Northeastern University is expected to announce the creation of an advanced graduate study and research institute in Portland aimed at building a high-tech workforce to grow the state’s knowledge economy.

The university would not confirm its plans, but is preparing a “major announcement” in Portland on Monday attended by its president and high-profile political and business figures.

The outlines of the school are laid out on a public website and the social media profile of a central figure in the new organization.

The Institute for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences – IDEALS – a Portland-based nonprofit, “over the past two years has created the Roux Institute at Northeastern University in Portland, Maine,” said executive consultant Chuck Hewett on his LinkedIn profile.

The graduate education and research institute will focus narrowly on digital engineering, genomics, and life sciences with an emphasis on the intersection of human beings, artificial intelligence and genomes, Hewett added.

Hewett is a former executive vice president and current board member at The Jackson Laboratory, a globally recognized gene research nonprofit in Bar Harbor. He did not respond to a request for an interview about the new institute Sunday.

On its website, IDEALS says its vision is a graduate school that develops cutting-edge talent to attract and sustain high-tech private industry.

“IDEALS will offer focused disciplines that fill current talent gaps for growing digital and advanced life sciences companies while turbo-charging the economies of Maine and northern New England,” the organization says.

Planned disciplines include genomics, precision medicine, modern production and lab skills, bioinformatics, digital design, robotics and machine learning, among others.

“Regions that develop professional talent in these areas will succeed in recruiting and sustaining high-growth companies and lead the future,” the organization said.

The term genomics was coined in 1986 by Tom Roderick, a geneticist at The Jackson Laboratory. A genome is the entire DNA content present within one cell of an organism. Genomics is an area of genetics that focuses on the sequencing and analysis of an organism’s genome. Genomics scientists are trying to use the information they collect to understand disease.

“People love Maine: let’s develop their skills and energy, give them the tools they need, and enable them to succeed in this region, home to one of the best small cities in America,” IDEALS said in its vision statement.

The institute lists a Commercial Street address. It did not respond to an email Saturday asking whether Northeastern University was involved, where its campus would be located, when it intended to enroll its first class and whether it plans to partner with other Maine academic institutions.

In his profile, Hewett, the former IDEALS executive director, said that as Northeastern takes over responsibility for running the institute, he would turn his attention to acquiring a permanent campus and developing appropriate facilities for the organization.

David Roux, a Maine native and tech entrepreneur, has indicated an interest in establishing a research institute in Portland. In 2018, Jim Erwin, chairman of the University of Maine System board of trustees, told the trustees that he was working with Roux to develop a “world class” health data analytics center in the city.

Erwin, at the time, said the institute was just a concept, but Hewett would lead it. In an interview with the Portland Press Herald at the time, City Manager Jon Jennings said he was in discussions with Hewett about the project and called it “one of the most exciting opportunities that’s been contemplated for the city” during his tenure.

Roux, who grew up in Lewiston and Yarmouth, is chairman of The Jackson Laboratory board of trustees. He made his fortune in early CD-ROM publishing and was CEO at Oracle and Liberate Technologies and a co-founder of Silver Lake, a private equity firm. He also serves on the board of the National Audubon Society and Bowdoin College.

Roux did not respond Sunday to an interview request about the institute.

Northeastern University would not share any details about its announcement at 10 a.m. Monday at Ocean Gateway on the Portland waterfront, which will be led by the university’s president, Joseph Aoun.

“At this point we unfortunately don’t have any information to share ahead of Monday,” Shannon Nargi, senior media relations specialist at Northeastern, said in an email Saturday, responding to a request for details about the event.

Gov. Janet Mills, U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, Portland Mayor Kate Snyder and Tilson Technology CEO Josh Broder were listed as attendees at the event. They all declined or did not respond to interview requests last week.

Northeastern University is located in Boston, with campuses in Charlotte, North Carolina; the San Francisco Bay area; Seattle; Vancouver, British Columbia; and Toronto.

The school had almost 20,300 undergraduate and 16,630 graduate students enrolled in the 2017-2018 academic year.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.


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