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UMPI, Maine Technology Institute take part in signing ceremony for $96,800 Maine Technology Asset Fund grant

Friday, 31 July 2009

With the stroke of a pen, the University of Maine at Presque Isle officially became the recipient of a $96,800 Maine Technology Asset Fund grant from the Maine Technology Institute. The grant will help to fund construction of a state-of-the-art GIS and GPS laboratory on campus that will be used for both classroom instruction and for community training and services.

Maine Technology Institute President Betsy Biemann and UMPI President Don Zillman signed the grant contract during a short Thursday afternoon ceremony on the University campus.

"The University of Maine at Presque Isle is excited to receive these funds from the Maine Technology Institute, which will help us to establish this educational and training-oriented facility and meet the growing need for GIS and GPS services in our region," President Zillman said. "The goal of a facility like this is to further community development and economic growth, and the University is proud to be taking this step forward for northern Maine."

The University's grant is one of 16 the Maine Technology Institute is funding this year out of 50 application submissions. Among all the public and private universities and colleges in Maine, only the University of Maine at Presque Isle, the University of Maine, and the University of New England were awarded grants.

"The Maine Technology Asset Fund awards will serve Maine's economy by funding cutting-edge technology development in some of Maine's most entrepreneurial companies and research organizations," Betsy Biemann said. "The Maine Technology Institute is pleased that the Fund extends to northern Maine even though UMPI is the only awardee north of Bangor. We anticipate the new facility will significantly assist UMPI's rapidly growing GIS program and help bring this part of Maine into the geospatial information technology age."

MTI is a publicly financed nonprofit organization created by the Legislature in 1999 to stimulate research and development activity leading to the commercialization of new products, processes and services in the state's seven technology-intensive sectors. Programs are designed to enhance the competitive position of those sectors and increase the likelihood that one or more of the sectors will support clusters of industrial activity and create quality jobs across Maine.

According to Dr. Chunzeng Wang, Assistant Professor of Geoscience and GIS and grant project director, the project is a three-year, $329,360 effort. The rest of the project is being paid through matching funds from the University. The GIS and GPS laboratory, which is being given the temporary name of "Center for Advanced Geospatial Information Mapping and Analysis," is expected to start operations this coming fall. As one of the best-equipped laboratories of its kind in Maine, it will be used for teaching GIS and GPS classes and training local professionals in how to use advanced GIS and GPS technology, as well as for research and development.

"This project is centered on economic development for northern Maine, which is consistent with the commitment of the GIS program at UMPI," Dr. Wang said. "The comprehensive GIS database developed as part of the project is going to allow communities to inventory and market their assets, provide site and building inventories for community planning and development efforts, attract and retain businesses, foster job creation strategies, manage infrastructure for municipal growth, increase workflow efficiency - the possibilities are nearly endless. This is an excellent opportunity for our students and for the people of Aroostook County, and we can't wait to get started."

The University's overall project entails:
- Collecting geographic and non-geographic data of infrastructure, demographics, business, parcels, and land resources for target communities,
- Building and maintaining a GIS database of information about northern Maine,
- Delivering database access and web GIS services to target communities,
- Providing community geospatial technology (GPS and GIS) training, and
- Partnering with communities in developing specialized GIS projects.

GIS [Geographic Information Systems] is a computing system that captures, stores, analyzes, and displays geographic information and spatial data about a given topic. GPS, which stands for Global Positioning System, is a satellite-based navigation system that can be used to calculate a precise location anywhere in the world.

The University's grant project team includes well-trained and experienced GIS and IT scientists and specialists at UMPI. Along with Dr. Wang, the team includes Greg Curtis, Co-Principal Investigator, and Mark Matson, GIS Specialist for UMPI. Curtis, the Executive Director of UMPI's Information Service Department, will be in charge of IT equipment purchase, installation, maintenance and service.

The new laboratory will build on the three years of work the University's GIS program, under Dr. Wang's leadership, already has conducted on the geospatial technology front. Community entities and local organizations such as the Presque Isle Public Works Department, the Presque Isle Planning and Development Department, the Town of Fort Fairfield, the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, the Aroostook County Action Program, and the Fairmont Cemetery Association have been among the partners who have benefited from the GIS and GPS projects that Dr. Wang and his students have completed and are conducting.

For example, a close partnership with the City of Presque Isle allowed the University's GIS program to develop a storm water infrastructure database for the city that included information on the city's catch basins, culverts, curbs and sidewalks. This helped to map the city's pedestrian infrastructures in the downtown area, which not only helped the municipality to better maintain its storm water system and improve its community planning capabilities, but also recently helped the city to secure a $250,000 Community Development Block grant to improve the city's downtown pedestrian network. This summer, Dr. Wang and his students are working on two more GIS projects for the City of Presque Isle and the Fairmont Cemetery.

Projects like this are expected to multiply with the opening of the GIS and GPS laboratory. Construction on the facility, to be located on the second floor of Folsom Hall, is expected to begin in August.