Work Hard, Get Ahead, Give Back—that’s The UML Way, and It’s Propelled 'Our Legacy, Our Place' Past Its Initial Goal

Manning School of Business students celebrate the grand opening of the Pulichino Tong Business Center in 2017, one of several game-changing facilities the campaign has helped make possible
Manning School of Business students celebrate the grand opening of the Pulichino Tong Business Center in 2017, one of several game-changing facilities the campaign has helped make possible.

By Beth Brosnan

At last spring’s Commencement ceremony, Roma Aurora ’18 had one of the best seats in the house. As a winner of the Chancellor’s Medal for Student Service, she was seated onstage at the Tsongas Center, just a few rows away from the chancellor herself, with an ecstatic sea of graduates and their proud friends and family members spread out before her.

In her mind, Aurora could also see the long road she had traveled to get to this point.

“When I got to campus, I just felt, ‘This is where I belong,’” says Aurora, a business administration major and member of the Honors College. Born in India, she moved with her family to North Andover when she was 15, and remembers feeling shy and a little lost during her high school years.

“Everyone at UML is so committed to helping students succeed, it makes you want to do the same thing—to pay it forward and help others.”
Roma Aurora headshot
Increasing scholarship support to benefit students like Roma Aurora ’18 (pictured here) is a top priority for 'Our Legacy, Our Place,' UML’s first-ever comprehensive campaign.
She arrived at UMass Lowell determined to step out of her shell, and emerged as one of the most admired student leaders on campus: president of the Manning Leaders Council, where she worked to build community in the business school and strengthen mentoring and professional networking programs; an International Student Ambassador who helped newcomers navigate the culture shock she knew so well; and a member of an award-winning DifferenceMaker team that developed low-cost, high-tech prosthetics.

“I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t get involved early on and didn’t have professors who believed in me,” says Aurora, who graduated magna cum laude and now lives in New York, where she has a paid internship with Instinet, a global financial securities service.

“Everyone at UML is so committed to helping students succeed,” she adds. “It makes you want to do the same thing—to pay it forward and help others.”

And that, in many ways, is the spirit behind Our Legacy, Our Place: The Campaign for UMass Lowell.

UML Surpasses $125 Million Goal

When UML launched its first-ever comprehensive fundraising and engagement campaign, it was with the express purpose of helping others—with a goal of raising $125 million by 2020 for student scholarships, faculty recruitment and research, campus improvements and the university’s Division I athletic program.

So strong is the UML drive to work hard, get ahead and give back that the campaign has just surged past its original goal, 18 months ahead of schedule.

In September, Brian Rist ’77 made a $5 million commitment to Our Legacy, Our Place, the single largest gift in university history. 

“I’m a big believer that you go home from the dance with the person who got you there,” says Rist, a Stoughton native who worked his way through the University of Lowell and went on to found Storm Smart, now the largest hurricane protection company in Florida. “I’ve been very lucky in my life, and a lot of my success grows out of my time at Lowell—not just what I learned in the classroom, but also the people I met and the culture of the place. I wanted to give back to thank the university for putting me on the road to where I am today, and for making those same opportunities available for even more people.”

Like so many others who have helped make this campaign successful, Rist's generosity will have a tremendous impact on our students, says Chancellor Jacquie Moloney ’75, ’92.

“Our alumni understand how a UML education changes lives, and they want to make sure students today have the same opportunities they did," she says. “That truly is the power of our place—this determination to help new generations succeed, because we all share the same story.”

It’s what makes this such a special institution, says Robert Manning ’84, ’11 (H), chair of the UMass Board of Trustees. “UMass Lowell’s culture is about helping others," says Manning, who, along with his wife, Donna ’85, ’91, ’11(H), has been among the campaign’s strongest supporters.

In all, more than 32,000 donors made gifts to the campaign between 2013 and 2018, ranging from a single dollar to several million, says Vice Chancellor for Advancement John Feudo.

