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UMaine Today Magazine


Michael Eckhardt

Michael Eckhardt

Title: Vice President for Research
Personal Research focus: Ph.D. in Medical Psychology from the University of Oregon Medical School; 25 years at the National Institutes of Health; 20 years as a Laboratory Chief of Clinical Brain Research and five years as Planning and Evaluation Officer for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; more than 150 scientific publications. Practiced as a clinical psychologist for more than 20 years.
Years at UMaine: Four
Milestones: Since FY 2003, NSF-calculated research expenditures for UMaine have increased 35 percent and U.S. Congressional earmarks have increased more than 50 percent. Since FY 2004, the Maine Economic Improvement Fund has increased 36 percent for UMaine. Determination of Return on Investment (ROI) for research investments was initiated in 2004. The University Research Council was reconstituted with representatives from every college, providing faculty input in UMaine's major research initiatives.

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UMaine research

Question: What is the role of research at a land-grant institution like the University of Maine?

Answer: Today's land grant should be responsive to the needs of the public, with approximately 50 percent of its research and scholarly activity applied or of obvious significance to the lay person. In Maine, the legislature has assisted in defining those areas of significance with the seven Maine Economic Improvement Fund (MEIF) areas: agriculture and forestry; aquaculture and marine sciences; precision manufacturing; environmental technology; biotechnology; information technology; and composites and advanced materials. As a result, UMaine's research priorities include alternative energy sources, climate change, homeland security, biomedical research and research to enhance the competitiveness of Maine's natural resources-related industries.

Question: What are the challenges in achieving that fundamental mission?

Answer: The challenges include increasing funding for graduate students, especially doctoral candidates; increasing MEIF awards; introducing new models for funding R&D at the state level; and accelerating production of university-related economic contributions to Maine, intellectual property, translational research, jobs and successful businesses that partner with or emerge from the university.

Question: How does science and engineering research dovetail with UMaine's liberal arts foundation?

Answer: Appreciation of the liberal arts is what makes us human and also provides the context for conducting research in science and engineering. Recognition of the importance of the liberal arts was apparent in the original land-grant legislation that acknowledged that the emphasis on agriculture, military tactics and mechanic arts should be conducted within the framework of a liberal arts education. The emphasis in Maine on the creative economy also is recognition of the importance of the liberal arts in the economic development of the state.

Question: How do we measure the success of UMaine research?

Answer: Ultimate Return on Investment (ROI) is enhanced economic development and the creation of new jobs resulting from investments in university R&D. I use a number of proxies for this ultimate goal: the number and amount of federal grants leveraged; the number of businesses assisted by UMaine; the number of graduates who have developed skills enabling them to be employed in high-paying jobs; the number of research publications, presentations and books; the number of patents and licenses resulting from university-developed intellectual property; the number of graduate students who earn degrees; and the number of national and international awards to faculty.

UMaine Today Magazine
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