July 24, 2019
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Have a Maine problem? A UMaine student researcher can work on a solution

Contributed photo | BDN
Contributed photo | BDN
Nicholas Willey, a native of Caribou, examines cross-laminated timber (CLT) specimens while working last summer at the University of Maine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center in Orono.

I’ll be honest. Growing up in rural Scotland, the only things I knew about Maine were that its capital city was Augusta and that, maybe, the Masters golf tournament happened there every April, under glorious sunshine, on a course surrounded by lush, verdant vegetation.

It wasn’t until I went to college, in the birthplace of golf no less, St. Andrews, Scotland, that I learned a little bit more about the Pine Tree State. First of all, April in Augusta, Maine, doesn’t look anything like April in Augusta, Georgia, (so I hadn’t been watching a golf tournament surrounded by the vividly green Maine countryside) and, more importantly for my career path, the University of Maine has an excellent reputation for research.

People on campus are often incredulous that their school’s reputation precedes it internationally. It’s the reason why I initially chose UMaine for my master’s degree and why it attracts graduate and undergraduate students from more than 65 countries. But that’s not the reason why I’ll be staying here for a doctoral degree. For me, the edge that UMaine has over other schools is its emphasis on linking research and the communities that stand to benefit from it. Whether it’s informing the management of the state’s marine resources, developing the “creative economy” based on Maine’s valuable historical and cultural assets or providing new technologies and resources for elderly or vulnerable Mainers, research at UMaine responds to the needs of the Maine community.

As the vice president of UMaine’s Graduate Student Government, I get a front-row ticket to see all the projects graduate students and other UMaine researchers are working on. And as a tax-paying, home-owning, green card-toting Maine resident, I’m glad to know that researchers at the university have the state’s economy and future development as a priority.

As Maine’s only public research university, undergraduate and graduate students have opportunities to work in collaboration with world-class researchers to problem-solve, innovate and turn knowledge into solutions for Maine communities. Whether protecting our wild blueberry crops and their pollinators, addressing the challenges of education in a rural state like ours or inventing products and improving processes that grow established industries, UMaine’s student researchers are involved as part of their UMaine student experience. It is engagement — and a mindset — that carries forward into their careers.

The University of Maine’s reputation as a leading research institution attracted me for graduate study. The opportunity to work closely with the broader community, which was so welcoming when I first arrived, makes my experience here so much more rewarding. I know we’ve all heard the arguments on how to combat “Maine’s Brain Drain” (almost) ad nauseam, but here’s two more cents: Keep engaging with student researchers at UMaine. Keep bringing them the issues that affect you and your community. Keep supporting their endeavors, and they’ll stay and continue to support yours.

At the time of writing this, there really isn’t much difference in temperature between Augusta, Maine, and Augusta, Georgia. I know just the student, whose door I can knock on and ask: “Why?!” Find your go-to student researcher at UMaine for the things that have you wondering “Why?!”

Jack McLachlan is a masters student in Ecology and Environmental Sciences and the Vice President of the Graduate Student Government at UMaine. He researches the tidal freshwater wetlands of Merrymeeting Bay in the Kennebec Estuary. His research and that of nearly 400 graduate and undergraduate researchers will be featured at the 2016 UMaine Student Research Symposium from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. on April 27 at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor.

 



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