The university hopes to continue that momentum, with a second phase of the campaign. Our Legacy, Our Place: 125 and Rising aims to raise an additional $25 million by 2020, when UML will celebrate its 125th anniversary.

Already, donors have helped fuel dramatic growth by:

  • More than doubling the university’s endowment to $84.7 million;
  • Helping to fund the physical transformation of the UML campus, including game-changing facilities like University Crossing, the Pulichino Tong Business Center and the River Hawk Village residence hall;
  • Supporting programs focused on entrepreneurship, like DifferenceMaker, and facilities like the Innovation Hub and the Fabric Discovery Center, and;
  • Ensuring a successful transition to Division I athletics.

“I’ve been so impressed by the university’s growth over the past 10 years. I wanted to be part of that and help it do even more.”
Brian Rist ’77 poses with Chancellor Jacquie Moloney at the Celebration of Philanthropy
Brian Rist ’77 (with Chancellor Jacquie Moloney) has made the single largest gift in university history—a $5 million commitment to support scholarships and other initiatives.
Sitting in the University Crossing student center, Jon de Leon ’18 marvels at the growth he’s witnessed during his four years at UML. “It’s like watching a small city going up,” he grins. A criminal justice major from Berkeley, Calif., he first learned about Lowell in his high school AP U.S. history course. A campus visit sealed his decision to enroll here; receiving the Roy Zuckerberg ’58, ’99 (H) endowed scholarship made it possible for him to do so. 

“I got a high-quality education, made great connections in my field and gained real leadership experience,” says de Leon. “The financial support meant a lot, but so did the recognition that people believed in me and my education.”

“Not only has the campaign raised funds, it has also raised the university’s profile,” says campaign chair John Pulichino ’67, ’14 (H), who with his wife, Joy Tong ’14 (H), endowed a multimillion-dollar scholarship program that has already benefitted more than 80 students. “It’s brought a whole new awareness to the alumni community about the rewards of giving back—and the importance of private support.”


Marty Meehan ’78 knew that private support would be essential for UMass Lowell’s future when he was appointed chancellor in 2007. He also realized that not many alumni understood this.

“Back when we were students, the university could count on state support for most of its operating costs,” says Meehan, now president of the UMass system. “That kept tuition low, and many of us could pay our way through college with summer jobs and part-time work.” 

Today, state support constitutes just 23 percent of the university's budget, and tuition must cover much of the difference—putting UML’s fundamental commitment to access and affordability at risk. “We knew we had to think more entrepreneurially about our funding and develop a culture of philanthropy,” Meehan says.

This combination of entrepreneurial funding and philanthropy planted the seeds for Our Legacy, Our Place, and helped drive the construction of UML’s first new academic building in 30 years—the Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center, which opened on North Campus in 2012.

The building attracted major corporate support, including $5 million from Raytheon to establish a joint research institute focused on flexible and printed electronics. Private donors contributed more than $10 million to the science and technology center, led by Mark Saab ’81, ’13 (H) and his wife, Elisia ’13 (H), for whom the building is named.

Saab ETIC, as the 84,000-square-foot facility is known, established a funding model that has helped UML build or acquire a total of 14 buildings since 2009 and renovate some of its oldest facilities—like 80-year-old Pasteur Hall, which reopened this fall as Dandeneau Hall, the home to robotics and computer science programs, with substantial support from James Dandeneau ’80, ’18 (H).

“I’ve often said that without UMass, I would not be where I am today, To the degree that I am able, I feel a strong obligation to give back.” -John Kennedy
This building boom has repercussions felt well beyond campus, says Mark Saab: “Lisa and I live in the city of Lowell, and I believe that the recent growth of UMass Lowell has made the city a better place to live. The upgrades to the university over the past decade have made Lowell, and UMass Lowell in particular, a hot spot for innovation and forward thinking.”

Biology major Kierra Walsh ’19 can vouch for that. By the second term of her freshman year, the Billerica native was already in a Saab ETIC research lab, working with chemical engineering professor Gulden Camci-Unal on an effort to grow bone cells on filter paper—a process that could one day lead to a safe, inexpensive source of biomaterials for tissue and organ transplants.

