By Chris Lisinski
LOWELL -- UMass Lowell alumnus Brian Rist will donate $5 million to his alma mater, the largest contribution in the school's history, to support its entrepreneurship programs and sustainability efforts, leaders announced Friday.
Rist, 64, graduated from the university in 1977 before beginning a successful career in business. For two and a half decades, he has been the owner of Storm Smart, a Florida company that sells storm-protection equipment for homeowners. He lives in Cape Coral, Fla.
In an interview, Rist said he has seen UMass Lowell undergo significant changes in recent years, encouraging him to support its next steps.
"I just really believe that the whole area the university's on and the city has come so far," he said. "I'd like to help them go a little further."
Rist grew up in Stoughton and attended UMass Lowell in its earlier years, where he received a degree in operations management. He is currently completing an MBA through the school's online program.
Storm Smart began with three employees, Rist said, and now has more than 240. He described it as the "largest manufacturer of hurricane shutters and hurricane protection devices in the United States."
Rist recalled a different UMass Lowell four decades ago when he was a student, one that was more cloistered from the city around it. But he sees the changes and recent developments as a positive trend.
"When I was here, I met people who had been unemployed for almost three generations," he said.
"Now, you walk around the school and the city and it seems to be a thriving place."
Rist made his first contribution to the school about 10 years ago with a $25,000 endowment. That grew to $100,000 over time until he decided this year to break into the millions.
His $5 million, which will be given over the next five years, becomes the largest contribution in UMass Lowell's history, topping the $4 million John Pulichino and Joy Tong donated in 2012 to open a business facility.
With Rist's donation, UMass Lowell officially surpasses its seven-year fundraising goal of $125 million two years ahead of schedule, according to Chancellor Jacquie Moloney.
"We consider this a transformation gift because it will help us to implement many of the initiatives and build on the programs we had already been working on," Moloney said.
The fundraising campaign will continue for the remaining two years, Moloney said, but with a new goal of $150 million.
How Rist's donation will be spent has not been fully decided. A portion of the money will go to ensuring Lowell has a sustainable, environmentally friendly campus -- a passion of Rist's -- and another portion will likely support scholarships. The donor hopes to see money go to the DifferenceMaker program as well because he feels its emphasis on innovation is crucial to the future.
"There's just such amazing things going on there that it very much impresses me," he said. "There's no shortage of problems in the world today, but I really, really believe the way you solve those problems is through education."