A USM delegation returned home recently following a whirlwind week of conversations and tours in Iceland aimed at forging long-term relationships with entrepreneurs and educators in the Arctic nation.
Led by President Glenn Cummings, the group of USM professors and expert staff joined more than 30 people from the City of Portland and the State of Maine in attending the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik.
"In addition to attending the conference, the USM delegation demonstrated excellent entrepreneurial spirit by arranging numerous separate meetings with non-profits, universities, governmental agencies and businesses to explore new opportunities for our students," Pres. Cummings said.
He mentioned one particularly productive conversation he and some of the USM faculty had with Reykjavik University President Ari Kristinn Jónsson and his senior staff where they discussed possible partnerships for USM's business students, honors students, cybersecurity, the graduate program of public health and the Ocean Cluster House.
"Our hope is to see which of these many USM-Icelandic conversations might take hold and then announce them officially at the Arctic Council International Forum in Portland, Maine next October 2016," Pres. Cummings said.
Relationships have been building since Iceland-based shipping company, Eimskip, decided in 2013 to locate its U.S. port of call in Portland. Last year, Gov. Paul LePage visited Iceland. In September, Pres. Cummings joined other education and business leaders on the bridge of an Eimskip freighter to sign a partnership to support the New England Cluster House in Portland. Like its Icelandic counterpart, it will serve as a business incubator to further trade to Eimskip's ports of call throughout the North Atlantic.
On the delegation's first day in Reykjavik, members toured the impressive Ocean Cluster House, which also hosted a meeting between the USM group, members of the University of Iceland's faculty and their rector, Dr. Jón Atli Benediktsson. It began a weekend-long process of USM faculty and staff meeting with their Icelandic counterparts.
"The people I met in public health, health sciences research and nursing were eager to build connections and we have several ideas we’d like to continue to explore," said Judith Tupper, managing director for population health and heath policy at the Muskie School. "I believe that the rest of the USM team had a similar experience."
USM hosted a breakfast for the MBA program at Reykjavik University. It was attended by the dean of the university’s business school and about 20 R.U. graduates, many of whom visited the Portland campus in May. They were also joined by USM mechanical engineering alumnus Nick Randall, who is currently pursuing graduate studies in electrical engineering in the School of Energy at Reykjavik University.
"We are looking to collaborate with Reykjavik University's MBA program to allow our students to spend time over there and take one of their elective courses in Iceland," said Joanne Williams, interim dean of USM’s College of Management and Human Service.
Discussions have also looked at creating a joint project between the two MBAs, comparing sustainability among the fishing practices in Maine and Iceland, said delegation member Ross Hickey, USM's assistant provost for research integrity.
USM is building ties to connect the students from the two major universities, said Firooza Pavri, chair of the master's program in policy, planning and management at the Muskie School.
"At the University of Iceland we were able to meet with the director of the Institute of Sustainability Studies, Dr. Gudrun Petursdottir," she said. "This interdisciplinary institute facilitates research on sustainability issues and serves as a model to strengthen similarly focused research communities at USM.”
She added, “I also had a conversation with a faculty member from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences to discuss possible collaborations on student field schools and faculty exchanges. These conversations have informed us about the way universities are structured in Iceland and we now have a better sense of the profile of their students and the academic pathways they have open to them.”
"Visiting Iceland and seeing, first-hand, the recession of glaciers and the shifting of vegetation assemblages, brought home the dramatic impacts of climate change on the Arctic environment," Pavri said. "USM's students would be enriched by a summer program in Iceland that focused on climate change impacts and adaptations and I am hoping that a few of us can work on developing that.”
Echoing what Pavri said, Michaud-Stutzman added that in meeting with professors at the University of Iceland to talk about sustainability and nature-based tourism projects, “there could be the potential to work with them on joint classes for all our students through their Arctic Marine Assembly.”
As a result of this trip, USM is now on more solid ground to build international opportunities for our students in the areas of tourism/hospitality, environmental sustainability, public health, cybersecurity, business and marine technology. USM has been able to begin exciting new partnerships that will expand workforce opportunities, cultural exchange, and economic development for our students and all of Maine. Both Iceland and Maine are poised to learn a lot from one another.