Reversing Brain Drain in Maine: INBRE and the MDI Biolab

One of the strongest elements of the COA experience is in the number and kind of partners we have as an institution. Not only are we conveniently wedged between the Gulf of Maine and Acadia National Park, we are also flanked by two world-class private laboratories: the Jackson Labs and the MDI Biological Laboratory.  Last week I had the privilege to participate in a press conference at the MDIBL where we collectively celebrated the $18.4 million dollar INBRE partnership.  I also published the following Letter to the Editor in the Mount Desert Islander on August 7, 2014 and I wanted to share it with a wider audience:

To the Editor:

These days, “crisis” always seems to be attached to the words “higher education.” So it’s nice to hear about a truly exceptional, positive, and progressive educational force happening right here in Maine.

The Maine IDeA Network for Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), an NIH-supported network of 13 Maine institutions, strives to strengthen Maine’s capacity to do cutting-edge biomedical research. It is a perfect model for “learning by doing,” and it’s a model we need to shout from the rooftops in Maine to help our state continue on its path as not only a leader in science, but as a leader in progressive education.

INBRE is a model for the kind of learning it champions — students and researchers working in the field with muddy boots — but it’s also a model for how it’s championed partnerships between students and faculty, between public and private universities, between private laboratories and institutions of higher education. The combined intellects of College of the Atlantic, MDI Biological Laboratory, the Jackson Laboratory, and the other INBRE institutions, are a great example of a whole being much greater than the sum of parts.

INBRE is also a model because of its dedication to the long term. Immediate results for big ideas are often forced results, and too often become failures. INBRE bucks that trend, and the long-term nature of INBRE funding has been instrumental to our combined successes.

Since 2002, more than 100 College of the Atlantic students have had opportunities to work in classes and do research with investigators at MDI Biological Laboratory and the Jackson Laboratory under the INBRE program. We’re a small school — so that’s more than 5% of our entire alumni pool.

At COA, 17% of our students are from Maine, but over 30% remain in this great state. We are a perfect example of reverse brain drain and INBRE has been an important engine behind that.

We celebrated $18.4 million in new INBRE funding Monday at MDI Biological Laboratory. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins was among dozen of people lauding this proactive program that’s providing Maine’s college students with unparalleled scientific research opportunities … right here in Maine, right here on Mount Desert Island.


Darron Collins, Ph.D.

President, College of the Atlantic



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