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First Gen Faculty & Staff Profiles

UMass Lowell has a rich tradition of welcoming and supporting first-generation college students (someone for whom neither a parent or guardian completed a four-year college degree). A number of faculty and staff on campus were first-generation college students, and advocate for their success. Below are narratives from first-gen faculty and staff around campus. They describe their experiences as a first-gen student, as well as some lessons they learned along the way.

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Joel McCarthy-Latimer, Associate Dean of Student Affairs for Residence Life

Joel McCarthy-Latimer joined the University of Massachusetts Lowell community in 2012 as the Director of Residence Life and currently serves as one of four Associate Deans in the Division of Student Affairs.  His primary areas of responsibility include residence life, housing, family programs & orientation, and first-year experience programs.  He co-chairs the Division of Student Affairs Equity & Inclusion Strategic Infusion Team and the university Bias Incident Response Team. 
Joel grew up in Woodville, Ohio, which was a rural farm area. He says he never felt any familial pressure to go to college, but knew he wanted to leave Ohio for a bigger city as soon as the opportunity presented itself. College provided him with that opportunity, and he packed his bags to attend Bradley University in Illinois.
Joel entered college as a graphic design major; he would later go on to pick up a second major in secondary education. If he were able to give himself advice as a freshman, he would tell himself “find mentors who have the qualities of a human being you want to become.” 
Overall, Joel says that the best part about his college career were his student leadership experiences on campus: being a resident advisor (RA) and an orientation leader. These experiences led him to his current career. Joel realized that he was able to positively impact his campus community by being in student leadership roles, and this ability was extremely rewarding. Now, he supervises a number of student leaders in the Residence Life department on campus. 
Joel’s advice for students who are interested in developing their leadership skills? “Listen and learn as much as you lead others.” One of the keys to being a good leader is being able to learn while you lead and open yourself up to learning experiences. Joel says that this was key for him and is key for many of his current student leaders on campus. He also encourages interested students to look into the Social Change model of leadership, which studies how leaders bring about societal change and impact the communities in which they live.
Joel also encourages students to find mentors on campus who can give life advice as well as career advice. He says that it is much easier to find someone who will give academic and career advice, but that advice about financial planning and the ‘real world’ is just as important. Finding those mentors can help students better shape their plans for college and beyond in ways that align with their overall goals.
Outside of his role at UMass Lowell, Joel lives in Littleton, MA with his husband, Chris; two sons, Aidan and Kiernan; and dog, Riley.  In his spare time he enjoys running local 5K & 10K races with his oldest son and spending as much time as possible with family and friends.  He ran his first ½ marathon in October and looks forward to running many more. 
Want to know more? Contact Joel at
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Bob Gamache: Senior VP for Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and International Relations at the UMass President’s Office, Professor Emeritus, EEAS 

Bob Gamache is the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Student Affairs and International Relations at the University of Massachusetts’ President’s Office and professor emeritus in the Department of Environmental, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences at UMass Lowell. He is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts (B.S. Chemistry, Dartmouth and M.S., Ph.D. Physics and Chemistry, Amherst). He maintains an active research role at the Lowell campus and has a team of several student researchers. His fields of expertise include the interaction of radiation with matter, and chemistry and physics of atmospheres with particular application to remote sensing. Gamache was selected by Thompson-Reuters for their list of “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds 2014.”
Bob grew up in Fall River, Massachusetts, which is a city in southeastern Massachusetts. When he was in high school, students were given aptitude exams to find out what they liked. When he met with his guidance counselor, he recommended Bob not go to college, but he didn’t pay attention to that and applied anyway. This decision confused his large family, none of whom had ever gone to college. Most of his family became electricians when they got older. His mother and stepfather told him that he would be paying for it himself, and he accepted this. Bob was accepted to SMU (now UMass Dartmouth) as a chemistry major.
Bob was a commuter who worked almost 30 hours a week during his undergraduate career. He attributes his success in college to faculty members on campus, because he had little support or motivation from home. He was a good student, and one day his organic chemistry teacher wanted to speak to him. The professor told him that he’d received the highest grade on their first exam, but that he told Bob he thought he could do better. “He told us that when we graduated, we were going to be competing with people from all over the place, and that was kind of an eye opener.” This pushed Bob to work harder in his science courses. He also realizes now that his liberal arts courses were a saving grace when he got to graduate school because they made him a more well-rounded person.
During his senior year, Bob was able to participate in research. He realized he wanted to become a researcher and go on to graduate school because of this. He went to UMass Amherst to pursue both chemistry and physics. He was hired at UMass Lowell as a researcher originally, and went on to become a faculty member, a Dean, and hold a position in the UMass President’s Office. Throughout it all, he’s been able to maintain a number of different research projects and contracts because of, in his words, “How much fun it’s been. Research has always been my one true love.”
Bob’s advice for first-gen undergraduate students?
  • “Learning to work hard will benefit you for your entire life.” Bob says that if you find the thing you love to do, it probably won’t feel like work. He encourages students to find that thing and pursue it.
  • “Learn to stay on top of things. Don’t procrastinate, do it now, because tomorrow you’re just going to have more assignments. Just make small decisions all the time that help you.” He sees a number of first-gen students and advisees struggle with time management, and thinks it is an important skill to master.
  • Work just as hard in your core curriculum classes as in your major classes. Bob is a big proponent of general education requirements, because they form a more well-rounded student. Take courses outside of your major and outside of your comfort zone.
Finally, Bob points out that UMass Lowell is a research university, meaning that the faculty here are focused on generating knowledge for their respective fields. He encourages students to meet with their faculty, talk to them about their research, and get involved with it if they can, especially if those students are first-gen. Participating in faculty research is an invaluable opportunity for our students.
Bob is willing to speak to any first-gen student on campus about his or their experiences so far at UML. Contact Bob at
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Jessica Garcia: Assistant Teaching Professor, Undergraduate Organic Lab Coordinator, Chemistry Department

