Tewksbury native Jacquie Moloney ends her tenure as UMass Lowell chancellor

Tewksbury native Jacquie Moloney ends her tenure as UMass Lowell chancellor this month after 38 years at the university. (Rosalyn Impink photo)

LOWELL — Growing up in Tewksbury, Jacquie Mo­loney never dreamed she would end up serving as the leader of one of the largest public research uni­versities in New Eng­land.

“Definitely not!” the chan­cellor of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell said.

After 38 years at the university, Moloney is handing over the leadership reins to current Vice Chancellor for Research & Economic Development Julie Chen and stepping away from the chancellor’s office to pursue the next chapter in her life.

Moloney grew up in Tewksbury as one of nine children. She attended the Heath Brook School, the former junior high school (now the Wynn Middle School), and Tewksbury Memorial High School.

“I was really fortunate to get a great education in Tewksbury,” she said. “It prepared me to be a college student.”

There weren’t a lot of sports for women back then.

“That’s why I’m so grate­ful for Title IX,” she said, so Moloney kept busy in high school by participating in yearbook club and student government.

Looking back, Moloney says that’s when she got bit by the leadership bug.

“I enjoyed being part of making the school a better learning environment and building community.”

After high school, Molo­ney had an interest in going other places, and the then-University of Low­ell offered an affordable op­tion close to home — tui­tion cost $200 per semester in the 1970s, and Moloney worked at the Dairy Queen at the Tew-Mac Airport to put herself through school.

At TMHS, guidance coun­selors put Moloney on the business track to become a secretary, but after she enrolled in a college-level writing class, two teachers, Bill Coughlin and Jean Reardon, saw her potential and encouraged her to switch to the college track.

Back then, Moloney said, “girls from blue collar fa­milies didn’t go to college.” It was a powerful lesson in how teachers paying attention can make a difference in students’ lives.

When Moloney first ar­rived at the university, “it was sink or swim,” she said. As a first generation student, “I had to learn how to survive and navigate college without a lot of help or guidance.”

She planned to be a high school teacher and attend Lowell State Teachers Col­lege, but when she came to the university, the education program had closed. Moloney fell into sociology — “I love people” — and psychology, going on to earn a masters in social psychology from Goddard College and eventually an EdD from UMass Lowell.

She worked in college prep and academic support, serving as deputy to UML chancellor and current UMass system president Marty Meehan be­fore being appointed as UML chancellor herself in 2015.

Moloney spent her ca­reer driving change in the higher education landscape; she recalls professors who took pride in failing half a class, and loved being a part of a cultural shift that puts student suc­cess at the center.

Her hard work paid off; the university has a freshman retention rate of over 85 percent, and 96 percent of students graduate and go straight to continuing education or employment.

“We really help students develop a meaningful life,” she said. “They graduate having made a difference with a lot of real world experience. They learn as much outside the classroom as they do inside.”

During her tenure, Mo­loney focused heavily on student-oriented leadership. She hosted lunches regularly with students, involved them in strategic planning direction, and collaborated to make necessary changes to im­prove the student experience. Student growth is a hallmark of Moloney’s ap­proach.

“By the end, they’re polished and comfortable with being leaders.”

Moloney is looking forward to returning to the classroom after her chancellorship, and will rejoin the faculty teaching a class on the future of work and researching what lies ahead for higher education.

“We’re never going back to the way we did things before,” said Moloney, ad­ding that she hopes to glean some great lessons from the pandemic on building community.

Moloney’s accomplishments include major physical and cultural shifts at the university. In 10 years, UML has grown 60 percent, renovating or acquiring 19 new buildings with LEED certification, which enabled the university to reduce its carbon footprint by 50 percent. UML has been ranked for the past six years as the #1 “green” university in Massachu­setts.

“Sustainability is important to students and staff,” she said.

Moloney is also proud of bringing students, faculty, staff, and administrators together with a collective purpose to research and address real-world problems.

Molony’s most memorable experience during her time as chancellor? Sharing the stage with billionaire and cultural icon Oprah Winfrey at the university in 2018. English professor Andre Dubus III was selected to Oprah’s Book Club List, and leveraged that relationship to invite Winfrey to visit UML.

As the first female chancellor, Moloney had the opportunity to interview Winfrey in front of a sold-out crowd at the Tsongas Center. Donors raised $1.5 million for scholarships, which Winfrey matched to $3 million. Moloney noted that Winfrey was kind and genuine, meeting personally with students receiving scholarships, but said that Winfrey kept her good deeds off-camera.

Moloney always stayed closely connected to the Merrimack Valley, and af­ter several years in Chelms­ford recently made the move back to her hometown of Tewksbury. She is also involved with Strong­water Farm and assisted them with their fundraising and philanthropic efforts; in 2021, she was honored with the organization’s Make A Difference Award.

The university also re­cently announced the Mo­loney Student Fellowship Fund, created by Moloney and her husband Ed to provide support to enable students to participate in internships and opportunities that might otherwise present financial barriers.

“It’s so important for students to have applied learning and a chance to explore their fields,” she said. “They’re very serious and eager. I love to see them out there learning.”

Moloney wants this year’s graduates to remember to “wrap yourself in support” and “stretch out and reach your dreams” as they be­come changemakers in a rapidly changing society.

“Students at UMass Low­ell get an education in and out of the classroom,” she said. “They choose to come here because they want to make a difference in the world.”

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