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Plastics Alumni Come Through

By From the Lowell Sun

By Michael Lafleur   LOWELL -- Thanks to contributions from two successful alumni and matching grants from the state university system, the UMass Lowell Plastics Engineering Department is $2 million richer today.

Interest income from the gifts will fund two endowed professors who will use the money to pay for "green plastics" programming to enhance undergraduate and graduate students' environmental experience.

"This will have a huge impact on our department," said Professor Robert A. Malloy, chairman of the Plastics Engineering Department. "We need that if we're going to maintain our leadership position as we move forward into this new era."

Malloy said increasing global demand for petroleum is making plastics created from petrochemicals -- the industry norm for several decades -- prohibitively expensive. The solution is plastic engineered from sustainable materials, such as corn, Malloy said, noting that biodegradable polymers are a UMass Lowell specialty.

Jim Dandeneau, who graduated in 1980, and Mark Saab, who graduated in 1981, each donated $500,000 to the cause. Their donations were matched by a University of Massachusetts trust fund that supports the creation of endowments related to the environment.

Both men were on hand for a check-passing luncheon yesterday at Alumni Hall, along with their wives, Debbie Dandeneau and Elisia Saab.

Jim Dandeneau, former president and CEO of Putnam Plastics Corp. in Dayville, Conn., described himself as an avid hiker and canoeist. He noted that he enjoys the outdoors and feels a responsibility to contribute to environmental causes because of contributions from his industry to pollution.

"I consider myself an environmentalist," he said. "I think it's important for anybody in plastics to take a leadership role as well. We should also be part of the solution. That's part of the natural instinct of an engineer, to try to find a solution to a problem."

Mark Saab, a Lowell resident, is president and co-founder of Advanced Polymers Inc. in Salem, N.H.

He said he hopes his gift encourages other donations to UMass Lowell engineering programs and the university itself. Saab noted that while he was in the plastics engineering program, there were "great professors."

"The facility had a lot to be desired," he added. "Frankly, this is the only place I could afford, so this is where I ended up."

Saab said UMass Lowell "can't get to the next level" without better campus facilities.

UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan said the gifts were another step in making UMass Lowell "a world class institution."

"I feel strongly that the future of this region, the future of the state, depends on whether or not UMass Lowell becomes a world class university," he said. "What we're doing at this university is absolutely as important as anything else that's going on in the world."