Jessica Garcia is an Assistant Teaching Professor and the undergraduate organic lab coordinator in the Chemistry Department. She received her B.S. in Chemistry from the University of Southern California and Ph.D. in Chemistry and Biochemistry from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is a synthetic organic chemist with experience in methodology development, natural product total synthesis and the design of medicinally-relevant small molecules. After completing her postdoctoral research at Northeastern University, Dr. Garcia joined the faculty at UMass Lowell to focus on teaching. Currently, she is interested in designing teaching experiments with real-world applications as well as incorporating green chemistry and sustainability principles into the organic lab courses. 
What motivated you to go to college? 
For as long as I can remember, my parents used to always tell me, “get an education so you can get a good job.” When I was older, I realized what they really meant was, “get an education so you can get a good paycheck.” People will tell you that money isn’t everything, but it makes things a lot easier. So, I wanted to go to college to have a stable financial future, to move out of my small hometown and to become a medical doctor (or so I thought). 
What motivated to dedicate your time to help the RHSA?
When I got to USC, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I struggled academically my freshman year and had a hard time making friends. I didn’t know where to go for help or who to ask for it. So, when I heard about RHSA, I immediately though, “I wish I had something like that when I was an undergrad!” I want to make myself available to RHSA to support first-gen students here at UML. 
What was the best thing about your college experience? 
My work study job at the California Science Center. That job is where I learned that I loved teaching and that I was good at it. It was the catalyst that led me to my current career.  I was also interacting with fellow coworkers and museum visitors, so it helped me become less shy.
Looking back on your college experience, what would you tell your freshmen self? 
Don’t be afraid to go to office hours and ask questions. We professors are paid to teach you and that includes answering your questions. Show up, ask questions, get to know us and let us get to know you. It’s an easy way to start a relationship that can possibly evolve into mentorship.  
What are your hobbies? Is there a fun fact about yourself you’d like to share? 
I love Animal Crossing New Leaf [a Nintendo game]. I’ve been working on my town for over three years now and everything is nearly perfect (email me if you want my dream address). I wish I had an assistant like Isabelle in real life!

Jessica Garcia's Faculty Bio

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Ralph Jordan: Assistant Teaching Professor, Manning School of Business; M.A.L.E.S. Advisor

Manning School of Business Professor Ralph Jordan is a first-generation college student who values the importance of developing your people skills and loving your career. Ralph was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts. Reflecting on his experience with higher education growing up, he states, “My parents were part of the migration North during World War II. My mother graduated high school but my father dropped out of school around 3rd-4th grade; this was typical for families back then. Growing up in an Italian neighborhood, I was always comfortable interacting with kids from diverse backgrounds. My brothers and I had this advantage. This helped school be less of a shock as throughout high school there were never more than 10% black students in any of my classes. Today, myself and two of my brothers all have advanced degrees.”

