Administrators in the University of Maine System on Wednesday lauded a $240 million gift that is among the largest ever in public institutes of higher education and will be used for systemwide investments in facilities, academics and athletics.

Much of the funding from the Harold Alfond Foundation, one of the state’s leading philanthropic organizations, will be spent on the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland. Officials there are planning for the construction of a new graduate center and law school and for the campus to be part of a multi-university engineering program that will give students around the state greater access to courses and degrees.

“This is a combination of a year-long effort to explain the needs of the system to an organization that has been very generous in the past and an effort to come forward with new initiatives that obviously have attracted the support of the Alfonds,” UMaine System Chancellor Dannel Malloy said.

“They have been very supportive of the University of Maine System and the University of Maine in the past, particularly in athletics, but this is really groundbreaking in its scope and its investments in Maine’s future.”

USM officials are planning for the construction of a new graduate center and law school. Rendering courtesy of University of Southern Maine

The UMaine funding represents about half of a $500 million total investment announced by the foundation Tuesday that will provide grants to organizations and universities around the state to expand science and technology education and workforce skills. The gift to UMaine is the eighth-largest ever to a U.S. institution of public higher education and the largest ever in New England, the system said Wednesday.

At the University of Southern Maine, President Glenn Cummings said the gift will help with the construction of a new graduate center and law school and expand the school’s engineering program as part of the development of a multi-university College of Engineering, Computing and Information Science.

The engineering program will be led by the University of Maine in Orono and will provide for additional undergraduate and graduate programs at the University of Southern Maine, expanded pathways into the statewide college for all system universities and new opportunities for shared programs, interdisciplinary structures and partnerships. The engineering program will receive $75 million of the $240 million gift and use some of that money to further renovations of the Ferland Engineering Education and Design Center in Orono.

The announcement comes on the heels of the system’s move to a unified accreditation, which Cummings and other officials said will help make joint degree offerings and partnerships like the engineering program easier.

As a requirement of the Alfond Foundation’s gift, the UMaine System must secure $170 million in matching funds. Rendering courtesy of University of Southern Maine

While USM will continue to offer its own degrees in engineering, students will be able to take classes from professors in Orono. That could be done virtually or a professor could visit the USM campus to teach a class, Cummings said. Likewise, students in Orono who want to intern with a company in southern Maine could do so through USM.

Cummings said the fall of 2021 is “not unrealistic” for the two campuses to start sharing courses, and work on the program will start almost immediately.

A total of $55 million of the foundation’s gift will go toward the Maine Graduate and Professional Center to support scholarships, integrated program development across disciplines and a new building to house the center and the University of Maine School of Law.

The Maine Center building on the USM campus has an estimated cost of $70 million, up to $40 million of which will come from the Alfond gift. It would tentatively be located off Bedford Street in the vicinity of Glickman Family Library and the Wishcamper Center and across the street from where USM is planning to break ground this spring on a $100 million residence hall and student center.

Maine Law Dean Leigh Saufley said the combined graduate and law building will allow students to better access a cross-disciplinary education. It would also replace the current Maine Law building, which in 2017 was named one of the eight ugliest university buildings in the country by Architectural Digest magazine. As far as the timeline for the center, Saufley said the university is in the design phase and “my hope is in a couple of years we will see a brand new building.”

“This brings everything together in a way that really forces us to think about the collaborations and the cross-disciplinary work that is going to be important for what is really a new world,” she said.

In addition to the engineering program and graduate center investments, the Alfond gift also includes $20 million for student success and retention programs across the system and $90 million for athletic facilities in Orono.

The $20 million will be divided among programs dedicated to expanding research learning opportunities for first- and second-year undergraduates, a “gateway to success” initiative to expand learning assistance and improve retention in STEM courses, and a pathways-to-careers program to expand access to credit-bearing internships and experiential learning.

As a requirement of the gift, the system must secure $170 million in matching funds, which will be raised through private, state and federal sources. The result will be at least a $410 million total investment.

“We consider ourselves extremely lucky to have an organization like the Harold Alfond Foundation here in Maine,” said James Erwin, chair of the UMaine System Board of Trustees. “Their generosity is strategic but amazing and we are just incredibly grateful and look forward to working with them.”

Other entities who will receive the grants announced by the foundation Tuesday include The Roux Institute at Northeastern University, the University of New England, Thomas College, FocusMaine, Colby College, Waterville Creates! and The Jackson Laboratory.

FocusMaine, an initiative aimed at accelerating the creation of quality jobs in the state, announced Wednesday it will receive $5.18 million over the next three years to create jobs in high-potential sectors such as agriculture, aquaculture and biopharmaceuticals.

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