LOWELL — Six years ago, UMass Lowell Chancellor Martin Meehan had to fight tooth and nail to get UMass system trustees to save the school’s hockey program at the Division 1 level.
Yesterday, the UMass trustees approved elevating all of UMass Lowell’s athletic programs — male and female — to the NCAA’s Division 1 beginning in September.
The school has accepted an invitation to join the nine-school America East Conference, which also is home to the state university of three other New England states — University of New Hampshire, University of Maine and University of Vermont.
“This is an important day for this university,” said Meehan, the former seven-term congressman from Lowell.
“The irony is that when we came up with our strategic plan going forward in 2007, athletics wasn’t a critical part of that,” said Meehan. “But eight months ago a committee, headed by an academic, was asked to look into athletics and recreation. It wasn’t a ‘Div. 1’ committee. What they found was if we were going build a national profile, increase our alumni opportunities and grow our university, this was something we needed to do.”
Under Meehan’s leadership, UMass Lowell has been riding a wave of positive momentum.
The university has increased enrollment in each of his six years, while pioneering research in physics, nano technology, plastics engineering and materials engineering in such fields as the “Baseball Lab,” and constructing seven new buildings on campus.
The most recent U.S. New & World Report ranked UMass Lowell 170th out of the 4,000-plus four-year colleges and universities, which puts it in the upper tier (Top 200) for the third consecutive year.
The 32-member committee, headed by UMass Lowell Vice Provost for Graduate Education, Don Pierson, in the end made this recommendation after unanimous support.
Pierson said this committee, which was formed after a two-year “20-20 Vision” Committee, originally set out to improve the school’s status with both athletics and recreation, with the thought of enrollment continuing to grow.