UMass Lowell names computer science school after Android co-founder, 3-time alum

LOWELL — Rich Miner, a three-time UMass Lowell alumnus and co-founder of Android, received a major honor at his alma mater on Wednesday morning.

The university welcomed the famous programmer to Cumnock Hall to dedicate its school of computer science to him. Going forward, UMass Lowell’s computer science department will be known as the Richard A. Miner School of Computer and Information Sciences, which is part of the university’s Kennedy College of Sciences.

Miner recently donated $5 million to the school, which was approved by the UMass Board of Trustees in June, and the state contributed an additional $2 million.

At the ceremony, Chancellor Julie Chen recognized Miner’s “legacy of entrepreneurship and innovation” and said her contribution will impact individual students as well as the entire educational environment, as it will support future research and “experiential learning opportunities”.

Computer science is the most popular major at UMass Lowell, with nearly 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students studying in this field, all of whom will benefit from “Rich’s generosity,” Chen said.

“There is a huge demand for talent in STEM, and we all see the impact of computing on our lives…It’s important to us that our students are part of this revolution,” Chen said.

While playing Galaga and Tetris on old-school 1980s computers, Chen said Miner “wrote programs on those same computers,” the Commodore 64. Chen added that having the name de Miner attached to the school “boosts the reputation” of the program.

Miner is a three-time River Hawk, having earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees in computer science in 1986, 1989, and 1997, respectively.

While at UMass Lowell, Miner served as director of the Center for Productivity Enhancement, where he worked on video digitization, videoconferencing, and imaging, helping to incubate the first computer-based video editing platform, Avid Technology.

In late 1990, Miner co-founded Wildfire Communications, where he created the first voice-based personal assistant – the modern equivalent of Siri and Alexa.

Miner co-founded Android in 2004, selling the system to Google a few months later. Android now represents the vast majority of the mobile operating system market, with over 3 billion active devices.

“As you’ve heard, or as you may know, Android worked well,” Miner said.

UMass Lowell led him to a number of exciting opportunities – Miner recalled how he and his roommates would go to local computer stores “selling tapes” they made for the Commodore 64.

UMass Lowell’s IT department once had several offices atop an old nuclear reactor in the city, Miner said, showing how the program and industry have grown in recent decades. He said his studies there were a “golden and exciting time” and that these experiences directly led to his “later successes”.

“Going back over the years, I saw, first, just the transformation of this town, from something that was a pretty repressed industrial town when I was here in the ’80s,” Miner said.

Lowell has since grown into “a vibrant town,” Miner said, and he was “happy and thrilled” to help the school prosper.

Yuka Akiyama, a student at UMass Lowell, Westford, was awarded the Professor Patrick D. Krolak Innovation Fellowship this year, a Miner award created in 2012 for students pursuing a degree in computer science. Akiyama said she hopes to become a software engineer and work on speech recognition and real-time language translation.

It was hard to stay a full-time student, Akiyama said, partly because of inflation, but receiving the scholarship allowed her to return to the program “at no financial cost.” She is currently working on a capstone project with a local tech company, she said.

UMass President Marty Meehan says Miner is ‘one of our most distinguished alumni,’ and naming the school after him will have ‘ripple effects’ on the city and the world .

“Massachusetts is home to research, innovators and entrepreneurs, and all of these things place special demands on us in higher education (to) produce students who are ready to work and succeed in these important fields,” said Meehan. “And the work that’s being done at this college is exactly what this Commonwealth, what this country needs.”

Robert Manning, chairman emeritus of the UMass board of trustees, said he stood in front of that same building 40 years ago to enroll in his first computer class. He now holds a minor in computer science in minor school, a name that seems appropriate, he says.

Naming a college building after a person is “a big, big deal,” Manning said, because its namesake must have a certain character and integrity that “lasts forever.” As students go through the Richard A. Miner School of Computer and Information Science, they will ask themselves, “Who was Rich Miner?” Manning said.

“He’s going to inspire generations of computer scientists and information scientists to really drive the global economy forward and achieve great things,” Manning said.