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The Mitchell Center reflects on the mission of our land grant university with Dr. Hannah Carter

The Mitchell Center proudly presented Dr. Hannah Carter, the dean of the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension, on Oct. 31. She gave her presentation on the value of teaching, research and outreach within land grants.

Throughout the discussion, Carter provided the audience with insight into the history of land grants and extensions, the lessons we’ve learned throughout this century and most importantly how we can work together.

Director of the Mitchell Center, David Hart, provided a brief introduction about Carter and her work. Carter grew up in Aroostook County of Maine and received her master’s and Ph.D. at the University of Florida in Agricultural Education and Communication, specializing in agricultural leadership and extension education. She grew up on a potato farm in northern Maine before devoting 16 years to Florida agriculture, followed by a return to Maine in May of 2019.

Carter began by emphasizing her support in terms of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center’s main objectives based on a belief in the power of collaboration with a need for diverse communities. She intends to increase vibrancy and encourage rural youth to stay in Maine communities.

“How do we build capacity in people, agriculture and natural resource leaders?” Carter said.

First and foremost it is imperative we understand that these institutions were built upon land that was stolen. Carter read the land acknowledgment statement which highlights how the Penobscot Nation is a distinct, sovereign, legal and political entity with their own power of self-governance and self-determination.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln established the Morrill Act. It granted federally controlled land to the states for the purposes of selling, raising funds and endowing land-grant colleges, such as UMaine. The focus of these universities is on the teaching of agriculture, science, military science and engineering. Other legislation helped establish agricultural experiment stations and research farms at UMaine.

Eventually land grants became large public universities with tripartite missions of teaching, research and evaluation.

“We’re a very old and traditional organization, but we are also as relevant today as we were 108 years ago, and I look forward to sharing some of those ways that we continue our relevance,” Carter said.

A strength of UMaine is our connection. Maine can be quite close-knit, which serves to benefit us in the sense that there is an abundance of knowledge about the community’s needs. UMaine is recognized for the importance of this work and our statewide presence.

Carter mentioned that the university has a responsibility to collaborate with other institutions and share their research.

“When your focus is to be a global research entity or a top three public institution, it comes at the cost of losing those traditional ideas of how we are helping out local communities,” Carter said.

According to Carter, we must consider how we can take opportunities to engage the community. The more we put ourselves out there and have these conversions the more collaborations will occur. Another is the network between ourselves and other research facilities. Lastly, is providing necessary recognition to those helping the cause. We must ask ourselves if service or outreach is properly rewarded, with consideration for tenure promotion packets. Important work across the state has a tendency to go unsung.

The five critical issue areas are as follows: climate change, positive youth development, community and economic development, sustainable natural resources and the Maine food system.

The Cooperative Extension at UMaine provides our community with an array of services. They help keep Maine farms financially, environmentally and socially stabilized, as well as develop and deliver educational programming for the continuum of learners from youth to adulthood. They strive to provide practical how-to solutions based on research with the intention of benefiting one’s home, livelihood or family.

In 2021, the UMaine extension had an increasingly high digital outreach, with 3.1M views on various websites. There are 700 research-based publications as well as 5000 volunteers across the state, giving more than 90,000 hours of their time to support the cause and make a significant impact. Similarly, Maine Harvest for Hunger reached a total of 3,340,000 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables that were harvested and donated to those in need across the state.

“[I]t’s also important to talk about UMaine as an institution. . . . [and] the philosophy that UMaine has remained true to those land grant missions of teaching, research and outreach,” Carter said.

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