Mud Season Highlight Reel

About every two months I write a “COA Highlight Reel” for our Board of TrusteesI wrote this one yesterday –a rare snow day for the college — and, after reviewing it said to myself, “This one captures the distinctiveness and excellence of the college in a very special way.” So, I wanted to share it with a wider audience and here we are.

Hi Everyone:

Just when we thought we were getting into the heart of mud season, a Nor’Easter dumped 18 inches of very wet, very heavy snow on us. Oh well, I’m calling this update the “Mud Season Update” anyway! It’s going to be a little longer than normal because I let too much time slide between this one and the last, so, bear with me.


a) COA faculty has been busy! We were thrilled when Nancy Andrews won a coveted 2017 Gotham Award for Best Short Form Breakthrough Seriesfor the 10-part adaption of her feature film The Strange Eyes of Dr. Myes.

b) Ken Hill, Rich Borden, Jay McNally, and MPhil student Kira West also got a taste of the celebrity life this winter when they were treated like rock stars at the XXII Society for Human Ecology Conference at the University of the Philippines. They presented a four-part history of COA to a packed crowd and otherwise kept busy honoring multiple requests for selfies.

c) The spotlight turned to Sean Todd this winter as the charismatic, David Attenborough-esque instructor of Life in the World’s Oceans, a 30-part video course by The Great Courses in partnership with Smithsonian. Todd provides a fascinating tour through marine life “even more otherworldly and fantastical than we ever imagined.” Sean was also published recently, as part of a massive, 10-year study on endangered North Atlantic right whalesthat could point the way toward better protections.

d) Jay Freidlander traveled as part of the Maine delegation to the 2017 Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík, Iceland, where he gave talks on eco-tourism, academic exchange, and energy security in remote communities and explained COA’s interdisciplinary approach to very receptive audiences. More recently, Friedlander has designed the Mount Desert Business Bootcamp, a three-day intensive in Northeast Harbor culminating in a pitch competition worth $10,000! This is part of the great work being done by MD365.

e) Susan Letcher’s research was published as part of two scientific papers recently.  “Opposing mechanisms affect taxonomic convergence between tree assemblages during tropical forest succession,” published in Ecology Letters, explored plant species crucial to rebuilding disturbed forests in Costa Rica. “Phylogenetic classification of the world’s tropical forests” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, now gives scientists the ability to use tropical forest DNA to trace where the American and African continents were ripped apart millennia ago.

f) And have you seen the March 2018 edition of Yankee magazine? The cover story, “Rising Seas,” is an in-depth piece about how the New England Coast is changing – and it leads off with John Anderson and College of the Atlantic! There’s great picture of John, too, and of Great Duck. Yankee has a total readership of nearly 2 million people.


a) Did you hear about the newly discovered penguin colony? 1.5 MILLION animals were discovered on The Danger Islands down in the Antarctic? He didn’t get the ink in the NYT because he was downin Antarctica in the field, but COA’s own Alex Borowicz (’14) was the lead author on the paper outlining the find, published this week in Nature, one of the two most important scientific publications in the world. (ps. Just got off the phone with Alex’s major professor at Stony Brook University and she couldn’t stop gushing about him!).

b) Microfiber plastics is one of the most ominous threats to the marine environment, and Abby Barrows (MA, ’18) is an authority on the subject. She just published a recent articleon the subject (co-authored by COA faculty member Chris Petersen) and the results from that publication are getting loads of attention.

c) Keeping with that marine theme, my own close friend Leslie Jones (’91, we overlapped for three years at COA) was just named the #2/Chief of Staff at one of the most important, dynamic non-profits dedicated to marine conservation,

d) And just to broaden out a bit, you may recall the Bon Appetite pieceabout our alumna Tara Jensen? Well Tara’s new book has just been published. She is a baker extraordinaire and her book tells the origin story of her outfit, Smoke Signals, and is full of her best recipes as well. Lynn and I visited Tara’s shop out in the mountains of western North Carolina — she’s an amazing human being.


