Five Faculty Members Receive Three-Year Awards from Donahue Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility

A group of nine men and women pose for a photo in a hall with a mural on the wall behind them Image by Ed Brennen
The latest Donahue Center Fellows include, from third to left, Hieu Phan, Marie Frank, Meg Sobkowicz-Kline, Ingrid Hess and Neil Shortland.

By Ed Brennen

Five faculty members from the fields of art, finance, plastics engineering and criminology have been selected for three-year fellowships by UMass Lowell’s Donahue Center for Business Ethics and Social Responsibility.
Prof. Meg Sobkowicz-Kline (plastics engineering) and Assoc. Profs. Marie Frank (art and architectural history), Ingrid Hess (art and design), Hieu Phan (finance) and Neil Shortland (criminology and justice studies) were recently named Donahue Fellows. They are eligible to receive $7,500 in annual funding to research ethical leadership. 
“This group furthers the mission of the center to be increasingly interdisciplinary, which is consistent with what’s demanded in the space of business ethics, social responsibility and ethical leadership,” says Donahue Center Co-Director Erica Steckler, an associate professor of management in the Manning School of Business.
Chancellor Emerita Jacquie Moloney, meanwhile, has been named a Senior Donahue Fellow.
The Donahue Center is named after philanthropist Nancy Donahue and her late husband, Richard, whose $1 million gift to the university in 2016 made the center a reality.
“In speaking with Nancy, our greatest hope when we started this center was to create a group of fellows that would develop synergies together,” Moloney says. 
A woman talks while another woman seated next to her looks on Image by Ed Brennen
Chancellor Emerita Jacquie Moloney, left, a Senior Donahue Fellow, listens to Plastics Engineering Prof. Meg Sobkowicz-Kline discuss her fellowship project during a meeting at Coburn Hall.
Provost Joseph Hartman, who served on the selection committee, says he was struck by the breadth of the faculty members’ ideas and “how they can weave together in a similar topic area, yet be so diverse” in their goals.
Here’s a closer look at the fellowship projects:
  • Sobkowicz-Kline will explore the creation of a Center of Excellence in Socially Responsible Plastics Sustainability at UMass Lowell. She will interview leaders from industry, government, the community and the university to understand which segments of the state’s economy stand to benefit most from improved recycling infrastructure and ecodesign for more sustainable products. Because Lowell is designated as an Environmental Justice Community by the state, Sobkowicz-Kline says, “It is our ethical responsibility to ensure that the city does not bear the cost of transition to a more sustainable plastics supply chain.” UML faculty already conduct research in several areas of materials sustainability, including education and training, toxicity, recycling, microplastics and biobased feedstocks, Sobkowicz-Kline says. But “to responsibly implement technical advances,” she says, “we need to engage the Lowell community, industry partners and students at all levels to drive decision-making and infrastructure development toward responsible materials creation and waste management.”
  • Frank is creating an archive that documents philanthropists who have contributed to the urban revitalization of Greater Lowell, including the Donahues (founders of the Merrimack Repertory Theatre and supporters of programs throughout region), George Duncan (founder and chairman of Enterprise Bank), the Demoulas family (founders of the Market Basket grocery store chain and the Demoulas Foundation), and Mark and Elisia Saab (founders and owners of Advanced Polymers and the Saab Family Foundation). “While many of us know about their contributions, no dedicated study of their efforts — and the reasons for them — exists,” says Frank, who will work with Moloney to conduct interviews. Frank, who envisions the project resulting in a university archive in business leadership, says the growing national debate around the use of environmental, social and governance measures in corporate America punctuates the need for leadership responsibility and ethics.
  • Hess will work with UML’s Rist Institute for Sustainability and Energy to create a card game that engages schoolchildren in Lowell with environmental practices. The project builds on a game that Hess created for University College Cork in Ireland as part of a Fulbright scholarship in 2021. “The game will center around how UML is involved in sustainability and how schoolchildren in our area can be important partners in the effort to protect the environment,” says Hess, whose game will address themes such as climate, energy, water, biodiversity, consumption and waste, food sustainability and citizenship. Hess says the project aligns with the efforts of the Lowell Green Community Partnership, also funded by Donahue, which awards grants for joint university-community projects that advance sustainability in Lowell. 
  • Phan will examine how firms pursue mergers and acquisitions, an important form of corporate investment, to circumvent constraints imposed by local climate policies. With climate policies varying from state to state, he says that some businesses take advantage of more favorable regulations in one state to avoid less favorable regulations in others. “Although exploiting existing regulatory loopholes is a legal practice, it may be considered unethical,” says Phan, whose research findings could have “important implications for policymakers, business managers, investors and other corporate stakeholders.” He will also investigate how a firm’s corporate social responsibility efforts affect the link between climate policies and mergers and acquisitions. “This research highlights a potential ethical dilemma that managers are faced with as they concurrently take into account the constraints imposed by local climate policies, investors’ interests and their own wealth and reputation when they make corporate decisions,” Phan says.
  • Shortland seeks to improve ethical decision-making and leadership ethics in complex and uncertain contexts. To do so, he will implement a training tool he developed called LUCIFER (Least-worst Uncertain Choice Inventory for Emergency Responses) with workers in the corporate world and in high-risk fields such as emergency services. “Ethical leadership requires leaders to make effective decisions under conditions of uncertainty, moral ambiguity and value conflict,” Shortland says. “Often in such situations, decision-makers are facing novel decisions which they have not experienced in the past and have little or no policy to guide them.” Shortland and an interdisciplinary team of UML researchers are using LUCIFER to explore how artificial intelligence can be used to make difficult decisions, in work that is supported by $3 million in funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
A man and a woman shake hands while another woman looks on Image by Ed Brennen
During a meeting at Coburn Hall for the latest Donahue Fellows, Assoc. Prof. of Art & Design Ingrid Hess, left, shakes hands with Assoc. Prof. of Finance Hieu Phan while Assoc. Prof. of Art & Architectural History Marie Frank looks on.
Donahue Center Co-Director Elissa Magnant says the fellows’ work affects people of all ages in the Greater Lowell community, from children to adults.
“The partnerships that this represents with Lowell, the university and the ethics community are really exciting,” says Magnant, an assistant teaching professor of management.
This is the second cohort of Donahue Fellows. In 2019, Li Sun and Peter Tashman from the Manning School, Muhammad Quayes and Elizabeth Herbin-Triant from the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, and Christopher Niezrecki and Juliette Rooney-Varga from the Rist Institute were chosen.