FORT KENT– On Friday, April 20, the University of Maine at Fort Kent will host the third annual Scholar’s Symposium. The entire event is open to the public. The day is filled with speakers and student presentations on a wide range of topics.
President Wilson G. Hess encouraged everyone in the community to participate in the event by enjoying the speakers and helping to provide feedback for the students about their projects.
Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Behavioral Sciences Soraya Cardenas, who is the chair for the event, described the symposium as “an event that celebrates scholarship and is about bringing the community together under the umbrella of scholarship.”
She said, “It’s an eclectic experience of interaction.”
The theme of the symposium focuses around health and the environment and this year spotlights the nursing department. Cardenas said the event has borrowed the World Health Organization’s mantra, “One World, One Health” for the duration.
Booking the keynote speaker, nationally acclaimed author Sandra Steingraber, for the event was a complex affair. Nursing student Jon Gough suggested the author of “Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment” to nursing professor Jenny Radsma last year, said Cardenas. However, when Cardenas called the author’s agent to see inquire about hiring her for the event, the speaking fee turned out to be too expensive for UMFK’s small, rural campus. The author’s agent told her that UMFK could apply for a Ceres Foundation grant to help with the speaking fees, but warned her that universities and colleges rarely receive funding for the author’s services.
Cardenas leveraged the fact that Aroostook County is one of Maine’s poorest counties to persuade the foundation board that UMFK’s Scholar’s Symposium is a worthy project to which to donate money.
“It was a long shot,” said Cardenas. She described Steingraber’s presence at the event later this week as “a unique opportunity.”
“The chances of [UMFK] getting someone of that caliber are slim. We just don’t have the money,” she explained.
Cardenas said Steingraber is ideally suited to serve as the keynote speaker because her work spans the fields of social sciences, science and health, and education.
“Her work does a good job of bringing all of our divisions together,” she said.
At least two classes are using Steingraber’s book “Living Downstream” as required class material, and Cardenas said several other campus personnel are reading the book on their own, including various students and President Hess.
The Scholar’s Symposium offers a regional, national, and global perspective on the event’s health and the environment theme. Steingraber’s presentation at 8:30 a.m. on Friday morning in Fox Auditorium addresses the national perspective. Two other speakers will address the remaining two requirements.
On Thursday evening, at 7 p.m. in the Nadeau Hall teleconference room, Dan Ferber, co-author of “Changing Planet, Changing Health” will kick-off the festivities. His presentation provides the global perspective event organizers intend.
Cardenas said, “We’re very fortunate to have Dan speak about his work. It will be an enlightenment experience for our students.”
On Friday morning, University of Southern Maine Vice-President of Creative Research Samantha Langeley will speak about the soil testing she’s done with USM students in Portland. Cardenas said lead contamination in soils in and around Portland is so severe that officials have recommended residents refrain from growing gardens in the area.
Students will also present their work in the Fox Auditorium on Friday morning. In the afternoon, from 1 to 2:30 p.m., participating students will present their work in the gym.
Event co-chair Jeff Dubis, who is one of the forestry professors at UMFK, said all participating students are volunteers.
“Many times the presentations will be their senior projects, but not always,” said Dubis.
As a result of Gough’s role in securing the nationally acclaimed author to speak at the Scholar’s Symposium, Gough will introduce her on Friday morning. MPR’s Maine Speaks program will feature Steingraber’s speech.