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History of the Honors College

Two female honors ambassadors smile wearing matching baseball t-shirts during a welcome day event
Two members of the Honors Ambassador Council at a Welcome Day in 2014.

UMass Lowell first offered a campus-wide Honors Program in 1995, spurred by a vision of excellence on the part of Physics Prof. Eric Sheldon, now retired. Sheldon was the program’s first director, aided by two associate directors, Psychology Professor Emeritus Robert Kunzendorf and then-Philosophy Prof. Eugene Mellican.

Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney was also instrumental in the program’s founding. As the dean at that time of University College, the university’s division of continuing education, she had the ear of Chancellor William Hogan. She advocated for the program and organized fundraising events to help it succeed.

Exterior view of University Suites
University Suites is a multi-year residence hall fully reserved for students in the Honors College.

“Eric Sheldon was the intellectual driving force behind the program, and Jacquie Moloney nurtured it,” says Honors Dean Jim Canning. “Without Jacquie, it never would have happened.”

The Honors Program graduated its first two students in 1998 and slowly grew under a series of widely respected professors who served as directors, including Stephen Pennell (math), Doreen Arcus (psychology) and Julie Nash, an English professor who became associate dean of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences and is now vice provost for student success. 

Canning was selected as director in 2011 to expand the program. He made the case to make it a full Honors College to then-Chancellor Marty Meehan and former Provost Ahmed Abdelal. Canning had the support of the college’s previous directors, the faculty senate, Moloney and Vice Provost Charlotte Mandell. In 2014, the program became a fully accredited Commonwealth Honors College, and Canning was named as its first dean. 

An honors student sitting in O'Leary Library holding a whiteboard that says "I love the Honors College #loveuml" with hearts on it
Honors College students tell us why they #loveuml in 2017.

From 2010 to 2018, Honors College enrollments quadrupled, rising to 1,737 students who comprise 15 percent of the undergraduate student body. The Honors College now attracts students in all majors who are drawn to its unique classes and a growing number of enrichment experiences, including special honors fellowships and the chance to live in the Commonwealth Honors Living-Learning Community, the first honors-only residence hall in the UMass system.

Today, the college continues to raise the standards of the university’s undergraduate population by attracting students who aspire to academic excellence, depth and breadth. Honors graduates go on to top graduate schools and excellent jobs in industry.