‘A new era:’ New UMass Amherst chancellor breaks bread at his first community breakfast

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 08-31-2023 5:16 PM

AMHERST — It’s fitting that new University of Massachusetts Amherst Chancellor Javier Reyes, a “Star Wars” fan, invoked a quote from one of the iconic franchise’s main characters to conclude remarks at the end of his first Community Breakfast Tuesday morning.

Quoting the Jedi Padawan Ashoka Tano, Reyes told 300 of the region’s movers and shakers, “This is a new day, and it is a new beginning, so may the force be with all of us.”

Reyes’ remarks at the 56th annual breakfast hosted by UMass and the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce came as UMass prepares to welcome 32,000 students and 9,000 faculty members to its campus this week for the start of the 2023-2024 school year.

“We’ve always got great energy here, but this year it’s even greater than normal,” said Tony Maroulis, executive director of community and strategic initiatives. “Chancellor Reyes is kicking off a new era here at UMass.”

The annual event marks the beginning of the school year and offers community and campus leaders the opportunity to shake hands, reconnect, meet newcomers and recognize the relationship between the university and the western Massachusetts region.

“I want to see more of the Pioneer Valley in UMass, and I want to see more of UMass in the Pioneer Valley,” said Reyes to the crowd gathered in the Student Union Ballroom.

Attendees got a taste of the university’s local ties through the locally-sourced food filling their plates, and Maroulis took that opportunity to applaud the school for its seventh consecutive year rated number one in dining by the Princeton Review.

The breakfast also included a ceremonious marching band performance and the “Go UMass” chant.

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Those in attendance included state Reps. Mindy Domb, Natalie Blais and Lindsay Sabadosa; state Sen. Jo Comerford; Amherst town officials including Town Manager Paul Bockelman and Fire Chief Tim Nelson; Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan; and other officials from Hadley, Sunderland, Easthampton and South Hadley.

“The Pioneer Valley is what I would say, a vibrant community, and it is a true community as represented by today’s gathering,” said Reyes. “We have people from across the valley gathered here just to cheer me on, welcome a new person to town, but also establish connections with each other… and just take these opportunities to reconnect with each other.”

A video compilation with voices such as Amherst College President Michael Elliot, head football coach Dan Brown, and executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District Gabrielle Gould extended welcoming remarks to Reyes.

“We look forward to continuing collaborations to grow and having an amazing next couple of years with you and your leadership,” said Gould.

Economicand community impact

With over 9,000 faculty and staff, UMass Amherst is the largest employer in western Massachusetts.

And with over 32,000 enrolled students, the university contributed $2.5 billion directly and indirectly to the Massachusetts economy during fiscal year 2018, according to a Community Impact Report compiled by the university and handed out at Tuesday’s event.

Claudia Pazmany, executive director of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, pointed to the “vast potential” of UMass in the local business climate, as well as “the significant role that Chancellor Reyes and the university continues to play in the next chapter.”

“Acknowledging that we possess the elements necessary to be a regional tourism destination and an economic powerhouse, we must articulate our potential more compellingly,” said Pazmany. “You have an entrepreneurial launching pad, discoveries and life sciences and engineering. Let those triumphs too be the pride of our Amherst area towns.”

That effort, according to Pazmany, involves getting students involved in internships that address staffing shortages, as well as creating a pipeline of graduates who go on to work in the area.

“Being a research-oriented university, being a land grant university, being globally relevant, we have students and our faculty and our staff that are working on the biggest challenges the world has ever seen,” said Reyes.

“We also represent a heavy weight on our community when it comes to having the students come back,” he said, adding, “I mean, we basically double the population of our town overnight in two days.”

Born in Mexico, Reyes is the first Hispanic chancellor at UMass. He was previously the interim chancellor at the University of Illinois Chicago, and before that, served as the provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at UIC. He has also worked at West Virginia University and the University of Arkansas.

“I know that I stand on the shoulders of giants,” said Reyes, recognizing the former Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, who served as chancellor for 11 years.

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