UMaine president touts university’s role to Portland business community

Paul Ferguson, president of the University of Maine, speaks to a crowd at the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce's Eggs & Issues breakfast on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013.
Paul Ferguson, president of the University of Maine, speaks to a crowd at the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce's Eggs & Issues breakfast on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013. Buy Photo
Posted Jan. 09, 2013, at 12:02 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — The president of University of Maine was in Portland on Wednesday morning to promote the university’s new strategic plan and remind the business community of its role in growing Maine’s economy.

Paul Ferguson, who formally became UMaine’s 19th president last April, spoke at the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs & Issues breakfast. He took the opportunity to tell the audience about the university’s Blue Sky Project, which Ferguson unveiled in July 2012.

The Blue Sky Project is “the singular focus of the University of Maine family,” he said, and will help guide the university in “how to clearly see the challenges we face in Maine, the country, the world, and how we take active approach to solve them,” he said.

Building stronger relationships between UMaine and the rest of the higher educational institutions in the state is an important goal, Ferguson said. Making it easier for students to transfer from community colleges to the public universities is a priority, he said.

“We want to build that pipeline, we want to talk about it, we want to create the ways to make it right,” Ferguson said. “We have to get away from Maine education looking at higher education as competitors. Remember if it’s all one closed box, then we’re going to chew each other up trying to figure out what’s going on. Let’s open our eyes up, let’s look at ways to partner and figure out how to get a student from high school to wherever they need to go, even if it’s ultimately a doctorate. We have it all in Maine; we just have to work closer together.”

As for economic development, Ferguson said UMaine has a $783.4 million annual economic impact in the state, and that every $1 the state invests in UMaine generates $8 of economic activity in the state.

Ferguson also touted some of the university’s recent successes, such as its Advanced Structures and Composites Center, which recently received a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop offshore wind turbine technology. That grant could lead to even more government funds in the future.

“Our Advanced Structures and Composites Center is in line to receive a grant of $95 million to develop R&D and technology that is going to transform the technology in offshore wind development, and it has the potential to transform the economy of Maine,” he said.

He highlighted a 2010 report from the Education Trust that named the University of Maine “the highest overall performer” among the country’s public universities.

The need for Ferguson and the university to communicate its message effectively was made clear at the polls last November, when voters approved all bonds but the one that would have provided $11.3 million for facility upgrades at the University of Maine System, community colleges and Maine Maritime Academy.

Ferguson closed his presentation by reiterating UMaine’s role in the state, and by sharing his vision for the future.

“This institution and Maine are inextricably linked for the future. And I’m here to share with you — and not to defend the status quo and things of the past — that we have such a bright future together with this great gem that you — the state of Maine — have built, and [which] I have the wonderful pleasure and privilege to lead at this moment in time,” he said. “We want to come together and look to that blue-sky future, to think creatively, to think out of the box. And don’t forget we have this great resource, and now our challenge is to do it wisely and with dispatch.”

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