Android co-founder returns to UMass Lowell to launch new computer school in his name
As a UMass Lowell student, Rich Miner helped pioneer video teleconferencing, a tool once viewed as fanciful science fiction that now is an essential part of everyday life.
Yet, for however well Miner can envision the future, the co-founder of the Android operating system might have been hard-pressed as a student to picture what happened today at his alma mater. Just after 11 a.m., the university dedicated its new Richard A. Miner School of Computer and Information Sciences in his name at an event attended by Miner, his spouse Corinne Nagy, and dozens of university leaders, students, faculty, and friends.
“I have a lot I owe to this university and specifically the computer science department. I’m very happy and thrilled my family and I could step up in this way,” Miner said. “UMass Lowell prepared me academically and entrepreneurially for a career where I was able to contribute to so many impactful innovations. I am honored to be able to give back in ways that might encourage others to meet or exceed their dreams.”
Approved by the UMass Board of Trustees in June, a $5 million donation from Miner and a $2 million matching grant from the state elevates and broadens UMass Lowell’s computer science programming, which is housed within the Kennedy College of Sciences.
The new school will provide students with an education that will put them at the center of the high-tech revolution, according to UMass Lowell Chancellor Julie Chen.
“This school will be a training ground for students pursuing their passion and intent on growing the computer science field in ways we can only imagine. We are greatly indebted to Rich and Corinne for their generosity, belief in a UMass Lowell education and commitment to fostering the next generation of industry leaders and entrepreneurs,” Chen said.
Yuka Akiyama of Westford is one such future leader as a recipient this year of UMass Lowell Professor Patrick D. Krolak Innovation Scholarship. The award was established by Miner in 2012 and is presented to students pursuing the field. It honors Krolak, a former UMass Lowell computer science faculty member, who is one of Miner’s mentors.
Akiyama plans to become a software engineer and seeks to develop and implement real-time voice recognition and language translation algorithms – essentially removing language barriers.
“This career goal motivated me to pursue a master’s degree in computer science through the bachelor’s-to-master’s programs at UMass Lowell,” she said.
Miner ’86, ’89 and ’97, received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science from UMass Lowell. After co-founding Android, he sold the system to Google in 2005. Today, it is the world’s most popular operating system, with more than 3 billion users. Miner also co-founded GV, Google’s first venture fund, which has led investments in a variety of successful startups.
Beyond paving the way for breakthroughs in teleconferencing, as a UMass Lowell student, Miner wrote computer programs for the Commodore 64 home computer and incubated Avid Technology, the world’s first computer video editing platform.
“All of that is a straight-lined path back to UMass Lowell,” Miner said of his achievements.
In its first year, nearly 1,600 undergraduate and more than 300 graduate students will be educated in the Richard A. Miner School of Computer and Information Sciences. This makes it the largest academic program on campus reflecting nearly 6% of the total UMass Lowell undergraduate population. From fall 2016 to fall 2021, UMass Lowell’s undergraduate enrollment in computer science programs increased by more than 50%. This year, a record 12% of students in UMass Lowell’s applicant pool listed computer science as their intended major.
The new school offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs blending applied and theoretical studies of computation. Options for minors in robotics, cybersecurity, data science and bio-cheminfomatics are available. In partnership with the UMass Lowell Division of Graduate, Online and Professional Studies, the school also offers certificates in cybersecurity, systems models, and management and telecommunication.
UMass Lowell computer science research expenditures reached $4.4 million in 2021. Faculty in the field are experts in artificial intelligence, visualization, robotics, security and privacy, natural language processing, data analytics, health infomatics and more.
UMass President Marty Meehan called the new school a gamechanger for countless students and the STEM economy.
“When somebody like Rich comes forward and makes this kind of a generous gift, and allows us to use his name, it’s going to send ripples throughout the community, the country and the world,” he said.