UNE receives Alfond Foundation gift to support quality health care and workforce needs in Maine

The University of New England's Portland Campus.
The University of New England's Portland Campus.

On Oct. 6, the Harold Alfond Foundation, Maine’s largest and most prestigious philanthropic foundation, announced that the University of New England is one of eight Maine institutions that will benefit from an unprecedented and transformational $500 million investment made by the foundation in an effort to confront the state’s long-term economic challenges. By supporting the acceleration of education, training, and job opportunities for Mainers, the foundation intends to combat a shrinking workforce and usher in new opportunities for the state and its people.

The gift to UNE will support the construction of a new health sciences facility for the relocation of the UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine (UNE COM) from the Biddeford Campus to the Portland Campus, the establishment of a new Institute for Interprofessional Education and Practice, and the acceleration of high-growth undergraduate and graduate programs on the Biddeford Campus to meet student demand and workforce needs. These include degree programs in the marine areas, including aquaculture, as well as programs in business, entrepreneurship, criminal justice, and sports media communication.

UNE President James Herbert noted that the new state-of-the-art facility to be built on the Portland Campus as UNE COM’s new home will greatly enhance the quality of education that the University provides to its medical students as the result of the building’s specially designed learning spaces and advanced technological components. The increased capacity afforded by the new facility will also enable the University to grow its medical school in size.

The benefits of the Alfond grant, however, will not be felt exclusively in UNE COM. By unifying all of its graduate health professions on the Portland Campus, UNE intends to fully integrate its health professions programs – something that Herbert says will create a health sciences campus unlike any other in the region and will enable the University to realize its potential as a national leader in interprofessional education.

“With a truly integrated health sciences campus, our health professions students will capitalize on opportunities for cross-professional learning, will enhance their team-based competencies, and will benefit from learning spaces in the new facility designed for simulation, standardized patients, and digital health and telemedicine, all of which will complement UNE’s existing assets,” Herbert stated.

Herbert also remarked that the physical integration of the medical school with the University’s other health professions programs will strengthen UNE’s collaboration with its clinical partners throughout the state and will provide greater opportunities for all of UNE’s health professions students to engage in team-based rotations at clinically affiliated sites by enhancing students’ preparation in interprofessional practice and by allowing easier coordination of rotations.

Moreover, the creation of the Institute for Interprofessional Education and Practice, made possible by the grant, will fully integrate all of UNE’s professional health care education programs with UNE’s various Centers for Excellence, amplifying and providing a new cohesiveness around their work.

Hebert also noted how the Alfond gift will benefit the Biddeford Campus. “By being able to relocate the College of Osteopathic Medicine to the Portland Campus, we will be able to expand our undergraduate and graduate programming in several market-aligned fields of study as well as grow many of our current programs by taking advantage of the availability of additional labs, classrooms, and other spaces vacated by the medical school,” he shared.

Herbert stated that the gift from the Alfond Foundation is timely considering that the COVID-19 pandemic has made clearer than ever the critical role health care workers play in our lives, reinforcing the importance of training the next generation of professionals to UNE’s mission. “This generous gift will allow UNE not only to increase the number of doctors and other health care professionals we train but also to better serve the state and region by training students to work across disciplines in integrated teams, providing improved outcomes for their patients,” he said.

Herbert believes the grant also addresses the economic implications of COVID-19, which have only exacerbated some of Maine’s long-standing challenges to economic prosperity. “The gift will allow us to grow undergraduate and graduate programs on the Biddeford Campus that are linked to key workforce needs,” he stated. “Through this investment, the Harold Alfond Foundation has demonstrated its continued passionate commitment to the welfare of Mainers. We are excited to begin work on this project, which will be transformative for both the University and the state.”

UNE plans to hold a press conference on October 13 at 10 a.m., which may be viewed live une.edu/live at which University officials and dignitaries will unveil more details about the project.

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