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Joseph Aoum and Janet Mills screenshot

‘The opportunities are limitless’

Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, and Maine Governor Janet T. Mills helped to welcome the inaugural class of students to the Roux Institute at Northeastern University at an online ceremony on Tuesday. Screenshots by Northeastern University

The Roux Institute at Northeastern University welcomed its inaugural class of 76 graduate students in an online ceremony Tuesday night that showcased their opportunities despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In all, 123 students—including 47 taking customized courses designed with their employers—are already making good on the institute’s promise to provide programs for learners drawn from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances.

The learners were greeted by Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, Maine Governor Janet T. Mills, and U.S. Senator Angus King of Maine, who joined together in citing the array of possibilities that are being created by the new graduate education and research campus in Portland, Maine. The Roux Institute—as envisioned by technology entrepreneur David Roux and his wife Barbara to benefit his native state—is designed to educate generations of talent for the digital and life sciences sectors, and drive sustained economic growth in Portland, the state of Maine, and northern New England.  

Screenshot of Angus King

U.S. Senator Angus King of Maine celebrated the “amazing chance” that the Roux Institute was offering to its students. Screenshot by Northeastern University

“It is clear that Portland and Maine are poised to take advantage of the changes happening in the world,” Aoun said to the students at the Roux Institute Welcoming Convocation. “They need talent. And we are here to support whatever you want to do.

“The opportunities are limitless.”

The pandemic could affect the economy for two to three years, Aoun said, adding to the threat posed by the ascent of artificial intelligence and machine learning. But lifelong learners who are skilled in computer literacy, data literacy, and human literacy will thrive, Aoun said.

The Roux Institute is meant to equip learners with those skills.

“We have to infuse and integrate this knowledge [of tech and data literacy] with what we humans can do that machines cannot do—and that’s what I call human literacy,” Aoun said. “Machines are not as good as us in terms of creativity, entrepreneurship, innovation; they’re not as good as us in terms of being culturally agile, empathetic, ethical, in understanding people and working in teams. Our curricula at the Roux Institute are going to bring together the tech literacy, the data literacy, and the human literacy in order to get you ready for the ever-changing world.”

In spite of the pandemic, the institute is launching on time just eight months after it was announced in a Portland ceremony hosted by Aoun with David and Barbara Roux. Mills spoke supportively at that event, and on Tuesday the governor reiterated her hope that the institute would create a new generation of workers to suffuse Maine’s economy with high-tech talent.

“We need this institute and we need these people more than ever before,” said Mills, who cited the low rates of crime and COVID-19 cases in her state as she made an early pitch for the learners to remain in Maine after their studies have finished. “We welcome every one of them. We have a lot to offer here.”

King celebrated the sense of opportunity that the institute is creating during hard economic times.

“I just can’t stress enough what an amazing chance this is,” the senator said to the students in pre-recorded remarks. “I believe the Roux Institute is going to turn into one of the most important institutions in Maine, and you’re going to have the chance to help mold its culture and its future by being the first cohort of students.”

The institute has been growing steadily with the recent addition of six employer partners. In all, 16 employer partners are collaborating with the Roux Institute to develop curriculum and research initiatives, in addition to actively helping people in the workforce adapt to changes created by the evolving economy. 

Since July, the institute has been teaching 47 employees in customized courses in analytics, project management, and virtual health care, which was created and paid for by their employers. 

The first wave of classes in graduate and certificate programs will be taught remotely until October. That’s when the Roux Institute will be opening its headquarters at a new building in downtown Portland that is operated by WEX, a founding corporate partner. In the new classroom space, classes will be available both in-person and remotely via Hybrid NUflex.

The institute has been working with the University of Maine and other schools to develop a variety of programs. One is focused on bringing research funding to the state, as well as seed grant opportunities that faculty of both the Roux Institute and the University of Maine may pursue collaboratively.

The institute is collaborating on another program that would enable undergraduates at Maine colleges and universities to participate in courses at the Roux Institute. These experiences would help to enhance the undergraduate portfolio of partner institutions and provide students with an opportunity, upon graduation, to gain admission to the Roux Institute with advanced standing. 

The institute has hired 26 Maine-based employees across a variety of departments—including faculty, marketing, enrollment, and student affairs—with plans to hire nine or more positions by October.

The inaugural class at the Roux Institute will be taking courses this fall in analytics, computer sciences, life sciences, and project management.

“You are going to be part of the Northeastern network,” Aoun said Tuesday. “It’s a lifelong commitment that we have towards you. And this network is here to serve you, to support you, in learning, in creativity, and in connections. I wish you the best in this lifelong journey.”

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