Julie Chen was presented with the Doctor of Science for distinction in engineering from Northern Ireland’s Queen’s University Belfast on June 29. The honorary degree recognizes her expertise as a mechanical engineer and promoter of diversity at UMass Lowell and beyond.
“In order to develop and innovate, society needs diversity of thought,” says Chen, UML’s vice chancellor of research and economic development. “We need people to come to the table with different experiences, perspectives and ideas. I am honored to receive this distinction and will continue to advance collaborations with Queen’s for the benefit of our students, faculty and economy.”
Chen spearheaded UML’s leadership role in the STEM Equity Achievement (SEA) Change initiative. Overseen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the SEA Change initiative encourages the recruitment and advancement of a diversity of talent in STEM fields. In May, UML was one of the first three institutions in the U.S. to receive the SEA Change Bronze Award for its inclusion efforts.
“The SEA Change initiative is exciting because every university can take on the challenge of assessing its strengths and weaknesses and then come up with a plan for improvements,” says Chen. “Universities do not have to apply for grants to make diversity a reality. This is a recognition, not a ranking that measures progress.”
Over the past decade, UML and Queen’s University have built a partnership that’s resulted in student and faculty exchanges, research partnerships and an archaeological dig at St. Patrick’s Church in Lowell that was led by archaeologists from Queen’s University.
Queen’s University, ranked in the top 173 universities in the world by QS World Rankings 2020, is one of the UK’s most successful universities in the Athena SWAN initiative, which promotes gender equality and career progression.
“UMass Lowell and Queen’s have enjoyed an excellent relationship for many years and share the same vision of promoting diversity in the STEM fields and giving students global experiences,” says Chen.
The daughter of a physicist and mathematician, Chen attended MIT, where she earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering. She joined the UMass Lowell mechanical engineering faculty in 1997 and has advanced the university’s nanotechnology and materials-processing expertise, raising the research profile of the university in the process. In her role today as vice chancellor for research and economic development, she directs UMass Lowell’s $73 million research enterprise, which spans all academic departments as well as 14 research and engagement centers and institutes.
Chen also is a core member of the university’s Making WAVES initiative, a project that aims to increase diversity of faculty in STEM fields. The National Science Foundation-funded project is led by UMass Lowell’s Center for Women & Work.