His favorite part about UMass Lowell? “The students. They don’t have a sense of being entitled. They’re gritty and they work their tails off.” Ralph’s advice to freshmen RHSA students? “It’s about ownership. I was raised to be an employee. It never occurred to me that I could own my own business until I was 45-50 years old. Expand your horizons, grow, shoot for the stars, and don’t just think of yourself as an employee. Lastly, be true to yourself. I’ve never tried to blend in or give up my core values as a person. Be social, be friendly, and be open to people getting to know you.” For Ralph, recognizing the value of a college degree came when he founded his own consulting firm: The Productivity Factor, a business that specializes in helping organizations leverage the people skills of everyone they work with to achieve the best results. In support of founding his own business, Ralph went back to school around the age of 50 to earn his Bachelor's Degree. After discovering he loved college, he immediately went on to earn his Master’s in Leadership from Northeastern. This experience inspired him to fuse his college training with lessons he learned in his business career to create his own course at the Manning School called Managing Teams and Projects.

Throughout his years of experience, Ralph says one thing top workplace performers consistently do is volunteer for additional responsibilities. He states, “Anytime you have a chance to volunteer, it’s an opportunity to grow your leadership skills and increase your visibility throughout the organization. It’s one thing to be good at your job but volunteering for additional responsibilities is what gets you promoted, it shows that you can contribute more to the organization than what you’re doing in your current role. I’ve never asked for a raise in my life. Take on the extra work and the money will come. Remember: If you ask for a raise, it’s about you. If you do the extra work, it’s about the organization.” Expanding upon this, he says, “Be passionate about what you do. You are going into lifelong learning. You have to love reading about what you do and love intentionally getting better at it. I love leadership and I love working with teams and projects. Learning about that stuff has never been more work for me. If you’re smart and love what you do, volunteer, and actively try to get better, that’s what attracts mentors. The mentor is the one who supports you during your career and raises their hand in those important meetings to recommend you for your dream job.”

Ralph’s advice to students interested in developing their leadership skills? “Practice. It will help you develop the confidence to take charge when given an opportunity. Always see leadership as a servant opportunity to help people.” He credits Chinese philosopher, military general, and Art of War author Sun Tsu with training him to be strategic, thoughtful, and purposeful about everything he does.

Throughout his career, Ralph has served as Undersecretary of Economic Affairs for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Director of Manufacturing for Wang Computer Korea, and Vice President of Sales Operations for Genuity, Inc. Currently, Ralph is the President of the Productivity Factor, a consulting firm he founded. He also volunteers his time as President of the Board at Rogers Hall, a senior citizen residence complex in Lowell. He teaches Managing Teams and Projects and Leadership Processes at the Manning School of Business and is actively involved as the advisor of M.A.L.E.S., an organization that offers opportunities for mentorship, brotherhood, service learning, networking, and professional growth for young men at UMass Lowell.

Ralph Jordan's Faculty Bio

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Tracy Michaels: Assistant Teaching Professor, English

When I was nine months old, my father abandoned my mother and me. She had completed one year of college, but her academic career abruptly ceased. Because my mother had no degree, she was forced to take jobs that worked her long hours, paid quite little and were never secure. I recall her going to work extremely ill for fear of becoming unemployed since she wasn’t provided sick days. As I grew up and my mom talked to me about academia, her chronic refrain was, “When you go to college . . .” Naïve as I was, I assumed, like high school this was something mandatory, but never once did I think it was out of my reach.

My college education was funded by partial scholarships, grants, a student loan, and money from my jobs. My mother, to this day, laments that she couldn’t financially help. One of my conundrums in college was solving how to complete my five-year double major in four years, since my scholarship expired after four. Luckily, I had a fantastic advisor and English professor, Dr. Michael J. Meyer, who sat me down the second semester of my first college year and literally planned out my entire schedule of classes (including summer school) to alleviate my fears and show me how I could meet my deadline. There was never a time I didn’t work while taking my 18-21 credits each semester. I sold clothes at a local mall, cleaned houses, and I was exuberant when I was able to acquire an on-campus job as a writing tutor and later when I became an RA. Meanwhile, my GPA was always at the forefront of my mind, since I was dependent on that scholarship, and my jobs and my mother’s experiences revealed the alternative for my future if I wasn’t successful in academia.

These are a few of the reasons I immediately volunteered to teach an RHSA section of College Writing II. I knew that my students would be driven and bring an array of real-world experience into the university. First-gen students are fearless in the classroom, they are eager to share what they know, unafraid to question what they don’t, and they are extraordinary self-advocates for whatever extra help they may need. My RHSA students are eager to lift one another up, interact with each other, and share tips and tricks for surviving a semester. The seriousness with which they approach learning is beyond impressive. For first-gen students earning a college degree is not simply an expected right but an opportunity; a degree will allow RHSA students to follow their dream careers, change their lives, and it will provide them with options within their field of study. We know that due to the deferred dreams of those before us, we are able to reach for our own. That’s why being a small part in the RHSA program, as an English professor, is an absolute privilege for me.

