UMass Lowell students make a difference in their communities and the world

Issue May 2012 By Martin T. Meehan

Martin T. Meehan is chancellor of University of Massachusetts Lowell, where the MBA's March 22 House of Delegates meeting was held. During MBA President Richard P. Campbell's 2011-12 term, HOD meetings are held at different UMass campuses, and the leaders of each school are given the opportunity to talk about their campus.

As a public university, UMass Lowell has a mission to contribute to the public good. Our first priority is to educate the more than 15,000 students each year in classrooms and online. Our enrollment is up 37 percent since 2007, and the new student body has become 76 percent more diverse in that time. We now have partnerships with 75 universities in 25 countries. While fulfilling our educational responsibility, we make an economic impact of $490 million annually, including providing 1,500 jobs in Massachusetts.

We prepare students to be work ready, life ready and world ready. Being ready to make a difference includes understanding the importance of civic engagement at the local and global levels. We encourage our students, faculty and staff to translate learning into action.

UMass Lowell has been designated by the Carnegie Foundation as a community-engaged university (2008) and is a member of the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll (2009, 2010 and 2011). For the past two years, we have been named to President Obama's Honor Roll "with distinction," a notable achievement. More than 5,100 of our students contributed 103,000 hours of community service in the past year.

Engagement activities this past year included:

  • The Deshpande Foundation launch of the $5 million Merrimack Valley Sandbox to strengthen an ecosystem that promotes entrepreneurship and leadership in Lowell and nearby Lawrence. The Sandbox is part of our Merrimack Valley Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which coordinates activities among nonprofit organizations, businesses, Middlesex and Northern Essex community colleges, Merrimack College and UMass Lowell;
  • Twenty-six new plastics engineering co-op placements and internships were introduced with a structure that includes a preparatory professional development seminar, increased communication, on-site visits and a post co-op assessment/reflection course;
  • The Reach-Out River Hawks program from Athletics provides volunteer opportunities for students to participate in service events;
  • The Student Research and Community Engagement Symposium showcased 58 volunteer and service projects covering tobacco use, toxic waste sites, stress reduction and nutrition, foreclosure prevention, bullying and more. Student orientation leaders led downtown tours for 1,500 freshmen to introduce them to Lowell history and city offerings.
  • Also this past year, UMass Lowell acquired a 300,000 square-foot former hospital in an economically challenged neighborhood to redevelop into a center focused on student programs and activities. Our Music Department's String Project for underserved youth celebrated its 10th anniversary -- hundreds of students have learned how to play the violin or cello.

We have increased service and service-learning opportunities: The Provost's Office continues to broaden co-ops and experiential learning opportunities, interdisciplinary learning, research centers of excellence, international partnerships and urban, community and corporate partnerships. Since 1998, 16 members of our faculty have been honored with the UMass President's Public Service Award. In the most recent fiscal year, external funding for outreach and engagement through eight key faculty research centers exceeded $13.5 million. Total funded research hit $60 million -- a 66 percent increase in four years.

Among the current grants and contracts for engagement-related faculty research are:

  • $6.3 million from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Worker Education Training Program for hazardous waste and emergency responder training for 1,400 workers in the Northeast;
  • $2.7 million from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) for a worksite safety program to prevent falls and exposure to silica dust among Latino construction workers;
  • $1.8 million from NIOSH to research issues facing Massachusetts home-care nurses and aides and develop education programs;
  • $827,000 (2009-12) from the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development to improve residential environments of low-income families with asthmatic children by providing training and assistance to local partners;
  • $579,000 from the U.S. Dept. of Education to increase the number of low-income students at Lowell High School succeeding in postsecondary education;
  • $385,767 from the U.S. Dept. of Commerce (Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program) to expand broadband use in the region;
  • $289,990 from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services for the "On the Move for Nursing's Future" mobile laboratory to reach diverse, underserved people in the area;
  • $273,574 (2008-11) from the National Science Foundation for teacher training, middle and high school programs, and pathways initiatives to encourage students to pursue education and careers in computer science and information technology; and
  • $110,000 from the National Science Foundation to assist communities in buying foreclosed properties to stabilize neighborhoods.

We will continue to expand and deepen our engagement at all levels, from Alternative Spring Break activities in our home neighborhood to assisting villagers in Peru with solar-energy projects. These efforts represent our values as an institution. We believe in public higher education, a noble undertaking in which everyone benefits and which makes society and the world a better place.

Martin T. Meehan is chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and a graduate of the class of 1978.