Michael and Theresa Hluchyj are no strangers to giving back to their alma mater — and seeing their investments bear fruit.
For example, the couple, who graduated from UMass Amherst in 1976 and 1977, respectively, established a graduate fellowship program in 2008 to support students from the College of Engineering and the College of Nursing who are interested in clinical healthcare research.
One recipient of the fellowship, Akshaya Shanmugam, who earned a master’s degree and PhD from UMass in electrical and computer engineering, earned recognition in 2017 in Forbes’ 30 under 30 for her achievements in healthcare. She founded Lumme Inc. while at UMass, using her knowledge and research to create software to help people quit smoking.
That’s the kind of impact these alumni hope to see from their latest investment in the future, a $1 million gift to create a Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation, bringing together two fields that can improve personal well-being and save lives. Simply put, they envision a place where nurses and engineers collaborate on clinical solutions in new ways.
“We are excited to support UMass in this new initiative,” Michael Hluchyj said. “Innovation is often accelerated at the intersection of different academic disciplines. The worldwide health crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic make clear the critical need for innovative solutions in clinical settings where both nursing and engineering play vital roles.”
The Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation Fund will support participating students, staff, and faculty from both colleges, and provide financial support for activities and resources at the center such as graduate fellowships, seed funds for R&D pilot projects, and an annual symposium. Funds will be shared between the College of Nursing and the College of Engineering, enabling them to recruit top student researchers from the College of Engineering’s more than 2,800 students and the College of Nursing’s 730 students, as well as others from outside the university.
The center will not only provide students with an environment to work together, but will also integrate innovation and entrepreneurship into the current nursing and engineering curriculum. In the future, with support from faculty leaders, students will engage with industry partners on enhancing and inventing their own products.
“The worldwide health crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic make clear the critical need for innovative solutions in clinical settings where both nursing and engineering play vital roles.”
“We are deeply grateful to the Hluchyjs for their generous support of our vision to improve patient treatment and advance the healthcare industry through interdisciplinary collaboration,” said Allison Vorderstrasse, dean of the College of Nursing. “Since the onset of the pandemic, UMass nursing and engineering students have successfully partnered on projects addressing, for example, the need for rapid PPE-manufacturing technologies. This center is the natural progression of that partnership, and I am excited to see the innovations it produces.”
In April 2020, nursing and engineering researchers at UMass Amherst created one of the first COVID-related interdisciplinary teams to design an effective, efficient and low-cost face shield. The shield, created with rapid mass production in mind, was then shared for free with frontline workers in regional healthcare facilities.
Soon after, UMass established both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing centers on campus, and, with the release of the COVID-19 vaccines, has since created a community vaccination center. These centers have been, in large part, run by nursing students. More recently, Sarah Perry, associate professor of Chemical Engineering, launched a research collaboration with Michigan Technological University to develop a new method of keeping vaccines stable without refrigeration.
“As engineers, our students work tirelessly to build systems and products that solve some of the world’s most challenging problems,” said Sanjay Raman, dean of the College of Engineering. “By working in direct collaboration with nurses on projects for medical devices, they can also incorporate the insights and experience nurses have to offer — allowing them to make their designs safer, more efficient, and more end-user-friendly.
“A key element of our vision is an integrated nursing-engineering faculty and student team working on every problem we tackle,” he went on. “We are deeply grateful to the Hluchyj family for their forward thinking and investment in this barrier-breaking center.”
The impact that a nurse-engineer collaboration can make is not a new concept for the Hluchyjs. While Michael was working toward his engineering degree, Theresa was studying to become a nurse.
They currently live in the Boston area. Michael serves as a board member for Uptycs and is a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He is also an Ernst & Young New England Entrepreneur of the Year winner and has served on the Electrical and Computer Engineering Advisory Board at UMass Amherst. Theresa has served in many community organizations, including the Wellesley Service League and the Wellesley Scholarship Foundation. She is currently a member of the Newton-Wellesley Hospital Board of Advisors, a guide at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and a member of the university’s Amherst Campus Council.
Karen Giuliano, joint associate professor for the College of Nursing and the Institute for Applied Life Sciences, will serve as the inaugural co-director of the Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation along with Jenna Marquard, professor of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering.
“The ability to quickly and effectively tackle everyday challenges in healthcare requires both nursing and engineering expertise,” Giuliano said. “The power of a nurse-engineer approach is derived from mutual collaboration, where the nurse identifies the problem, the engineer creates potential solutions, and, through bi-directional, real-time, continuous collaboration, iterations and tradeoffs occur until the best solutions are found.”