Students and staff at the five University of Massachusetts campuses statewide are poised to benefit from a $50 million cash donation — the largest gift of its kind in the university’s history — from Methuen natives Robert J. and Donna Manning, the school announced Wednesday.
Aimed at increasing awareness and opportunity across the UMass system, a portion of the money — $15 million — will fund the Robert and Donna Manning College of Nursing and Health Sciences, according to the school, in an effort to make sure students have access to diverse patient care.
Manning, a 35-year oncology nurse at Boston Medical Center who retired in 2018, was inspired to donate to the nursing program at UMass Boston, she said in a statement.
“For the majority of my career in Boston, I was struck by the fact that most of the nurses looked like me while most of the patients didn’t,” said Manning, who donated her salary to the hospital each year. “UMass Boston plays a critical role in supporting diversity in Boston, and I have seen firsthand how diversity in the nursing workforce can improve patient care and address health inequities. We look forward to actively working with the college on these important goals.”
According to statistics from the university, the school’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences is the fastest-growing college at UMass Boston. There are approximately 2,100 students enrolled — 19% of whom are Black, 12% Latino and 11% Asian American.
For Robert Manning, chairman of MFS Investment Management and the longtime chair of the UMass Board of Trustees, the donation was a way for him and his wife to pay it forward to the next generation of medical professionals, especially at such a critical time during the pandemic.
“Donna and I are at a point in our lives where we want to make a real difference, and this was the best way to do that, because we know what UMass does for students. It transforms lives,” he said in the statement. “We firmly believe that UMass is the most important asset in the Commonwealth, and that the greatest thing we can do to support the Commonwealth is to support the UMass campuses and UMass students.”
High school sweethearts, the Mannings both attended UMass, commuting to UMass Lowell. Robert received a degree in information systems management in 1984, with his wife earning a nursing degree in 1985 and a master’s in business administration in 1991. The couple, who now live in Swampscott, was presented with honorary doctor of humane letters degrees by UMass Lowell in 2011.
Robert currently works at MFS Investment Management as chair of the company and plans to retire this year. Once both are retired, they say they plan to be “heavily engaged” in the UMass programs their gifts support, according to a statement from the university.
“The significance of this gift cannot be overstated,” UMass President Marty Meehan said. “Rob and Donna are two of our own. As first-generation college graduates, they experienced the transformational impact UMass has on students’ lives. Rob and Donna have always led by example in their philanthropy, and this remarkable gift is a call to action to the philanthropic community. It says that UMass is a good investment and an opportunity to have direct and immediate impact on the future of the Commonwealth. On behalf of the five campuses, we thank the Mannings for their incredible generosity and commitment to students.”
The Mannings previously donated more than $11 million to UMass Lowell, where the Manning School of Business is named for them. They have also sponsored a nursing simulation lab and established the Robert and Donna Manning Endowed Scholarship Fund. The Manning Prize for Excellence in Teaching is given out to faculty on all five UMass campuses to recognize achievements in teaching,according to the school's statement.