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RHSA Students of the Month

Students of the Month are nominated by their faculty, staff and fellow students for exemplifying what it means to be part of the RHSA.

Alexa Inoa is a freshmen Business Management major at UMass Lowell and the January Student of the Month in the River Hawks Scholar Academy.

Alexa Inoa, Business Management

Congratulations to January Student of the Month Alexa Inoa! Alexa is a Business Management major. She was born in the Dominican Republic and currently lives in Lawrence. In her spare time, she enjoys playing volleyball and having fun with friends. She would like to be an influencer of some kind in the future. Alexa is involved in the UMass Lowell Inquiry Scholars program, RHSA’s Student-Led Focus Group initiative.

Alexa wanted to attend UMass Lowell since she was in high school. The university provided her with a great offer and she felt it was the one for her. Her favorite thing about UMass Lowell is the diversity, not only of the people, but of the activities and courses offered. The range of offerings is not too narrow, and there are always lots of things to do. Being involved in the RHSA has meant that Alexa has a support system that will be with her throughout college. She does not feel like she is by herself, and feels that she belongs to a group of individuals that care about each other and care for her.

Jacob Villeneuve is a freshman Electrical Engineering major at UMass Lowell and the January Student of the Month in the River Hawks Scholar Academy.

Jacob Villeneuve, Electrical Engineering

Congratulations to January Student of the Month Jacob Villeneuve! Jacob is an Electrical Engineering major with a minor in Sound Recording Technology from Clinton, MA. He is a member of Air Force ROTC and throws javelin for the club track and field team. Eventually, he would like to commission as an officer in the Air Force and use his degree to work as an Electrical Engineer.

From the first time that Jacob stepped onto campus, he knew that UMass Lowell was right for him. Everyone was extremely welcoming, and his tour guide was excited to be there and talk about the campus. He likes that he can drive home fairly easily if he wants to, and that there are a number of different ways to be involved on campus. While he sought out ROTC, he came across the track and field club team by chance. For him, RHSA has been an opportunity to meet other students who are from a similar background. A lot of the people he has met through RHSA have families with the same values his has: working hard to put their children through college and give them the opportunities they didn’t have. He also says that RHSA involves first year students in something, even if they’re not necessarily outgoing. He likes how accessible the Peer Leaders and RHSA Professional Staff are as well.

As a first generation student, Jacob is extremely proud to be at UMass Lowell. He has a sister who is a few years older than he is who also is in school, and it reminds him that they both have the opportunity to do what their parents didn’t get a chance to do. Being here is very rewarding, and he knows he will complete his degree and make his parents proud. Once he has a successful career, he wants to be able to be a solid foundation for his children and give back to the university and city of Lowell, which will have given him the tools he needs to be successful.

Shakira Fedna

Shakira Fedna, Biology

Congratulations to December Student of the Month Shakira Fedna! Shakira is a biology major on the Pre-Med track from Everett, Mass. She eventually would like to become a doctor in either pediatrics or dermatology. On campus, Shakira is an active RHSA member and is in the process of starting a new dance team called Destiny of Dance, which will begin running in the spring semester. It will focus on cultural dance (Latin, Afro-Caribbean, etc.). She also enjoys reading.

Shakira actually chose UMass Lowell because of the RHSA. When she was going through a list of schools to which she had applied, she noticed UML was the only place that offered a program to support her as a first-gen student. She saw that she could fit in here, and that it was the perfect distance from home. To her, involvement in the RHSA means having that support system and community on campus. These supports are her favorite thing about the university; on this, she says, “You can always find support as long as you’re reaching out and looking for it.”

To Shakira, being a first generation college student means that she is setting forth the precedent for success. She wants to become the foundation of future generations’ success to allow the family to succeed.

Jeremy Duford

Jeremy Duford, Nutritional Science

Congratulations to December Student of the Month Jeremy Duford! Jeremy is a Nutritional Sciences major from Salisbury, Mass. In his spare time, Jeremy likes going to the gym and spending time with friends. He makes a concerted effort to keep his schoolwork and relaxation time separate.

