Maine state leaders are gaining interest in the University of Maine’s research and development for technology and entrepreneurship in Maine, shown by the newly formed, bipartisan Joint Select Committee on Maine’s Workforce and Economic Future — a group that has been appointed by state legislators to stress workforce training, create support for small-business owners and entrepreneurs, and revive Maine’s urban areas.
“We wanted to showcase activities where students get real-world, hands-on experience,” said Director of the Economic Development Initiative Renee Kelly, who serves as a liaison to Maine’s economic development community.
Kelly is a director at the Foster Center for Student Innovation and works with driven businesses in the community to help innovators reach their full potential.
Committee members were given a tour of the Advanced Structures and Composites Center on where students from various disciplines, including engineering, new media, innovation engineering and computer science, showcased skills they have acquired that will help them in the workforce. The tour also served to engage students with the committee members.
The “[AMC] is filling a gap for hands-on experiences,” said Jake Ward, vice president of Innovation and Economic Development for the Department of Industrial Cooperation. “Community schools are expanding liberal arts programs and high schools [are] not doing as much with technical [fields],” Ward said to the committee members before the tour got started.
Two engineering students, Forest Wentworth and Jonathan Bolduc, showcased their capstone project. They have been working with automotive manufacturers to develop new oil containment technology.
“This is the next generation; This is the generation that is going to propel Maine, and we know that they are doing great things here and we need to try to spread the word as far as possible as well as learn from them,” said Maine state Sen. Seth Goodall, Committee Co-Chair to Bangor Fox and ABC News.
From the new media department, Sam Foster and Ben Carlson presented their project. They have developed wearable devices that transmit profile data between two people who may pass by each other in day-to-day encounters. The idea behind the project is to create interpersonal connections and bonds between people who normally would not interact.
The wearable device housed LED lights that illuminate when people with similar interests come in close proximity with one another. A sweatshirt with embedded LED lights was far from the final project, but it served as a prototype to display the basic fundamentals of the technology, Foster explained.
“This is just a sampling,” Kelly explained about the university’s developments to encourage students’ hands-on experiences.
Another project for committee members to see came from the school of Computing and Information Science. The Virtual Environment and Multimodal Interaction Laboratory, otherwise known as the VEMI Lab, is working on technology to simulate indoor disasters that a first responder might experience. The technology solves the problem of limited sight, simulating an augmented reality that highlights edges, allows visual access through walls and allows for easier navigation.
After the tour for educators and committee members ended, a panel was held in Bangor to discuss the future of Maine’s workforce and its economy. The premise for the committee is to find out what the state needs in terms of education and filling jobs.
The panel also went over a Bridge Year Program, which would allow students at select high schools in Maine to earn up to one year of college credits while they are still in high school. The program would prepare students for college, saving them money on tuition costs.