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.”
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.”
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.”
A CULTURE OF PHILANTHROPY
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.”