BOSTON -- Jacqueline Moloney has been a close witness to, and an integral part of, UMass Lowell's quick rise in recent years.
She was respected highly enough by her peers at the school that she was seen instantly as a can't-miss choice to become the university's next chancellor when Marty Meehan was appointed UMass system president this spring.
On Monday, in an anticipated decision, the UMass Lowell executive vice chancellor was appointed as the new chancellor in a unanimous vote by the UMass board of trustees.
"This means the world to me," Moloney said, sitting at the head of the long table where trustees sat in front of her.
One speaker after another at the meeting -- either a trustee, a UMass Lowell colleague, or Meehan -- sang Moloney's praises as a no-brainer for the first female head of the school in its century-plus history.
"Jacquie Moloney has played a major role in the transformation of UMass Lowell and so many of its accomplishments," Meehan said.
Moloney, one of 20 interviewed for the position, was the only finalist chosen by a 24-member search committee tasked with finding Meehan's replacement. Meehan, who was a vocal supporter of the woman he appointed as the first member of his executive team in 2007, never had to make a choice between finalists to recommend to trustees.
Her appointment is effective immediately.
There was a large UMass Lowell contingent at the meeting at the president's office in downtown Boston, including several who told the board that the university was firmly behind Moloney.
Michael Carter, the president of the faculty Senate, said there was little doubt who members of the university wanted.
"All we kept hearing was, 'Are you thinking about Jacquie? She's the one, you know,'" Carter said. "That's what people were saying all along."
Carol McDonough, the head of the university's faculty union, the Massachusetts Society of Professors, said she would normally be the one to whom complaints about a candidate would be directed. But there were none about Moloney, she said.
"There has been nothing but unanimous support for her candidacy," McDonough said.
Moloney, who grew up in Tewksbury and now lives in Chelmsford, provides UMass Lowell with another alumnus as chancellor, as Meehan was. She earned her bachelor's in sociology from the school in 1975, and her doctorate in education in 1992.
One of eight children, Moloney is the first in her family to attend college. She began her career as a social worker in Lowell before joining her alma mater in 1985 to lead a program that helped disadvantaged high-school students with the transition to college.
As dean, Moloney led the school's online education program nearly 20 years ago. According to the university, UMass Lowell was one of the first brick-and-mortar colleges in the region, if not the nation, to offer courses online.
As executive vice chancellor, Moloney led the university's engagement in the community on economic development. She created the university's Office of Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, which has attracted $10 million in external funding, as well as the DifferenceMaker Program, which includes more than 6,000 students each year.
Moloney laid out her vision for the university this summer to the search committee that ultimately chose her.
She said she wants to keep student learning and success as the top priority, continue to expand on faculty and student diversity, solidify the university's role in innovation and entrepreneurship, and play a larger role in Lowell's economy.
Moloney said in a brief interview after Monday's appointment that she expects to "hit the ground running," building off momentum that has been building in recent years. She was asked how it felt to hear the strong endorsements she received from so many at the university in recent months.
"To be honest, it was very touching," she said.
Moloney always had the presence of someone who could be chancellor, said Anita Greenwood, someone who saw Moloney's role up close as dean of the university's Graduate School of Education.
"She's able to really, really listen to everybody's perspective. You don't feel like you're going in and not going to be heard," said Greenwood, who has been at the university since 1992. "She has the university and students' best interest at heart in everything she does."
She particularly praised Moloney's work with the Lowell community on what the university has been doing. "She just has an understanding that UMass Lowell doesn't exist here on an island in the Merrimack," Greenwood said.