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UMass Lowell Celebrates Start Of Academic Year

Sep 17, 2018 06:19AM ● By Theresa Gilman

Ken E. Nwadike Jr., known as the “Free Hugs Guy,” encouraged UMass Lowell first-year and transfer students to be peacemakers during his remarks at Convocation. (Photo credit: Tory Wesnofske for UMass Lowell).

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell celebrated the start of the new academic year with Convocation, the official welcome for its largest group of incoming students ever.
The event, held annually at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell before the start of classes for the fall semester, serves as the official beginning of the UMass Lowell career for all first-year students and new transfers.
This fall, the more than 3,200 new students – a third of whom are from underrepresented populations – entering UMass Lowell have the highest average SAT scores (1232) and high-school GPAs (3.596) in the university’s history. More than 650 new students will participate in UMass Lowell’s Honors College, bringing it to a record-high enrollment of 1,750.
“You have already made history, but we’re expecting a lot more from you and we are here to help make sure that happens,” Chancellor Jacquie Moloney told the new students. “It is our greatest joy to come to work every day to help you on your journey.”
Peace activist Ken E. Nwadike Jr., known as the “Free Hugs Guy,” also addressed students, encouraging them draw on the power of positivity to overcome the differences that divide people. Nwadike launched his Free Hugs Project in Massachusetts when he hugged runners at the finish line of the 2014 Boston Marathon as a show of support the year after terrorist bombs killed three and injured hundreds in the same location. 
“It is important for us to find common ground and solutions for change and to see each other as human beings,” he told the students, adding that the current political climate is a source of tension for many, but there are other divides between people to be bridged. “We can do so much more just to see each other as human beings and try to create change just by talking about it. You can show respect and love to people sitting right next to you. I think that is how we create solutions.” 
For the second year in a row, UMass Lowell’s total enrollment will top 18,000, a more than 57 percent increase since 2007, due to another record number of new students and climbing success rates, including an 86 percent continuation rate for first-year students. The Chronicle of Higher Education has ranked UMass Lowell in the top 10 fastest-growing public doctoral institutions in the nation for the last three years.
“You have the world in your hands. Imagine that; imagine the power of that,” Moloney told the Class of 2022. “What role will you have in making the world a better place? How will you use your mind, your talents, your spirit to make the world a better place?” 
She encouraged the students, who hail from 28 states and 31 nations, to contribute to the community, both on- and off-campus, during their time at UMass Lowell, whether through volunteering, service learning or even inventing a new product or service.
UMass Lowell’s DifferenceMaker Program provides a means for students to engage through inventing solutions to issues in business and the community. Since its launch in 2012, thousands of students have participated, some even going on to form companies and secure patents for their innovations.
Three student teams from DifferenceMaker’s Idea Challenge competed in a pitch contest at Convocation: Mass HeartBeat, which brings screening for cardiac conditions to youths at camps and schools; ETRALock, developers of a key-free home-access system; and Playtlist, which has created a mobile app to help people with dietary restrictions find restaurants near them that can address their needs. Playtlist was selected as the winner of $1,500 in seed funding by audience vote at Convocation. 
Other participants in the Convocation ceremony included Student Government Association President Andre DiFilippo, a business administration from Saugus; SGA Vice President Vilma Okey Ewurum, a public health major who lives in Lowell; and Student-Athlete Advisory Committee President Connor Bennett, a psychology major from Wilmington.
UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be ready for work, for life and for all the world offers.
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