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History of the Kennedy College of Sciences

Male students work in a chemistry lab in the early 1900s.
Students work in a chemistry lab in the early 1900s.

The history of the Kennedy College of Sciences reflects the values and ethos that are hallmarks of the school today: Excellence in teaching. Strong student-faculty collaboration. Hands-on learning.

The roots of the college reach back to the hiring of Lyman Churchill Newell by the Lowell Normal School in the fall of 1898. He was “one of the most dedicated teachers of chemistry in the history of New England,” according to the American Chemistry Society. He would remain only six years at the teacher-training school before leaving to help launch the Chemistry Department at Boston University, but he left an indelible mark in Lowell. In fact, he so endeared himself to students that several named sons for him.

Two female students work together in a lab in 1995.
Two students work together in a lab in 1995.

Another early milestone for the college came in 1912, when the Lowell Textile School, created by the state to promote the training of mill workers, was granted formal authorization to award four-year degrees in the teaching of chemistry, as well as in “textile engineering” and “textile coloring.”

By the late 1920s or early ’30s, the newly-founded Lowell Textile Institute was offering courses in applied physics and organic chemistry.  And not long after, in the late ’30s, the wildly popular faculty member Elmer Fickett, later named to lead the Chemistry Department, was ferrying students off-campus in his Franklin touring car to observe real-world chemical manufacturing plants. Dinner and a movie would often follow.

Science programs of all sorts – physics, chemistry, meteorology, electronics – surged in popularity through the postwar years, boosted by the passage of the GI Bill.  By the end of the 1950s, both chemistry and physics were being offered as doctoral programs at the Lowell Technological Institute.

The College of Pure and Applied Science, created in the late ’50s as a catch-all for LTI’s many scientific disciplines, remained intact until 1992, when it was merged with the College of Liberal Arts to create the College of Arts and Sciences. There was a further permutation four years later (the two parts were re-split to form separate divisions) and another in 2010, when the College of Sciences was formally set apart.

Steinel with student in the fish lab
Asst. Prof. Natalie Steinel, left, and biology sophomore Maeve Moynihan use a fluorescence microscope to study cells from the three-spine stickleback fish in 2019.

In the fall of 2015, the college was named for two alumni, brothers John F. Kennedy ’70 and his late brother, William Kennedy ’54, both LTI graduates who had successful careers in industry.

Today’s Kennedy College of Sciences, under Dean Noureddine Melikechi, offers degree programs in six fields: the chemistry and physics it began with more than a century ago, as well as biological sciences, computer science, mathematical sciences and environmental, earth and atmospheric sciences. Alumni continue to distinguish themselves in research, business and other disciplines.