January 9, 2013

UMaine president explains school's efforts to improve

By Noel K. Gallagher ngallagher@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

University of Maine Orono President Paul Ferguson said the flagship campus of the UMaine system is undergoing a focused drive to cut costs while improving the student experience and working aggressively with the state and its businesses.

Called the "Blue Sky Project," Ferguson described the year-long process of honing the priorities of the university amid a challenging financial landscape and shifting demands of the marketplace for its graduates.

"We have to ask ourselves -- how do we do our job better?" Ferguson said at the Portland Regional Chamber's Eggs and Issues meeting Wednesday.

Ferguson also emphasized UMaine's role in partnering with state businesses to provide both cutting-edge research, such as the school's composites work and wind energy research, and educating students to meet today's workplace needs.

As for workforce development, Ferguson said the university needs to analyze, and ultimately adapt, faculty hiring and course curriculum to reflect today's needs.

However, contrary to concerns about the state's "brain drain" of young Mainers leaving, Ferguson noted that 79 percent of in-state students that graduate wind up staying in Maine.

"What do we need in Maine?" he said. "We need to have much discussion -- be self-reflective -- and discuss it with industry. Whenever you move resources, it doesn't happen overnight."

Another priority is making it "seamless" for students to transfer work from two-year Maine colleges such as Southern Maine Community College to the UMaine system.

"We have it all in Maine, we just have to work together," he said, noting that he's already working closely with SMCC President Ron Cantor to figure out that "groundbreaking" process in Maine.

Noel Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com

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