With Focus on Making an Impact, UML Celebrates Chancellor Chen’s Inauguration
Inaugural Events Raise $2.6M for Fund for Student Success
By Ed Brennen
Perfectly happy in her role as UMass Lowell’s chief research officer, Julie Chen says she didn’t give much thought initially to becoming the fourth chancellor in university history.
“Then people started to talk to me and I realized there was an opportunity to have a different kind of impact,” she said.
That impact — on student success, inclusivity, community and research — was the theme of Chen’s formal inauguration as UMass Lowell chancellor on Thursday morning at the Tsongas Center.
“Every day we face numerous challenges: climate change, health disparities, classrooms in need of innovation, soldiers in need of better protection, students working to make a change in their lives and their families’ lives. I look around today and I see so many people eager to step up, determined to have an impact,” Chen said in addressing nearly 1,000 guests and dignitaries, including Gov. Maura Healey, U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan and UMass President Marty Meehan ’78.
A leader in research and economic development in higher education and a member of the UML’s engineering faculty for 26 years, Chen officially succeeded Jacquie Moloney as chancellor last July after her unanimous approval by the UMass Board of Trustees.
“I have known Julie for more than 15 years, and I’ve seen her excel in everything she does,” said Meehan, who served as UML chancellor from 2007 to 2015. “She is off to a tremendous start in her first year. … I look forward to the next chapter at UMass Lowell that Julie Chen is only just beginning to write.”
Chen used her inauguration to announce that, starting with this fall’s incoming first-year class, every undergraduate student will have the opportunity for at least one paid career-connected experience by the time they graduate from UML. If a student’s internship or work experience is unpaid, they will receive funding from the Chancellor Julie Chen Fund for Student Success — which raised $2.6 million during this week’s inauguration festivities.
“No student will be left out because they can’t afford to work for free,” said Chen, who personally contributed $100,000 to the fund with her spouse, Susu Wong.
Healey, in her keynote remarks, praised Chen for helping make UMass Lowell a “national model” for research, innovation and academia partnering with industry.
“Chancellor Chen has made this a hallmark of her career. She has proven that making connections beyond the classroom is key to driving success for students, faculty and our entire state,” Healey said.
Trahan said Chen is an inspiration for the next generation of leaders, particularly women leaders in STEM.
“Like anyone who’s had the chance to work with Julie over the years, I’ve seen up close her intelligence, her passion for work, her commitment to the students at this university,” Trahan said. “And every step of the way, Chancellor Chen’s magnetic personality, her effortless humility, have shined brightly.”
Student Government Association President Neyder Fernandez, a senior political science major from Lowell, noted that no matter how big the forum, “Chancellor Chen makes you feel like you’re the only one in the room.”
Chen is UMass Lowell’s first Asian-American and first LGBTQ+ chancellor, a milestone noted by Healey, the commonwealth’s first woman and first openly gay person to be elected governor.
“Representation matters. Seeing is believing,” Healey said. “When we have more people in leadership who reflect the commonwealth we serve, we get better policies, better laws, better schools, better outcomes. Every student will dream bigger, be bolder, feel more seen and feel that possibility.”
The Student Success Fund got a big boost from a Community Celebration on Wednesday night that drew nearly 500 guests at University Crossing. Dubbed “A Taste of Lowell,” the fundraising event featured cuisine from 10 local restaurants: Athenian Corner, Red Rose, Laos Thai Kitchen, Wham’s Cafe, Panela, Food Shines, Cobblestones, Little Delights Bakery, Olympos Bakery and Eliu’s Hole in the Wall, as well as Aramark.
The celebration also included a salsa dance lesson and performances by the Osibi Drummers & Dancers and Angkor Dance Troupe, as well student performances by a capella group Vocality, the UML Chamber Singers and a string quartet.
The inauguration also featured university and community performances. The UMass Lowell Pep Band welcomed guests with “Liberty Fanfare,” while the Chamber Singers performed the national anthem. The Utopia Dance Company and Angkor Dance Troupe performed, and Christa Brown, founder of the Free Soil Arts Collective, read an inaugural poem.
The ceremony also featured remarks from State Sen. Edward Kennedy, Lowell Mayor Sokhary Chau, UMass Board of Trustees Chair Stephen Karam, UMass Building Authority Chair Mary Burns ’84, UML Faculty Senate President Kevin Petersen and Massachusetts Life Sciences Center CEO and President Kenn Turner.
“I am proud of what we’ve built together in the 26 years I’ve been here,” said Chen, who was accompanied to the inauguration stage by Spot, a bright-yellow robotic dog that is housed at UMass Lowell’s New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation Center. “And I am excited about what we can create in the next chapter of UMass Lowell’s history.”