Tracy Michaels' Faculty Bio

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Yahayra Michel: Assistant Teaching Professor, School of Criminology and Justice Studies; RHSA Peer Leader Mentor

When asked to serve as a RHSA faculty liaison, I immediately and enthusiastically said “yes!” Actually, it was more along the lines of, “I would love to.” You see, I am a first-generation college student myself and “I am proud to be first.” My grandmother, a woman full of wisdom and love, never made it past the third grade. My mother graduated high school, but higher education just wasn’t an option for her. She was the oldest of 12 and was expected to help sustain the family. She did, however, ensure that her children were not faced with the same dire circumstances. She left the Dominican Republic and came to the United States to give my brother and I the opportunities she didn’t have. This sacrifice was something we were made perfectly aware of. In fact, it was part of our family narrative and we took it very seriously. Ok, well, I might have taken it a little too seriously since I’m technically “still in school”. Not only did I successfully complete two bachelor’s degrees here at UMass Lowell, I continued on to graduate school and am now a dedicated and passionate educator. I can think of no higher calling than to serve others and for me that translates to teaching and mentorship. I saw this position as an opportunity to serve a population of students whom I feel I can understand because I lived it. I was sitting in your position not too long ago. I also understand because my sociology background and familiarity with education research has made me perfectly aware of some of the challenges trail blazers, such as yourself, face as they navigate a world their predecessors have not.

Honesty, integrity, and full disclosure of information are things I value more than I can put into words and so I’ll be perfectly honest with you. These challenges will not disappear when you leave college. I sometimes still feel like I’m learning as I go along. I encourage you to think of these experiences as opportunities for growth. They serve a purpose. They will make you more resilient adults and positively affect your family for generations to come. Trust me, the knowledge you will gain in the next few years will surpass information covered in a textbook. You will learn what you are made of, what your priorities are, and where your convictions lie.

I honestly believe that I was called to be a teacher, mentor, and supporter to those I am fortunate enough to be around. The amazing thing is that I am not the only one. I dare say that if you were to take a quick look around, you would realize that you are surrounded by caring individuals who genuinely have your best interest at heart. The faculty, staff, and university leadership that make up RHSA have a lot of institutional knowledge and can help you navigate the path you are trail blazing for your family and friends. Think of us as your academic family and therefore a valuable resource readily available to you. Your family and friends may not understand the ins and outs of academic life: midterms and finals, advising and tutoring, majors and minors, core curriculum and free electives, and science with and without a lab, to name a few. But we do and we’re here to help. There is nothing you can’t achieve if you are willing to stay focused, ask for help and persevere.

Yahayra Michel's Faculty Bio

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Someris Rivera: Senior Ast. Director of Financial Aid

I was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to New York City, specifically an area called Spanish Harlem, at the age of 6. My dad was a factory worker and had a number of side jobs to make sure we had what we needed to meet our basic financial needs, food stamps helped to meet our physical needs. My parents worked very hard to make sure we had better opportunities than they ever did. This is why education was top priority for them, even though neither one of them attended college or understood the language, they wanted to make sure we made it “all the way”.

I attended Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Manhattan and was fortunate to have very supportive teachers in High School who encouraged me to get involved in various after school programs and extracurricular activities. These helped expand my world view and see possibilities for a future far beyond what I was exposed to within the walls of my neighborhood. During these years I realized that I didn’t have to conform to the limitations of my surroundings, but I could achieve much more – this may sound cliché, but it was so true for me! I finally had a vision for my future and knew that being the first one in my family to graduate college was going to get me there, and also set an example for my 3 younger siblings.

My first year of college was at Marymount College, a small private college in Tarrytown, NY – an all-girl college – I don’t know what I was thinking. I was able to finance my education with the help of scholarships, grants and student loans. During this time, my family experienced a traumatic event, which led to my dad, the sole financial support of our family of 5 be laid off from his factory job after almost 20 years – without a job, they considered moving to where we had family and could start fresh – Lawrence Massachusetts. I decide to transfer out of Marymount and applied and was accepted into UMass Lowell. I was ready to move when my parents decided to stay in NY – I was off to MA on my own.

