By Alana Melanson
LOWELL — As part of their $50 million commitment to the UMass system, UMass Lowell alumni Robert and Donna Manning announced Thursday they will provide their alma mater with a $10 million gift to support the future of business education.
UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacquie Moloney said the university is very excited about the announcement, which represents the single largest gift in the university’s history. She said the Mannings’ “limitless generosity” has been transformational for students in business and nursing.
“The Mannings have always been very big supporters of UMass Lowell,” Moloney said. “We could not be more grateful right now and more pleased with the gift and the significance of this gift.”
The gift will create five new endowed faculty chairs at the Manning School of Business, also named after the couple. Moloney said this will enable the university to recruit top faculty talent from across the country in the areas of finance, technology, entrepreneurship, marketing and data analytics, and raise the national profile of the school.
The building that houses much of the university’s health education efforts will also be renamed the Donna M. Manning Health and Social Sciences Building.
Between them, the Mannings hold three degrees from UMass Lowell, as well as two honorary degrees. The high school sweethearts, originally from Methuen, commuted to campus during their studies in the 1980s.
“Rob and Donna have spoken frequently about how they struggled financially as students at UMass Lowell, but persevered because they recognized the importance and value of the education they were receiving,” UMass President Marty Meehan said in a statement. “Having personally experienced the transformational impact UMass Lowell faculty have on students, Rob and Donna have committed themselves to supporting both faculty and students at UMass Lowell, and this extraordinary gift is yet another example of that commitment.”
Robert Manning, the longtime chair of the UMass Board of Trustees, will retire this year after a career in which he served as president, CEO and now chairman of MFS Investment Management. Under his leadership, MFS grew to manage more than $670 billion in assets annually. Donna Manning had a 35-year career as an oncology nurse at Boston Medical Center, retiring in 2018.
The couple announced their first installment of the $50 million commitment last month, beginning with $15 million to endow the UMass Boston nursing program. Gifts will be announced for each campus in the UMass system.
Prior to their $10 million gift to UMass Lowell, the Mannings donated more than $11 million to the university to fund student scholarships, create the Donna Manning Endowed Faculty Chair for Nursing and establish a high-tech nursing simulation laboratory in her name.
According to the university, the Manning School of Business is enrolling more students than at any time in its history, including a record number of Master of Business Administration students. UMass Lowell finalized the construction of the new Pulichino Tong Business Center for the school in 2017.
“We look forward to remaining active in the UMass Lowell community and in the programs we’ve supported,” Donna Manning said in a statement.
“Our UMass Lowell education created opportunities in our lives that we never would have imagined when we were students 40 years ago,” Robert Manning said in a statement. “It’s our hope that these gifts provide the tools, the mentors and the education that today’s students need to achieve their own dreams.”
The Mannings aren’t the only UMass Lowell alumni increasing their philanthropic donations to the university.
Throughout her 37 years at UMass Lowell, Moloney and her husband, Ed, have provided support for student scholarships, the Honors College and other university initiatives. This week, they announced they would increase their personal giving to UMass Lowell to $1 million, including funding a new Institute for Social Impact that will provide student fellowships to support community engagement.
Moloney, who began her career as a social worker before joining the faculty and working her way up through the administration, said it has been important to her to help students have a social impact through their education.
She said unpaid internships are often out of reach for many UMass Lowell students, who need to work to earn money to fund their education. The fellowship program will allow students to apply for funding of up to $2,500 a semester or $5,000 a year to work on projects that will improve life for others, Moloney said.
“It will have that, I think, educational impact on our students, where they have the opportunity to feel good about the work that they’re doing, to take what they’re learning in the classroom and apply it to make a difference in the world,” she said.
Combined with the nearly $12 million that will be donated to UMass Lowell from the Independent University Alumni Association at Lowell for student scholarships, the gifts represent a record $23 million in philanthropic support to the university in just the past week.
Moloney noted that when Meehan, who was chancellor before her, came to UMass Lowell, there were only two donors who had given $1 million or more in their lifetime. That number has increased to 28, she said, and Thursday evening, the university was set to induct its largest group of donors at various levels at its annual Celebration of Philanthropy.