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USM unveils collaboration with Maine composites industry leaders

The University of Southern Maine announced a new collaboration that will bring the Composite Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) and $1.5 million worth of equipment into the Michael E. Dubyak Center for Digital Science & Innovation at USM.

The new laboratory, located on the school’s Portland Campus, will give students hands-on experience with the state-of-the-art equipment and ongoing contact with the innovative staff.

“It’s about incorporating into an organization that will allow (CERL) to thrive and go forward and help both industry and academia,” said Andrew Schoenberg, CERL’s director and a veteran of the semiconductor and plastic manufacturing industry. “We want to help students get jobs and to raise the technology of Maine.”

The announcement was made Friday at USM’s Dubyak Center, established in October 2018 with a generous $1 million gift from current Chair and former President and CEO of WEX, Michael Dubyak. The multidisciplinary center emphasizes digital science, pathways with industry and innovation, including product design and entrepreneurship.

More than a dozen industry officials attended the announcement.

“The workforce development aspect of this mission — combined with the assets to serve the community — is a win-win for all of us,” said Stephen Nolet, principal engineer and senior director of innovation and technology at TPI Composites, Inc. “I personally look forward to driving the educational experience: internships, capstone projects and other real-life opportunities for students.”

The Composite Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) is an independent consulting laboratory that specializes in three critical areas: education, analytical services and product development. The main engineering focus is on polymer-based composites and polymer characterization. Polymer-based composites have a broad spectrum of applications throughout Maine industries including: semiconductors, marine, wind power, aerospace and construction. CERL combines its manufacturing expertise as well as its advanced analytical capabilities to help companies with all facets of their product and process optimization and development.

“Now it’s going to embedded in a wonderful university that will allow it to continue grow,” Schoenberg said.

The benefits will be widespread, USM President Glenn Cummings said.

“Students will benefit. Faculty will benefit. The composite industry will benefit Maine industry and future Maine employers will benefit,” Cummings said. “It will continue to put USM at the center of making our economy and our state asset-based, strong and adding deep value to the people who go out and lead the next generation of industry and business.

Jeremy Qualls, the dean of USM’s College of Science, Technology and Health, welcomed industry leaders to interact with the university.

“Let us know what you need,” he said. “What skills are you trying to develop? We’ll see what we can do to help.”

The cooperation is part of the work at the university and its Dubyak Center.

The center will include digital classrooms and ideation space, a Cybersecurity Cyber-range and Computer Science Research Center, and a prototyping manufacturing space in addition to the Composites Engineering Research Laboratory. Employers are invited to partner with the new state-of-the-art center to work directly with students, whom they ultimately hope to recruit for critical positions.

“We’re creating pipelines for the technical workforce,” Qualls said.

MaineBiz and WGME-TV covered the announcement.

The Portland Press Herald published an advance story ahead of the signing. Additional stories were done by the Times Record, the Sun Journal and the Associated Press, which shared its story in Maine (Bangor Daily News, and Maine Public) and nationally: US News & World Report, the San Francisco Gate, the Houston Chronicle, the Washington Times and others.