Since announcing its launch a year ago, the Roux Institute in Portland has accepted its first round of students; built partnerships with local businesses, schools and organizations; and worked with IDEXX to create customized curriculum for employees. File photo

PORTLAND — Starting a new graduate school months before a global pandemic struck was not great timing for the Roux Institute at Northeastern University, but over the last year it has enrolled more than 100 students and forged relationships with more than 30 corporate, academic and community partners.

The graduate school and research center located in the WEX building on Fore Street is now in a position to be part of the economic recovery from the pandemic, said Roux Institute Head of Partnerships and Operations Margaret Angell.

When economic impact became clear, Angell said, the institute changed its way of thinking about doing things “despite the pandemic” to “because of the pandemic.”

“This state has so much opportunity and so much potential,” she said. “That’s why went went through all the work of building the campus and getting the students on board now, because as we come out of this we will have our first class of graduates, we’ll have this talent to offer companies as they get back on track, and we’ll have our entrepreneur program ready to go so entrepreneurs can take advantage of it.”

The institute successfully got off the ground virtually, according to Chris Mallett, chief administrative officer.

“We built a team virtually and we taught our inaugural class of learners in the fall initially in an online-only environment,” Mallett said. “As we were able to open our campus at 100 Fore St., thanks to the great partnership with our colleagues from WEX, we started to bring hybrid learning into play for those learners who were comfortable coming back into a campus environment.”

Some students have opted to remain in online-only instruction, particularly as of late as “the virus has surged in the state,” Mallett said. Post-pandemic, Roux will offer both virtual and in-person learning options.

The institute was the brainchild of Lewiston residents David and Barbara Roux, who donated $100 million to get the school up and running. At the launch last February, Roux officials said the institute – which focuses programming and research on computer/data science, artificial intelligence, digital engineering and advanced life science and medicine – is needed so Maine can fully participate in the ever-evolving technological landscape.

Northeastern University has provided classroom technology, including cameras and motion-activated microphones, to make virtual instruction easier, Mallett said.

Lyndsey Anderson, a human resources program manager at IDEXX, is among the Roux’s first round of students, working toward a master’s degree in analytics.

“I wanted to pursue a degree that would help set me apart and allow me to bring a really unique perspective to my work,” Anderson said.

She said she appreciates that Roux faculty are dedicated to offering curriculum that is “unique and specialized to what Maine markets are demanding and will be demanding in the future,” she said.

IDEXX is a corporate partner of the institute. The Westbrook-based company recently worked with Roux on a six-week seminar on machine learning and artificial intelligence that helped employees with their work and interactions with co-workers, said Shayna Collins, the company’s strategic capability development manager.

Over the next three years, the Roux Institute, thanks to a $100 million from the Harold Alfond Foundation, plans to offer 29 graduate programs to 1,000 students, offer 200 co-op opportunities for students to work at Maine employers, help establish and grow more than 50 start-ups and hire 50 post-doctoral researchers. Over the next decade, the gift from the Alfond Foundation will also provide $60 million in scholarships.

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