Roux Analytics Graduate Uses Data to Tell Stories that Shape Maine Policy

In the minds of many, the idea of being a “statistic” often gets a bad rap. There’s a common misconception that being “reduced to a number” is to be stripped of the qualities that make one uniquely human, rendering us as data points rather than complex, multidimensional beings with rich stories to tell.

But for Abby Bridgers, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In her mind, statistics can transform into a language of empathy and change, where data can tell powerful, human stories. As a data analyst working for Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services, Bridgers dedicates her days to untangling the narratives hidden within mental health data, giving a voice to these numbers that she hopes will inform groundbreaking policy changes that can transform lives for the better.

“When you work with crisis data, you’re seeing inside some of the worst moments in a person’s life,” Bridgers said. “It gives me a sense of purpose knowing that what I’m doing to analyze and highlight these data can make a real difference. I feel energized by this work.”

Bridgers’ journey into healthcare started when she was a high schooler living on Mount Desert Island. As an intern at nearby Jackson Laboratory, she was invigorated by the atmosphere of discovery and problem solving. As an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College, she saw first-hand how data can directly inform policy while working on a project analyzing and forecasting state SNAP data for a federal lobbying initiative. When the COVID-19 pandemic kept her home in Maine to complete her senior year at Mount Holyoke virtually, she was introduced to Northeastern University’s Roux Institute, where she was intrigued by their project-based, experiential learning model. She decided to enroll in the data analytics program.

Roux analytics master's student Abby Bridgers spoke as part of a women's panel at an event at Northeastern's Roux Institute in March 2024

“I was already on a healthcare data analytics path when I started at the Roux Institute,” Bridgers says. “I didn’t so much discover my professional interests at the Roux, as much as I discovered my own potential.”

Bridgers says it was the faculty and staff at the Roux Institute that made her see she had a real capacity to make a difference. Faculty encouraged and supported her as she pursued independent projects that directly spoke to her interests. Being exposed to so many use cases of data helped reinforce her passion for healthcare analytics.

In 2023, Bridgers became the first Roux student to secure a co-op with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), where she worked with behavioral health data, creating dashboards and reports, cleaning and analyzing data, and crafting presentations for program and policy leaders. Although the coding and analytics skills she had been learning in her classes were helpful, Bridgers said her biggest asset in the position was knowing her audience and presenting to them effectively, a skill she said she honed from the business leaders-turned-faculty at the Roux.

“One of my biggest takeaways from the Roux was professional development. While here, I had the opportunity to speak on panels, help run a student club, just get really involved in the things I care about. These opportunities, plus the support from faculty, really helped me realize my capacity to make a difference,” Bridgers says.

[Working with crisis data] gives me a sense of purpose knowing that what I’m doing to analyze and highlight these data can make a real difference. I feel energized by this work.

Abby Bridgers

Master's of Data Analytics Graduate

Northeastern University

With a big focus on crisis services in Maine, DHHS was able to secure funding to turn Bridgers’ co-op position into a permanent job, which has allowed her to continue to contribute to work she sees as hugely important. She says her time at the Roux has expanded her skillset and most importantly, her confidence in her work.

“Roux analytics students come out of the program really well-rounded,” Bridgers said. “We’ve taken programming courses, database courses, governance courses — we have strong, wide-ranging skillsets that we can then apply to the niches we’re interested in.”

As Bridgers finishes up her last semester of graduate school, she’s also wrapping up a busy semester as part of the executive team for Data for Social Good, a student interest group that does pro bono analytics work for nonprofit organizations. The club, founded by Roux Institute alumna Bei Heald, took on five projects this semester, including a data collection project, a data communication project, and a forecasting and modeling project.

Bridgers, who works on the events side of things, helps organize talks that raise awareness about particular issues in Maine, and how data can help address these challenges. Most recently, Bridgers and her DSG team members organized the Maine Mission-Based Meetup, a career fair event in which nonprofit organizations could meet with Roux students, faculty, and staff to discuss data project needs.

Bridgers is excited to continue her work with the DHHS after graduation this spring.

“I really love the little corner of the analytics world that I’m in right now,” she says. “I want to keep using my skills to make a difference.”