October 23, 2011

Maine Voices: Innovation course boosts entrepreneurship

The University of Maine and other groups hope to get young Mainers on a fast track to success.

By Paul W. Ferguson

ORONO - As a relative newcomer to Maine, I sense real optimism among many sectors of the state as we work collaboratively with the state's educational and commercial systems to find solutions to our economic challenges.

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The University of Maine offers a broad variety of courses, but one new academic minor, innovation engineering, has a special goal.

The Associated Press

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation's recent investment in Maine's future exemplifies a real and tangible approach that can make a meaningful, long-term difference to Maine and the nation.

The $3 million Blackstone investment will foster collaborations among the University of Maine, the Maine Technology Institute and the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development. Building on our state's innovation infrastructure, we collectively aim to help Maine businesses create 10,000 good jobs over the next 10 years.

UMaine's innovation engineering program is a cornerstone element of this collaboration. Built and refined from principles developed by Doug Hall, a 1981 UMaine graduate who is one of the world's leading innovation researchers and founder of Eureka! Ranch, this program is what we call a "career accelerator."

A course of study any student can adapt as an academic minor, innovation engineering provides students the inspiration and tools they need to fully develop and commercialize their ideas.

The Blackstone grant will allow us to bring innovation engineering to the other University of Maine System institutions, Maine's community colleges and private colleges. By sharing this resource and strategy, we will help create opportunity for more innovators around Maine, exponentially increasing the probability of the job creation our state needs.

Perhaps most encouraging is the widespread enthusiasm about this and other collaborative approaches to applying our shared resources in ways that address common goals. The members of Maine's congressional delegation and Gov. Paul LePage have all expressed their support for this new venture and for the approach that forms its foundation.

My colleagues -- including University of Southern Maine President Selma Botman and Southern Maine Community College President Ron Cantor -- share with me a fresh enthusiasm for working together in new and meaningful ways.

We know the people of Maine need us to collaborate in ways that maximize the important resources at our disposal, and we will continue to find ways, working with our alumni, advocates and business partners, to develop joint ventures that maximize educational opportunity and foster economic development.

As Maine's premier land-grant research university, UMaine acknowledges and embraces its leadership role, with the responsibility to facilitate and encourage innovation as we work to develop new initiatives to benefit our students and our state.

Here are just three of many such examples:

• UMaine's new School of Computing and Information Science combines academic and research resources in ways that will produce well-educated graduates prepared for important jobs in emerging Maine information technology sectors.

• The creation of three new online master's degree programs -- in bioinformatics, information systems and geographic information systems -- to provide graduate program access for working people who aim for career advancement through education.

• Three new undergraduate minors in renewable energy, designed to prepare graduates for careers and leadership roles in every aspect of the vital clean energy industry, from technology and engineering to policy to business development.

Thanks to the leadership of UMaine's faculty, the university has created these and other initiatives by creatively redeploying existing resources. In other words, we are applying the same principles of innovation that we are teaching our students and working to share throughout the state.

As we work with our partners in education, government and business around Maine to develop strategies pointing to a brighter future, this collaborative approach must guide our planning and the ongoing development of new ideas.

– Special to the Telegram

 

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