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UMass Lowell Opens Center to Boost Success of Asian American Students

Academic Support, Mentorship Among Services Provided

AACEE opening September 2022 Photo by Ed Brennen
Members of the Angkor Dance Troupe of Lowell performed a blessing at the opening of the UMass Lowell Asian American Center for Excellence and Engagement last month. 


Contacts for media: Emily Gowdey-Backus, director of media relations,, and Nancy Cicco, assistant director of media relations,

UMass Lowell’s Asian American and Pacific Islander students have a vibrant place to call their own.  

Officially opened on Wednesday, Sept. 28, the university’s Asian American Center for Excellence and Engagement (AACEE, pronounced “ace”) offers staff and peer mentoring to help students access academic, career, financial aid and wellness services. 

“This new center provides students with personalized services to help them flourish, while celebrating their heritage and deepening our commitment to fostering diversity, both on campus and throughout the greater Lowell community,” said Chancellor Julie Chen.

Lowell has the second-largest population of Cambodian Americans in the country and UMass Lowell has welcomed a growing number of Asian American students over the past decade. Many of them come from Southeast Asian refugee families who lost everything – family members, land, possessions, livelihoods and years of schooling – during the Vietnam War, the CIA’s secret war in Laos, or the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, according to Phitsamay Uy, an associate professor in UMass Lowell’s School of Education. Lowell is also home to many Vietnamese, Hmong, Lao, and more recent refugees from Myanmar, she said. 

Uy helped establish the center under the leadership of Julie Nash, vice provost for academic affairs, and colleagues Sue Kim, associate dean of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; and Leslie Wong, dean of equity and inclusion. 

The initiative is funded by nearly $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education, which recognizes UMass Lowell as an Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution. Thirteen percent of UMass Lowell undergraduates identify as Asian American, and fewer than 1% identify as Pacific Islanders, with both populations demonstrating financial need. These factors help qualify the university for the federal designation.

A portion of the grant money – $10,000 each year for five years, which the university must match through donations – will establish an endowment for scholarships for Southeast Asian American students. 

Lowell resident Emme Prum, a UMass Lowell biology major who works as a career exploration student coordinator at the new center, said it is already creating a buzz on campus, helping to connect AAPI students who commute to classes with those who live on campus.   

“I’m really excited to have a space for those who identify as Asian American and Pacific Islanders,” she said. “This is a community for them to rely upon and for them to understand they are not alone. I remember when I was a freshman – I was unsure. I’m so happy to know incoming students have this space to hang out, to make new friends, meet new people and have a place where they can ask new questions and feel like they belong.”

AACEE builds on the successful programs in UMass Lowell’s Center for Asian American Studies, directed by Kim and Uy, and initiatives offered by the Office of Multicultural Affairs. More than 100 UMass Lowell students have already benefitted from the center, according to Program Director Cherry Lim. 

“We have paired experienced upperclassmen with first-year and incoming transfer students for connection and guidance. We’re also providing civic engagement, identity development, career exploration, financial literacy, and total health and well-being programs. We’ve seen a huge response from students,” she said.

The center also plans to partner with community organizations that can bridge language and cultural gaps with families and partner with successful Asian American alumni and community members who can serve as role models for current students, according to Kim. 

“We see this initiative as integral to the university’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Plan. UMass Lowell has been building and will continue to build programs to equip all our students to succeed,” she said.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe.