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UMass Boston lands $2.25M donation to start apprenticeship program

The gift marks latest effort by outgoing interim chancellor Katherine Newman to expand workforce training opportunities.

UMass Boston Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman.
UMass Boston Interim Chancellor Katherine Newman.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

UMass Boston interim chancellor Katherine Newman has spent her year-and-a-half tenure on the campus trying to build a bridge between the school and entry-level jobs for students at Boston companies.

Now, Newman is creating some of those entry-level jobs on campus, with the help of a $2.25 million, five-year gift from Ralph and Janice James, two former Harvard Business School administrators. Ralph was also a top executive at the former First Marblehead Corp. — a student loan company now known as Cognition — until he left in 2005.

A spokesman for the school said the gift is the fourth-largest private donation in its history. Other major recent gifts include a $5 million pledge from New Balance in 2018 to launch a sports management program and another $5 million from an anonymous donor in December. Indian IT company Wipro Ltd. gave $5.5 million in 2018 for STEM teacher training, bringing the total amount of Wipro gifts to the school to $13.4 million over time.

The gift from Ralph and Janice James will allow the start of the Professional Apprenticeship and Career Experience program, or PACE, this month, subsidizing on-campus jobs ― in everything from IT to accounting to lab research ― that will be geared toward preparing students for post-college careers.

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“We have a lot of talent on our staff and faculty,” Newman said. “We could create an experiential parallel to what our students learn in class, to give them the higher-level skills that employers are looking for.”

Newman said she hopes the PACE program can also help improve the school’s six-year graduation rate. She wants to see it rise to 60 percent, from just under 50 percent today. Ensuring more students have on-campus employment can reduce the potential for off-campus conflicts between the need to attend classes and the need to work elsewhere to pay the bills.

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Newman said the James family’s funds will pay for about 50 on-campus jobs. She hopes the school can raise additional money from foundations, as well as use federal work-study grants, to eventually bring that number to 775 undergraduates a year. (About 12,600 undergrads were enrolled in the school as of the fall.)

But Newman won’t be on campus to spearhead the program for much longer. She’ll return to a post in the UMass president’s office once the school year is over. Incoming chancellor Marcelo Suarez-Orozco issued a statement saying he looks forward to retaining and building on the PACE program, calling it a model “public-private partnership.” Suarez-Orozco’s hiring ended a long search following the departure of Keith Motley in 2017.

Ralph and Janice James have been philanthropically involved with the school for more than a decade. Ralph said they became involved after being struck by the number of immigrants and first-generation college students served by the school. He said Newman recently approached the couple with the idea for PACE after they asked her, “What’s the next big idea?”

“We liked it immediately,” he said. “It’s a model that other schools will use, and should use. The leverage will go well beyond UMass Boston.... If there are parts of this that can work elsewhere in UMass, or at other universities, particularly places that cater to first generation and low-income minority students, that will be huge."

He said their donation will also help pay mentors and cover their training costs, and fund curriculum work. That’s on top of the money that will go toward the students’ paychecks.

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“We’ve got to create that bridge, with jobs, and with mentoring, and with curricular support, ... so they can compete against private school folks that are getting all the internships,” Ralph James said.

One of Newman’s signature projects at the school has been to create industry clusters, in which executives from various sectors of the economy visit the school and provide guidance and advice. Most recently, the school hosted a meeting of a biotech cluster last week. Nearly 20 employers were represented. When the participants heard about the PACE program, Newman said, they were enthusiastic.

“They can see immediately how this would be valuable," she said.



Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.