I was considered an Out of State student while at UMass Lowell, which meant that financial aid was not enough to cover all my costs – I worked multiple jobs, after school and on the weekends to get myself through school. Many times I felt very lost and alone in this whole process, my parents were supportive yet unable to help me figure things out or financially. One day I walked into the financial aid office and met Mr. Richard (Dick) Barrett, I called him my guardian angel, he sat me down, hired me as his work study student (now my third job) and helped me every step of the way. I remember telling him I didn’t think I could do it (finish college) and he told me “even if you have to get your degree in Spanish, you will graduate college”. I am so grateful to Mr. Barrett for helping me to dream again and thanks to his support I was able to earn my college degree.

My experiences growing up and the divine encounters along the way served as my motivation for helping other students, like myself, who dream of a future they weren’t exposed to. I have been working professionally at UMass Lowell for over 13 years now, and I love meeting and speaking to students who are first gen and share similar stories. One of the great outcomes of being a first gen is the privilege of opening doors for others after you. I find the RHSA program is so crucial to providing first gen students the support they need to earn the degrees that will ultimately change the course of their lives and that of their families. Being involved in a small way with the RHSA program, is a great honor.

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John Souza: RHSA Alumni Supporter

An Engineering Alumnus with a 30-year career in technology and technology sales, John recently found out that under the RHSA program he qualifies as a first-generation college student. As the RHSA’s Alumni Mentor, he has been involved with helping the Academy mentor students and position itself for long-term success.

John was born in Lowell and grew up nearby in the Nabnasset Neighborhood in Westford, Massachusetts. Growing up he says “From doctor’s appointments to shopping, my life and my parents’ lives was always anchored in Lowell.” After high school, John enrolled in the Bachelors of Science in Engineering program. For John, attending UMass Lowell came down to: “Affordability, an excellent engineering program, and proximity to home.” He also adds, “My brother went to school at UMass Lowell and I knew he could give me pointers on the basics.”

If John could go back to his freshmen year, he’d advise himself to find greater balance in his college experience. Reflecting on this, John states, “I was myopically focused on being successful but what I wish I realized was that there is more to the college experience than just academics. There are so many opportunities to get involved. I can’t emphasize this enough. The one resource in the world you can’t replace is time.”

When asked about his favorite aspect of the Engineering Program at UMass Lowell, John cites, ‘The non-book, nontheory learning you attain. Learning about teamwork, collaboration, and the understanding of people’s work and behavior styles – these are invaluable things to learn for your career. When I went to high school, it was very rare that there were team projects. At UML, you were working on teams and were required to do joint work. I quickly realized that you were made better by the collaboration with teams. Things that some students knew better than me helped me gain a better understanding of the concepts being taught in class and were very beneficial to the outputs of the team. You can learn a lot from the diversity of opinion. That has been true from the day I came to UMass Lowell to every point throughout my 30-year career.” When he was attending UMass Lowell, John says that his family often didn’t understand what college was and viewed it as an extension of high school.

John’s advice for students interested in developing their leadership skills? “Stay focused on your goal of graduating – that is the ultimate goal for you. Also, take a class or read a book on People’s Behavior Styles (the 4 main ones are: Analytical, Driver, Amiable and Expressive). This will help you across all fields of work as you learn what motivates people and how they interact with others.” He also recommends that students pick up a copy of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, a classic book used by leaders in every field.

John was motivated to volunteer his time with the River Hawk Scholars Academy after he heard about the opportunities the Academy offered first-gen college students. Reflecting on this, John states, “Because I owe so much to this great university, I need to give back in any way I can. This school took a chance on me by accepting me as a provisional student until I proved myself. I will never forget that gesture by the University.”

Currently, John is a Group Manager of Business Development at Accenture. During his career, he has also worked for companies such as Dun & Bradstreet and Microsoft. In his free time, John enjoys cooking and skiing with his 3 daughters. He is a firm believer that a good veal parmigiana is the meal that determines a great Italian restaurant. Fun fact: His wife was his one and only blind date!

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Mike Tith: Director of Corporate and Foundation Relationships

Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations Mike Tith is a relationship building and fundraising expert who is passionate about serving the City of Lowell and values the importance of mentorship in developing your leadership skills and advancing your career. In his role at the University, Mike helps the RHSA pursue funding opportunities to ensure that more students can become RHSA Peer Leaders. Born in Cambodia after the Killing Fields and raised in Lowell, Mike saw college as a life-changing opportunity from an early age. Reflecting on this he states, “My mom is a Double Rive Hawk, she got both degrees through night school. I was lucky enough to have her as a role model throughout college but as the oldest child in my family, I didn’t have someone who could help me with the college application process and the SAT. It wasn’t process my parents had to go through. My counselor had a massive case load so I didn’t get a lot of direction from him, either. However, I always knew and was always told by my parents that going to college was the key to everything and the key to breaking out of the poverty cycle. The main goal for me was to get a college degree in order to get on a better path. I was proud that when I graduated from college in 2001, my father graduated from Middlesex Community College the same year.”

