UMaine Names 2023 Presidential Award Recipients

Greg Porter receives inaugural Presidential Innovation Award

Published online: May 01, 2023 Articles
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The University of Maine 2023 Presidential Awards recognize outstanding teaching in molecular and biomedical sciences, pioneering research in wireless sensor technology, public engagement and research focused on K–12 rural education, and innovation that has advanced Maine’s potato breeding program.

Sally Molloy, associate professor of genomics, received the Presidential Outstanding Teaching Award; Ali Abedi, professor of electrical and computer engineering, received the Presidential Research and Creative Achievement Award; and Catharine Biddle, associate professor of educational leadership, received the Presidential Public Engagement Achievement Award. Gregory Porter, professor of agronomy, is the inaugural recipient of the Presidential Innovation Award. 

“Sally is recognized by students and colleagues as an inspirational educator and exceptional leader of one of our first experiential research learning courses that has served as a model for STEM education campuswide and nationwide,” says UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. “Ali’s internationally recognized research in wireless sensor and artificial intelligence technology has implications for advancing monitoring applications in space, in our forests and in biomedicine. Catharine’s nationally known work in education fosters healthy and equitable youth development and contributes to community building. Greg’s innovation has resulted in five new varieties of Maine potatoes in the past decade, including the popular Caribou Russet, which is good news for the state’s potato industry and consumers.

“The achievements of all of this year’s Presidential Award recipients have an important, lasting effect on the UMaine students they teach and mentor, and exemplify the critical role of Maine’s R1 research university statewide and beyond.”

Porter, a UMaine alumnus, has been a member of the faculty for 38 years and has served as project leader for the university’s Potato Breeding Program since 2007. The program, which involves student researchers at UMaine research facilities in Orono and Presque Isle, creates new potato varieties that provide improved quality and marketing opportunities for growers, while helping to solve pest management problems. It is the only one in the eastern United States with an emphasis on russets and long whites intended for the processing and fresh produce markets.

Creating a successful new potato variety requires 10–12 years. In the past decade, the UMaine Potato Breeding Program, in partnership with the Maine Potato Board, has released five new varieties — Easton, Sebec, Caribou Russet, Pinto Gold and Hamlin Russet — that had the competitive yield and quality attributes necessary to move them from the laboratory to market shelves. Nationally, varieties released by the university and its eastern regional collaborators since 2007 were grown on 8,240 U.S. seed acres during 2022, with an approximate seed value of $28.8 million and potential production value of $267.8 million.

During 2022, Caribou Russet at 1,874 seed acres was ranked 12th in the U.S. and its estimated crop value for 2023 is approximately $60 million. Pinto Gold continues to be a favorite for home gardeners, farmers markets, roadside stands and gourmet chefs.

In his research, Porter prioritizes resistance to diseases such as late blight, scab and Potato Virus Y, and uses DNA-based markers to help select potato varieties with resistance to key potato pests. In addition, his work on crop rotations, soil management and supplemental irrigation has helped develop a better understanding of cropping systems that provide high yields and excellent crop quality while protecting and building the soil. Nutrient management research, particularly potassium fertilization, has led to greater understanding of most efficient use while maintaining or improving crop quality in potato production systems.

For the significant impact of his applied research on potato growers and industry leaders in Maine and beyond, Porter has received numerous awards, most recently the Potato Association of America Honorary Life Membership and being named one of the 25 Mainers of the Year by Maine Magazine, both in 2022.

The new Presidential Innovation Award established this year recognizes the university’s mission of advancing learning and discovery through excellence and innovation. It will be an annual award to a UMaine or UMaine Machias faculty member or team that has translated research discoveries and scholarly activity into products or services that have resulted in economic impact and/or significant social and cultural benefit in Maine and beyond.