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Public-Health Educator, Researcher Earns UMass Lowell Top Honor

Ergonomics, Epidemiology Expert Is Distinguished University Professor

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Distinguished University Professor Laura Punnett


Contacts:  Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or
                Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or
LOWELL, Mass. – Laura Punnett, professor of ergonomics and epidemiology and a world leader in the public-health field, has been named Distinguished University Professor by UMass Lowell. The distinction is the highest honor bestowed on a UMass Lowell faculty member for exceptional teaching achievement, research and service to the university. 

Punnett, who lives in Medford, is an expert in the patterns, causes and effects of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and the effectiveness of employee health efforts such as workplace ergonomics interventions, health-promotion programs and labor-management safety committees. In 1987, she helped establish UMass Lowell’s Department of Work Environment within what is now the College of Health Sciences. For seven years, she has also led the Center for the Promotion of Health in the New England Workplace, a research center funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health with more than $9 million to date. She has been an invited visiting scientist at several research institutions in the U.S. and abroad.     

“I am deeply honored to receive this distinction,” Punnett said. “It is humbling to know that the selection is made personally within the highest ranks of the administration. It is also an endorsement and recognition of the strong team that we have built in the Department of Work Environment over the past 25 years. Obviously, I could not have accomplished nearly as much alone as what has been achieved through a remarkable depth of collaboration among faculty members, research staff and graduate students.” 

Punnett will deliver the annual Distinguished University Professor address during the Spring 2014 semester as part of her three-year appointment to the post. Her presentation will highlight the connections between the 24-7 economy and broad public-health issues such as socioeconomic disparities, global health and sustainability, she said. A reception for the UMass Lowell community honoring Punnett is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 19.

Prof. David Kriebel, co-director of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production at UMass Lowell and former chairman of the Department of Work Environment, nominated Punnett for the honor.

“Dr. Punnett is one of the top researchers internationally in the epidemiology of work-related musculoskeletal disorders. I believe that her achievements during her career at UMass Lowell are testimony to her scholarship and reputation as an engaged scholar,” he wrote in his nomination.

Shortie McKinney, dean of the College of Health Sciences, described Punnett as “excelling in all three areas expected of faculty: teaching, research and service. Her students have moved on to leadership positions in academia, nonprofit institutions and research institutes, making her influence on the future of her field even stronger.” 

With her appointment, which will run through 2016, Punnett joins the ranks of fellow UMass Lowell Distinguished University Professors Robert Giles (Physics, 2010-2013), Regina Panasuk (Education, 2011-2014) and Stephen McCarthy (Plastics Engineering, 2012-2015).

Punnett holds a bachelor’s degree in medical social science focusing on issues in women’s health from Hampshire College, along with a master’s degree in occupational health and safety and a doctoral degree in occupational health and epidemiology from the Harvard School of Public Health. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship at the Center for Ergonomics and Department of Environmental and Industrial Health at the University of Michigan. 

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 16,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.