Francisco Urena was part of an elite group on UMass Lowell’s campus. He is a veteran of the U.S. military. The Lawrence-born Marine served his country overseas and was stationed in faraway places such as Iraq and Syria. It was during this time that he sustained a serious injury and was subsequently awarded the distinguished Purple Heart Award.
Back home in the Merrimack Valley, Urena transferred from Northern Essex Community College and completed his education at UMass Lowell. He balanced a full-time course-load with his job as Director of Veterans Affairs for the City of Lawrence. “I think my military background helped me prepare for the kind of discipline it takes to work and go to school at the same time,” he says. As commissioner of Veterans Services for the City of Boston, Urena was awarded Veterans Services Director of the Year in 2008 for his work assisting the family of Staff Sgt. Alex Jimenez who was captured, tortured and murdered by insurgents in Iraq. In 2015, Urena was appointed to Gov. Charlie Baker's Cabinet as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. He oversees services for 385,000 veterans statewide.
Urena was attracted to UMass Lowell for the “ease with which I could transfer my community college credits.” He was also impressed with Chancellor Marty Meehan’s commitment to veterans, helping them continue their education. “It’s great to see so many veterans in the classroom as part of the campus community,” he says. “I know the Chancellor has been a big advocate for us.”
In regard to his experience at the university, Urena admires the dedication of his instructors. “The professors go above and beyond to make sure you really understand the material,” he says. "I've seen them come to class early and stay late to go the extra mile for their students.”