solutions Initiative.
The research portion of this five-year initiative Maine EPSCoR initiative, led by UMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center, will bring together core research teams from UMaine and USM, as well as government and industry stakeholders, to improve the science and practice of sustainable development.
“The project recognizes that our state’s identity is inseparable from its natural resources and our future economic prosperity depends on our ability to distinguish what makes Maine so special, To preserve and build on Maine’s quality of place we must address issues such as sprawl, management of our forests and climate change. This project will provide us with expanded options in our pursuit of renewable energy, and management of our precious resources. It’s important to our environment and our economic future,” Baldacci said, speaking to a group of nearly 150 people who assembled at UMaine’s Wells Conference Center for this morning’s formal program announcement.
The initiative will create partnerships with many of Maine’s colleges and universities for research and education efforts designed to advance economic and community development while protecting the environment. It will also provide support for 200 to 300 jobs, mainly in the research sector, with the ultimate goal of building capacity for generating solutions to a range of challenging problems.
“I am delighted by this exciting news, and am convinced that the Mitchell Center, the University of Maine, and their many partners can play a pivotal role in creating a brighter economic, social, and environmental future for the people of Maine,” Sen. Mitchell, who was unable to attend the event, said in a prepared statement.
“At UMaine, we are pleased to play a central role in this project but, even more important, we are delighted that virtually every Maine institution of higher learning, plus businesses, government agencies and other constituencies, will join in this effort,” said UMaine President Robert Kennedy, who hosted the event and made the formal announcement. “This is when Maine is at its best, when we work together to pool our expertise and share our resources while working toward a common goal.”
In addition to the five-year EPSCoR grant, UMaine will be contributing $1 million per year for five years from its state-supported Maine Economic Improvement Fund allotment. An additional $1 million per year of in-kind contributions will also be contributed by UMaine and all collaborating partners in the form of faculty salaries and use of research facilities.
“Maine’s future depends on the ability to move forward with economic development in a manner that sustains our vital natural resources,” said Michael Eckardt, UMaine’s vice president for research.
Initially, the project will include a focus on problems related to urbanization, forest management and climate change. For example, portions of southern Maine have experienced rapid sprawl while record sales of private forest lands and mill closures are transforming the social and economic fabric of northern and western Maine. To address these multifaceted problems, the research team includes more than 30 faculty members with expertise in a wide range of fields, including environmental science, engineering, economics, communication and public policy.
“I’ve never seen such an extraordinary group of talented, passionate, and dedicated researchers work together so effectively towards a common goal.When you couple this unparalleled level of teamwork with our breadth of expertise and unwavering commitment to problem-solving, you have a one-of-a-kind initiative that can generate broad-based benefits for Maine, “said David Hart, director of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center and research project director for Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative.
“(This initiative) is the perfect project for our great state and Maine is a perfect living laboratory for a project of this type,” said Miles Theeman, chair of the Maine Innovation Economy Advisory Board in addressing the audience at this morning’s event. “NSF EPSCoR had made a wonderful decision to fund this proposal and I am confident that UMaine and its partners will develop and create a series of critically interrelated projects that will make us all proud.”
Collaboration is a hallmark of this initiative, which features close connections among all the partners, including Maine’s two largest universities, UMaine and USM.
“As Maine’s only regional comprehensive university, USM, through our Muskie School and other programs, is committed to collaborating with our higher education partners to improve our state’s economy and quality of life for its citizens,” said USM President Selma Botman in a statement provided in advance.
Teams of faculty and students will work with a variety of partners, including leading businesses and industries.
“Business and communities are being transformed by changes in the global economy, rising energy costs, and a realization that a healthy environment is needed for long-term prosperity. We all need to learn sustainable practices to survive and thrive. The Sustainability Solutions Initiative will position Maine as a leader in the field by conducting research and providing training to solve some of the most challenging problems of our times,” Albert Curran, co-founder and Chairman of the Board at Woodard & Curran, said in a prepared statement. Woodard & Curran, one of the project’s business partners. is an engineering, science and operations company with offices in Portland, Bangor and six other locations in the eastern U.S.
Researchers will also collaborate with non-profit organizations focused on community development in rural Maine.
“The Sustainability Solutions Initiative, with its commitment to translating research into on-the-ground impact in support of healthy economies and ecosystems, is greatly needed in Maine and can help catalyze a variety of business development opportunities related to forest-based industries, agriculture, and workforce development,” said Carla Dickstein, vice president for research and policy development at Coastal Enterprises Inc., another project partner, in a statement she provided in advance of Wednesday’s event.
The project also will provide for statewide education initiatives at all grade levels in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
“The National Science Board has indicated that the nation is failing to meet the needs of our students in STEM education, which has serious implications for our future workforce. Maine’s educational partners are in a very strong position to have a significant impact on STEM education for the state,” said Vicki Nemeth, UMaine’s director of research administration and EPSCoR. “Our coordinated strategy will develop students’ STEM skills, interest, and career paths for all levels of K-20 education.”
EPSCoR is a federal program directed at states that have historically received smaller portions of federal research and development funding. The program provides states with financial support to develop partnerships between their higher education institutions, industry, government, and others to affect lasting improvements in infrastructure, capacity, and national competitiveness.
Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine is responsible for administering and implementing the NSF EPSCoR program for the state.
For more information see www.maine.edu/epscor.