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Celebrating First-Generation Students

UML's River Hawk Scholars Academy Program Recognized as a National Model

RHSA director and Associate Teaching Prof. of English Matthew Hurwitz speaks at induction day in fall 2019 Photo by Tory Wesnofske
RHSA Director Matthew Hurwitz speaks to nearly 350 new River Hawk Scholars in 2019.
By Katharine Webster
When Emily Crespo joined the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA) three years ago, the first-generation college student from East Boston was just looking for some extra help in navigating her transition to college. That’s what the RHSA offered.
But Crespo, now a senior double-majoring in English and music composition, found so much more. She made close friends and found a second home.
“They helped me to pick out a dorm and a meal plan, because I didn’t know anything about college,” Crespo says. “I felt that love and companionship. I call it the RHSA family.”
Recently, the nonprofit Center for First-Generation Student Success recognized UMass Lowell as a model for other colleges and universities across the U.S., designating the university as a First-Gen Forward Advisory Institution for the 2020-21 academic year. 
The university is highlighting and celebrating its first-generation students during the week of Nov. 1-7, leading up to national First-generation Celebration Day on Nov. 8.  Read more.

Support Services for First-Generation Students

RHSA logo

River Hawk Scholars Academy

The River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA) promotes academic success and fosters active campus engagement for full-time, first-year UMass Lowell students who identify as first-generation college students. Learn more.
River Hawk Rising student Juana Guerrero, right, with her coach, Francine Coston, associate director of Multicultural Affairs at UML Photo by K. Webster

River Hawk Rising Scholars

River Hawk Rising Scholars is a cohort-based scholar initiative run through the Office of Multicultural Affairs designed to support students as they successfully navigate UMass Lowell. Scholars meet weekly with a coach, attend workshops and participate in community building activities together. Read more.
DC-CAP logo

DC-CAP

The District of Columbia College Access Program (DC-CAP) is a a nonprofit that provides students in public and public charter high schools in the District of Columbia access to counseling and scholarships to enable them to enroll in and graduate from college. The overwhelming majority of students served by DC-CAP are from low-income, minority, single-parent households and are the first in their families to attend college. Read more.
Luis Falcon

Faculty & Staff Supporters

UMass Lowell has a rich tradition of welcoming and supporting first-generation college students. A number of faculty and staff on campus, including FAHSS Dean Luis Falcon, were first-generation college students themselves, and still more advocate for their success. See the list.
2 smiling peer leaders

Join the Celebration 11/9

UMass Lowell is celebrating First Generation Week in style! Join the River Hawk Scholars Academy and the First Gen Working Group on Monday, Nov. 9 from 5 to 6 p.m. to hear moving stories of first-gen professors, campus leaders and students. And get a chance to share your own story if you’d like to. 

The River Hawk Scholars Academy Has An Impact on Its Members

Meet Some of Our First-Generation Students

  • Veyli Ortiz Solis
    Criminal Justice

    Veyli Ortiz Solis earned a B.S. in criminal justice in just three years – with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

  • Kelsey Gonzalez
    Public Health

    As a first-generation college student, Kelsey Gonzalez struggled to find a major she liked. Then she studied abroad – and came back determined to help other first-generation students.

  • Nery Rodriguez
    Public Health

    For Nery Rodriguez, public health is the perfect major to combine science with helping people and communities.

  • Gifty Kessie
    Mechanical Engineering

    Gifty Kessie takes advantage of opportunities to learn and grow – and then turns around and offers a helping hand to others.

  • Shakira Fedna
    Biology

    Shakira Fedna came to UMass Lowell because of the River Hawk Scholars Academy, a support program for first-generation college students.

  • Daphne Shakira Naut
    Political Science & Philosophy

    Honors College student Daphne Shakira Naut was already fluent in two languages and had started on two more by the time she finished high school. Here at UML, she’s picked up a fifth language and studied abroad three times – all while supporting herself.

  • Nadine Chamoun
    Business Administration

    Business student Nadine Chamoun, whose concentrations are in finance and management, stepped out of her comfort zone for an information technology system development internship at Needham Bank. And she’s glad she did.

  • Keviana-Joy George
    Marketing & Management

    Business administration major Keviana-Joy George transformed from a shy transfer student to an outgoing student leader who is on track for a career in human resources.

  • Nazeli Acosta
    Physics

    Nazeli Acosta won a State Department Scholarship to study rural health care in the Dominican Republic.

  • Kevin Akers
    Mechanical Engineering

    As one of the university’s first DC-CAP Scholars, mechanical engineering major Kevin Akers is pursuing his dream of becoming an astronaut — while also continuing to make a difference in the lives of others.

  • Debby Fernand
    Psychology, Sociology and Race and Ethnic Studies

    Debby Fernand says the River Hawk Scholars Academy has introduced her to friends and faculty mentors – and turned her into a leader herself.

  • Coral  Gonzalez
    Nursing

    Coral Gonzalez set her sights on becoming a nurse after she was hospitalized in middle school. The Honors College student won one of the first Oprah Winfrey Scholarships to help her succeed.

  • Yahayra Michel
    Psychology and Criminal Justice

    Asst. Teaching Prof. Yahayra Michel, who was a first-generation college student, found her mentors at UMass Lowell.

  • Twisha Mohapatra
    Business

    Twisha Mohapatra says her experiences in the River Hawk Scholars Academy and the Honors College have boosted her confidence, taught her leadership skills and set her up for academic success.

  • Daryle LaMonica
    Biology

    Marine Corps veteran Daryle LaMonica is on the fast track to becoming a doctor through the UMass Medical School Baccalaureate to M.D. Pathway Program.

  • Lana Bashir
    Liberal Arts

    Lana Bashir fell in love with UMass Lowell when she toured the campus.

  • Edgar Torres
    Exercise Science, Physical Therapy and Kinesiology

    Clinical Assoc. Prof. Edgar Torres was the first in his family to go to college. Now, he’s a mentor to first-year, first-generation college students.

  • Emily Crespo
    English & Music Composition

    Emily Crespo came to UML for its affordability – and for the River Hawk Scholars Academy, now a supportive community for first-year, first-generation college students.

  • Dana Ibrahim
    Peace and Conflict Studies & Political Science

    Dana Ibrahim chose UMass Lowell for its peace and conflict studies program, which lets her combine classes across the social sciences and humanities to suit her goal: to become a diplomat and aid refugees.

  • Neyder Fernandez
    Political Science

    Neyder Fernandez is finding ways to be politically active, from campaigning for Joe Kennedy to serving on a citizens’ advisory board for Lowell police.

  • Juana Guerrero
    Nursing

    Juana Guerrero came to UML with strong academic credentials. A support program helped boost her confidence and leadership skills, too.

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