Endowed Professorships Provide Research Opportunities for Faculty
Positions Reflect the College’s Commitment to Academic Success
By Edwin L. Aguirre
A growing number of engineering faculty have been able to expand research projects thanks to the college’s endowed professorships.
An endowed professorship is one of the highest honors that the Francis College of Engineering can bestow on a faculty member. It recognizes outstanding researchers and educators whose accomplishments, leadership and expertise in their fields of study exemplify the mission of the college.
The professorships are funded in perpetuity by earmarked donations to the university’s endowment.
“Endowed professorships give faculty discretionary funds to pursue research in preparation for submitting a major proposal,” says Engineering Dean and Prof. James Sherwood. “They can also use them as seed funds so they can go after topics that could attract investment, and develop the database to show that the projects are worth pursuing in the future.”
Sherwood considers endowed positions a great tool for recruiting — and retaining — high-caliber faculty.
“We can use them to attract an established ‘superstar,’ or even an up-and-coming star who is a freshly minted Ph.D.,” he says. “Professorships allow us to offer them discretionary funds to hire grad students and postdocs to work on their research projects, to travel, attend conferences or go to another university, company or government lab to do collaborative work,” he says.
“It is a really good investment for the university and the faculty, and can pay great dividends,” he adds.
To date, the college has five endowed positions — the Dandeneau, Pernick, Saab, Ward and Foley professorships. Except for the Foley, which was created in honor of a respected Massachusetts business leader, all the other positions were established by alumni and their families. Here’s a closer look at each one.
James V. Dandeneau Endowed Professorship
The professorship was established in 2008 by James Dandeneau, a 1980 plastics engineering graduate who is the founder and CEO of Putnam Plastics, a Connecticut-based plastics extrusion firm that produces catheter assemblies and other medical devices.
Plastics Engineering Assoc. Prof. Margaret Sobkowicz-Kline was awarded the professorship for academic years 2019-20 and 2020-21 to support her research and teaching, which are focused on the convergence of polymeric materials and engineering for environmental sustainability. Sobkowicz-Kline and her research group are investigating energy-efficient building materials, new methods for plastics recycling and new polymer materials that are biobased, safer and biodegradable.
While she was on a six-month sabbatical in 2019, the Dandeneau endowment supported Sobkowicz- Kline’s travel to visit instrument companies in Europe and deliver a lecture at the University of Leoben in Austria.
Funds from the endowment were also used to support her plastics engineering student research assistants, including Varun Venoor (Ph.D. ’21), Shawn Martey (Ph.D. ’24), Mansoureh Jamalzadeh (Ph.D. ’25) and Sarah Perry (B.S. ’21). Their work has resulted in a number of papers in peer-reviewed publications and conference proceedings.
The endowment also funded the purchase of specialized lab equipment, including a –40 degree Fahrenheit freezer for storing biological samples and enzymes to ensure their stability.
“The endowed professorship fund has enabled my group to persist and continue to produce good science despite the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m developing a first-year course on polymer sustainability, where I hope to excite new plastics engineering students about the possibilities for their future contributions,” says Sobkowicz-Kline.
“Contributions from generous alumni like Jim Dandeneau are so meaningful because they signal to faculty and students alike that what we are doing is important to the university, to our industry and to society in general,” she says.
David and Frances Pernick Nanotechnology Endowed Professorship
The endowment was established in 2010 by the late David ‘41, ‘06 (H) and Frances Pernick. David, who graduated from UMass Lowell (then Lowell Textile Institute) with a degree in textile engineering, turned his father’s textile machinery business in 1961 into the highly successful Monarch Knitting Machinery Corp. in Monroe, North Carolina. The company is widely recognized today as being the world’s leading supplier of single and double jersey knitting machines.
In 1970, he co-founded the Shenkar College of Textile Technology and Fashion in Ramat Gan, Israel. Now known as the Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art with an enrollment of 2,800 students, the school includes both textiles and polymer materials engineering programs.
Before Pernick passed away in 2014, the couple celebrated the 60th anniversary of his graduation by creating the International Program of Graduate Studies in Plastics Engineering, which brings students from Shenkar College to UMass Lowell, and faculty from Lowell to Israel, to conduct research and collaborate on academics.
Plastics Engineering Prof. Joey Mead currently holds the title of Pernick Professor. Mead, who was named a UMass Lowell Distinguished University Professor in 2017, is co-director of the Nanomanufacturing Center of Excellence, deputy director of the National Science Foundation Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing and director of the SHAP3D Center.
Last year, the endowment allowed Mead to support Shenkar graduate student Avia Bar, who was conducting research on the behavior of stretchable conductors as well as encapsulating coatings for flexible electronics.