Reflecting on his experience as a freshmen Economics and English Major at Tufts University, Mike states, “I grew up in Lowell in the late 90’s. It was hard to grow up with violence and gangs so I was very focused on academics in high school. Once I got to college, I allowed myself to have fun. I made a lot of friends and made connections with faculty members. I took ski and snowboard lessons, participated in Model UN, and experienced a lot of new things in a different type of learning environment. In high school, it was route memorization and some academic thinking. In college, it was about speaking up and holding my own in a classroom full of kids who had a lot more than I had – in confidence and in resources.”

His motivation for helping the RHSA? “I wanted to help the RHSA because in a lot of ways, the students remind me of myself at that point in time in my college career. I feel like I went through all of these experiences myself and given that I’ve been out of college for 18 years, I also have some understanding of what you need to do in college to have success after graduation.” After starting his career in management consulting, Mike transitioned to higher-education, working at Harvard University. His experience growing up in Lowell motivated him to return to the City and work at UML. Reflecting on this he states, “Coming to UMass Lowell was like a coming home for me as I grew up in the City and went to Lowell Public Schools. Transitioning to UMass Lowell allowed me to take everything I’ve learned professionally and personally to where I grew up and to a city I’m passionate about. I sit on a lot of local boards so coming to an anchor institution like UMass Lowell made sense in terms of having the impact I wanted. The makeup of UML and the demographics of its students further motivated me to serve the community and come to work on campus.”

His advice to RHSA students? “Take advantage of your Peer Leaders and the academic resources you have. When I was a freshman, it was my first time alone, by myself, and away from Lowell. I was having fun but I also thought I had all the answers. I wish there had been a first-gen program or something like it a Tufts. I don’t think I spent enough time searching for help. Tufts has a great freshmen orientation program and I had an upper classman mentor when I got there but I didn’t take advantage of it to the fullest. You should also find a career that you’re passionate about so work isn’t just work but something that drives you and allows you to define success and the impact you’re having. Find something that takes advantage of what you studied in college but also don’t limit yourself to what you’re comfortable with. Try to push yourself as well. Always ask for more work and try to do extra work when you’re learning a new skill set.” His advice to RHSA students interested in developing their leadership skills? “Develop a personal advisory board or group of mentors. I’ve always had mentors who have pushed me professionally and personally who have also served as referrals and references for jobs. The sooner you can take on leadership roles the better, whether they are professional or volunteer opportunities and whether you have the skills or not. By volunteering, you can learn and share many skillsets and your impact is immediate and lasting. In leadership, you should serve the ideal that you hold the door open and pull people along after you. Along the way, you’ll be able to pick up on some of the key leadership skills you need.”

Mike is an avid skier who enjoys spending time with his wife and two children and is proud that Lowell has the second largest Cambodian population in the nation. In his free time, he serves as a member of the boards of Project Learn, Circle Home, and D’Youville Life and Wellness Community, organizations dedicated to bettering the City of Lowell by fostering excellence in urban education and delivering a high standard of care to seniors. He’s also a big fan of history and historical fiction and recommends that students check out The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck and Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean – both are timeline reads. Mike’s fun fact? Before business cards became popular for college students, he once printed out his own set at Staples and gave them out to almost everyone he met during his sophomore year at Tufts. His efforts paid off when he received an internship with the famous economist Jeffrey Sachs. He recommends that students in the RHSA attend as many networking events as they can. Hint: The iHub on campus is a great place to look.

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Francine Coston: Associate Director of Multicultural Affairs

It was during our regularly scheduled advising appointment when Associate Professor, Phitsamay Uy, my committee chair (friend and confidant) stated “You will be the first African American to graduate with a Ph.D. from the Leadership in Education Program”.

“Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” I thought to myself. It’s a saying I picked up from my mother, who always believed that all things are possible if you just have faith. Uy’s statement was so surreal. I felt my faith was the only way it would be possible to achieve such a degree. After all how is it that this black girl from the streets of Philadelphia, the youngest of eleven children (yes I have 10 brothers and sisters, same parents, none adopted), the first of whom to attend and graduate from college, possibly get a Ph.D.? For the rest of that day, I could not stop thinking about it. Why was I so unnerved by it? Why was it bothering me? Then it occurred to me that I had had this same feeling so many times before. It was that feeling of uneasiness I first experienced when I started my journey into higher education. A journey that for all intents and purposes was not supposed to happen. A journey, Thank God, that did happen, but not without its challenges.

