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Maine Autism Institute for Education and Research Benefits from New Funding

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.


Recent Athletic Training Graduate Wins National Quiz Bowl

Recent University of Maine graduate Alicia Valente of New Gloucester, Maine won the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Quiz Bowl in St. Louis, Missouri on June 25.

Valente represented New England along with two students from Plymouth State University. They competed against nine other teams, each representing a district of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. New England makes up District 1.

Contest questions included topics such as anatomy, treatment of injuries, athletic training history, preventative care and diagnosis.

Valente earned her spot in the national competition after participating in a regional contest during the 2015 Eastern Athletic Trainers’ Association Convention. She came in second place in the regional contest, which secured her seat on the NATA Quiz Bowl District 1 team.

Glover Named Finalist for National Early Career Faculty, Engagement Award

Robert Glover, a UMaine assistant professor of political science and honors, is one of eight national finalists for the 2015 Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement for Early Career Faculty, presented by the New England Resource Center for Higher Education (NERCHE) and the Center for Engaged Democracy (CED) at Merrimack College.

The annual award recognizes faculty in the early stages of their career who are innovators in sharing knowledge-generating tasks with the public, and involving community partners and students as participants in public problem solving.

This year, there were 42 nominations for the award, with the winner to be announced in August and honored at a NERCHE colloquium in Boston and the annual Conference of Urban and Metropolitan Universities in Omaha, Nebraska later this year.

More information about the award and finalists is online.

UMaine Librarian receives Spotlight Award at ENnie Awards

Cason Snow, metadata librarian/cataloger at the University of Maine was recently awarded a Judges’ Spotlight Award for the 2015 ENnie Awards for his book “Dragons in the Stacks: A Teen Librarian’s Guide to Tabletop Roleplaying.” The book was published in 2014 by Libraries Unlimited and is a part of their Libraries Unlimited Professional Guides for Young Adult Librarians Series.

The book explains why role playing games are so effective at holding teenagers’ attention, identifies their specific benefits, outlines how to select and maintain a RPG collection, and demonstrates how they can enhance teen services and be used in teen programs. Detailed reviews of role-playing games are included as well, with pointers on their strengths, weaknesses and library applications.

The Gen Con EN World RPC Awards (the “ENnies”) are an annual fan-based celebration of excellence in tabletop roleplaying gaming. The Ennies give game designers, writers and artists the recognition they deserve. It is a people’s’ choice award, and the final winners are voted upon online by the gaming public.

Snow is the author of several articles on role playing in libraries including “Playing with History: A Look at Video Games, World History, and Libraries;” “Tabletop Fantasy RPGs: Tips for Introducing Role-Playing Games in Your Library;” and “Dragons in the Stacks: An Introduction to Role-Playing Games and Their Value to Libraries.” He received a master’s degree in library and information science from the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee and a master of arts degree in history from Northern Illinois University.

O’Brien Medical Launches Device Developed with UMaine Collaboration

A new device on the market, developed by O’Brien Medical in Orono in collaboration with the University of Maine Advanced Manufacturing Center, has the potential to improve detection of diabetic peripheral neuropathy that can lead to limb loss.

ETF128, an electronic tuning fork named one of the Top 10 innovations in podiatry by Podiatry Today magazine, was patented last year and is now manufactured by Saunders Electronics in South Portland, Maine.

The 128-Hz device offers a significant improvement over current methods used by doctors to detect diabetic peripheral neuropathy, a nervous system disorder with symptoms of pain, sensation loss and weakness in limbs.

The development of ETF was made possible through a collaboration with Dr. Todd O’Brien, president and founder of O’Brien Medical, and UMaine’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, an engineering support and service center dedicated to promoting manufacturing economic development in Maine.

More than five years ago, O’Brien approached the Advanced Manufacturing Center to help develop a proof-of-concept electronic tuning fork, and then worked with Bruce Segee of UMaine’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering to develop the beta and commercial versions of the device.

O’Brien also is an alum of the Top Gun Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program at UMaine, a five-month program that engages entrepreneurs in growing their businesses. Top Gun combines education, mentoring, pitch-coaching and networking opportunities. The program is a partnership of the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development, Maine Technology Institute, Blackstone Accelerates Growth and the University of Maine.

Maine Writing Project in Second Year of Teacher Leadership Grant

The Maine Writing Project (MWP) led by Kenneth Martin in the College of Education and Human Development has received $10,000 for the second half of a two-year SEED Teacher Leadership Development Grant from the National Writing Project. MWP, founded in 1997, is one of almost 200 university-based organizations in the National Writing Project that support young writers and teachers of writing throughout the United States. Each year, up to 20 educators complete UMaine’s annual institute in writing, the teaching of writing, and teacher leadership — joining our membership of more than 300 teacher-consultants. Program activities for members include book study groups, online writing groups, and the Maine Writes publication of members’ writing, as well as professional development workshops and conferences for educators across Maine. Outreach activities include young authors summer camps for grades 3-12, support for student-staffed writing centers in Maine schools, and the Science Around ME Internet app project for science and literacy in partnership with the Maine Discovery Museum. Funds provided by the NWP SEED Grant are essential to continuing these programs.