Jeremy chose to attend UMass Lowell because it was local and he had never heard a bad thing about it. Many of his parents’ friends and friends’ parents attended UMass Lowell, as well as his sister. Jeremy’s favorite thing about UMass Lowell is “the comfortable, friendly environment that is so open and welcoming.” He says that everything he ever needs already exists and is available to him, and that all of his professors are very oriented toward student success. When he came to UMass Lowell, he thought living away from home would be a big transition, but he feels at home here and doesn’t go without anything.

To Jeremy, being a first gen student means that he gets to make his parents proud. Neither of them were able to pursue four year college degrees (though his grandparents did go to college), and his mom was able to get her Associate’s degree while he was growing up. Seeing her get her degree while raising a family motivated him to go to college right out of high school so that he can be with his family when he gets older. In the future, he would like to become a research nutritionist. He wants to be able to help those who have helped him along his path, and says that he “wouldn’t really be who [he is] today without the overwhelming support [he’s] received from peers, family, friends, current and old teachers.”

Being involved in the RHSA means that Jeremy always has a family to fall back on. He has already made a number of very good friends from the RHSA that he met on Welcome Day. He says he always has people to talk to, including his Peer Leader Ana, who always answers any questions he has and is encouraging. This support makes him want to work harder and he knows that even if he fails, there’s something for him to fall back on. He still meets other RHSA students at UMass Lowell that he has not yet met, and is immediately able to bond over the fact that they’re both part of the Academy. He is also in an RHSA college writing class, which he speaks highly of. RHSA is something Jeremy values and it has greatly added to his college experience thus far.

Rebecca Zhou

Rebecca Zhou, Business Administration: Entrepreneurship

Congratulations to Rebecca Zhou! Rebecca is an Entrepreneurship major from San Francisco, Calif. In her short time at UMass Lowell, Rebecca has gotten extremely involved. She was able to have lunch with Chancellor Moloney at the beginning of the semester, has joined the Entrepreneurial Ventures Association (EVA), and has been actively involved in RHSA events and activities. In her spare time, she likes reading, listening to music, and playing Xiangqi (Chinese chess).

Rebecca came to UMass Lowell because she wanted a challenge. She’s far from home, but is looking forward to the New England winter (she says the weather in California is always the same). She loves the support she’s found at UMass Lowell, especially from RHSA. Being a first generation college student means that Rebecca’s family has high expectations for her. She also knows that she has the power in her hands to shape not only the meaning of her future work, but also that she can help the people in her life see success on her terms.

Vanessa Bazile

Vanessa Bazile, English

Congratulations to Vanessa Bazile, November RHSA student of the month! Vanessa is an English major with a concentration in Journalism and Professional Writing. Eventually, she would like to work in TV or write for a big company, magazine, or newspaper. She is from Hyde Park (a smaller town in Boston), and enjoys writing, traveling, and meeting new people.

Vanessa’s favorite thing about UMass Lowell? “The amount of people there are that are willing to really help you. Anything you ask of anyone, you will most likely get help. Nobody will ever really turn you away.” She says that this supportive and friendly community were very helpful when she was entering UMass Lowell and didn’t know anyone. On this, she says, “you begin to feel very comfortable quickly because UMass Lowell is really one big family.”

Being involved in the RHSA has meant a great deal to Vanessa. On this, she says, “I got to meet people with similar stories. … I quickly got very comfortable with sharing my experiences with the people in my group because we could all relate to each other in some way, shape, or form. It also means that I am given an opportunity to make something of myself for not only me, but for my family as well.”

Vanessa’s parents have completed college, but only recently. She remembers attending her mother’s lectures at UMass Boston as a child, and her father recently graduated from DeVry University with a degree in Business. She says that while she had a little bit of help with the college process, she had to complete a lot of things on her own. She wants to be able to provide for her parents the way they’ve provided for her, and wants to be able to succeed.

Tyson Minor next to tree

Tyson Minor, Business Administration

Congratulations to Tyson Minor, who is a November 2019 RHSA Student of the Month. Tyson is a Business Administration major with a concentration in Finance. He is from Washington, D.C. and is also a DC-CAP Scholar. Overall, he wants to be successful by following what he likes to do and be able to provide for his family and himself. In his spare time, Tyson likes to play basketball, go to the gym, and play sports video games.

