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Julie Chen expected to get nod as next UMass Lowell chancellor

Julie Chen is currently the chief research officer at UMass LowellUMass Lowell

The search for the next chancellor of University of Massachusetts Lowell has been narrowed to three finalists, including the campus’s chief research officer, Julie Chen, who is expected to get the nod when trustees meet on Monday, according to a person involved in the process.

Chen, 57, is the only local finalist and has been considered a leading candidate for the post. With three mechanical engineering degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chen came to UMass Lowell in 1997 as co-director of the Advanced Composite Materials and Textile Research Lab University. She currently serves as vice chancellor of research, innovation, and economic development, and is a professor of mechanical engineering.

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The other finalists are: Alan Dorsey, dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia, and Paul Tikalsky, dean of the College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology, at Oklahoma State University.

Last week, the three finalists fanned across campus for a series of meetings with students and faculty. The UMass board of trustees meets Monday, and UMass president Marty Meehan is expected to recommend that Chen lead the research university, which has about 18,000 students.

UMass spokesman John Hoey confirmed that Meehan had reached a decision. The board is expected to take a vote on Monday.

“President Meehan has settled on a recommendation and of course wants to deliver that official recommendation directly to the board, but it is clear that he has enormous regard for Dr. Chen’s track record and great confidence in her leadership,” Hoey said.

UMass Lowell chancellor Jacquie Moloney announced plans last July to retire after this academic year. Moloney, who was appointed by the board in 2015, is the first woman chancellor at UMass Lowell, which was founded in 1894.

Moloney, a UMass Lowell graduate, had served as executive vice chancellor and oversaw the campus’s long-term master plan. During her tenure as chancellor, UMass Lowell launched its first major fund-raising campaign, bringing in $165 million, and expanded the campus footprint.

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A formal search for Moloney’s successor began in January, led by a 10-member committee with assistance from national executive search firm Isaacson Miller.

If Chen is appointed, the UMass system would have leaders of color installed at three of its five largest campuses: Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, who is Latino, at Boston, Kumble “Swamy” Subbaswamy at Amherst, and Chen at Lowell. Both Subbaswamy and Chen are Asian Americans.

Of the four chancellors appointed on Meehan’s watch, three have been women or people of color.

Still, diversity at the upper echelon of higher education remains a work progress in Massachusetts. Of the 83 presidents of public and private colleges and universities (excluding interim appointments), 36 percent are women and 11 percent are women of color, according to an analysis by Eos Foundation. People of color account for 23 percent of college and university presidencies in Massachusetts.

Chen, who holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering from MIT, is considered one of the region’s leading experts on nanotechnology, a field that builds structures and devices working at an atomic scale. She was at one time among three women leading nanotechnology research at UMass Lowell, which earned them the nickname “nanoqueens.”


Shirley Leung is a Business columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com.