My parents couldn’t afford to pay for college. That’s what I thought. So when my high school guidance counselor kept telling me to apply to colleges, I told her what’s the point? My family can’t afford college. She said, “please just try.” So I did. I applied to nine schools and guess what? I was accepted into every one! And scholarships were offered as well! It was unbelievable. I was going to college, out of state. I was so excited and scared out of my mind. My first week on campus, I called home every single night. I hated it. The course work was too hard. I had no friends. Oh yeah and there was not one African American student in any of my classes. Hard to deal with since I had gone to predominantly black schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade. I tried and tried but I just didn’t like college at all. I went home every weekend. I would tell myself just make it to Friday and then you are out of here. By end of the fall semester and with a GPA I would prefer not to mention, I knew something needed to change. My parents told me that they could not afford to pay for me to come home every weekend anymore. Either go to school or stay home for good. I guess that was the “kick in the butt” I needed, because that spring semester, I only went home and that was for spring break. The next time I went home, it was the end of the semester with a GPA worthy of Dean’s list.

Even with that troubled start, I was able to graduate in 4 ½ years. I began working immediately after graduation. After a few years, I was fortunate to work for a company that paid for education for its employees. I was able to work and go to school in the evening and in three years earned my Master’s degree. Several jobs and several moves around the country later, I settled here in Massachusetts and began working at UMass Lowell. It was here that I met Dean Greenwood and like that high school counselor, she kept telling me to apply to the PhD program. I told her, what’s the point? I have a family, a demanding job, and no time to be back in school. And just like the counselor she wouldn't take no for an answer. So here I am, four years later, starting my dissertation for the doctorate program. The Class of 2020! It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

Francine Coston's Staff Bio

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Robert Forrant: Distinguished University Professor, History

Distinguished University Professor of History Robert Forrant was the first in his family to graduate from college. Today, he has achieved the University’s highest honor for educators who are recognized by their peers for outstanding contributions to teaching, research and service.

Reflecting on his motivations for going to college he states, “What motivated me to go to college was a high school history teacher named Mr. Casale. He kept bugging me about whether or not I was going to college and how I was doing, where I was applying, and if I needed a reference. I partly applied so he’d leave me alone but I’m glad he bugged me now.” Growing up in Beverly, Massachusetts, Bob credits his parents for instilling a lifelong love of reading in him. He states, “both my mother and father were readers and even though neither one of went go to college, the house was full of books. For them, reading really mattered. I had a set of biographies of U.S. Presidents, Time Magazine, and Newsweek; the idea of being aware and informed was definitely part of the deal. Biography wise, my favorites were the books on Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lincoln, they’ve made me what I am today.”

His advice to students? “Really try and think about what it is you’re going to really like learning about, I just went lockstep with the program until all of a sudden I realized there was more to grasp instead of just following some kind of a singular track. Slowly I realized that telling stories was what I was good at and that’s really what history is. Too often, I now see that students are often unhappy because they’ve had a major picked by their parents and end up boxed in by a subject that they’re not interested in. Being in college is a lot of hard work and if it’s in an area that you’re not passionate about, it can be really a bad mix. With as much as college costs today, you want to find a passion. Maybe you study math, but you also pick up a minor in creative writing. You have to allow yourself to find your passion because otherwise it’s too hard and life is too short.”

Extending upon this he states, “I didn’t have a program that helped me sort that out which is why I felt lost when I attended college. The idea of knocking on a professor’s door for instance wasn’t encouraged and wasn’t part of the culture. Here, I feel like most of us like what we do. When we say we have office hours and if there’s a problem to come and talk to us, we meant it. Anything that can break down that mystic that were in our office to do great and powerful things, that’s malarkey. If you care about the job, then there’s always time for students.” Also, make sure you try to be out in the field for what you do. I’m a firm believer in taking big bites out of the stuff that’s put on your plate. If they’re making that stuff available to you, then you need to grab it. If there is a subfield that’s of more interest to you, you can find out about it in the real world. If someone’s coming to give a talk on campus, tag along. Be open to learning all kinds of new and different information. Consume it; don’t close yourself off. “

His thoughts on what it means to be a first-generation college student?
“I think that from talking to first-gen students in my classes, it’s a somewhat significant pressure that’s put on first-generation students to make good and not mess up. It’s tough to carry family pressure to succeed every day, which is why I want to help first-generation students here in any way you that I possibly can. I’m living proof that you can do it, you just have to figure out how to navigate it.”

