The Interview USA
UMass Lowell
Provost & Vice Chancellor (VC) for Academic & Student Affairs

Joseph Hartman

For students to get the most out of their time at college and university, meaningful projects and experiences have to be created by Higher Education (HE) leaders and tailored to diverse student interests. It also means centering inclusion in these projects, especially within disciplines like STEM, where underrepresented groups face higher barriers to entry.

Joseph Hartman, Provost and Vice Chancellor (VC) for Academic and Student Affairs at the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UMass Lowell) sat down with Kira Matthews, GoodCourse Community Engagement Lead, to discuss his DEI work, bringing life back to campus and more.

Joseph's Journey

Kira: Could you introduce yourself and your role?

I currently serve as Provost and VC for Academic and Student Affairs at UMass Lowell, and before that, I was the Dean of Engineering. When I moved into academic leadership, it was from a desire to help students, and help faculty help students.

We merged Academic and Student Affairs at UMass Lowell because a significant portion of a student’s experience on campus happens outside of the classroom. It’s important to take advantage of all the synergies between staff (Academic Affairs and Student Affairs) so that the two don’t exist separately. Students learn just as much outside the classroom!

Kira: Can you tell me a bit about your work in the ADVANCE office?

A few years ago we won an ADVANCE grant from the National Science Foundation. This is a program that helps underrepresented faculty in the STEM fields get ahead.

We wanted to help our faculty succeed — so we set up training on microaggressions and how these can build up and hurt a career, bystander training, mentoring opportunities so people had someone to lean on outside of their department, and climate surveys, so we could assess the culture of a department and campus.

When the grant ended we wanted to institutionalize what we had learned, so we set up the office of faculty equity. The goal of the office’s advisory team is to ensure we continue to provide training and mentoring. Furthermore, we review departments every 5 to 6 years concerning curriculum, student success, etc., and we’ve added cultural elements too — asking how well department members work together, and establishing DE&I initiatives.  This is something this office has been working hard on.  

We want our faculty, staff and students to be representative of our community, which goes hand in hand with belonging. We always talk about diversity, but you can’t be more diverse unless you’re inclusive. These efforts will make us more inclusive.

Kira: As we shift back to on-campus teaching, what are you doing with students to create that sense of belonging?

When I moved into this role, we asked ourselves how we could help with creating this sense of belonging. Research from Gallup identified 6 things that make a college experience special. You can break them into two categories — (1) a student felt like somebody cared about them and pushed them in a good way to succeed and (2) that they had deep and meaningful experiences, like a semester-long project or an internship.

We always talk about diversity, but you can’t be more diverse unless you’re inclusive.  

We are trying to track whether students are having these experiences and call it the mosaic project — you can imagine a student’s experience on campus is like making a mosaic, one piece at a time, defining their unique experience, acknowledging that all students are different but tying them to things happening on campus that will interest them.

Kira: What do you do to make learning inclusive and engaging?

We have established a Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. This center holds regular workshops, held by faculty as well as other experts, on various topics, from using technology in the classroom to making conscious syllabi in hopes of better meeting student needs, and more.

Kira: Your role looks at academics and student life. Lots have been talking about engagement post-Covid. Where do you see students engaging more and less?

Last year was strange: there was a hesitancy to come out and be part of the community. This year it’s been completely different. We’re seeing events, like music and sporting events, being absolutely packed. At the same time, our need for support services and mental health services are much higher.

Our Office of Student Well-being focuses on providing information and workshops on the 8 dimensions of wellness, such that our students can get the help they need, when needed. We also have ambassadors out in the field that students can go and see — we want students to know that we are here to help.

Kira: Student safety is another conversation we have a lot. What’s your approach to creating a culture of student safety and support?

It starts with a lot of training and workshops, on sexual harassment, violence and consent, such that students understand boundaries and the processes for reporting, so they can report quickly in the event that something happens, and we can take action. Knowing they’re going to get a response is important.

There’s also bystander training, which gives students the tools to help (or at least intervene) if they notice something that’s not right.

We’ve had a number of task forces, one of which focused on gender and sex-based discrimination prevention, working on how we can provide more training for students and staff, to make our campus as safe as possible.

3 Quickfire Questions

Kira: What advice would you give to someone entering the HE industry right now?

Keep the students at the forefront of what you’re doing.

Kira: Is there a person who you most admire in HE?

Freeman Hrabowski is a brilliant leader, and illustrates that all students can do great things — regardless of background — we just have to unleash their potential.

Kira: What is the most important book you've read?

A book that I have treasured was about Ernest Shackleton’s trip to the Antarctic. I’ll never forget that the key attribute he looked for when enlisting crew members was a positive mindset.

Curious to see what the future of training looks like?
Kira Matthews
Community Engagement Lead
Kira leads our community outreach team working hand-in-hand with changemakers on both sides of the pond. If you want to join the next series of The Interview, or just learn more about GoodCourse, then get in touch at

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