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Updated: February 1, 2021

Colby gets $30M to create artificial intelligence institute

Colby campus in autumn. File Photo / Maureen Milliken Colby College, in Waterville, said a $7 million gift announced Monday will establish a fund designed to support high school graduates from Bangor or Waterville who enroll at Colby.

Waterville's Colby College announced that it received a $30 million gift to set up the first cross-disciplinary institute for machine learning at a liberal arts college. 

The donation, from the family and charitable foundation of 1985 graduate Andrew Davis, paves way for the Davis Institute for Artificial Intelligence. It is set to open this fall following a national search for a founding director.

“Andrew Davis and his family have a gift for seeing how the world is evolving and how organizations and individuals must grow and change,” Colby President David A. Greene said in a news release. “Their remarkable support has made Colby a global institution, a leading college in the sciences, and one that changes the life outcomes of its students through exceptional internship, research, and international experiences.”

Greene, a 2017 Mainebiz Business Leader of the Year, added that the family's latest investment in the school "might just turn out to be the most transformative of all."

The move comes as Northeastern University's new Roux Institute aims to turn Portland into a technology and life sciences "innovation hub."

Mateosian brothers in virtual reality goggles
File Photo / Tim Greenway
From left, brothers Sam and Tim Mateosian founded Big Room Studios in Portland.

Sam Mateosian, a Colby alum who is the co-founder and chief innovation officer of Portland-based software development firm Big Room Studios, told Mainebiz that his interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning blossomed during his studies at Colby.

"Following the development of the Northeastern's Roux Institute in Portland, Colby's Davis Institute for AI is another exciting addition to Maine's growing innovation economy," he said.

"I'm optimistic that both of these programs will serve to attract to, and retain talent in the state, and we're looking forward to hiring graduates of these programs in the not too distant future. It's incredibly gratifying to see a great Maine institution — particularly one I'm so fond of — take a forward-thinking position of leadership in this important space."

From genomics to English lit

Colby aims to make artificial intelligence part of the curriculum in nearly all disciplines, from computer science and genomics to sociology and English literature.

It also said that the institute will provide funding to support Colby faculty interested in exploring new ways to incorporate AI tools and methodologies into their teaching and research or for designing new courses to include meaningful learning opportunities with artificial intelligence.

“The Davis Institute will enable our faculty to transform their scholarship and teaching,” said Margaret McFadden, Colby's provost and dean of faculty. "Our educational mission must include preparing students for a future in which AI is ubiquitous, and this Institute will make that possible in a way that no other liberal arts college can do.”

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