Her work built on the original research done by another Shenkar graduate student in Mead’s group, Orli Weitzman, on the conductivity of carbon nanotube yarns.
The endowment would have funded Mead’s travel to Israel as well as a visit by her counterparts at Shenkar, Profs. Hannah Dodiuk and Shmuel Kenig, to UMass Lowell to collaborate with students on projects. However, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, all trips had to be postponed.
“We are hoping to resume normal visits as soon as we can, but we meet by Zoom at least twice a week,” says Mead.
Mark and Elisia Saab Endowed Professorship
Mark Saab, a UML plastics engineering alumnus, and his wife, Elisia, endowed the professorship in 2008, seeded with the couple’s $500,000 gift and matched by a state fund.
The Saabs founded Advanced Polymers in 1989. Based in Salem, New Hampshire, the company is a pioneer in the production of the industry’s thinnest, strongest and smallest heat-shrink tubing and specialized medical balloons. It merged with the MedTech Group in New Jersey in 2010.
Plastics Engineering Prof. Carol Barry has held the Saab Professorship since 2019. The funds helped cover the research costs of her students, who all completed master’s degrees: Matthew Flynn-Hepford ‘19, William Johnston ‘19 and Courtney Mazur ‘20.
“They worked as a team and became experts on extrusion, particularly in operating the lab’s highspeed twin- and quad-screw extruders,” says Barry. “They performed research, were teaching assistants for the summer extrusion seminars, and supported undergraduate and graduate students for their capstone and other projects. They also trained others to run the new twin-screw extruder installed in summer 2019.”
Barry says the endowment made a lasting impact on the students’ education.
“I would like to thank Mark and Elisia for their truly generous support of the plastics engineering program,” she says. “These funds have made a great difference for both these graduate students and the students that they assisted.”
Robert and Gail Ward Endowed Professorship in Biomedical Materials Development
The endowment was established by Bob Ward ’71, ’12 (H), president and CEO of ExThera Medical Corp., and his wife, Gail. ExThera, a privately held medical device company based in California and The Netherlands, last year developed an innovative filter that Ward invented to capture and remove SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, from the blood of infected patients.
Beginning in 2012, the Ward professorship has provided financial assistance over a two-year period to a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering to conduct research on innovative biomedical materials and devices.
This year’s endowed position was awarded to Asst. Prof. Gulden Camci-Unal, who has conducted groundbreaking research in biomaterials and tissue engineering using paper, eggshells and hydrogels. Camci-Unal also recently developed a simple, rapid test for detecting the coronavirus in body fluids.
Camci-Unal used her funds to purchase a laboratory-scale electrospinning instrument that allows her research group to pursue tissue engineering and regenerative medicine applications. Her group will use biocompatible polymers and fabricate 3D scaffolds that can be implanted in patients to help repair damaged tissues, including bone, cartilage, skin and cardiovascular tissues.
In addition, the researchers are planning to develop in-vitro cell culture platforms using electrospinning to study cell behavior, which can be useful for personalized medicine.
“It is a tremendous honor to receive the Robert and Gail Ward Endowed Professorship,” says Camci-Unal. “With this award, I am pursuing research to help solve problems in life sciences and medicine. The funding will provide great opportunities for my laboratory. I am extremely grateful to Bob and Gail for their support.”
Howard P. Foley Endowed Professorship
Established in 2001, the professorship was named in honor of Howard P. Foley, who was head of the Massachusetts High Technology Council for 20 years. The council is an organization of CEOs and senior executives representing technology companies, professional services firms and research institutions dedicated to creating and sustaining investment, job growth and improved quality of life in the commonwealth.
Before venturing into the economic development field, Foley headed IBM’s financial marketing team in Boston. While serving as executive director of Jobs for Massachusetts, an organization designed to attract companies to invest in the state, he met Ray Stata, co-founder and chairman of Analog Devices, and the seed for the Mass High Tech Council was planted.
Sherwood, who is a mechanical engineering professor, has been appointed Foley Professor since 2019. Funds from the endowment partially supported Juan Su, a Ph.D. student studying the effect of manufacturing defects on the durability of fiberglass-reinforced composite wind turbine blades.
“Localized defects during manufacturing can compromise the overall structural behavior of the blades,” says Sherwood. “While much research has been carried out on the effect of defects, there is still a need for empirical models that can assist in understanding the relationship between defect geometries and their effect on blade durability.”
Such models would help blade manufacturers, wind farm owners and operators, and insurers make an informed decision on whether to use the blades as is, repair them before putting them in service or scrap them altogether, according to Sherwood.
“This would ultimately lead to a reduction in the average net present cost of electricity generation for the wind turbine over its lifetime, which in turn, would contribute to job growth in the wind industry,” he says.