LOWELL -- Julie Chen calls UMass Lowell's newly constructed Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center an "embodiment of where the university is going."
The $80 million research and fabrication center is expected to bring together world-class experts in nanoscience, chemistry and other disciplines. The university will work with industries here, helping them create new kinds of manufacturing jobs.
But for Chen, UMass Lowell's vice provost of research, the center is also testament to the university's longstanding commitment to women. As a young engineer recruited to UMass Lowell in 1997, she immediately noticed the open-mindedness of university administrators who focused more on the faculty members' talents than on their gender, Chen said. Chen credits the campus culture for the number of female leaders, including those who helped build the university's nano-manufacturing research teams.
Lowell and its region have always cherished diversity, providing women the chance to thrive, said U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas. After all, she became the first woman from Massachusetts in 25 years to be elected to Congress when she ran for the 5th Congressional District in 2007.
There is no wonder the region has produced countless female leaders, ranging from scholars like Chen to nonprofit founders like Maureen McKeown of Chelmsford's soup kitchen, the Table of Plenty, and Peggy Palm of Chelmsford Crossings, Tsongas said, as she looked over a crowd gathered at the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center to celebrate these and other women's achievements on Monday. And these women all have fought to make the region a better place in which to live, Tsongas added.
"A Salute to Women of Our Region," a ceremony to honor 50 female leaders who made significant contributions to the region, came 2 1/2 months after The Sun published a 64-page special section with the same title. The project, which was the brainchild of Mary Ellen Fitzpatrick of Enterprise Bank to recognize the region's women and their legacies, involved nominations for 300 women and a panel of judges composed of Fitzpatrick, Sun Chairman Kendall Wallace, Nina Anton of the Women Working Wonders Fund, Martha Mayo, head of the Center for Lowell History at UMass Lowell, Linda Chemaly of Girls Inc., and former Lowell City Manager Brian Martin.
(Monday's celebration was a fundraiser for Women Working Wonders, a Lowell-based group that helps women in transition and provides leadership opportunities for women and girls. The group received a check for $20,000.)
The 50 honorees cover a wide range of professions and expertise, from Lowell philanthropist Nancy Donahue to Lowell Community Health Center chief executive Dorcas Gregg-Saito to LPGA Hall of Fame golfer Pat Bradley of Westford, to environmental activist Marion Stoddart of Groton.
McKeown, Chen and Palm shared stories about their life, work and inspiration while Tsongas, herself an honoree, served as master of ceremonies.
Palm said successful organizations have three ingredients in common: passion, people and perseverance. When people work together toward their common goal, it can change the lives of others, she said.
McKeown, who has run the Table of Plenty out of Chelmsford's Unitarian Universalist Church to feed the hungry since May 2010, knows that firsthand. The meal center now has 150 volunteers who help serve food to a group that has grown from a handful originally to as many 80 guests in recent gatherings, she said. McKeown said she learned the importance of giving back by watching her Irish-immigrant father tirelessly volunteer at a New York hospital after retiring from his New York City Transit job.
Some of the honorees have also made conscious efforts to be role models for other women.
"I ran for Congress because I understood the value and necessity of women's voices, talents and expertise in conversations and decisions that shape our community and lives," Tsongas said.
Chen noted this year marks the 40th anniversary of Title 9, which brought equal opportunities in school athletics.
"We are branding the university as the place to be for nanotechnology, advanced manufacturing, robotics and all these things that are changing the lives that you and I are going to live in the future," Chen said, stressing that such work requires the work of all, including women.
For McKeown, changing lives also means doing something basic, such as interaction with people and sharing love. McKeown, a former youth minister, said there is a young girl who walks on the Chelmsford bike path to the church to receive a meal. And she smiles, McKeown said.
"Then, I know we are doing something positive," she said.