By Yadira Betances
---- — LAWRENCE — Area residents can get associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, all in Building 9 at Riverwalk, 360 Merrimack St.
Northern Essex Community College has formed a partnership with Cambridge College and Suffolk University, with the intent to make Lawrence “a college town.”
“When a city has a college, it not only educates residents, but it helps create a thriving economy and a wonderful place to live, “ said Lane Glenn, president at Northern Essex.
Area residents will have a range of degree options at the schools. Northern Essex offers associate’s degrees in criminal justice, deaf studies, health, performing arts, technology and engineering. At Cambridge College, students can earn bachelor’s degrees in psychology, human services and management. They also offer master’s degrees in education, management, psychology and counseling, and certificate programs in alcohol and drug counseling and trauma studies. Suffolk University offers master’s degrees in accounting, finance and taxation, as well as joint degrees with the college of arts and sciences and the law school.
Glenn said the student population at NECC’s Lawrence campus has grown by 22 percent in the past five years, and it was only logical to partner with Cambridge and Suffolk to offer students more opportunities.
George Moriarty, executive director at the Center for Corporate and Community Education at Northern Essex, helped facilitate the partnership.
“It helps change people’s perspective about the city,” Moriarty said. “It shows that Lawrence is proactive and a vibrant community and employers are going to start thinking about sending their employees here.”
The three institutions of higher learning will share the third floor at Building 9 which has 20 classrooms, five computer labs, conference rooms and staff offices.
Joseph Bevilacqua, president of Greater Merrimack Chamber of Commerce, said that having Northern Essex join Suffolk University and Cambridge College at Riverwalk, will help boost the city’s economy, as students shop at local restaurants and retail stores and help city businesses by providing skilled workers.
Sister Eileen Burns, director of the Notre Dame Educational Center at Riverwalk, is elated about the partnership.
“It’s critical for Lawrence to have these institutions coming into the city, because one of the challenges for Lawrence is having trained professionals,” said Burns, whose center works with immigrants and offers English as a second language, Spanish, citizenship and computer classes, among others. “This closes one of the gaps that we’ve had in the past.”
Sal Lupoli, owner of the Riverwalk complex, knows the importance of education. The local pizza and real-estate magnate received a master’s degree in business administration at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012. He admitted it was difficult attending classes, doing homework and managing his business interests.
Lupoli plans to give locals some help he didn’t have — by opening the Merrimack Valley Innovation Center where the schools are located. The center will help mentor students interested in starting their own businesses.
Education, Lupoli says, opens people’s minds and fosters an entrepreneurial spirit. Without both of those qualities, he might never have bought the abandoned mill he’s turned into the Riverwalk complex, a beacon of economic success in the city.
When he was planning the project, many people cautioned him about it — reminding him of Lawrence’s reputation for crime, poverty and unemployment.
Lupoli’s answer: “How long does someone or something need to suffer before they get an opportunity?”
Indeed, opportunity is what this partnership is all about, according to Heather Hewitt, Assistant Dean of the Graduate Programs at Sawyer Business School at Suffolk.
“The most important education is a community-based experience,” she said. “By bringing the schools to one location for undergraduate and graduate programs — (it) is a marvelous idea to help eradicate poverty.”