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UMaine Today Magazine


Student Focus

Mapping Development

Gretchen Heldmann
 

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A landowner in Hampden, Maine, stopped by the town office complaining that his neighbor's new driveway was encroaching on the property line. To determine if a boundary had been breached, town officials printed off a state-of-the-art computer-generated map, created by combining aerial photographs, global positioning system points and databases.

In the coming year, that same detailed information about any parcel in the 39 square miles of the central Maine community will be available online.

"The town is way ahead of the curve in terms of using GIS (geographic information systems)," says Gretchen Heldmann, Hampden's newly appointed GIS and information technology specialist who stepped up to help direct the town's efforts. "Many towns contract out for GIS and most only have black-and-white, hand-drawn parcel maps made by the assessors that are then digitized. Hampden has invested in taking its maps to the next level of accuracy by contracting out for high-resolution, Earth-referenced aerial photos that will be used as our base map."

Heldmann has spent the past year helping the town get up to speed on GIS mapping and digital data management. Her stint started with a summer internship in 2005 that involved working as a member of a team to produce more accurate, user-friendly tax maps. Heldmann then helped her assessing and code enforcement coworkers in the municipal office learn how to use specialized mapping software.

Working part-time for Hampden throughout her senior year at the University of Maine as a forestry major, Heldmann tackled the town's computer system or lack thereof. She developed a five-year, cost-saving action plan to phase in new computers and improve consistency of the 50 computers scattered throughout the town from the municipal building to the public library.

Another of her major projects this past summer was developing better maps to aid the police and fire departments.

"Towns like Hampden need one IT person for consistency," says Heldmann, who started working on computers at age 5. "Individual people working for the town don't have time to learn the more in-depth (computer) stuff, and they shouldn't have to."

Heldmann gained her GIS know-how at UMaine, where courses in the technology are required for forestry majors. With her computer savvy, GIS came naturally to Heldmann. It also fit nicely with her desire to work in forest policy and management.

This fall, Heldmann is in UMaine's master's program in forestry, conducting research on land use change in the state. By surveying landowners and collecting such information as agricultural use, tree growth and tax payments on property, Heldmann plans to create a GIS model to characterize the likelihood of parcels being developed.

For years, Heldmann has been interested in how forests can be managed to coexist with urban development. She is driven to find the answers because of the heavily developed areas she grew up seeing in her home state of Connecticut.

"Maine has such a great land use history. I don't want Maine to become like Connecticut.

"I'm not one of those people from away who wants to change Maine," she says. "I want to help the people of Maine maintain that heritage of public use of private land. And I want to make sure there are areas near urban areas where people can go to experience nature."


The heat is on

Matthew Rodrigue and William Sulinski
Matthew Rodrigue, left, and William Sulinski
 

William Sulinski is putting in another 14-hour day. The latest version of his start-up company's business plan is due on Monday. It's the third he's written in the last seven months, not out of indecision, but because of out-and-out entrepreneurial success.

"When you're talking about a start-up, everything changes and becomes clearer with each day that goes by," says the Dedham, Maine, native, president and CEO of the recently incorporated Consumer Energy Research Corp. (CERC), newly headquartered at Target Technology Center in Orono, Maine.

Sulinski is working with Matthew Rodrigue of Wilton, Maine, who is providing advising and consulting services to the company. Rodrigue was the nation's top electrical engineering student in 2004. For the past year, the pair has collaborated to take CERC from the drawing board to the boardroom.

Early on, Sulinski also had assistance developing CERC's business plan from his brother, James, and from University of Maine student Brigham McNaughton.

Benchmarks of their success include winning two major business plan competitions: in March, a $25,000 prize $10,000 cash and $15,000 in legal consulting and other services from the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern Maine School of Business; and last December, $5,000 in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Business Plan Competition.

In the spring, the new company also received a $5,000 seed grant from the Maine-based Libra Future Fund.

This past summer, CERC was invited by Fortune magazine to enter its national business plan competition to vie for the top prize of $35,000.

With investor funding, Sulinski hopes after Jan. 1 to beta test the company's first product, Heat-Safe, a wireless device to improve the efficiency of home heating oil delivery. A patent application is in the works. Enercon Technologies in Gray, Maine, will prototype the device.

And, oh yeah, the two entrepreneurs still have college courses to take. Sulinski, a UMaine senior, will graduate in December with an undergraduate degree in financial economics. Rodrigue, a 2004 UMaine graduate and, most recently, an engineer team leader at Woodard & Curran Inc., a consulting and operations firm, begins his first semester at Harvard Business School this fall.

"Heat-Safe will be our first product, but I don't expect it to be the last," says Sulinski. "We'll be doing research on other devices, but just now, we're working with oil industry efficiencies that have a bearing in Maine. We're planning to sell our product throughout the Northeast and Midwest."

Sulinski, whose family is in the heating oil business, had the idea for Heat-Safe. He developed the invention with the help of Rodrigue and the expertise of Target Technology Center and UMaine's Office of Research and Economic Development.

"What made this idea successful so far has been hard work and the generosity of people at the university, Target, the Maine Patent Program and all of our outside counsel who want to help out," Sulinski says.

But the bedrock of Sulinski's entrepreneurial nature comes from his father. "He worked 15-hour days, but he enjoyed it and has something to show for it," says Sulinski, who was 13 when he started doing accounting work for the family business.

"The first thing I learned from my father, who built his business over 16 years into a fair-size company, is that anything is possible."

 

UMaine Today Magazine
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