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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


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

  • Jeremy Duford
    Nutritional Science

    A first-generation college student, Jeremy Duford was nervous about starting college. He says the River Hawk Scholars Academy was a tremendous support.

  • Shirley Adubofour
    Political Science

    Shirley Adubofour is putting her studies in political science and race and ethnic studies into practice as a student representative on UML’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force.

  • Nazeli Acosta

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

  • 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.

  • Heer Patel
    Accounting, Finance

    A staff accountant internship at Novogradac confirmed business major Heer Patel’s interest in auditing — and opened the door to her becoming just one of 32 college students from across the country selected for its new Building Opportunities mentorship program.

  • Isabella De Souza

    Isabella De Souza has won two scholarships that will allow her to study Spanish abroad, so she can bring multiple languages to her future nursing career.

  • Juana Guerrero

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

  • 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.

  • Douglas Correa Ospina
    Economics and Psychology

    Douglas Correa Ospina plans to combine his studies in psychology and economics to help immigrants and others from marginalized groups become more financially secure.

  • 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.

  • Alexa DeVito

    A research scholarship taught nursing student Alexa DeVito more about her chosen profession – and gave her a faculty mentor.

  • Sophan Smith
    Political Science

    After a successful recruiting and development career that has spanned the nonprofit, corporate and higher education worlds, political science alumna Sophan Smith ’02 has come full circle as the new executive director for EforAll Lowell, the nonprofit small business accelerator started at UMass Lowell.

  • Twisha Mohapatra

    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.

  • Caroline Owusu

    Caroline Owusu lost an internship because of the COVID-19 pandemic – and found a passion for research.

  • 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.

  • Lana Bashir
    Liberal Arts

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

  • Janelle Christopher

    Janelle Christopher started studying at UMass Lowell at the same time as her mom, Lorraine.

  • Jennifer Dossantos

    Honors College student Jennifer Dossantos is majoring in business because she’s inspired by her mom.

  • Ralph Saint-Louis
    Biology and UTeach

    Ralph Saint-Louis came to UMass Lowell for the UTeach program so he could become the kind of teacher who had helped him find academic success. As a third-year science teacher, he was named one of five finalists for Massachusetts STEM Teacher of the Year.

  • Valeria Saldana
    Public Health

    Valeria Saldana knew she had found a welcoming community from her first visit to campus.

  • 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.

  • Daryle LaMonica

    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.

  • Victor Souza

    Accounting student Victor Souza knew all about hard work when he arrived at UMass Lowell. His focus was on getting involved during his undergraduate career — while also gaining valuable professional experience through internships.

  • 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.

  • Jamie  Smorczewski
    History, Security Studies

    2021 Student Commencement Speaker Jamie Smorczewski knows what it means to persevere, over injury, health issues, the pandemic and life’s curveballs.

  • Yeaharne Hout
    Business Administration

    As she begins her career at Fidelity, Yeaharne Hout sees how transformative her UML experience has been.

  • 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.

  • Monica Kong
    Public Health

    The River Hawk Scholars Academy, a support program for first-generation college students, gave Monica Kong the confidence she needed to succeed – and lead.

  • Carolina Reyes
    English – Creative Writing

    Inspired by a summer program, Carolina Reyes is determined to become an English teacher at Lawrence High School.

  • Jessica Dossantos

    Jessica Dossantos chose UMass Lowell for its patient simulation labs – and because her twin sister liked the university, too.

  • Shakira Fedna

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

  • 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.

  • Coral  Gonzalez

    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.

  • 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.

  • Yahayra Michel
    Psychology and Criminal Justice

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

  • 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.

  • Nery Rodriguez
    Public Health

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

  • 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.

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