Name: Michael Maier
Hometown: Sanbornton, New Hampshire
Year: Alumni – Graduated 2018
Why did you choose:
I chose UMaine because it was a perfect fit for me. The location was great, but not completely alien to me as a New Englander. The school had a great reputation in engineering, and I was lucky to be receive financial aid because of my SAT scores and my choice of major. Orono was an hour or so away from Acadia National Park, which I took advantage of as often as I could. It remains one of my favorite memories of freshmen year, waking up the one friend who had a car to drive five of us down to Acadia to enjoy the scenery for the day.
I was about uncertain as you can get as an 18-year old. Thinking about which major to pick gave me a lot of headaches, and over time I had finally decided on engineering since I was a fan of sciences in high school. I specifically wanted to have a major with impact, a major where I could cause positive change in my community. Bioengineering (now Biomedical Engineering) just sounded cool to me; it had a cool name, it had variety, and it offered me a good tuition break since UNH didn’t offer the same program at the time. I knew that if I didn’t like my major, I would have the ability to change it to a different engineering program with relative ease. Once I arrived and started taking classes, I realized that I made the right choice. Bioengineering is a massive field, and it is growing every year. Bioengineers are highly sought after by graduate schools, medical schools, law schools, and a wide variety of companies.
What advice do you have for incoming students?
Relax! There are a lot of new experiences in college, and a lot of new responsibilities that you may not be used to but do yourself a favor and just breathe a bit. Realize that there thousands of students (literally) going through the same steps as you are, and know that if you ask a question, there will always be someone else in the room with the same question on their mind. Get to know your RA, get to know your community, figure out what resources are available to you; but on your first day, maybe just unpack your room and meet your neighbors. My college experience was four years long; there was plenty of time to focus on each aspect of it. A big problem I’ve noticed was that students thought that if they don’t have 5 good friends, all A’s, a job, an internship, and a minor by the end of their first semester then they were failing. You must realize that your goals need to be adaptable to your environment, just as you must be. Cut yourself some slack and take care of your physical and mental health, first and foremost. Also the buffalo chicken wraps at the Union are available every day until around 2 p.m. They cost money, but you can use dining funds there if you have them. Will somebody please mail me one, they don’t have buffalo chicken in Australia.
Have you participated in a Co-op or Internship?
My Co-op was easily my favorite college experience. It was a bit of a hassle to figure everything out, as you are expected to be a proponent for yourself and to ask for opportunities if you want them, but when I was there it was amazing. I worked as a Clinical Engineering Intern at Eastern Maine Medical Center with the best Clinical Engineering squad in the Northeast. I got my own desk, I got the largest paychecks of my life (goodbye, Market Basket!), and I got some amazing experiences. I learned so much in the 3 months I was there. Clinical Engineers are the ones that manage all the medical equipment in hospitals (for EMMC, its easily tens of thousands of devices). Every single IV pump, MRI machine, ultrasound device, etc. will find its way through the Clinical Engineering department for maintenance. They let me rip open any device that came through those doors (with supervision, of course), and I got to lead projects and give advice and actually be listened to as a colleague. They encouraged me to explore other departments to see what its like, which culminated in me standing in an operating room while they opened a man’s chest to give him a double bypass. I was standing right next to the anesthesiologist! Do you know surgeons listen to Pandora while they work? It was like a typical day in the office for them, except they had their hands on a man’s heart. It was absolutely bananas, and I was so happy to get real world experience on my resume.
Have you worked a job while studying?
If yes, describe your work experience.
I worked as a Resident Assistant on campus, on the Engineering Living Learning Community (LLC). The Engineering LLC is a designated floor on campus that is specific to first-year engineering majors, and I had two really great groups of students come through that floor in my time as an RA. The RA job was constant, as I lived where I worked, but I really liked giving advice to first-year students. The job could be demanding at times, but I always loved making the floor feel like a real community for these students who sometimes would be very far from home. Plus I got free room and board, which was another great form of financial aid.
Were you involved in undergraduate research?
If yes, describe your previous research (clear with professor on what you share)
Yes! I worked in the Howell Biointerface and Biomimetic Laboratory under Dr. Caitlin Howell. This is a great lab on campus that focuses on taking inspiration from nature to answer some of the toughest engineering problems in bioengineering today. I was able to participate in weekly group meetings, watching my colleague’s presentations as well as presenting my own work. This was another great addition to my resume, and I was able to apply what I learned to my classes in my third and fourth year of school.
