UNE announces new P.D. Merrill endowed chair of business and director of makerspace

John Austin, Ph.D., and Justine Bassett, M.S.
John Austin, Ph.D., and Justine Bassett, M.S.

The University of New England has announced two developments that will advance its role as an innovative regional leader in business education: the selection of its first P.D. Merrill Endowed Chair of Business and new director of the P.D. Merrill Makerspace, both named in honor of the late P.D. Merrill, who headed the board of trustees during UNE’s merger with Westbrook College in 1996.

Following an international search, John Austin, Ph.D., has been selected as the first P.D. Merrill Endowed Chair of Business. He began his role on July 1.

As endowed chair, Austin will lead a dynamic and vibrant Business program that offers business administration concentrations in economics, health sector management, international business, marketing, management, and social innovation and entrepreneurship. The program, housed within the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) on the University’s Biddeford Campus, also offers programs in communications, sport and recreation management, and interdisciplinary programs in marine entrepreneurship and sustainability and business.

“UNE stands out as a unique and innovative institution, and I look forward to collaborating with my new colleagues and helping current and future UNE students thrive in our rapidly changing world,” Austin said. “I am thrilled to become part of the UNE community.”

Additional responsibilities of the endowed chair include teaching within the program, academic advising, curriculum development and assessment, recruitment and mentorship of faculty and students, budgetary oversight, and working with a collaborative college leadership team.

Austin holds a doctorate in organization studies from Boston College and a Bachelor of Arts in economics from Johns Hopkins University. Since 2017, he has served as a core faculty member of the Human and Organizational Development (HOD) program within Fielding Graduate University’s School of Leadership Studies. He has served as faculty chair of the HOD program since 2018.

Since 2013, Austin has owned Austin Executive Development, where he designs and delivers custom executive development programs, long-term strategy projects, and change leadership consulting for corporate, government, and nonprofit organizations.

“Dr. Austin brings an invaluable balance of experience, leadership, and expertise to the College of Arts and Sciences,” said CAS Dean Jonathan Millen, Ph.D. “His innovative ideas and vision for our business programs will resonate widely with both current and prospective students.” 

UNE is also pleased to announce that Justine Bassett, M.S., will take over as director of the P.D. Merrill Makerspace, an innovative laboratory for creation and building that draws ideas from students across the University’s many disciplines.

The makerspace opened at UNE in the spring of 2016 within the Business program.

Since then, use of the makerspace has been incorporated into several courses within the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and Westbrook College of Health Professions (WCHP). The space is unique in that it is accessible to all students regardless of their academic discipline, reinforcing UNE’s commitment to interdisciplinary and interprofessional teaching and learning.

Bassett is an entrepreneur and business leader with more than a decade of experience as a maker and artist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Wellesley College and a Master of Science in international business from Georgetown University.

She comes to UNE from the KID Museum in Bethesda, Maryland, where she serves as chief program officer. The museum provides hands-on learning through the innovative incorporation of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) principles; art; culture; and critical thinking skills. Prior to that, from 2015 to 2018, Bassett served as the experience designer at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, where she led the design of a new visitor experience, an experiential learning space called Q?rius.

“I believe that all students can become innovators in their respective fields, and the P.D. Merrill Makerspace enables that through hands-on, collaborative experimentation,” Bassett said. “I'm very excited to help ensure that students across UNE's diverse colleges benefit from this valuable resource.”

Bassett will begin her role on Aug. 1.

Michael Sheldon, PT, Ph.D., associate provost for Academic Affairs, said Bassett’s hiring represents the next the next stage in the continued development of the makerspace.

“I am so excited to be working with Justine as the director of the P.D. Merrill Makerspace,” Sheldon said. “Her previous experience, creative and collaborative spirit, and exceptional communication skills uniquely position her to operationalize the vision of elevating the Makerspace to a truly university-level resource for students across UNE.”      

Both developments are supported by the P.D. Merrill Charitable Trust, a longtime supporter of UNE, which last year pledged $1.3 million to enhance the university’s programs in business, entrepreneurship, and innovation.

P.D. Merrill was chair of Merrill Industries and a prominent business leader in the Portland community. He and his father established Merrill’s Marine Terminal in Portland, through which Maine gets its road salt and other industrial commodities. Newsprint for the Boston Globe, New York Times and Wall Street Journal comes over its wharf. He was instrumental in the renovation of what is now Merrill Auditorium, named in honor of his parents. He chaired the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and Business Alliance from 1998-1999 and was a founder of the Maine Economic Research Institute.

He was active in the International Forest Products Transportation Association, and the Industrial Advisory Board of the Loeb Sullivan School of International Business and Logistics at the Maine Maritime Academy. He joined UNE's Board of Trustees in 1984, serving as chair of the Board of Trustees from 1995-2000 when Westbrook College joined UNE, and was involved in a wide variety of other philanthropic endeavors throughout the state.


This news was shared in the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier and Portland Press Herald.

P.D. Merrill
P.D. Merrill

This website uses cookies to understand how you use the website and to improve your experience. By continuing to use the website, you accept the University of New England’s use of cookies and similar technologies. To learn more about our use of cookies and how to manage your browser cookie settings, please review our Privacy Notice.