By Beth Brosnan
Jerry Colella ’78, ’19 (H) knows exactly how special UMass Lowell Commencements can be. A year ago, he and his wife, Joyce ’77, ’19 (H), marched into the Tsongas Center with the Class of 2019, where they both received honorary degrees in recognition of their decades of support for the university.
So when the coronavirus shut down campus and pushed many students to the financial edge, Colella was determined to help. He joined more than 550 alumni and other supporters who contributed over $400,000 to two emergency funds set up to assist students and sustain essential programs.
“During these troubled times, it is more important than ever to answer the call to assist the university and our students in any way we can,” says Colella, chair of the Manning School of Business Advisory Board.
Cindy Conde ’87, ’90 and Mark Saab ’81, ’13 (H) were among those who heeded the call. The co-chairs of the Francis College of Engineering Industrial Advisory Board not only made their own gifts, they challenged other board members to do the same—and 14 of them responded.
By Commencement, close to 60 donors had made gifts of $1,000 or more, double the number from the same period last year. DCU also made a major contribution to underwrite expenses for the virtual Commencement ceremony.
So far, the university has distributed over $200,000 in funds to 250 students, and is processing applications from 200 more. One of them is Dejonai Willis, a psychology major and first-generation college student who lost two part-time jobs that helped pay for school. “I’m so grateful that people who don’t know me are helping further my education,” she says.
Thirty-five percent of contributions to the Student Emergency Needs Fund came from UML staff and faculty, including Prof. Jim Canning, dean of the Honors College. “All of our students are so very precious, and it would be a shame if even one of them could not come back due to hardship,” he says. “One generation helps the next.”