What's in a name? Ask this UMass prof

08/02/2007
By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online.

By SUSAN McMAHON
Sun Staff

LOWELL Julie Chen, an accomplished scientist and a professor at UMass Lowell, never expected to be featured in a spot on national television.

And certainly not like this.

Producers from CBS's Early Show had been scouring the Internet, looking for people who had the same names as the five co-hosts on the show. Julie Chen is one of the new anchors.

"They found me in the Web by typing in my name well, it's not only my name, obviously," said UMass Lowell's Chen.

It's not her first time on the small screen. Chen had appeared on a local newscast while she was in high school and won a Presidential Scholar award.

But when the big guns came calling a few weeks ago, Chen thought it might be a joke. She gave them her office number, rather than her home phone. When she received an e-mail with the address of cbsnews.com, it eased her worries about a prank.

The camera crew came and filmed her at her office, asking questions about her hobbies and her work, and then took some shots at her home near Washington, D.C. The short piece is expected to air next Wednesday.

All in all, it took a few hours for a piece that might last about a minute.

"It was very different (from local television)," she said.

Chen is currently taking leave from her post in UMass' mechanical engineering department to work as a program director for the National Science Foundation. She lines up experts in the community to evaluate proposals in line for foundation funding.

The other Julie Chen is a broadcast journalist who graduated from the University of Southern California with a bachelor's in English and journalism.

UMass Lowell's Chen graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a bachelor's, master's and Ph.D., all in mechanical engineering.

Although they don't have much in common, the one thing the two Chens do share was enough to get Professor Chen a spot on national television.

Did she ever expect to get this kind of attention?

"Not from my name alone," she laughs.

Susan McMahon's e-mail address is smcmahon@lowellsun.com .