More than ever, women are using their financial resources and involvement to advance the causes that are important to them and critical to the broader community. Access to higher education, life-saving research, and public-service programs are a focal point. In this issue, we’ve highlighted stories on the philanthropic impact of women on the University of Massachusetts Amherst. What can we learn about progress and our future prospects from their work? Plenty.
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“Call it a clan, a network, a tribe, a family, whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one,” novelist Jane Howard wrote.
UMass Amherst scholars believe that by researching families, which are so fundamental to the fabric of society, we’ll find the answers to some of the greatest challenges we face, including child abuse, opiate addiction, infant mortality, and environmental hazards. The Center for Research on Families (CRF) promotes cutting-edge, substantive research, mentors and supports faculty, and engages with communities to strengthen families and inform social policy. The center also fosters undergraduate and graduate student research.
CRF researcher Krystal Pollitt, for example, is leading an effort to reduce the high rates of childhood asthma in Springfield, Massachusetts. Pollitt, who is the Commonwealth Honors College Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, has created inexpensive wristbands that measure air pollutants and plans to employ data collected and other tools to provide children and their families with tailored behavioral interventions to improve asthma management.
Other Springfield-based projects are having as strong of an impact and serve as incubator programs for state- or nationwide adoption. CRF Director and Professor of Psychology Maureen Perry-Jenkins '81 leads a Springfield pilot program and collaboration with a state agency, which is focused on child abuse prevention. The project connects UMass Amherst researchers and undergraduate students with home visitors for a state agency in the employment of a research-based approach to reducing stress and building resilience in young, first-time parents. Another project by College of Nursing faculty concentrates on how the perceptions of women in recovery from opiate addiction can inform improvements in health and child development services for those affected and their families.
UMass Women Philanthropists You Should Know
Irma P. McClaurin ’76MFA, ’89MA, ’93PhD has had a long career with universities and nonprofits, serving on the faculty at UMass Amherst, the Universities of Florida and Minnesota, and Bennett College, and as president of Shaw University. At the Ford Foundation, she managed an annual portfolio of $10 million that supported Black studies, women’s studies, and diversity fellowships. In 2017, McClaurin, who was featured in the spring 2018 issue of Ms. magazine, established at UMass Amherst the Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive to document the intellectual, political, and cultural contributions of women of color.
Pamela Jacobs has been a crucial supporter of Judaic studies at UMass Amherst, funding an endowed chair, scholarships, and educational programs with her husband Robert, also an alumnus. The 1969 graduate’s support was instrumental in launching UMass Amherst’s Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, a key resource for teaching about the Holocaust that educates thousands of young adults and public visitors every year and serves as a custodian of research materials.
Susan Hagedorn ’77 sees social justice as the root of nursing and has dedicated her career as a nurse, educator, activist, and award-winning documentary filmmaker to its pursuit. Hagedorn funded the College of Nursing’s first endowed chair, the Seedworks Professorship to promote social justice. The chair is named for her film company, which has produced more than 20 films focused on nursing and social justice.
As one of the first employees at Microsoft, industrial engineering alumna Renee Harbers Liddell ’85 deeply understands the impact of STEM degrees for women. A vocal advocate for women in STEM nationally and internationally, Liddell supported a scholarship for students of the Gashora Girls Academy in Rwanda to attend UMass Amherst. She also is the founder and CEO of Harbers Family Foundation, which works with the world’s best visual storytellers in bringing attention to global conservation issues and humanitarian causes. For her impact, Liddell received a 2015 Salute to Service Award from the university.
1892: The first female student enrolls at UMass. 2006: With women comprising half the student population and nearly half the alumni, Women for UMass forms to advance and raise awareness of the work of women across campus.
Women for UMass Amherst knows the power of collective giving and how philanthropy lays the foundation for subtle and dramatic change. The organization pools contributions and each year funds a broad and diverse collection of programs from conferences to an in-depth review of African American women’s impact on society. Their overarching mission is to advance and support women at UMass and in the wider community.
Since 2006, Women for UMass Amherst has been an influential force for change as they have implemented the vision of founders Beth Gamel ’78G, Maureen Flanagan ’66, and Karen Garvin ’66. For instance, a workshop led by renowned scholars revealed new insight into the history of contemporary African American women and their impact on the women’s movement and U.S. society. Creating a historical record was the purpose of a grant to the UMass Oral History Lab, where narratives from students, scholars, and the public are recorded.
Gina Orlandi ’18 spent last summer interning with the UMass Freedom Café, a nonprofit coffee shop on the campus of UMass Amherst dedicated to ending human trafficking. The $47,000 they’ve raised has helped to establish a vocational center in a northern India village where women are highly vulnerable to sexual exploitation. The center, Hope Village, provides a safe space and assists women in gaining the skills for financial independence or for starting their own businesses and helps with education for their children. During her internship with the café’s partner organization in India, Orlandi created an educational and outreach curriculum on human trafficking and worked to integrate it into campus-wide Residence Life program offerings.
Orlandi’s internship and its impact on the Freedom Café, campus education, and her own career path centered on global human rights and social work would have been impossible without a Maureen Flanagan Scholarship. While conventional financial aid makes a UMass Amherst education possible for many students, it often doesn’t cover the costs of unpaid internships, study abroad, and research opportunities. Maureen Flanagan ‘66, a business executive, established the scholarship to give students (primarily women) extracurricular opportunities that complement and enhance their educations.
“I used to never talk with anyone, but now I have found my voice. I’ve learned so many things. I can talk with people and teach my kids what I’m learning.”
A 30-year-old mother of three describes her experience before and after Hope Village
For one Saturday in February, the UMass Campus Center teems with women: students, faculty, and alumnae—learning, teaching, and networking.
They’re attending panels on women in technology, sexism in the workplace, negotiating, public speaking, and work-life balance. All are there for the Women of Isenberg Conference, created to connect Isenberg School of Management students and faculty with alumnae to build a support network and community of empowerment for young women preparing for careers in business. Photographed above is the Isenberg School of Management's Director of Diversity and Inclusion Associate Professor Nefertiti Walker, who was one of several speakers who addressed sexism and harassment in the workplace.
The conference, launched in 2014, is entirely planned and run by students, guided by a steering committee of Isenberg staff and alumnae. Women for UMass Amherst and a collection of corporate sponsors fund the event. Conference presenters are UMass faculty and alumnae from such diverse workplaces as ESPN, Liberty Mutual, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, CitiGroup, CBS, and Lego. Since its start, the conference has nearly quadrupled in size, from 124 attendees in 2014 to 440 in 2018.
At Women of Isenberg, participants share experiences and talk about the challenges they face as students in the classroom and women in the workplace. The goal is to inspire students to build relationships and gain advice from alumnae. The conference is also an excellent way for the alumnae to become more connected to their alma mater by arranging sponsorships with their workplaces, participating on panels, volunteering their time, and sharing their expertise.
Visit womenofisenberg.com to learn more.
Gregory Thomas ’91 says that he is more comfortable steering from behind the scenes than being in the number one spot.
But, with the attributes of both a teacher and a minister and a big, infectious laugh, it’s no wonder that Thomas has found himself in the role of volunteer-in-chief and president of the governing body for UMass Amherst’s 265,000 alumni worldwide.
Despite his apprehension of being center stage, Thomas is clearly a standout and a natural leader. Receiving a Snapchat message on his phone midsentence during an interview, Thomas explains that he’s active on all forms of social media to stay in touch with his Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brothers and many others in his vast professional and volunteer network.
His ease with social media underscores how relationships are at the root of extensive involvement with the university. Thomas, who is in his first year as president, also served on and is now an ex officio member of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Foundation Board of Directors.
In his various leadership roles with the university, Thomas draws on his experience as a student to influence change, especially as it pertains to making UMass Amherst more inclusive and diverse.
“I left with the same affinity and aspirational thoughts about UMass that I came with even through racism, marching, protesting, and negotiating with Chancellor (Joseph) Duffey to get safe spaces designated for African American students on this campus,” Thomas recalls.
