The gift from the Harold Alfond Foundation, established in 1950 by the founder of the Dexter Shoe Company, will be primarily used for scholarships, which will also target rural Mainers and graduates of New England colleges and universities.
In the face of the pandemic, the foundation wanted to help make sure Maine was able to develop talent and retrain workers for the economy that emerges on the other side of this crisis, said Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun.
“Those scholarships will allow the talent already there in Portland and Maine to be re-skilled or up-skilled, but also it will allow people who are outside Maine to go to Maine and have great support in reinventing themselves in these new fields,” he said Wednesday in a phone interview.
Aoun said the university had been in talks with the foundation before the pandemic, but the crisis only accelerated the need for educational programs that will prepare students for changes to the global economy.
“Because of COVID-19, we all realized that the moment is now,” he said.
The new funding will aid more than 7,400 graduate students over the course of 10 years, according to an announcement on Thursday from Northeastern.
This is the first major gift for the Portland campus after the initial $100 million provided earlier this year by Dave Roux, a Silicon Valley investor and Maine native. The graduate campus was created with the goal of promoting the digital economy in Maine and attracting and retaining talent in the state.
Northeastern University announced its plan to open the Roux Institute in January and this year has welcomed its first graduate students. The institute aims to partner with businesses in the state to train workers with skills needed to grow the local economy.
The scholarship funds are aimed at promoting research opportunities for Maine residents in the fields of artificial intelligence, computer and data science, digital engineering and the advanced life sciences and medicine, according to Northeastern.
The financial aid will support up to 100 percent of first-year tuition for 200 students in the first year and 300 in the second year. After that the funds will cover up to half of the first-year tuition for 500 students. Aid will be awarded based on need, the university said.
The institute will also provide 200 six-month co-ops and 50 doctoral researchers during the initial three of the Alfond scholarship program, with the goal of developing skills necessary for the digital economy.