Tyson’s favorite parts about UMass Lowell are the opportunities available. He likes that students here can pave their own way and get settled in the way that’s best for them. Students are encouraged to be their own people and are encouraged to be leaders, as well. He also likes that UMass Lowell encourages students to learn about the things they are interested in, and encourage students to do so much more than just get a degree. Tyson also says that he’s “met just the right amount of people to make it seem like [he’s] on the right path, people like Professor [Ralph] Jordan.” He says that his faculty and people he’s met on campus are nurturing and caring, and a lot of people need that.

What has being involved with the RHSA meant to Tyson? He says it has been a valuable resource that exposes students to different experiences that they might not normally participate in, but are helpful in helping them branch out. He especially appreciates the opportunities to get out of his comfort zone and attend events that RHSA puts on.

Tyson doesn’t really know how he feels about being a first generation college student. He has had older cousins go to college, but his immediate family has not and he did not think he’d have the chance to go to college. Most people in his family graduated from high school and immediately went to work. While he knew going to college was always a possibility, he never saw himself going. He says that the lack of pressure from his family to go to college was even less of a reason to go, but he was able to get a scholarship to UMass Lowell and decided to commit, among several different schools. 

When he graduates in four years, Tyson says he’ll look at himself from a different point of view: He will be able to reflect and look at where he came from and where he is then. He says he is at UMass Lowell for the opportunity to study, not the degree itself. On this topic, he says, “When you’re a first gen student, anything you get after stepping onto a college campus is a blessing and an opportunity. There’s nothing I can lose at this point, everything I do is for the better.”

Fahad Anwar standing on street

Fahad Anwar, Computer Engineering

Congratulations to November 2019 RHSA Student of the Month Fahad Anwar. Fahad is a commuter student from Boston, majoring in Computer Engineering. In his spare time, he enjoys running and spending time with his friends. Fahad decided to come to UMass Lowell because he loved the community the university was able to provide and how friendly everyone was when he visited the campus.

Fahad’s favorite thing about UMass Lowell? The support network he has here. He says that “everyone is willing to help each other when it comes to homework, projects, or just hanging out… everyone is there for each other.” He also says that being part of RHSA has shaped his experience at UMass Lowell. The RHSA allows him to relate to a group of people who will be there for him if he needs anything. He says it also has given him opportunities to learn things outside of his academic pathway, like putting on a Personal Finance Workshop or letting students attend the RHSA Hockey Night together.

Fahad wants to find a career that he is passionate about, and one where it doesn’t feel like a chore to have to go to work. He is a first generation college student, and says that that puts the onus of responsibility on him to a much higher degree than that of his continuing-generation peers. Not only is he going through a new experience himself, his parents are also going through the experience for the first time. He has had to be highly independent throughout the college process, from applying to financial aid.

Fahad is happy to be here. He also says, “I’m happy to be part of RHSA and I’m happy for what the RHSA program does and what it has contributed to the UMass Lowell freshmen. I’m excited to continue my journey both with RHSA and UMass Lowell.”

Edgardo Paz Juarez is a first-generation student majoring in Civil Engineering from Washington, D.C. He enjoys playing both music (piano, guitar, bass, and drums: he’s the whole band!) and soccer. He wants to pursue construction management.

Edgardo Paz Juarez, Civil Engineering

Edgardo is a first-generation student majoring in Civil Engineering from Washington, D.C. He enjoys playing both music (piano, guitar, bass, and drums: he’s the whole band!) and soccer. He wants to pursue construction management and have a job that he enjoys doing. Being involved in the RHSA has meant a sense of community to Edgardo: “It’s nice to meet other students with the same path (and maybe background) as you, it’s nice to share and see people who are really trying.” The RHSA community provides a place for him to feel supported and motivated. Being around others with similar experiences motivates him to be a better person and student. He also says that the RHSA contains a lot of individuals who help each other to accomplish their goals.

