By Marty Meehan
It will be hard to top the last year at UMass Lowell.
Over the past 12 months, enrollment in undergraduate and graduate programs reached new highs, exceeding 16,000 students for the first time.
Six new buildings opened on campus, including the first new academic buildings in three decades.
National press converged on Lowell to cover "A Conversation with Stephen King" and the U.S. Senate debate between Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren.
UMass Lowell student teams bested some of the most prestigious private schools in the country in a NASA robotics competition, a Department of Defense "hackathon" and national civil engineering and music technology contests.
UMass Lowell's value for student investment was recognized in top-10 lists from Forbes, Payscale.com, Business Insider and Affordable Colleges Online.
The River Hawks won Hockey East for the first time in school history and advanced to the Frozen Four.
In May, a record number of graduates crossed the Tsongas Center stage, proudly receiving their degrees from an institution now ranked in the top tier of national research universities.
As we move on to a new year, the last one will indeed be tough to top, but that is our goal. On Tuesday, we welcomed more than 1,600 first-year students to the university at our convocation ceremony. The energy and excitement on display reflected a new reality at UMass Lowell. The class of 2017 is the largest in the university's history, the highest scoring on standardized testing and the most diverse. For those first-year students, who have entrusted us with preparing them for the world, the university's past accomplishments are only subordinate to its future opportunities. They will judge their academic, social and cultural experience at UMass Lowell against a bar that has been set high. It's a challenge the faculty, administrators and staff readily accept.
To meet the students' expectations and our own, we continue to invest in facilities, faculty and the expansion of our research capabilities. Our goal is to be recognized as a world-class research university, and we're getting there by practicing what we preach to students.
We're being innovative and entrepreneurial, finding new and better ways to accomplish goals that range from expanding international programs to reducing our carbon footprint to increasing student engagement.
We are seeking new opportunities, forging partnerships with industry and leveraging intellectual property to generate revenue that will be reinvested in the university. We are reaching out to our network and receiving an unprecedented amount of support from our alumni, who are 80,000 strong and have embraced our vision. We are taking on new challenges, such as elevating to Division 1 athletics, which will bring exposure, opportunity and upgraded sports facilities to the university. We are encouraging students, faculty and staff to give back, which has been recognized by UMass Lowell earning a spot on President Obama's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the last four years.
Through all of this, one of our most important strategic partners is the City of Lowell.
In close coordination with city officials, neighborhood groups and businesses, we are working to upgrade infrastructure, spur economic development and improve the quality of life for all residents, a population that includes an increasing number of UMass Lowell students. We have opened two new residence halls this year, University Suites on Aiken Street and Riverview Suites on Marginal Street, which together house 1,000 student-citizens. Soon University Crossing will open at the site of the former St. Joseph's Hospital, bringing new shopping, dining and activity to the Acre.
Our partnerships in the city and region are stronger than ever. We remain productive collaborators with Merrimack Repertory Theatre, as seen in last year's world premiere of Jack Kerouac's only full-length play, "Beat Generation." Our teamwork with the National Park Service is best displayed in the Tsongas Industrial History Center, where experiential education programs bring 40,000 students to Lowell each year. With the admired Parker Lectures committee and this year's co-sponsors Middlesex Community College and Lowell General Hospital, we continue to present Lunchtime Lectures at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center.
Most importantly, next spring UMass Lowell will once again graduate thousands of talented and aspiring students with skills that are crucial to the regional economy, such as biomanufacturing, nanotechnology, robotics, clean energy and life sciences. Eighty-five percent of our graduates stay in Massachusetts for at least five years, and 65 percent stay even longer.
Many of them remain in the Merrimack Valley, and some will start companies here.
As they have been for more than 100 years, but never so clearly as in this moment, the interests and prospects of the city and the university are aligned.
UMass Lowell and the City of Lowell have momentum, and we plan to keep it.
UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan is the guest author of Kendall Wallace's Saturday Chat column this week. Meehan was the successful bidder when the item was offered at last year's Salvation Army Christmas Auction.