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UMass Lowell Educator Honored with Prestigious Professorship

Position Endowed by Local Philanthropists to Support Arts Programs

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Music Prof. Gena Greher has been selected as a Nancy Donahue Endowed Professor of the Arts.


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

LOWELL, Mass. – A UMass Lowell music educator has been named the 2014 Nancy Donahue Endowed Professor of the Arts, a distinction that will allow her to expand programs for the city’s young musicians. 

Prof. Gena Greher, UMass Lowell’s coordinator of music education, has been chosen for the prestigious professorship, established in 2009 by Lowell philanthropists Nancy and Richard Donahue through a $500,000 endowment from the couple’s charitable foundation. Well known for their support of the local arts community, the Donahues created the professorship to help promote music, art and theater education based at UMass Lowell.  

During her professorship, Greher, also of Lowell, plans to invite musicians to the university to provide concerts and workshops for young people throughout the community and UMass Lowell students. In particular, professorship funds will support the growth of the UMass Lowell String Project, which provides stringed-instrument instruction and music lessons to Lowell public schoolchildren ages 8 to 18, and the UMass Lowell Youth Orchestra, which provides ensemble and performance experience to the city’s young musicians. 

“It’s an incredible honor to be named the Nancy Donahue Endowed Professor of the Arts. My being chosen affirms for me UMass Lowell’s belief in the power of music to transform children’s lives,” Greher said. 

As an award recipient, Greher joins her mentor, Kay George Roberts – UMass Lowell music professor emeritus and the professorship’s first recipient – and fellow honorees Arno Minkkinen, art professor and internationally acclaimed photographer, and bestselling author and English Prof. Andre Dubus III.

Greher, who plays the violin, joined UMass Lowell’s music-education program in 2002. The educational director of the String Project, she has been a champion of the initiative throughout the years, having also served as its executive director from 2011 to 2013. In January, the program was named the 2013-2014 project of the year by the American String Teachers Association and the National String Project Consortium. Roberts founded UMass Lowell’s String Project in 2001 and served as its executive director for a decade. 

Complementing the success of the String Project, Roberts created the UMass Lowell Youth Orchestra in 2009 to attract young musicians throughout Lowell who might not otherwise have a chance to practice and perform as a group. The programs make playing in ensembles more accessible to students from diverse backgrounds and are led by Executive Director John-Morgan Bush, also a member of UMass Lowell’s music faculty. They are among several music outreach programs offered through the Music Department.

Greher was inspired to work at UMass Lowell in part because the university gave her the ability to help shape its renowned music-education program, she said. Combining music and technology is one of her passions. Among her community outreach projects, she works with Ashleigh Hillier, an associate professor of psychology, to offer SoundScapes, which helps teens with autism-spectrum disorders feel more at ease and comfortable socially. In the program, UMass Lowell music and psychology students help lead music-listening exercises and technology-based activities for participants. 

Greher also co-authored the book “Computational Thinking in Sound: Teaching the Art and Science of Music and Technology,” with Prof. Jesse Heines of UMass Lowell’s Computer Science Department, based on their work together teaching a class that blends the worlds of music and computers.  

Greher traces her love of music back to her childhood, crediting the influence of her parents, professional musicians who performed on Broadway and at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Before her career in education, she worked as an award-winning music director in advertising, producing jingles and scores for hundreds of commercials. 

Greher holds a music degree in violin performance from Queens College of the City University of New York, a master’s degree in broadcasting and film from Boston University and a doctorate degree in education from Teachers College Columbia University. 

During her early days while teaching, she hit upon an epiphany.

“I realized that while I loved teaching students and being in the classroom, I could effect more change if I taught the teachers instead,” she said 

UMass Lowell was the first public institution in the U.S. to offer a music-education degree and many music teachers in Massachusetts are graduates of the program. Today, UMass Lowell’s Music Department offers majors in music education, performance, sound recording technology and music business. 

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.