“UMass Lowell gave me opportunities I never thought I’d have as an undergraduate,” says Walsh, including the chance to co-author an article in a peer-reviewed academic journal. It also provided her with a series of scholarships that will enable her to graduate debt-free and better able to afford veterinary school, a dream she’s had since she was a young girl. Says Walsh: “It’s really impossible to say thank you enough.”

125-rising'Our Legacy, Our Place,' Our Leaders

More than 32,000 supporters contributed to the success of Our Legacy, Our Place, led by members of UMass Lowell’s Circle of Distinction, which recognizes those donors who have made lifetime commitments of $1 million or more. Today, 23 individuals and couples have joined this select circle, up from just a single donor prior to 2007.
  • Gerald ’78 and Joyce ’77 Colella
  • Jeffrey Cosiol ’67
  • James ’80, ’18 (H) and Deborah Dandeneau
  • Gururaj ’08 (H) and Jaishree Deshpande
  • Richard* ’91 (H) and Nancy ’13 (H) Donahue
  • Charles ’66, ’04 (H) and Josephine Hoff
  • John Kennedy ’70, ’16 (H)
  • L. Donald ’59, ’07 (H) and Gloria* LaTorre
  • Brendan* and Mary Jo Leahey* ’37, ’08 (H)
  • Chian-Hsiang “Lawrence” Lin ’90 and Jang-Li Chang '80
  • Robert ’84, ’11 (H) and Donna '85, '91, '11 (H) Manning
  • Francis ’56, ’00 (H) and Tonita McKone
  • Martin Meehan ’78
  • Bill and Carol Mucica
  • David Pernick* ’41, ’06 (H)
  • Barry ’68, ’15 (H) and Janice Perry
  • John Pulichino ’67, ’14 (H) and Joy Tong ’14 (H)
  • Brian Rist ’77
  • Mark ’81, ’13 (H) and Elisia ’13 (H) Saab
  • Anil and Abha Singhal ’88
  • Alan ’77, ’94 (H) and Susan Solomont
  • Robert ’71, ’12 (H) and Gail Ward
  • Roy Zuckerberg ’58, ’99 (H)
  • *deceased

Visionary Leadership

Our Legacy, Our Place takes its name from UML’s 2020 Strategic Plan, the road map that has guided the university’s growth since 2010.
By launching its first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign, UML could, the plan’s authors wrote, “build on its legacy and take its place among the best public higher education institutions in the country.” The campaign’s quiet phase began in 2013 and quickly gained momentum.
By the time Our Legacy, Our Place had its public launch in April 2016, it had already attracted more than $78 million in contributions from donors like then-campaign chair Charles Hoff ’66, ’04 (H), who with his wife, Josephine, had endowed the largest privately funded scholarship program in the history of the UMass system.
Hoff, who says he could “talk for hours about UMass Lowell students”—how hard they work, and the challenges they’ve overcome—also has plenty of praise for the university’s leadership. “Both Jacquie Moloney and Marty Meehan have brought such an entrepreneurial spirit to UMass Lowell, and a real passion for the work because they both grew up in the area,” he says. “They’ve created a university that is bigger, broader and more visionary than the one I attended.”
Abdi Hassan-Shariff playing soccer for the UMass Lowell River Hawks
Our Legacy, Our Place helped UML’s 17 athletic teams make the successful transition to NCAA Division I competition, providing scholarships for student-athletes like Abdi Shariff-Hassan ’21.
Over the past decade, UML’s enrollment has doubled to more than 18,000 students, while academic achievement and diversity levels have also steadily increased. Research spending now totals more than $70 million, up from $36 million in 2007. Today, 23 individuals or couples have made gifts or commitments of more than a million dollars.
Many corporate partners—led by companies like Raytheon, Kronos, BAE Systems, Analog Devices Inc., UTC Aerospace, Skyworks, Pfizer, E Ink, Comcast, and Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union—have recognized UML’s growth and played a decisive role in it, through a combination of philanthropic giving, enthusiastic hiring of students and alumni, and on-campus partnerships ranging from research to support for academic and athletic programs.
“There’s nothing more important one can do than give another person a chance at a great education,” says John Kennedy ’70, ’16 (H), whose support has touched almost every aspect of campus life, particularly the athletics program and the Kennedy College of Sciences, which in 2015 was named in honor of him and his late brother, William ’54.
Adds Linda FitzPatrick ’68, chair of the College of Education Advisory Board and a major scholarship benefactor, “My dream for our students is that they feel as I did: that they have the support, guidance and financial help they need to pursue their education and go on to fulfilling, successful careers.”
What’s striking, says Feudo, is that “donors of all levels feel this same sense of dedication to our students.” That’s particularly true of UML faculty and staff, 45 percent of whom have made gifts to Our Legacy, Our Place—“a giving rate that is three times the national average, and one of the many reasons we were able to meet our campaign goal well ahead of schedule.”

