UMaine’s Matchmaker

Ward forges partnerships to address health, safety, and economic needs

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JAKE WARD, UMAINE’S vice president for innovation and economic development, is no stranger to coalition building. As head of the Office of Innovation and Economic Development, he is involved in connecting individuals and groups statewide and beyond with UMaine expertise and resources. During the pandemic, he was a natural fit to lead the university’s COVID-19 Innovation Team through more of the same, but on a tightened timeline in an unprecedented public health emergency.

The innovation team’s activities are coordinated and informed by a larger group run by M.F. Chip Gavin, chief general services officer for the University of Maine System. Gavin’s group manages the relationship with the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) under a March 22 umbrella agreement that allows the University of Maine System to provide goods and services to Maine health care facilities and agencies as coordinated by MEMA.

Ward knows well what UMaine can bring to the table on a normal day, and witnessing the university’s pandemic response has been especially fulfilling. Ward’s role on the innovation team has been as a liaison — getting the right people together (virtually) and letting them do the rest. The group he convened includes representatives from the university, state government, local manufacturers and, most importantly, health care.

“The diverse participation has been the key to this group’s success, and it has truly been inspiring to watch,” Ward said. “Having everyone at the same table discussing solutions in real time has been invaluable. We’re able to hear about a challenge from the health care side and immediately begin a conversation with doctors, scientists, and manufacturers about how we might be able to solve it.”

The existing partnerships between UMaine and constituents helped the team operate efficiently, Ward said. UMaine’s Advanced Manufacturing Center, for example, has a longstanding relationship with the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and the two entities have coordinated closely with a range of local manufacturers to quickly ramp up in-state production of some key equipment.

Ward has also been impressed but not surprised by the way university personnel have jumped in to help — from faculty and students to facilities managers.

“The desire to contribute is so strong,” Ward said. “UMaine faculty and staff are truly experts in their fields and have essentially self-assembled into interdisciplinary teams to work on problem solving. It shows the value of a research university in a crisis. Everyone understands the urgency and is working quickly, but also safely.”

Efforts have benefited from UMaine’s strong relationship with the state and the key agencies involved in pandemic response, he noted.

“Our collaboration with the state has been outstanding,” Ward said. “Staff from the Department of Economic and Community Development have participated in every one of our innovation calls, and I’ve spoken regularly with DECD commissioner Heather Johnson ’92 along with officials from the Department of Health and Human Services. Of course, the university has worked closely with the Maine Emergency Management Agency and Maine CDC under the terms of our agreement with them, and that partnership has been critical.

“As Maine begins to transition in the recovery and reopening phase, we’re looking forward to expanding these collaborations and addressing any new challenges that may emerge.”


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