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LeVar Burton to Receive Honorary Degree at UMass Lowell Commencement

Head of Physicians Interactive Also Added to Those Being Recognized Next Week

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Actor, entrepreneur and education advocate LeVar Burton will receive an honorary degree from UMass Lowell during Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 16.


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

LOWELL, Mass. – When LeVar Burton visits UMass Lowell to speak to the Class of 2015 on Saturday, May 16, he will be presented with an honorary degree from the university.

Burton – an actor, entrepreneur and education advocate – is scheduled to speak to a record number of graduates, nearly 3,800, at UMass Lowell’s Commencement ceremonies, which will be held at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell. Burton will receive an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

Burton, whose career spans five decades, is the recipient of 12 Emmy Awards, a Grammy and five NAACP Awards for his work as an actor, director, writer, producer and program host. As an actor, he is best known for his roles in the groundbreaking TV miniseries “Roots” and the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV series and films. But it is as the host and executive producer of “Reading Rainbow,” the third longest-running children’s series on PBS, that he has perhaps had the most impact. The series, which earned more than 200 honors including a Peabody Award and 26 Emmys, inspired countless children to read during the 26-year run that ended in 2009. In 2012, Burton and business partner Mark Wolfe launched RRKidz, an all-digital educational publishing company, through a Kickstarter campaign that raised $6.5 million. Now a digital reading service with offerings including more than 500 children’s books, “Reading Rainbow” is the No. 1 educational app on iTunes and plans for 2015 include introducing versions for the web and the classroom with a special emphasis on those in economically challenged schools.

In addition to Burton, UMass Lowell is adding Donato Tramuto to the list of those who will receive honorary degrees at Commencement. Tramuto is the founder, CEO and chairman of Reading-based Physicians Interactive. A founder of Protocare Inc., a provider of drug development and disease management services, Tramuto was also previously with Caremark, where he championed the development of the company’s national disease management program for HIV/AIDS, and he began his career at Boehringer-Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals. He is the founder and chairman of the Tramuto Foundation, a nonprofit created to help young people achieve their educational goals that has also supported more than 50 organizations worldwide. In 2011, following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Tramuto founded Health eVillages, which provides state-of-the-art mobile health technology and support resources for medical professionals in the most challenging clinical environments in the world. Tramuto serves on several boards, including those of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Leadership Council and Boston University’s School of Public Health, and is chairman of the board of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, Europe. Tramuto has received honors including being named as one of the “Top 100 Most Inspirational Healthcare Leaders in the Life Sciences Industry” by PharmaVOICE magazine and by the Boston Globe as one of the Top 12 Innovators in Massachusetts for his work with Health eVillages, and the 2014 PharmaVOICE Red Jacket Award for furthering the life sciences industry through leadership, innovation, motivation, mentorship and philanthropy. In December 2014, Tramuto received the Robert F. Kennedy Ripple of Hope Award for nearly three decades of work addressing global access to health care and his commitment to social entrepreneurship.

“UMass Lowell is proud to be presenting honorary degrees to LeVar Burton and Donato Tramuto, who have each demonstrated a strong commitment to improving society through their work in their respective fields,” said Chancellor Marty Meehan. “They will join three other distinguished individuals in receiving these honors at our Commencement ceremonies.”

Others receiving honorary degrees are:

  • Carole Cowan, former president of Middlesex Community College, who began her tenure as a faculty member in business in 1976 before going on to serve as a dean and then president from 1990 until 2015. Under her leadership, the college weathered budget cuts but established campuses in Bedford and Lowell, and spurred the development of the Commonwealth’s first privately financed capital pool to build the college’s Health, Science and Technology Center. Cowan oversaw the renovation of the historic Nesmith House in Lowell and the Middlesex Meetinghouse in Billerica, led the campaign to acquire and renovate the federal building in Kearney Square and secured funding for three more academic buildings. During her time as president, the college expanded its horizons through international partnerships and training programs, new economic and workforce development initiatives with businesses, and by establishing one of Massachusetts’ first charter schools and sponsoring an alternative middle school. Her civic commitment includes serving on several local and statewide boards and committees. Cowan, a Lynn native, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Salem State University and a doctorate in higher education administration at UMass Amherst. 
  • John Sampas, literary executor of beat generation icon Jack Kerouac’s estate, who has led several successful initiatives supporting the arts and celebrating the life and works of Kerouac, who was Sampas’ brother-in-law. Under Sampas’ management, publishing of Kerouac’s works has flourished. Sampas has played a key role in establishing monuments in Lowell that feature quotations from notable Kerouac books. Sampas is a contributor to “Lowell Celebrates Kerouac,” the annual celebration of the writer’s legacy, and has been a generous supporter of UMass Lowell’s College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, including establishing the Jack and Stella Kerouac Center for American Studies Endowment Fund and the John Sampas Endowed Scholarship Fund. He has granted rights for special projects benefitting scholarships and academics at the university, including library resources, and allowed UMass Lowell, in partnership with Merrimack Repertory Theatre, to stage the world premiere of Kerouac’s only full-length play, “Beat Generation.” Sampas, who lives in Lowell, attended Boston Conservatory and Marietta College, and studied at Washburn University while serving in the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command.
  • Barry Perry ’68, former chairman and CEO of Engelhard Inc., who led one of the world’s largest chemical and metals companies prior to his retirement and has served on the board of directors of Arrow Electronics Inc. since 1999 and as lead director since 2011. In recognition of his generous support of UMass Lowell, which includes the Barry W. Perry Plastics Engineering Endowment for student scholarships, the university renamed its engineering building Perry Hall in his honor and established the Perry Atrium in the Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center. A past recipient of the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award, Perry was an honorary member of the steering committee of UMass Lowell’s Department of Plastics Engineering 50th Anniversary Celebration, helping to raise more than $11 million for the department and serving as the keynote speaker at the event, which drew more than 500 alumni. Perry earned a degree in plastics engineering from Lowell Technological Institute, one of UMass Lowell’s predecessor institutions, and lives in Newtown, Pa.

UMass Lowell will present its Distinguished Alumni Award will to Lorenzo Cabrera ’94, founder and chairman of the board of Cabrera Services Inc., an award-winning company based in East Hartford, Conn., with offices around the nation. The company – the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Region I Subcontractor of the Year in 2009 – specializes in radiological and environmental remediation and radioactive and mixed waste management. Cabrera, who earned a bachelor’s degree in radiological health physics at UMass Lowell, has previously received honors including the SBA’s Small Business Person of the Year for Connecticut and UMass Lowell’s Francis Cabot Lowell Young Alumni Award for Sciences. He established the Lorenzo J. Cabrera Endowed Scholarship Fund for students in the College of Sciences and the Lorenzo J. Cabrera Hockey Endowment Fund. Cabrera, who resides in East Hampton, Conn., and Miami, has also supported the Edward Lawson Alexander Fund, which offers fellowships to students who demonstrate outstanding academic achievement and commitment in radiological sciences.

For the eighth year in a row, a record number of graduates – nearly 3,800 – will receive degrees from UMass Lowell. The university is holding two Commencement ceremonies, both of which will be the last presided over by Meehan as UMass Lowell’s chancellor, as he will take the post of University of Massachusetts system president on July 1.

At the first ceremony, set for 9 a.m., undergraduate and graduate degrees from the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Health Sciences; and the Graduate School of Education will be presented. The second ceremony, at 2:30 p.m., will honor graduates of the Francis College of Engineering, College of Sciences and the Manning School of Business.

The honorary degree recipients, as well as the Distinguished Alumni Award winner and student academic and service award winners, will be recognized at the annual Commencement Eve Celebration on Friday, May 15 at the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, 50 Warren St., Lowell. The program has raised millions of dollars for student scholarships since 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 more than 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.