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American research universities are renowned for applying cutting-edge science to the improvement of the world's health and environmental systems. Indeed, as a society, people have come to expect this type of intellectual leadership from their great universities. Less appreciated is the robust opportunity for state and local governments to harness the intellectual power of the academy to help solve community problems. Yet these kinds of partnerships are particularly strong at the nation's land-grant and sea-grant institutions, where federal investment over the past century-and-a-half has generated innovative solutions to problems at the local, state, regional and national levels. Over the past five years, the University of Rhode Island (URI) Coastal Fellows Program has provided capstone experiential learning for more than 265 students in various scientific disciplines and attracted more than $1 million in outside funding to URI. The program infuses externally funded research teams of faculty, staff and partners with the principles of undergraduate experiential learning. This model provides a powerful forum for undergraduate learning, particularly when set in the context of applied community problem-solving. The Coastal Fellows Program has generated a burst of enthusiasm on campus and contributed to a marked attitudinal change toward undergraduate education among research faculty and staff at URI. The Coastal Fellows model is clearly a powerful one for faculty and students, researchers and communities alike--potent enough to inspire the URI Department of Natural Resources Science to implement a paradigm shift in educating all its majors.