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Bill Nye and U.S. Health Secretary to Address UMass Lowell Graduates

Record Number to Receive Degrees at May 17 Commencement Ceremonies

Bill Nye the Science Guy, right, and Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will be the university's Commencement speakers on May 17.


Contacts for media: Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or and Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or

LOWELL, Mass. – Bill Nye the Science Guy and Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will address graduates at UMass Lowell’s Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 17. 

Nye – scientist, engineer, author, inventor and comedian – is best known for his Emmy Award-winning TV series, “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” which aired from 1993 to 1998 and is credited with inspiring countless young people to pursue careers in science. Nye, in addition to working on four other TV series, is the executive director of The Planetary Society, the world’s largest space-interest group. The holder of several patents, Nye earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from Cornell University, where he has taught through the Frank H.T. Rhodes Visiting Professorship. Before pursuing a career in educating TV audiences about science and technology, Nye worked as an engineer for Boeing where he contributed to the development of the 747 airliner. He recently offered his expertise on CNN during coverage of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370. His other recent TV appearances include segments on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Mayer” on the national discourse over evolution versus creationism, an issue he debated with author Ken Ham via a live webcast earlier this year.

Koh, in his role with the federal government, is dedicated to the mission of creating better public health systems in prevention and care with the goal of seeing all Americans reach their highest attainable standard of health. Called one of the most influential people in the fight against tobacco in the last 25 years by the New England Division of the American Cancer Society, Koh has earned numerous other honors for accomplishments in medicine and public health, including from the American Cancer Society, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Association for Cancer Research, the Intercultural Cancer Council, the Epilepsy Foundation and the Hepatitis B Foundation.

“We are honored to have two individuals who have dedicated their lives to educating the public about science and health speak to UMass Lowell’s Class of 2014,” said Chancellor Marty Meehan, who will preside over the Commencement ceremonies. “Bill Nye and Howard Koh both have tremendous experience and enthusiasm for their work and can offer graduates valuable insight not only into their fields of expertise, but also their unique approaches to teaching.”

For the seventh year in a row, a record number of graduates – approximately 3,280 – are expected to receive degrees during Commencement ceremonies on May 17. The increase of nearly 2,000 graduates since 2007 reflects both UMass Lowell’s 45 percent gain in enrollment and growing student success.

To accommodate the increase in graduates, UMass Lowell will continue its new tradition of holding two Commencement ceremonies. For the first time this year, all degree recipients – bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral – from the College of Health Sciences will participate in the afternoon ceremony at 2:30 p.m., which will also include graduates of all of the university’s other schools and colleges who are receiving master’s and doctoral degrees. The morning ceremony, set for 9 a.m., will honor recipients of bachelor’s degrees from the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Sciences; the Francis College of Engineering; and the Manning School of Business. Both ceremonies will be held at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell, 300 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Lowell. 

Nye will deliver the Commencement address during the university’s morning ceremony.

“Naturally, I will do my best to provide tremendous insights into the human condition that will redirect all of the graduates’ lives – in about 17 minutes. Of course, that may prove to be too ambitious. So instead of remembering what I said, I hope they remember how they felt on graduation day, optimistic and full of purpose. I want them to change the world,” said Nye, who is developing a new TV project, “Solving for X,” to teach viewers algebra while celebrating what he calls “the P,B and J” – the passion, beauty and joy – of math. Nye’s passions also include sundials, which led him to use sundials in a variety of ways, including bringing together researchers to develop the “MarsDials” that are now on the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, each inscribed with information on their mission and the message, “To those who visit here, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery.” The joy of discovery, Nye says, is the essence of scientific enterprise. 

The address to the afternoon Commencement ceremony will be delivered by Koh, who served as Massachusetts commissioner of public health from 1997 to 2003, overseeing a wide range of health services and four hospitals, and also previously served in leadership positions in the Harvard School of Public Health. Board-certified in internal medicine, hematology, medical oncology and dermatology, he holds a degree in medicine from Yale University and public health from Boston University and served as chief resident of both Boston City Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. In his current role, Koh’s oversight includes the Office of the Surgeon General, the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, 10 regional health administrators across the nation and 10 presidential and secretarial advisory committees, as well as a host of programs in disease prevention, health promotion, reduction of health disparities, women’s and minority health, adolescent health, HIV/AIDS, vaccine programs, physical fitness and sports, bioethics, population affairs, blood supply, research integrity and human research protections. 