Ken Hill and I were in Boston last week to meet with the DOE Commissioners about our ten-year reaccreditation. I got a call from NEASC director Barbara Brittingham the day after our presentation and she said we “hit it out of the park” and really opened the Commissioners’ eyes. That meeting was the culmination of an enormous amount of work led by our Academic Dean Ken Hill. It’s a disproportionately large burden for a school of our size: most other institutions have an entire department that can focus entirely on such processes. We’ll have to go through that ringer again in ten years.

4. New Faculty

In the fall term we were excited to finalize the contract with Reuben Hudson, our new faculty member in chemistry. Reuben is coming to us from Colby College and will begin in Fall 2018. Two weeks ago, we also finalized the contract with Dr. Dan Gatti, our new faculty member in Computer Science. Dan is a bioinformatics specialist (and much, much more) who will have a very short relocation: for the past ten years he has been a Research Scientist and Bioinformatics Analyst at JAX. Dan also begins this coming Fall and we are over-the-moon to have them both on board.

5. Fund for Maine Islands

The Fund for Maine Islands, our partnership with the Island Institute, is in its fourth year. We have had two wildly successive programs develop out of that partnership over the past two years, following up on the tremendous work we did with energy sustainability on the outer islands. The first of those success stories is called, coincidentally, SUCCESS: Sustainable Coastal Communities, Educators, Students and Schools and is a three-year collaborative effort to support place-based experiential education training for local teachers and school administrators from 15 schools along the coast. Rooted in high quality, relevant professional development for teachers, SUCCESS has provided professional development for 67 island and coastal teachers and administrators from 19 schools and 7 education non-profit organizations.

Second, there is the project called Mapping Ocean Stories. Building upon the Island Institute’s engagement in the recently completed federal ocean planning process, Institute staff, MaineSea Grant, and COA staff members designed a new 10-week course exploring and documenting the links between working waterfront communities and the marine environment in an era of climate change. The team hoped additional information gathered by staff and student participants would have a tangible benefit: strengthening island and coastal community voices in decision-making processes affecting nearby ocean waters. Given the way the waters of the Gulf of Maine are warming, it will be absolutely essential to understand the economic histories of families and communities to be able to adapt to a radically changing economic and ecological environment — coursework like this represents COA at its best where innovative and relevant teaching and learning is concerned.

Coincidentally, I just received an email this morning from a fisherman. It reads:

“Dr. Collins,

I hope you have a moment so that I, as a recently retired lobsterman and oceans and fisheries advocate here in Friendship, may offer some praise to your college and some its students. Island Institute asked me to assist in the Mapping Ocean Stories class that later became the Winter Harbor Oral History Project, a shared venture with them, Natalie Springuel of Maine Sea Grant, and Todd Little-Siebold from your school. I had offered suggestions at the start and a small “How to talk with fishermen” segment of one class. The results of this project alone were amazing, especially for the short time allotted, and worthy of praise. But I keep running into them out here in the world. Yesterday they came to the BOEM OCS Drilling meeting in Augusta with it’s adjacent NRCM press conference and comment section, ready to stand up, have a voice as well as learn. Before that they attended the Maine Fishermen’s Forum to join in those discussions and add to the oral histories. Even as far afield as New Hampshire where they shared their project results with regional ocean planners. This level of engagement and depth of involvement with both the issues and communities affected is the remarkable part and reflects a true learning experience. Thank you for giving that to them and in some part giving them to us here in Maine.  -Richard”

An email like that is a powerful reminder why we all dedicate so much time and energy to this school.

6. In the next Reel

I’m afraid I’m going on too much — and there’s so much to tell. In the next Reel, look for news on our 2018 Commencement Speaker, a building and campaign update, the 2018 Champlain Institute lineup, our enrollment update, and news from our Human Ecological collaborative in Japan!

7. On a light note…

Tomorrow we will be boiling off about 100 gallons of sap we’ve collected from our Norway maples! Come on by and help keep the fire right — we’ll be out by the Buildings and Grounds shops in the far north of campus, 9amuntil we’re down to our two gallons of amber gold.


Be well and stay in touch,





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: