Northeastern University’s Roux Institute in Portland will receive $100 million as part of a massive $500 million pledge from the Harold Alfond Foundation to eight colleges, universities and organizations in Maine.

David Roux speaks in January about Northeastern University’s technology education center in Portland, which Roux is funding. The Roux Institute is now in line for a $100 million gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation.  Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

The donation will provide financial aid for students, funding for postdoctoral research and support for cooperatives with Maine employers, the institute said in a news release.

Founded in January, the institute acts as a sort of graduate school for people in the life sciences and technology sectors, said Chris Mallett, the institute’s chief administrative officer. The institute sees part of its mission as economic development for the state and the skills being taught there should draw employers to Maine, he said.

“We hope the talent magnet can attract employers from outside of Maine” while the students’ ties to the state will keep those employees here, Mallett said.

“This phenomenal investment from the Harold Alfond Foundation will uplift people and communities across Maine – today, tomorrow and for generations to come,” Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, said Thursday in the news release announcing the grant. “The vision of the Roux Institute is to create economic prosperity and opportunity through innovative research and educational programs. The Alfond Foundation, combined with the founding support of Barb and Dave Roux, will allow us to set our sights even higher and make our impact even more profound.”

It is the second $100 million gift to the Boston-based university’s Roux Institute in 2020. The first was from its namesake, David Roux, a Lewiston native and wealthy technology entrepreneur, and his wife, Barbara, in January. That donation enabled the institute’s creation.

Mallett said this fall’s inaugural class at the institute consists of 76 students. He said that number is expected to double for the spring semester in January and the goal is to educate 1,000 people in the first three years.

Students will enhance their knowledge of computer science, analytics, artificial intelligence, the way people and machines can interact, and other technology skills, Mallett said.

In the biosciences, the focus will be on studies of human genomes; proteomics, the way proteins work inside bodies; and metabolomics, the analysis of metabolites, said Michael Pollastri, senior vice provost of the Portland institute.

He said many of the students in those fields already hold doctoral degrees and embark on four- to six-year post-doctoral study periods to build their skills in related fields such as data analysis and artificial learning. That should attract biotechnology firms looking for such highly skilled employees, Pollastri said.

Mallett said the hope is that most of the students who go through the institute will already have or develop ties to the state and want to remain here. It wouldn’t be unusual for high-tech companies to set up small offices in the state to allow those workers to stay in Maine and launch their careers, he said.

He said there are also skilled workers in Maine who work for out-of-state high-tech firms and the institute could provide courses for them to keep their skills sharp and up-to-date.

Mallett said the institute is already working with local firms such as Idexx, Unum and Wex to provide training for their employees. The institute will be based in part of Wex’s new Portland headquarters at 100 Fore St., he said.

He said that co-op jobs are important for the students who will go to the institute. That means funding from the Alfond Foundation that will support about 200 of those positions over the next three years also is critical, Mallett said.

The Alfond Foundation announced on Tuesday its commitment to making a series of massive donations to Maine institutions totaling $500 million in the coming years in an effort to strengthen the state’s science and technology education.

On Wednesday, the University of Maine System disclosed that it would receive $240 million as part of the foundation’s financial gift. One of the largest donations ever pledged to a public institution of higher education, it will be used for systemwide investments in facilities, academics and athletics, UMaine said.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.