"What an honor it will be to join the vibrant new graduates of UMass Lowell and to share in the glory and joy of Commencement. In our lives, each of us will be called to serve in some special way. I am excited to bear witness to the promise of service that lies within each of us for the future," said Koh.

During the morning ceremony, UMass Lowell will recognize the following outstanding individuals with honorary doctorates of humane letters:
  • Brian MacCraith, president of Dublin City University in Ireland, one of UMass Lowell’s international partner institutions. A teacher and researcher of physics, biomedical diagnostics and nanobiophotonics, MacCraith is internationally renowned for his work in optical chemical sensors and biosensors. He served as a visiting scientist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., working on biowarfare detection before becoming founding director of the National Centre for Sensor Research at Dublin City University. 
  • Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland, was presented with an honorary degree by UMass Lowell at a ceremony in November 2013. McAleese served two terms as president from 1997 through 2011 and was the first person born in Northern Ireland to hold the office. Her tenure as president of the Irish Republic, deemed “Building Bridges,” was notable for the attention she gave to peace and reconciliation in the North. Prior to being elected president, McAleese earned a law degree and worked as a barrister, broadcast journalist and professor. 
  • John Pulichino ’67 and Joy Tong, who have distinguished themselves in business and as supporters of student scholarships and other initiatives at UMass Lowell. Tong – an award-winning creative force in the travel goods industry and holder of numerous patents – is the founder, president and creative director of Group III International Ltd., which designs, manufactures and markets travel gear under the Wenger Swiss Army Knife and BMW trademarks, as well as numerous private-label brands. Tong, who holds a bachelor’s degree from the World School of Journalism in Taipei, began her career in publishing with McGraw Hill in Singapore and moved to the U.S. to teach in Cornell University’s Linguistics Department and then went on to jobs in consumer marketing and fashion design with Procter & Gamble and Johnson Matthey Corp.’s Bag Lab before founding Group III. Pulichino is the CEO of Group III, which has generated more than $600 million in sales since 2003, and previously served as president and chief executive officer of American Tourister, where he grew sales from $30 million to $150 million before its acquisition by Samsonite. Pulichino – who began his career in industrial engineering, planning and marketing with Polaroid Corp. – earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial management from UMass Lowell’s predecessor institution, Lowell Technological Institute and a master’s degree in engineering management from Northeastern University. The recipient of UMass Lowell’s 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award, Pulichino is a member of the Chancellor’s External Advisory Task Force, the Manning School of Business Advisory Board and the committee overseeing UMass Lowell’s new business school building. That building will be named in recognition of Pulichino and Tong, who established a scholarship fund in 2012 for students in the Manning School of Business. The couple, who are married and live in Florida, have previously been honored as members of the Chancellor’s Circle of Distinction.
The Distinguished Alumni Award will be presented to Gerald Colella ’78 and Joyce (Liakos) Colella ’77 of Seabrook, N.H., and Naples, Fla. The Colellas, who met as students at what was then the University of Lowell, are the parents of two children and have provided generous support to the institution through the Honors Fellows Scholarship Fund and UMass Lowell Fund, and particularly to the Manning School of Business through the Dean’s Discretionary Fund, New Building Fund and Board of Advisers Endowment, as well as previously co-chairing the Commencement Eve Host Committee. 

Gerald Colella is president and CEO of MKS Instruments in Andover, a position he was named to in January after serving in roles including vice president, chief operating officer and chief business officer with the global provider of instruments, subsystems and process control solutions for advanced manufacturing, which has more than 2,500 employees and 20 facilities in 12 countries and sales of more than $650 million. He has served UMass Lowell as a member of the Campaign Task Force and Manning School of Business Advisory Board. A 2010 recipient of the Alumni Award for Outstanding Achievement in Business, he holds a degree in secondary education from UMass Lowell and a master’s in business administration from Southern New Hampshire University. Joyce Colella dedicated many years of service to education as an elementary school teacher in New Hampshire and Lowell before retiring in 2005. Born and raised in Lowell, she attended public schools and earned a degree in history and elementary education at UMass Lowell and a master’s of education from Fitchburg State University. 

The honorary degree and distinguished alumni award recipients will participate in the annual Commencement Eve Celebration on Friday, May 16 at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, 50 Warren St., Lowell. The program, a benefit for scholarships that also honors student academic and service award winners, last year drew donations of $725,000. The annual event has raised $3 million for student scholarships since it was first held in 2008. 

For more information on the honorees and Commencement activities, visit

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its 17,000 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.