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September 22, 2018

UMass Boston Chancellor Newman: Student success tops university priorities

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  • Boston
Convocation lays out plans to build on recent accomplishments

Officially launching the new academic year with a convocation address, Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman today said the University of Massachusetts Boston will make major investments in student success this year as it works to continue improving on its rising retention and graduation rates.

Over the past 10 years, UMass Boston has made significant strides in this area: Among first-time freshmen, the six-year graduation rate has risen by 15 points.

“We intend to build upon this foundation to achieve even greater student success,” Newman said.

“We stand by our students, wherever they come from, as a gateway to the American dream,” she added, to applause. “We believe the purpose of a university is to provide our students with every advantage to help them make their way in the world.”

In her first convocation at UMass Boston, Newman emphasized the ideas of renewal and tradition, and she even created some new traditions of her own.

For the first time in recent university history, Newman, along with the university’s deans and executive leadership team, donned full academic regalia at convocation, and processed into the ballroom to “Pomp and Circumstance.” Deans were also called upon to introduce the 12 new faculty members who have started at UMass Boston this fall.

Newman spoke of the campus’s continued transformation as a first-class student-centered research university. She said that to ensure student success the university will increase the consistency and reach of advising, incorporate predictive analytics to better catch students who might need extra support, increase access to mental health services, analyze where students encounter course bottlenecks that prevent timely graduation, and work to find ways to encourage greater social integration for commuter students.

She announced that Provost Emily McDermott will lead the development of an Academic Master Plan, which will look at where the university should concentrate its resources going forward. This work will be complemented by a new Capital Plan and Master Plan.

Newman spoke of restoring the Calf Pasture Pump House, making it an architectural and programmatic asset to the university, and of redeveloping the Bayside property on Mount Vernon Street.

“Our future new neighborhood at Bayside represents an exciting opportunity to attract private-sector firms that will connect with the research strengths of our campus, creating a walk-to-work neighborhood that will provide internships and jobs for our students, research partnerships for our faculty, and waterside and retail amenities for the communities around us,” she said.

Newman said the funds from the development will also enable the university to do more to enhance the campus and address needs, including a new nursing school.

The chancellor also pointed to the new residence halls on campus as transformational. For the first time in university history, 40 percent of freshmen live on campus. An estimated $1.4 million was spent in campus living grants. Twenty-five percent of the residents are Pell eligible, and 43 percent are under-represented minorities.

“The campus can be proud of the role this new development is playing in promoting diversity, academic excellence, and social mobility,” Newman said.

Newman said that as chancellor she pledges to seek out more robust ties with Boston.

As Boston enjoys unparalleled prosperity, we look to make sure our students, faculty, and staff partake of all this implies,” she said. “That means internships, co-ops, apprenticeships, and good jobs in a roaring economy.”

She pointed to a $5 million pledge —the largest in UMass Boston history—from the Boston-based global athletic apparel and footwear leader, New Balance, which will create a new sports management and leadership bachelor of arts program, as an example of partnering with Boston’s industry leaders to better serve UMass Boston’s diverse community of future leaders.

Newman, who became interim chancellor on July 1, expressed how proud she is to have the opportunity to lead UMass Boston.

“Having spent the last 30-some-odd years writing about social mobility, especially for those who face the challenges that inequality generates in a stratified society, I do feel as though this was my destination all along,” she said.

Also speaking at the convocation was renowned sociologist on race and inequality William Julius Wilson, the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor at Harvard University.

“It is unfair that some individuals are given every conceivable advantage, while others never really get the chance in the first place to develop their talent. There is an interaction of what we call structural and cultural forces which have devastating consequences for most of the individuals and communities in concentrated poverty, and only a few people like myself have been able to escape,” Wilson said.

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