Unity College Professor Michael Womersley has been honored by Maine Rural Partners, a non-profit organization based in Orono, Maine that is dedicated to advancing collaborative, integrated approaches to rural development.

On December 8, Womersley was honored by with an Individual Merit Award from Maine Rural Partners at the group’s annual meeting.  He was honored for working with the organization to analyze the state’s capacity for wind energy and for developing a wind power cost-benefit analysis tool.

Photo: Unity College Professor Michael Womersley accepts Maine Rural Partners’ Individual Merit Award from Energy Innovation Coordinator Claudia Lowd.

Also honored on December 8 for their “above and beyond service” were:

  • Dana Doran, Energy Programs Director at Kennebec Valley Community College
  • Milt Baston, Strong First Selectman
  • Ken Morse, Healthy Oxford Hills Partnership Director
  • Tess Woods (Unity College alum ’95), Unity Barn Raisers Executive Director

A panel of leading experts highlighted strategies and opportunities for profitable, meaningful connections during Maine Rural Partners annual meeting.  Presentations covered a broad spectrum of communications essentials — from the nuances of broadband capacity to cultural sensitivities.  The 65 attendees present gave rave reviews.  Kathy Billings of Bangor Hydro remarked that “this was best panel discussion I’ve heard in 20 years.”

James Page, Ph.D, CEO of James W. Sewall Company and outgoing Chair of the Maine Rural Partners board, opened the panel discussion with a plan for broadband expansion throughout the state. Referring to a statewide broadband plan completed by Sewall for the ConnectME Authority, Page emphasized the importance of high capacity broadband for Maine. “Broadband has to be thought of as critical infrastructure in the same way as roads and bridges and power lines; the demand on broadband is only going to go up dramatically in coming years.

He added that Maine has an opportunity to connect Maine’s broadband infrastructure with Maritime Canada, which would create a broadband highway between world financial capitals of New York and London. “It will change Maine’s position on the information highway from that of a cul-de-sac to being a gateway for the rest of the world.”

Axiom Technologies CEO Susan Corbett outlined her company’s efforts to expand broadband access throughout Washington County. While over ninety percent of the state has access to broadband, there are still 49,000 homes and businesses without it and Maine currently ranks 43rd in the county in broadband adoption, she explained.

“We need to connect those 49,000 homes and change Maine from 43 to number one,” she added. “It’s going to lead to job growth, advanced telecommunications options, telehealth, distance learning, technical job training, public safety, increased tourism, and decrease the migration of our young people.”

Bill Kuykendall and Joline Blais of the University of Maine’s New Media Department discussed citizen media makers and the use of media to engage people with their own community. Kuykendall, a member of the Maine Press Association board, called for a collaborative approach among professional and citizen media-makers to bring relevant news to the fore and stimulate community conversations about important issues.

Miigam’agan, a member of the Mi’kmaq Nation, discussed her focus on ensuring that the voice of Maine’s indigenous people is heard in a culture of advanced technology.

“We brought this panel together to explore how we connect rural Mainers, through technology, citizen engagement, and cross-cultural exchanges,” said Maine Rural Partners Executive Director Mary Ann Hayes. “Building strategic connections that improve quality of life for rural Mainers is our mission.”

The evening culminated with the presentation of awards, including the Partner of the Year Award, presented to the Town of Strong. Strong received the award for its 5 years of economic redevelopment work with Maine Rural Partners following the loss of 300 wood products manufacturing jobs. The Strong Energy Plan being implemented this year, which replaces heating oil for wood pellets among other strategies, will redirect thousands of energy dollars leaving the state into the local economy.

Unity College is a small private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education which emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.

In 2011, Unity College was named to the top 30 of the Washington Monthly college rankings, and was one of eighteen U.S. colleges and universities named to The Princeton Review’s 2010 Green Rating Honor Roll.

Monday, December 12, 2011