What are you up to since graduation?
I got my Bachelor’s degree in May of 2018, and in June of 2018 I moved to the city of Melbourne, Australia. I am now around 5 months in my PhD candidature in Biomedical Engineering at the University of Melbourne, on a full-boat scholarship. Melbourne is an absolutely beautiful seaside city, and I am very excited about my project. I am part of a Tissue Engineering group and my project is to use magnetic nanoparticles to mechanically stimulate skeletal muscle cells in vitro. The end-goal is to be able to take cells from a patient and grow a muscle in a petri dish using magnetic nanoparticles. This muscle can then be put back into the patient to replace some lost functionality or it can be used to screen drugs to see if they would work with that specific patient. The University of Melbourne is the #1 school in Australia, and I’m so happy that my resume was able to get me here.
What are some of your longer term goals?
Long-term, I’d like to work in the Northeastern United States doing something that can make a difference. Perhaps I’d be working as a post-doc in Harvard or MIT in Tissue Engineering, or as a Clinical Engineer in Mass General or Dartmouth. I’d like to be closer to home so that I can see my niece and nephew grow up, too. Boston is a hub of biomedical companies, so I am confident that I can find work in the area. Wherever I end up, my ultimate goal is that I remain positive and hopeful for the future, and that I have the capability to invoke real change in my community.
How has UMaine helped you reach your goals (current and future)?
Where would I be, without UMaine? UMaine gave me the best support system I could have ever asked for in my friends and co-workers. Without UMaine, my resume would be a few lines about working at the best grocery store in the world (Market Basket, baby) and not much else. UMaine taught me to be a proponent for myself and it gave me opportunities that would be impossible to find on my own. My biggest lesson from UMaine would be to never be afraid to email twice. Professors and employers are busy people, and you have got to be loud if you want to be heard (figuratively speaking). I emailed a woman I had never met six times before I got a response; now I’m one of her PhD students. UMaine gave me the best buffalo chicken wraps on the Eastern Seaboard, and it gave me a home for four years of my life.
How would you describe the academic atmosphere at UMaine?
Its pretty rigorous, in a good way. You have to be on top of your stuff, and it is a lot different than high school. I never did my homework in high school, and I tried that one semester at UMaine, and let’s just say that I paid for it for four years. Professors are people, and they all have their own likes and dislikes. You have to get to know your professor if you are going to do well in class. One of my residents came up to me in a huff one cold November day. He told me he has a paper to write, three exams in one week, and a lab report to do. I said that I’ve gone through it and gave him some advice on resources he could take advantage of to lighten the load. At the end of the conversation, he asked me how I did it when I was in his position. I told him the same thing I told myself whenever I had a week like that. “I’m going to get through this week. Because I have to.” At some point, you have to put your nose to the grindstone, and you have to get to work.
Did you work closely with a mentor, professor or role model who made your UMaine experience better, and if so, who and how?
There are so many people that it will be almost impossible to list them all. The entire Biomedical Engineering Department is amazing. They are a group of the hungriest people I’ve met in my life, and they expect the same determination in each one of their students. They will push you to work as hard as you can, and then will push you a bit more. In the end, you’ll thank them. So thank you, Dr. Caitlin Howell, Dr. Karissa Tilbury, Doc Bowie, Sara Walton, Dr. Mike Mason, Dr. Paul Millard, Dr. Bousfeld, Dr. Weeks, and everyone else in the department. Also, every single one of my compatriots in my Bioengineering class was there with me every step of the way, and I can’t imagine getting through college without them. Our group chat is fire to this day.
Have you had an experience at UMaine that has changed or shaped the way you see the world?
I got to go to Coulter College, a symposium where teams of four were sent from bioengineering programs all over the country to learn about the design and implementation of medical devices. This was held in Atlanta, GA, and it was the hardest four-day period I worked in college. I got to listen to lectures from top venture capitalists, surgeons, and academics all day, and work on my design with a four-person team of people from different colleges. We all discovered that each region of our vast country has its own, specific problems, and that there are rarely solutions that will work if you simply cut and paste them from region to region. In Bioengineering, you have to keep your mind on the patient at all times. If at any moment you stray from serving them to your fullest ability, then you are doing the patient and yourself a disservice.
