New UML Provost Has His Sights on Interdisciplinary Collaboration

08/03/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By MICHAEL LAFLEUR

LOWELL- John Wooding, the new provost at UMass-Lowell, says his working-class roots prepared him well for the job as the university's chief academic officer.

"Most UMass-Lowell students come from modest backgrounds," he said. "I find myself able to relate to that in part because of my background. Even though I grew up in a different country, I know what it's like to not have much money in your pocket."

As provost, the British-born Wooding, 51, oversees the faculty, curriculum, school libraries, dormitories and university police department, among other things. He is second in the university hierarchy to Chancellor William Hogan.

Wooding said two of his primary goals in the new job will be improving upon the university's tradition of offering an interdisciplinary undergraduate curriculum, and increasing opportunities for student internships and research projects.

"It's not sufficient for us to simply give people training in being an engineer or computer scientist," he said. "Part of our job is to arm people with the willingness to go out there and find out what truth is. It's giving them the knowledge and the ability to get that knowledge that will prevent them from coming up with simple answers to complex problems."

Wooding said he also wants to encourage more interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty, and continue the school's basic research in such areas as nanotechnology and plastics.

In 1997, Wooding helped found the first interdisciplinary graduate program in regional, economic and social development in Massachusetts. He chaired the department until becoming associate provost in January. He was named provost in October, replacing Robert Wagner, who retired in June.

"What's nice about this campus is there is a good sense of collective community and collaborative activity," he said. "Having someone recently in the faculty (as provost) helps to bring those strong faculty and academic perspectives to the administration."

Raised in Northampton, England, Wooding said his father was a coal deliveryman who died when Wooding was a teenager, of heart disease related his prolonged exposure to coal dust.

Wooding's research in later life, in environmental and occupational health regulation, was in part motivated by that memory, he said. He earned a bachelors degree from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1975, and has been with UMass-Lowell since 1987, when he started as a labor educator.

He earned a doctorate in political science from Brandeis University in 1990, and became an assistant professor in the subject at UMass-Lowell. He was named a full professor in 2000.

Wooding lives in Medford with his wife, Joan Parker, whom he met while working as a research assistant at Cornell University in 1981.