125 and Rising

Meeting the campaign goal is a “true cause for celebration,” says Moloney. It’s also, she adds, an opportunity to put some extra points on the board.
“We have a lot of important work still to do,” Moloney says, including the renovation and expansion of historic Coburn Hall, the oldest and most iconic building on the UML campus, which is scheduled to open in 2020 as a new home for the College of Education.
It also includes putting a bigger dent in the student loan debt. While UML is able to meet 89 percent of demonstrated student need for financial aid, a significant gap remains. Almost one-third of in-state UML students with need come from families with household incomes of $30,000 or less. In the second phase of the campaign, says Moloney, “We’re going to work a little harder and give back a little more.”
infographic that shares facts about UMass Lowell

A Shared Story

Abdi Shariff-Hassan ’21, a business administration major and member of UML’s men’s soccer team, knows all about working harder and digging deeper. He first learned to play soccer in a Kenyan refugee camp, where his family had fled following the civil war in their native Somalia. In 2005, his family emigrated to the U.S. and eventually settled in the Maine mill town of Lewiston, home to a growing Somali community.
Shariff-Hassan can still recall the joy he felt when he first saw a group of young Somali boys kicking a soccer ball in a Lewiston park. He quickly joined them, and that group of boys grew up to lead Lewiston High School to the state championship title in 2015, with Shariff-Hassan as captain—a story that author Amy Bass chronicles in her new book,“One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together.”
“It was such a great feeling to do that with guys I’d grown up with, and with the whole city there cheering us on,” Shariff-Hassan says now. “It taught me that it doesn’t matter where someone is from or what their background or culture is—if you’re willing to work together, you can achieve any goal.”
He says he’s noticed that same spirit at UML, “where everyone is willing to help and guide students”—including a family he’d never even met.
Last spring, Shariff-Hassan was awarded one of the campaign’s newest scholarships, the Virginia and James Comley Scholarship, which Tony Award-winning producer Bonnie Comley ’81 and her husband, Stewart Lane, endowed to honor her parents. While Virginia and James never went to college, they made sure their daughter did, and they instilled in her the drive to work hard, get ahead and give back to her community.
All of that sounds pretty familiar to Shariff-Hassan, who also comes from a family that prizes education. “My family moved to the U.S. so my eight siblings and I could get a better education and more opportunities,” he says. “Although my parents don’t speak English very well, they both have jobs and work as many shifts as they can to support our family and make sure we are happy.”
Like Comley and so many other UML students before him, Shariff-Hassan is the first member of his family to attend a four-year college. “Having the chance to study here is really a dream come true for me,” he says. 
It’s an American dream as old as his adopted country, and as new as the freshman class that arrives on campus each September. We come from Lowell and Lewiston, from Billerica and Berkeley, from the U.S. and India, to become part of a shared story and work toward the same goal.

That’s the power of “Our Place.”

Be Part of the 'Our Legacy, Our Place' Campaign

Help us rise even higher! Your support for “125 and Rising” will ensure that the transformative education UMass Lowell provides its more than 18,000 students remains an affordable one.