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The University of Southern Maine announced today it has received a $1 million gift from WEX Executive Chairman Michael E. Dubyak to launch a Center for Digital Science and Innovation on the Portland campus.
USM President Glenn Cummings said the gift will help the university address Maine’s critical workforce needs in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, starting with a new STEM program next summer.
“With this incredibly generous gift to USM, Mike Dubyak is helping us move forward swiftly with initiatives to prepare more students for careers in STEM fields,” Cummings in a statement provided to Mainebiz before this morning’s announcement. “We know that over 5,000 Maine STEM jobs will be created in the next five to six years and we need to make sure there are Maine graduates ready to fill those jobs.”
Cummings said that USM plans to name the new center the Michael E. Dubyak Center for Digital Science and Innovation in honor of Dubyak and to thank him for his gift and his longtime commitment to the STEM fields.
Dubyak, who played a critical role in WEX’s rise to its present status as a $1 billion global company in his now 35-year career there, turned over the CEO reins to Melissa Smith in 2013. His advocacy for STEM-related fields includes his deep involvement in Educate Maine, Project>Login and FocusMaine and their respective initiatives to build a stronger STEM workforce for Maine’s technology and innovation companies.
The Michael E. Dubyak Center for Digital Science & Innovation, which will be located on two floors of USM’s Portland Science Building, will be devoted to undergraduate and graduate programs in computer science and technology including data analytics, cyber security, computer programming and mathematics.
The new center will also integrate USM’s expanded computer science and technology programs with area workplaces in what USM in a news release described as an “exciting and unprecedented approach”: Employers will be invited to have space in the new state-of-the-art Center to work directly with STEM majors, creating obvious recruitment opportunities for filling critical positions.
“Numerous other opportunities and options for workplace/student interaction will also be available through the new center, including K-12 programs,” USM said in its news release.
As a first step in launching the new center’s efforts, $500,000 of Michael Dubyak’s gift will be used to launch next summer an annual month-long intensive “Step-up to STEM” program. Designed for incoming first-year USM students planning to major in STEM fields, the program will focus on the skills these students will need to successfully complete their prerequisites and graduate in four years.
As part of the Step-up to STEM program, USM will also engage with Educate Maine, Project>Login and workforce partners like WEX to create job shadow and other opportunities for its incoming students.
Dubyak said education is the key to ensuring the continuing success of Maine’s technology and innovation companies, such as WEX, IDEXX, Vets First Choice and Tyler Technologies, among many others.
“At the heart of WEX’s value proposition lies technology capabilities and solutions,” he said. “Throughout my career and even in my retirement I continue to realize that the education pipeline — starting in early childhood, continuing into K-12 and in higher education — must be optimized and synergized to enable Maine to compete for good-paying jobs across the spectrum and retain its knowledge workers,” said Dubyak. “My gift to USM will integrate both the K-12 and higher education portions of the pipeline with a STEM emphasis. I especially like the ability of WEX to contribute and participate in some of the experiential programs and for Project>Login’s vast experience in computer science education to play a role in the K-12 and higher education integrative programs.”
WEX CEO Melissa Smith agreed with Dubyak’s characterization of the critical importance of the education pipeline.
“The University of Southern Maine is an important educational partner in helping us to fill critical positions with highly skilled graduates,” she said in a prepared statement sent to Mainebiz. “We host USM interns, we hire USM graduates and we simply need more of them coming through the pipeline. WEX’s Chairman Mike Dubyak has been a consistent champion of educational enhancement and workforce development in Maine and we look forward to working with USM’s Step-up to Stem program and other future initiatives launched by the Michael E. Dubyak Center for Digital Science and Innovation.”
In subsequent years, USM also plans to work with public school educators to expand the Step-up to STEM program to better prepare middle and high school students for future success in STEM fields.
“If we do this right, Mike’s transformative gift will help us meet employer demand by strengthening USM’s K-16 pathway to a STEM degree,” Cummings said.
In his closing remarks, Cummings made two pitches.
“I hope Mike Dubyak’s tremendous generosity and personal leadership in STEM sets an example for all of us,” he said. “We’re hoping his gift inspires and attracts other generous donors to help us raise up to $2 million to accomplish planned science building renovations necessary to make the new center what we truly need it to be.
Noting that Question 4 on the Nov. 6 ballot, which asks voters to approve a $49 million bond for the University of Maine System, requires outside contributions to match the bond funding, Cummings said if the question passes, gifts like Dubyak’s would be part of the match.
“We all have an opportunity to match Mike’s generosity by collectively investing in STEM education, Maine’s economic growth and great jobs for our children,” he said of Question 4’s public-private partnership.