In his spare time, Bob enjoys reading, jogging, and watching Red Sox and Bruins games. He recommends that students read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair and the Arch of Justice by Kevin Boyle, books that focus on the strength and resilience of the human condition in difficult situations. A fun fact about Bob in his words? “Interrupting my career was 15 years spent as a machinist. You never know where the road will take you.”

Robert Forrant's Faculty Bio

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Jen Keene-Crouse: Assistant Director of College-Based Professional Advising (CBA)

Jen Keene-Crouse is the Assistant Director of College-Based Professional Advising (CBA). Originally from Wisconsin, where she was a first-generation college graduate from UW-Green Bay, Jen earned her BA in Communication. Upon graduation, Jen threw caution to the wind (knowing no one or anything about New England) and moved to New Hampshire for a graduate assistantship. Following an adventurous path for both her graduate education and career, Jen found her home here at UMass Lowell both professionally and personally. After having met her wife when first starting at UMass Lowell years ago, and upon completing her M.Ed. in Higher Education in Student Affairs from Salem State University in 2010, Jen currently serves as the Assistant Director of College Based Advising, working directly with freshmen Nursing and Exercise Science majors.

The best thing about Jen’s college experience:
Jen says that the best thing about her college experience were the friends she made. Because she got involved fairly quickly on campus, she made friends pretty quickly. Her membership in these clubs also allowed her to grow into leadership roles within them, so upperclassmen friends and club supervisors (staff) became mentors to her. Jen says that she met many of her lifelong friends in college, and many of them were part of her wedding party.

What Jen would tell her freshman self:
“Whatever reason you’re in college, the reasons don’t have to be in a box. You really do have the world in your hands.” When Jen went to college, the original goal was to be able to graduate and get a job, to eventually be able to do better than her parents could. But, over time, she realized something: she didn’t just have to do better for her parents, she could do better for herself. “College is more than being able to pay the bills once you graduate.” She wants to tell students that they can thrive on campus and do better for themselves, not necessarily for anyone else.

Jen’s Advice:

For students who are developing their leadership skills:
The first thing: “Lean in and make mistakes.” Try new things, because this is a place in which you are allowed to make mistakes. UMass Lowell is a place with an “unbelievable net to catch you” when you try things and make mistakes. The second thing: watching individuals who you want to emulate and using those observations. Students don’t necessarily need a role model, but should take bits that they notice from people whose skills they admire (maybe a memo is very well-written or they like the way a professor presents information to the class). If possible, connect with those people to learn about what they do and what tips and tricks they use. Once you pick up those tricks? Give them your own flair. You’re not looking to copy, you’re looking to do things with your own style.

For students who are looking to find a mentor on campus:
Lean in and put yourself out there. If you see something or someone that you want to do, be, or learn more about, talk to them about it! You absolutely do not need to be in a formal mentoring program to find a mentor on campus. Talk to people, make connections, and you’ll be on your way to finding your support system!

Jen Keene-Crouse's Staff Bio

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Ivy Ho: Associate Professor, Psychology; Co-Chair of Applied Psychology and Prevention Science Ph.D. Program

Looking back on your college experience, what would you tell your freshmen self?

  • “Don’t sell yourself short.” Honestly, I did the bare minimum needed to get the grades and research experiences needed to get into grad school. I knew that I was smart and could have gotten way more out of being in college, but I was immature and, therefore, afraid to push myself to try new things and to potentially fail.
  • “Professors are not scary.” We are just regular people. On top of that, we love talking to students about the stuff you are learning. It is actually fun for us. So, feel free to reach out. Just remember to be polite and use email properly (Read Inside Higher Ed's Advice for students so they don't sound silly in email.)

What advice would you give students who are starting their professional careers?
You are intelligent and educated. Start looking for ways to use your talents to contribute to society. You don’t exactly have to solve world hunger to make the world better. We all contribute in our own small ways. Vote. Mentor younger people. Be civically engaged.

What are your hobbies? Is there a fun fact about yourself you’d like to share?
I am a Harry Potter aficionado. I’ve noticed that with each new cohort of college students, fewer and fewer students are fans of Harry Potter. You are missing out. Trust me, read the books. They are awesome. (The movies, not so much.)

What advice would you give students who are looking to find a mentor on campus?
There are more many kinds of mentors. Obviously, you can seek out mentors to guide you towards your professional and educational goals, but you are also welcome to seek out mentors to help you navigate college as a person from a marginalized group. People of color, gender minorities, students with disabilities, low-income students, first-gen college students, etc., may benefit from having a mentor to talk to about their experiences of discrimination on campus and in the workplace, or the problems they face getting through school.

Ivy Ho's Faculty Bio