Vision for Computing and Digital Programs at UNE

Proposal to UNE President Dr. Danielle Ripich

Maine is home to a growing knowledge economy, in which nationally-recognized leaders in biopharmaceuticals, animal and water diagnostics, payments processing, insurance services, and municipal and retail systems, among others, leverage digital technologies to create and produce knowledge for regional, national, and global clients and constituencies.

To compete globally, these leading Maine employers need skilled talent. However, although the region is known for its knowledge-worker culture and quality of life, the demand in digital technology occupations is growing faster than people can prepare for them, not least because these fields are evolving rapidly.

In order to grow this knowledge economy — through the development of Maine-based talent as well as attracting talent from outside the region — UNE will develop a world-class learning initiative to prepare contemporary learners of all ages and backgrounds to master the competencies required for career success in digital occupations, in business, government, and non-profit organizations.

Curiosity to career approach

UNE aspires to be the only university in Maine to build a full spectrum of programs, starting from initial curiosity about digital technologies and leading toward meaningful careers based on national, employer-vetted competencies. These programs will be fine-tuned for a range of ages from high school students to residential undergraduate students to adult learners through accelerated learning opportunities including undergraduate degrees and minors, accelerated academies, and degree-completion programs. This life-span curiosity-to-career competency approach will include outreach to raise awareness among potential students, and could be a model for other programs at UNE, and nationwide.

These programs will help undergraduates and adults — both in Maine and around the region — to rapidly master the competencies they need to thrive in their future careers. These competencies are valuable not only to those who specialize in digital-focused occupations, but all those who use digital technology to solve problems, across sectors and industries.

These programs will fill gaps not currently served by other Maine institutions — especially at the intersection between digital sciences (including computing and data sciences) and academic disciplines such as business, biological sciences, the arts, and more. This cross-disciplinary approach — using digital techniques to understand human needs and solve common problems — is in demand across professions, industries, and sectors.

Competency-based, experiential learning

All of these programs will build on a national competency model developed by the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education and vetted by employers across the country, as well as here in Maine. This model reinforces the value of traditional arts and sciences — critical thinking, creative problem solving, collaboration, and communication — as well as the essentials of quantitative reasoning, applied across disciplines and professions.

Self-paced tutorials from leading educational institutions will be integrated with faculty and professional mentoring,and captured by micro-certificates to communicate competencies mastered. This will help students express, and employers understand, their knowledge and experiences more fully.

These programs will integrate, from the start, mentoring by professionals and relevant, real-world project experiences to integrate the knowledge and practice that learners can apply in the workplace. We will convene a regular employers roundtable and standing advisory group for regional employers to discuss common needs, and provide feedback on curricula and experiential elements.

Program strands

Here are several proposed strands for UNE’s computing and digital initiative.

  • Academy of Digital Sciences. At the heart of most digital occupations is a strong foundation in Computer Science and Information Technology essentials. Those competencies will be offered as accelerated programs to help adult learners enter or re-enter the field, and as advanced coursework for motivated high school students. Those who master 3 courses in these competencies will possess sufficient knowledge and experience to be qualified for paid internships and other entry-level opportunities at Maine employers. Advanced courses in digital sciences will focus on concentrations in demand by employers, such as: Business and Systems Analysis; App and Web Development; User Experience; Product Management; and Executive Technology Leadership. Those academies will be available for working professionals, and mentored by Maine professionals.
  • Data Science Major will be an expansion of coursework currently offered through UNE’s Applied Math major. This major will integrate general education competencies — analytical and critical thinking, creative problem solving, team collaboration, and public communication — with a deep dive into data sciences and quantitative tools and techniques. Over half of the courses offered in a Data Science major are already offered within the Applied Math major. The new major will integrate knowledge, mentoring, and real-world experiences — based on current practices — to prepare students in high-demand data-enhanced occupations. Courses will also be offered to students across the University as a minor.
  • Bachelors Degree Completion. For students with all or part of a college degree, upper level undergraduate courses and accelerated academies will be available through a competency-based program so that learners with prior experience can take a fast track through competencies they’ve already mastered.

Interdisciplinary research

In the long term, we can envision a Digital Solutions Lab bringing together professionals, learners, and educators to research the region’s knowledge economy, analyze pressing regional problems, and innovate UNE’s formal and informal digital learning programs.

By building these new programs on top of Maine’s culture of collaborative problem solving through innovative craftsmanship and civic engagement, UNE will expand its leadership role in the region’s knowledge economy.

Academy Principles and Approach


Our Approach to Learning

Continuous learning is different from the traditional classroom. Rather than lectures and textbooks, contemporary learning is curated from online learning resources, accessed just when needed, and facilitated by peers as well as experts.

As researched and reported by John Seely Brown*, founder of the Institute for Research on Learning, this is a “new culture of learning,” based on several assumptions about the world and how learning occurs:

  • The world is changing faster than ever and our skill sets have a shorter life
  • The world is getting more connected than ever before
  • In this connected world, mentorship takes on new importance and meaning
  • Challenges we face are multi-faceted requiring systems thinking and socio-technical sensibilities
  • A new culture of learning needs to leverage social and technical infrastructures in new ways
  • Skills are important but so are mindsets and dispositions
  • Innovation is more important than ever – but turns on our ability to cultivate imagination
  • Play is the basis for cultivating imagination and innovation
  • Understanding play is critical to understanding learning

Our Guiding Principles

As a new culture of learning emerges through continuous lifelong learning, we aspire to these Guiding Principles for the UNE Academy:

  • We consider learners to be colleagues and ourselves to be coaches, not experts. Learners lead their own journeys. We serve as “guides on the side rather than sages on the stage.”
  • We focus on the development of talent more than the mastery of content.
  • We believe the process is as important as the product.
  • We support learners by helping them understand and communicate their past experience and future aspirations.
  • We help learners leverage their goals, interests, and passions to identify incremental goals — starting with their current level of experience and knowledge — to help them step up to the next level.
  • We use inquiry-based, reflective questions rather than lecturing or jumping to answers.
  • We do not aspire to bring all learners to a single level but help each learner take their own next steps, starting from where they are now.
  • We focus on building and recognizing learner successes and foster lifelong learning skills.

Excerpt from A New Culture of Learning (2011). Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown. Retrieved on 2/12/16 from

Photo by Štefan Štefančík via Unsplash