Fast forward to 2017: Thomas says he experienced one of the high points of his 25 years of volunteer service to the university when the foundation announced that more than $1 million had been raised for the Community Scholarship Program. The program, created by Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, supports first-generation college students and those from underrepresented groups with financial need. The program reflected a commitment to increasing racial, cultural, and socio-economic diversity on campus—causes Thomas advocated for as an undergraduate.
Thomas played a key role in fundraising for the initiative and in the naming of the university’s general community scholarship fund in honor of Randolph W. Bromery, the university’s first African American chancellor.
He also created his own community scholarship. Thomas, who grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, relied on financial aid and scholarships to attend UMass Amherst and said that he established the fund “to give money to someone who could have been me.”
Through his service to UMass Amherst and other organizations, Thomas has considerable impact in expanding educational opportunities for African Americans, but he’s quick to attribute his contributions to divine providence rather than to planning on his part:
“It’s not where I decided to be. It’s where I’ve been led.”
Thomas says he enjoys applying the same pragmatic, systems approach he uses as a successful manufacturing strategist for Corning Inc. to advancing UMass Amherst and other nonprofits. Thomas played a central role in developing the Alumni Association’s strategic plan that establishes a long-term road map for the organization’s efforts and has done similar volunteer leadership work for local and national organizations that provide opportunities to young African American men. He also developed a diversity mentorship program that pairs PhD students of color in the sciences at UMass Amherst with PhDs who work for Corning.
With so many formative experiences and relationships based around UMass Amherst, Thomas finds personal reward in making the campus better and is reminded of it every time he is on Interstate 90 approaching the exit for the university: “I have good feelings. It’s like coming home.”
The Year in Generosity
Computer scientists build knowledge map
In many cases of medical breakthroughs in the twentieth century, a critical factor was dumb luck. With the advent of artificial intelligence, today’s researchers will navigate super-smart knowledge bases for connections that will lead to prevention and cures for diseases. Computable Knowledge, a project funded with a $5.5 million grant from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, will build the knowledge base that will make finding the needle in the haystack in 60 million medical and science journals fast and efficient.
Andrew McCallum, distinguished professor and director of the Center for Data Science, is leading a team of postdocs, PhD, and master’s students for the five-year project. He explains, “We believe the result will be a first-of-its-kind guide for every scientist, just as map apps are now indispensable tools for navigating the physical world. We hope our results will help solve the mounting problem of scientific knowledge complexity, democratize scientific knowledge, and put powerful reasoning in the hands of individual scientists.”
A review of the first chemotherapy treatment—essentially the use of mustard gas to treat leukemia—is one way to understand the impact of how McCallum, and his team will employ machines (computers) that use knowledge representation and reasoning to produce results that go far beyond a computer word search.
Chemotherapy began when an accidental connection was made between two studies by researchers on different continents years after the first paper was published in an obscure medical journal. One study documented that white blood cells in World War I veterans who survived an attack of mustard gas were suppressed. The later study showed that leukemia had the opposite effect—the cancer was producing an over-abundant supply of the white blood cells in patients. An aha moment—and a new treatment for cancer that has saved an untold number of lives—came when scientists decided to treat leukemia with a form of mustard gas.
The Power and Class of New England, the UMass Amherst Minuteman Marching Band, unveiled striking new uniforms amid the pageantry at the New Year’s Day Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. Gifts totaling $157,051 from 868 proud parents, alumni, and friends helped in financing uniforms that capture the soul of the award-winning band. One new feature is a gauntlet on each arm with the embroidered words “power” and “class,” reflecting the ideals of the nearly 400-member band.
The Student Life team of the Dean of Students Office expresses its appreciation for gifts to the Student Care and Emergency Response Fund. More than 2,000 alumni and friends, who collectively gave $33,000, have helped 24 students bounce back from financial hardships, including medical bills, the effects of Hurricane Irma, an on-campus fire, and other circumstances. Photo by John Solem