Neivandt Shares Benefits of RET Program in ‘Science Scope’

Tracy Vassiliev, a middle school science teacher at the James E. Doughty School in Bangor, and David Neivandt, a University of Maine professor, associate vice president for research and graduate studies, and director of the Graduate School of Biomedical Science and Engineering, co-wrote Let Them Eat Cake … OE-Cake!, which was published in the April/May 2015 issue of “Science Scope.”

In summer 2014, Vassiliev took part in a research experience for teachers (RET) program, funded by the National Science Foundation, with Neivandt at UMaine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute (FBRI).

RET’s objectives include fostering STEM partnerships between K–12  teachers and university faculty and inspiring the teachers to translate cutting-edge research being done at universities and make it relevant to their students.

Vassiliev experienced and, in turn, has been introducing her students to OE-Cake! (Octave Engine Cake Version 1.1.2b), which was unveiled in 2007 by Prometech Software, a company that specializes in high-performance simulation and computer graphics. OE-Cake! is a digital sandbox and learning platform.

When used to support science content, Neivandt and Vassiliev say OE-Cake! can engage students in ways that encourage critical thinking and creativity, and encourage them to explore hydrodynamics of liquids, small particle systems and solids.

In the classroom, the educators say it can help students understand the nature of science empirically by exploring the physical properties of virtual materials.

“By embracing the software, students discover that research in the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics) fields is fun and exciting. … As educators, if there is a given technology that your students enjoy exploring, then embrace it, and help reveal the STEAM connections. This will reinforce the idea that STEAM content can truly be found everywhere,” Neivandt and Vassiliev wrote in the article.

“Teachers do not have to be experts in all computer applications, but instead they can be guides in helping students explore and experiment. Teachers need to be sure to provide students with a clear purpose, STEAM connections, and parameters. After that, you can allow your students to impress you with their applications of the scientific process, discoveries, iterations, and evidence-backed reasoning.”

Workforce Development: Interns to Full-Time Employees at Pika Energy

Pika Energy in Westbrook, Maine, focuses on wind and solar energy technology, including scalable options for homeowners and small businesses. Ben Polito, president of Pika Energy, talked about his company’s interest with UMaine:

How long have you worked with the University of Maine?
We have been involved with UMaine through the Innovate for Maine Fellows program. We have had interns each summer since the start of the program, and we have hired two of them so far for full-time positions, with a third starting this summer. We build highly technical products that require specific skills, and the intern program is a great way to get to know innovative young people and learn if there is a fit.

Are you able to provide an an example or two on your experience?
Our intern from the first year, Tony Nuzzo, was an engineering student from Orono, and he had great hands-on experience that helped him to get up to speed quickly. When he graduated, we offered him a full-time job and now he is leading our Quality/Customer Experience Department.

UMaine Has Most Accepted Papers at the Upcoming 12th International Conference on Spatial Information Theory

The 12th International Conference on Spatial Information Theory (COSIT) in October in Santa Fe, New Mexico, will have strong participation of University of Maine researchers in the School of Computing and Information Science.

COSIT is a biennial meeting focusing on recent, innovative and significant contributions in spatial information theory. Full 20-page manuscripts were reviewed by four COSIT program committee members. Based on their assessment, 22 submissions were selected for presentation at the conference and publication in the proceedings as a volume in Springer’s Lecture Notes in Computer Science.

In the highy competitive paper selection process, it is a great accomplishment that UMaine researchers were successful with four submissions. With four lead-authored papers, UMaine is the top institution with the most accepted papers at this year’s COSIT.

Christopher Dorr, Longin Latecki and Reinhard Moratz
Shape similarity based on the qualitative spatial reasoning calculus eOPRA

Matthew Dube, Jordan Barrett and Max Egenhofer
From Metric to Topology: Determining Relations in Discrete Space

Matthew Dube, Max Egenhofer, Joshua Lewis, Shirly Stephen and Mark Plummer
Swiss Canton Regions: A Model for Complex Objects in Geographic Partitions

Torsten Hahmann and Lynn Usery
What is in a Contour Map? A Region-based Logical Formalization of Contour Semantics

These accepted papers involve five graduate students in Spatial Information Science and Engineering — Chris Dorr, Matt Dube, Joshua Lewis, Mark Plummer and Shirly Stephen. A third student author, Jordan Barrett, now at Syracuse University, was an Upward Bound student at UMaine in summers from 2012–14, mentored by Matt Dube. Barrett’s project is the result of his work during summer 2014.

UMaine’s College of Education Ranked 73rd by U.S. News and World Report

The University of Maine’s College of Education and Human Development is ranked 73rd in the nation for all Education Schools in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.

With more than 40 graduate degree programs and seven graduate certificate programs, the College of Education and Human Development offers professional development, and advanced education and training in a variety of modes. UMaine education graduate students choose from diverse course offerings and specializations in classes on campus and online.

UMaine education graduate students also have the opportunity to not only acquire knowledge, but also create it. At the state’s research university, UMaine graduate students collaborate with world-renown experts on vital education issues such as autism, poverty, bullying, literacy, leadership, diversity and STEM education.


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The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469
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