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Maine North Atlantic Institute at USM hopes to position Maine at center of the trade region’s growing economy

USM President Glenn Cummings

The University of Southern Maine unveiled plans Nov. 1 for the newly formed Maine North Atlantic Institute to forge greater business, educational and social connections between Maine and countries throughout the North Atlantic.

The institute will bring together dozens of ongoing projects in which USM students and faculty are working with schools such as Reykjavik University in Iceland and the University of Tromsø in Norway, and businesses such as Whole Oceans.

“The Maine North Atlantic Institute has a single purpose, it is to bring together large numbers of individuals and entities, private and public, for the purpose of strengthening our relationships, in all ways, with the North Atlantic,” USM President Glenn Cummings said. “Our view is that of a multidisciplinary approach that is connected to the economy, to the culture and to the people of the North Atlantic. It begins to place Maine at the center of economic activity for the east coast.”

The announcement was made on the Portland waterfront, at the new headquarters of the New England Ocean Cluster House. As ferries and fishing boats motored past, USM faculty members talked about their desire to share a global perspective with their students, a number of whom will be attending Reykjavik University next Spring semester.

“Providing an opportunity for experiential learning in the North Atlantic sets our students up for success,” said Rebecca Nisetich, who directs the USM Honors Program. Students have the opportunity to visit partner schools, study there and even intern with businesses abroad. “The skills that they bring back to the Maine workforce are independence, adaptability, global understanding, tolerance and leadership.”

Other projects include a marine innovation course with faculty from both Reykjavik University and USM. In this one, taught by Richard Bilodeau of the USM School of Business, students are challenged to solve real problems in high interest industries closely tied to North Atlantic trade such as microbrewing, fisheries, renewable energy, and tourism/hospitality.

Tracy Michaud, chair of the Tourism & Hospitality Program, talked about efforts that have led students on several trips to Iceland and the tasks facing the tourism industry in Iceland and Maine alike.

“They are very different places — a volcanic island and a coastal woodland — but by engaging with one another we have seen many similarities,” Michaud said. There are sustainability issues. We’re wrestling with workforce shortages.”

Further projects include research on rural health, telehealth and environmental health with schools in Iceland, Norway and Scotland and joint classes between the University of Maine School of Law and the Reykjavik School of Law examining such issues as trade, fisheries, energy, environmental regulations and maritime security.

Theo Willis, who teaches in the Department of Environmental Science and runs USM’s aquaponics lab, talked about work with Whole Oceans and its efforts to cultivate Atlantic salmon in land-based fisheries.

Patrick Arnold, the co-founder and CEO of the New England Ocean Cluster House, said he was pleased to strengthen ties with USM and the announced institute.

“We are proud to be able to open doors on this network,” Arnold said, “We’re more excited that the faculty, the students and the businesses do something with the doors that have been opened.”

Since 2015, USM has partnered with a number of related institutions including the New England Ocean Cluster House (Maine), Reykjavik University (Iceland), the University of Akureyri (Iceland) and University in Tromsø (Norway), and its faculty continue to explore opportunities with others such as University of Aberdeen (Scotland) and the Iceland University of the Arts. The Institute will also expand its collaborative circle to bring in various units of the University of Maine System including the Center for Graduate Professional Studies, and the University of New England, among others.

To President Cummings, the university has a duty to play a role in the region’s development.

“You have to be looking around that corner,” he said. “You have to be looking ahead. That’s what this institute is. You have to be ready.”


Rad the news story written by Portland Press Herald business reporter Peter McGuire. The story was on the Central Maine Morning Sentinal/ Kennebec Journal website. The Assoicated Press published a version of the story and reporter William Hall of MaineBiz reported on the institute.