Edgardo’s favorite thing about UMass Lowell is the wide range and number of opportunities for students. There are a number of doors that are open to students at the university, and Edgardo says he wants to take advantage of those open doors. Further, he says that he likes how much the people here care about the students and what they are going to do after they graduate. He is a first-generation college student who also participates in a program that allows a group of students from Washington, D.C. to attend UMass Lowell. This programmatic partnership, including the ability to attend a university far from home with a group of people he already knew, pushed him to attend UMass Lowell.

Being a first generation student is an honor to Edgardo. He is the first one in his family to ever go to college, which is something that motivates him to become a better student. He wants to make his family’s emigration from Mexico worth it, and he thanks God for the opportunities he’s being given. This opportunity may let him be the one to bring the family a sense of stability. Overall, he is happy to be here.

Grace Truong is a nursing major with a minor in public health from North Andover, MA. She enjoys photography, writing poetry, and playing with her dog. Her favorite thing about UML is the supportive campus: in high school, it didn’t feel like everyone supported each other, but here, everyone wants each other to succeed. She also likes the fact that everything on campus is close and accessible and that the university really feels like a community, rather than just a place to learn.

Grace Truong, Nursing

Grace Truong is a nursing major with a minor in public health from North Andover, Mass. She enjoys photography, writing poetry, and playing with her dog. Her favorite thing about UMass Lowell is the supportive campus: in high school, it didn’t feel like everyone supported each other, but here, everyone wants each other to succeed. She also likes the fact that everything on campus is close and accessible and that the university really feels like a community, rather than just a place to learn.

In the future, Grace would like to graduate and buy her parents a house. She would like to become a nurse either in the military or a midwife; she hasn’t quite decided yet. To her, being involved in RHSA means that she has a community that supports her, but one which she can also support. Grace doesn’t feel alone because of RHSA; while everything around her is very new, her peer leader and the RHSA team support her personally.

Being a first-generation college student means a lot to Grace. Her and her family value education strongly. She has opportunities her parents didn’t get, but they were able to provide her with by emigrating to the United States from Vietnam. Grace wants to be able to create a better life for her and her family too via her own education.

Kayla Rowles, Business Administration

Congratulations to Kayla Rowles, an April 2020 Student of the Month! Kayla is majoring in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing. She is from Washington D.C. and enjoys listening to music and taking photographs. Kayla says that UML is the size and has a similar student population to that which she’s always wanted, because she gets to meet new people every day and make new connections frequently. Although Kayla is not quite sure about her future goals, she still strives to make an impact on her community by giving back. She plans to continue doing this through both her career and spare time.

Kayla is happy to be a part of RHSA because it has allowed her to grow personally and as a student. With the various events she has attended, she has been surrounded by like-minded individuals that have pushed Kayla to improve upon herself and schoolwork. Looking back to freshman year, Kayla would’ve done things differently. She would have told herself to stress a little less and to use her planner more often because sometimes she found herself rushing to complete an assignment as a result of feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work she had.

Kayla chose UMass Lowell because of a DC-CAP program she was in back home. But once she visited campus, she liked the size of the campus, resources the school provided, and how different the environment was compared to back home. Kayla’s advice to her peers is to always believe in yourself and put your best foot forward with everything you do.

Dejonai Willis, April RHSA student of the month at UMass Lowell poses outside.

Dejonai Willis, Psychology

Congratulations to Dejonai Willis! Dejonai is from Haverhill, Massachusetts and is currently majoring in psychology. Throughout her spare time, she enjoys to swim, read, and hang out with friends. She loves the people at UMass Lowell because they’re very friendly and welcoming which made her journey of transitioning to college much easier. Dejonai is working hard at UML to accomplish her future goal of becoming one of the best prison reform lawyers and have her own law firm, as well as an animal shelter.

With the support provided by RHSA, Dejonai has become more outgoing which has helped her develop her character not only externally, but also internally. The RHSA has been the backbone for her freshman year and her family away from home. Although Dejonai had a successful transition to college, she wishes that she had more fun and didn’t go so hard on herself throughout freshman year. She recommends to everyone to put their best foot forward in everything you do and always be true to yourself.

Dejonai identifies herself as a first-generation college student and it means a lot to her. Being a first-generation student to her means that she is the difference. She is breaking down the walls and re-writing history to make a better life for her family and showing her siblings that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.