ORONO — All of us in the University of Maine community appreciated your recent editorial “UMaine’s strengths should not be secrets” (Aug. 5).

 

To the many of us who teach, conduct research, work, study and send our children here, the quality of what we enjoy and have to offer is not a secret.

But clearly one of our greatest challenges — as well as one of our greatest opportunities — is to ensure that all in Maine and in the wider world beyond know exactly what we have to offer.

As you note, this is one of the top priorities in UMaine’s new strategic plan, “The Blue Sky Project: Reaffirming Public Higher Education at Maine’s Flagship University.”

When I arrived on campus a little over a year ago, it was evident to me that UMaine had exceptional assets, among them a beautiful campus in the center of the state, student-centered faculty and world-class scholars, dedicated students, deeply proud alumni throughout Maine and the country, and a legacy of engaged service to this great state.

What was also clear, though, was that for all of these assets to be used to their maximum advantage we needed a comprehensive plan that could be bold, yet pragmatic, like Maine itself.

“The Blue Sky Plan” reflected that need for out-of-the-box thinking, clarity and optimism.

Following a period of intense consensus building and focus among the UMaine community, and with approval by the University of Maine system board of trustees, the real work of implementation now begins.

“The Blue Sky Project” outlined five pathways that we will follow to enhance UMaine and contribute to the state’s renewal.

The full plan can be reviewed online (umaine.edu/blueskyplan), but I want to focus here on the first pathway: serving our state.

Through this pathway, we will ensure the excellence of our teaching, research, outreach, work force and economic development programs, and we will closely align them with Maine’s priority needs.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which created land grant institutions like the University of Maine across the country.

Today, those institutions educate more than 1.5 million undergraduate and graduate students annually and serve as catalysts for innovation, economic and work force development, cultural enrichment and lifelong learning.

Originally established as colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts, land grant institutions provided access to higher education for the first time to people from all walks of life and fueled their states’ economic growth.

From those ambitious origins in 1865, the University of Maine has enjoyed a long tradition of cooperative engagement with Maine agriculture and industry — from potatoes to blueberries, from lobster to forest products — demonstrating the fundamental value of UMaine’s teaching, research and public service.

Now, as a 21st-century land grant university, we are engaged in pioneering work in exciting new areas.

For example, the bridge-in-a-backpack technology developed at our Advanced Structures and Composites Center has recently been approved by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, opening the way for widespread use nationwide.

UMaine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute just opened the Technology Research Center in Old Town to validate, demonstrate and help commercialize potential fuel, chemical and advanced material technologies from forest bioproducts — a one-stop shop for processing and analysis of new technologies.

These recent developments complement other ongoing, extraordinary work in nanotechnology, climate change, sensor development, sustainability, public policy and offshore wind technologies.

UMaine takes its responsibility seriously to promote innovation, entrepreneurship and job growth through our deep capabilities in research and development, private sector partnerships and the education of the next generation of leaders.

These are all areas where we must align University of Maine resources with the traditional and emerging needs of our state. We must change from an uncertain relationship of uncertain benefits and return to our roots as highly valued partners in moving our state forward.

Through our “Blue Sky Plan,” that uncertain relationship can evolve into an exciting new era for the University of Maine and our state — one in which the mutual benefits will be clearly understood and embraced by all.

As I shared with the university community at my formal inauguration last spring, I do not desire to defend the status quo. I do want to defend and promote this university’s importance to the state of Maine and to re-emphasize the public good inherent in the mission of the public research university.

That is the goal of “The Blue Sky Project.” We will know that we have succeeded when the high quality of the University of Maine is no longer a secret to anyone here in Maine — or anywhere else in the world.

Paul W. Ferguson is president of the University of Maine.

– Special to the Press Herald