There were 750 immigrants being sworn in as U.S. citizens that day at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, each with their own reason for doing so.
For Ruairi O’Mahony, the reason was UMass Lowell.
“I honestly don’t know if I would have applied for citizenship were it not for UMass Lowell,” says O’Mahony, a native of Cork, Ireland, who joined UML in 2014 as manager of transportation and parking services and is now director of the Office of Sustainability.
O’Mahony moved to the States for a job as a transportation planner in Concord, N.H., in 2009 and soon started a family with his American-born wife Julie, so he had been eligible to apply for dual citizenship for several years. But he never felt connected enough to his new home to make it official. Working at the university changed that.
“Coming to UMass Lowell, the connection was almost immediate,” says O’Mahony, who was officially sworn in as a U.S. citizen on April 17, 2019.
A few weeks into his new job at UML, O’Mahony’s second daughter was born. The first bouquet of flowers his family received was from his colleagues in Transportation Services, Tom Miliano, Nick Piscitello and Karina Cruz.
“To get that from people you’d only known for three weeks ... stuff like that is so important,” O’Mahony says. “Coming into such a friendly environment, which is also so hard-working, and being allowed to grow in it has been great.”
With O’Mahony leading the Office of Sustainability, the university has become one of the top 10 educational institutions in the country, according to the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS), reaching Gold status. UML has launched an Urban Agriculture Program, introduced the Sustainability Engagement & Enrichment Development (S.E.E.D.) Fund, supported sustainability curriculum and partnered with the city on a number of initiatives.
“No one person or one office can change the entire campus; it has to be partnerships and teamwork,” says O’Mahony, who credits Chancellor Jacquie Moloney for making sustainability a priority at the university by adding it to the 2020 Strategic Plan. “Campus and community engagement are among our strengths.”
UML has also partnered on sustainability initiatives with O’Mahony’s alma mater, University College Cork, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in geography and English and a master’s degree in planning and sustainable development, and excelled at the traditional Irish sport of hurling.
“I never thought I’d leave Cork, let alone Ireland,” says O’Mahony, who first came to the U.S. in the summer of 2007 to play in a hurling league in Boston.
He’d never been to Lowell until he interviewed with Transportation Services.
“One of the things I like about Lowell is that we always seem to be fighting an uphill battle, but we always get it done,” says O’Mahony, who sees similarities between Lowell and Cork. “If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and work hard, people appreciate it and help you do it.”
With so many different cultures and people in Lowell, O’Mahony has found it easy to assimilate.
“Lowell is a city of immigrants, and I never felt different here,” he says. “You’re always going to be from somewhere else. But if you’re looking for somewhere to be your second home, I honestly don’t think you can find a better place than this.”