UNE President James Herbert attends Arctic Circle Assembly to deepen university partnerships with region’s nations

November 13, 2017

President Herbert poses at a waterfall in Iceland

For the third consecutive year, the University of New England sent representatives to the Arctic Circle Assembly, the preeminent international forum for Arctic cooperation and sustainable development. Held in Reykjavik, Iceland, from October 11 to 15, the assembly gathered more than 2,000 participants, including a 50-person delegation from Maine. Representing UNE were President James Herbert, Ph.D.; Anouar Majid, Ph.D., vice president for Global Affairs and the director of the Center for Global Humanities; Barry Costa-Pierce, Ph.D., chair and Henry L. & Grace Doherty Professor of Marine Sciences and director of UNE’s Center for Excellence in the Marine Sciences; and Holly Parker, M.Ed., innovation research strategist.

The assembly, which is designed to increase dialogue about the Arctic region and strengthen the international focus on the future of the Arctic, drew heads of state, law makers, scientists, non-profit and business leaders, administrators at institutions of higher education, indigenous representatives, activists and environmentalists from many countries.

The Arctic region is growing increasingly important to these groups of constituents as climate change warms the area’s waters, thereby altering the ecology, fishing and aquaculture industries, shipping routes, and more. As a sub-Arctic state, there is growing recognition that Maine has an important role to play in the transformations currently underway, as evidenced by the $50 million expansion of the port of Portland to accommodate the new trade relationships resulting from the decision of Eimskip, a global shipping company based in Iceland, to make the city a new home port.

Herbert sees many similarities between Maine and the Arctic nations. “Culturally, we have many things in common and face similar challenges,” he explained. “We have relatively small populations; we’re environmentally conscious; we share similar climates; and we have tourism industries that are environment-focused. We also have major fishery and aquaculture industries. So we’ll face many of the same issues as climate change progresses.”

While these commonalities between the Arctic countries and Maine make the state a natural partner in navigating the many changes unfolding in the Arctic region, Herbert believes that UNE, specifically, is poised to be a key player in what is to come. “The issues that are becoming critically important in the Arctic align extremely well with the tremendous strengths of the University: our innovativeness, our programs in environmental studies and in marine studies, which include everything from oceanography to aquaculture to marine affairs and policy to marine entrepreneurship,” he said. “And they align with our areas of emerging strength,” he added, noting UNE’s business programs as well as the University’s growing focus on specific areas of health care, including geriatrics and behavioral health—both of which, he said, are of particular concern in the Arctic and in Maine, which have aging populations and serious problems with illicit drugs and alcohol.

It is important to me that UNE is deeply involved in the creation of these relationships right from the beginning. The mutual benefit of our collaboration with Arctic nations is potentially enormous, so I want our areas of strength and emerging strength to be front and center.

Because of this firm belief that UNE has the ability to be a positive contributor to the Arctic transformation, Herbert felt it was imperative that he attend the assembly and make significant connections with Arctic leaders and Maine leaders, alike. “It is important to me that UNE is deeply involved in the creation of these relationships right from the beginning,” he stated. “The mutual benefit of our collaboration with Arctic nations is potentially enormous, so I want our areas of strength and emerging strength to be front and center.”

Herbert said that while the narrative of UNE as a health sciences university is perhaps the one most often told, UNE’s assets encompass a great deal more. “What UNE really is,” he said, “is a comprehensive, forward-looking, innovative and global university.” And the University’s global reach into the region of our Arctic neighbors has already been well extended. In addition to the UNE study-abroad program in Akureyri, Iceland, upon which three UNE students will embark for the spring 2018 semester, the University is currently hosting a number of students from the University of Akureyri (UNAK). Moreover, Costa-Pierce served as a Fulbright specialist at UNAK earlier this year; Susan Farady, J.D., assistant professor of ocean studies and marine affairs, is spending part of her junior faculty leave there; Markus Frederich, Ph.D., professor of marine sciences, will lead a Polar Biology class to UNAK in 2018; and two UNE marine science graduates are currently studying for their master’s degrees at Holar University, also in Iceland.

What UNE really is, is a comprehensive, forward-looking, innovative and global university.

Thus, it is not surprising that deepening UNE’s academic partnerships with Arctic nations was one of Herbert’s main areas of focus during the Arctic Circle Assembly. He met not only with the presidents of UNAK and Holar but also with the president of Reykjavik University, the director of the University Center of the Westfjords, a representative of the Norwegian University of Tromsø and the director of Iceland’s Fulbright program.

One outcome of the partnerships between UNE and Icelandic universities is a new Professional Science Master’s Program in Ocean Seafood Systems, which is currently being developed and is scheduled to launch next fall. According to Herbert, the program will be designed for students at UNE, UNAK, and Holar who are interested in working in the field of ocean-based foods (which includes both animal seafood and sea vegetables). The program educates students about the entire value chain, covering everything from production research to harvesting to marketing and advertising. UNE students will spend two weeks of intense study in Iceland, while Icelandic students will spend two weeks deeply immersed in education at UNE. After returning to their home countries, the students will engage in highly collaborative studies by continuing the remainder of the 18-month program in “global classrooms” that link UNE classes to classes in Iceland via video conference technology. Costa-Pierce, who will spend his 2018 sabbatical in Sweden as the Swedish Royal Academy of Agriculture and Forestry Knut and Alice Wallenberg Professor at the University of Gothenburg, will, as part of his appointment, further develop this master’s program with partner universities while also working to enlist new partner universities in Norway, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

What we can do as a world population, as a nation, as a state, and as a university is to work collaboratively to mitigate the problem as much as possible while also making the most of the situation that we find ourselves in. Climate change is a cloud over our heads, but I believe that UNE can be a part of a silver lining above the Arctic.

Herbert has also initiated efforts to make UNE an official member of both the University of the Arctic, a cooperative network of universities, colleges, research institutes and other organizations concerned with education and research in and about the Arctic region, and the Arctic Research Consortium, a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing comprehension of the Arctic through science, technology, indigenous knowledge and education.

“Climate change is happening, no matter what we do,” said Herbert. “If every single person on Earth did everything possible to reduce our carbon footprint, it would still be too late to stop it completely. That genie is, unfortunately, already out of the bottle, and it’s one of the biggest crises that we face in this era,” he lamented.

“What we can do as a world population, as a nation, as a state, and as a university is to work collaboratively to mitigate the problem as much as possible while also making the most of the situation that we find ourselves in. Climate change is a cloud over our heads, but I believe that UNE can be a part of a silver lining above the Arctic.”

To learn more about UNE's global programs, visit www.une.edu/global

 

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