By Rick Sobey
LOWELL -- Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo praised the "unbelievable things" that are going on at UMass Lowell during a visit to the new technologies building on Thursday, saying that the state's investments in the university are "working extremely well."
DeLeo toured the Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center, checking out the state-of the-art laboratories, 'clean' rooms and high-bay plastics manufacturing center.
"This is just amazing stuff that's going on right here in Massachusetts by public schools," DeLeo said. "I think we're competing with the better universities in the state, the MITs of the world.
"Every time I come here, I don't recognize some of the buildings. Every time I come here, there's always growth everywhere," he added. "What you've done is truly impressive."
The 84,000-square-foot, $80-million innovation center opened in 2012, and it became a reality because of $35 million in 2006 state funding, according to UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan. DeLeo and state Sen. Steven Panagiotakos played key roles in securing $35 million for the facility in the Legislature's Economic Stimulus Act of 2006, Meehan said.
"This would not be possible without your help at the Statehouse," Meehan told DeLeo during the visit on Thursday. "Now you're seeing what that investment paid for."
These facilities are home to research in the university's new pharmaceutical-sciences programs, nanotechnology, molecular biology, plastics engineering and optics, advancing fields such as life sciences, energy, national security, environmental protection and more.
Julie Chen, vice provost of research at UMass Lowell, said the state-of-the-art facility raises the visibility of the university's advanced research.
"We can't thank the Speaker enough for the state funding," Chen said. "We've been partnering with several companies, like Boston Scientific and Raytheon.
"Our goal is to connect our faculty and students with the companies to make those long-term partnerships for potential jobs," she added.
And the best way for job creation is by investing in education, DeLeo said. UMass Lowell has been a "prime" example of a public institution developing job opportunities for its students, he said.
"This proves to me that you can go to a public institution, and when you leave, you can have a job waiting for you with some of the bigger companies that the university partners with," DeLeo said.
"These are opportunities that students probably don't get at a whole lot of places," he added.
"They're getting that opportunity at a public institution right here in Lowell, and it's just outstanding."
Meehan also thanked DeLeo for helping lead the 50/50 funding split between the state and the university's students and families.
Students and their families had been supplying 57 percent of the $1.3 billion needed to provide educational programs across the five-campus system, with the state paying for the remaining 43 percent. Under the new 50/50 plan, UMass has frozen tuition and the mandatory curriculum fee during each of the next two academic years, UMass' first tuition and mandatory fee freeze in more than a decade.
State Reps. Thomas Golden, Kevin Murphy and David Nangle, all Lowell Democrats, also attended the innovation-center tour.
After the tour, DeLeo met hockey coach Norm Bazin at the Tsongas Center and received a River Hawks jersey and a Halloween pumpkin carved by a student.