What surprised you about UMaine?
This is a good question. I guess I was surprised by how large Maine was as a state overall; I was driving four and a half hours to get there from New Hampshire, so I felt that I was at the end of the world when I arrived. And then I’d meet these moose-herders from “up Nawth” that would come from four and a half hours farther north from UMaine. Absolutely amazing, to me. Also, there’s a really cheap bowling alley right next to campus in Old Town, called the Old Town Bowling Center. That was a great surprise! I love bowling!
What is your favorite UMaine tradition?
BUFF CHICK WEDNESDAYS. Okay so I know I’ve already put a lot down but this needs detail. Scene opens: early December. Last Wednesday before Finals Week. Three of my friends and I are trudging through the winter landscape that is UMaine. I am traveling from the far top-left corner of campus to the far bottom-right corner, to York Hall. York Hall rises out of the snowbanks as a bastion of spice, a castle of chicken. I open the dining hall’s door into the line that is stretched across the entire hall. The smell of buffalo sauce hits you right away, informing you that you are in the right place. I swipe my card, take my place in line, and wait. My stomach loudly asks what the holdup is, but I shush it. This is a place of respect. The line slowly, slowly makes its way up forward until you feel the sauce in your eyes. Your eyes slightly water from the heat of the buffalo chicken cooking in front of you, and you know that you are near. Once the beautiful, dark red chicken is placed onto the wrap, you are given two options: Ranch, or Bleu Cheese. I gave the correct response: “Bleu Cheese, please”. They put on the fixings: tomato, shredded cheddar cheese, lettuce, and additional hot sauce (optional, but it’s a risk I’m happy to take). They assign you to a line number, and you wait as they put your wrap in a hot press. It sizzles and cooks, and the lovely workers of York Hall (students themselves) possibly chat you up as you wait. If you’re lucky, you find a seat in the crowded hall, and you mow down. Once finished, you put your plate away, and get right back in line for seconds. Buff Chick Wednesday spices up my life in all the right ways.
What is your most memorable UMaine moment?
I’m still thinking about buffalo chicken, but let’s move on. The hockey games at the Alfond Arena are stellar as a student. The student section is loud and proud, and we are a nightmare for opposing teams. We chant, we yell, we sing, and we are led by the amazing Pep Band as they play us big band versions of arena classics. My favorite memory comes from a game I went to during my junior year. The game was tight and thrilling; we were up against Quinnipiac, and we were coming fresh off a victory from the previous night. The crowd was electric, and during halftime we were trying to find something to spend our energy on. The rink is surrounded by Plexiglas, and on the outer edge of the glass there is a two-inch counter where you can barely fit a water bottle on. Below the student section, there was a young boy of about 7 or 8 years old. In his hand, a plastic water bottle. He would stand during intermissions and flip the cup into the air. Two, three times, the bottle would spin. It hit the counter and fell off, again and again. The students picked up on this and began to cheer this kid on. We would all wait with bated breath as the bottle flipped in the air, and we would all groan as it failed to land right side up. But nevertheless, the boy persisted. His determination sang in our hearts, and we gave him all the support he needed. He threw the bottle up again, and it spun its normal trajectory…but this time, it landed on its cap on the counter and stuck the landing. The crowd went bananas. “MVP! MVP!” The crowd chanted. The siren that indicates a goal was made went off. The kid was ecstatic, jumping up with both arms in the air, and he ran back to his father and hugged him tight. There was one winner in that arena that night, and it was that young boy.
What difference has UMaine made in your life?
I have made the greatest friends of my life at the University of Maine. I was able to find just how much I was capable of, and I gained the tools needed to get a PhD position at one of the top 100 universities in the world. Without UMaine, where would I be? Of all the amazing moments I experienced there, it is the simple things that warm my heart. Singing “I’ll Make A Man Out of You” during Karaoke Night at the Roost, a local watering hole (I sang with the crowd..I was not the legend that had the mic). Sitting by the Stillwater River with my friends during Maine Day. Going home during Thanksgiving my freshman year was the first time I had noticed that I was growing as a person, and that things were beginning to change. I didn’t think that going to Maine would take me to Australia, but that is currently where I sit. Anytime I mention UMaine, it is with a smile on my face. College of Our Hearts, Always.