Skip to Main Content

First-Generation Students Soar at UMass Lowell

University Honored as National Leader in Educational Success

Members of the River Hawk Scholars Academy wearing t-shirts for their induction ceremony. Photo by Matthew Hurwitz
UMass Lowell has received national recognition for its River Hawk Scholars Academy, which helps first-generation college students begin their college years on solid footing.


Contacts for media: Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or and Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 or

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell has been recognized as a national leader in preparing students who are the first in their families to attend college for success on campus and beyond. 

The Center for First-Generation Student Success has named UMass Lowell a First Forward Institution, inducting the university into an inaugural group of colleges and universities across the country dedicated to this mission.

The honor shines a light on UMass Lowell’s River Hawk Scholars Academy, which helps first-year, first-generation students start their college careers on solid ground. The program provides participants with a range of support services, including living-learning programs in university housing, academic advising, leadership opportunities, workshops and other events tailored for their needs. 

“Being selected as a First Forward Institution affirms UMass Lowell’s commitment to first-generation students, evident since the university’s beginnings in the 1800s educating immigrants and others who worked in Lowell’s textile mills,” said River Hawk Scholars Academy Director Matthew Hurwitz, a faculty member in UMass Lowell’s English Department.

Forty-one percent of UMass Lowell undergraduates are first-generation college students. This year, the River Hawk Scholars Academy served nearly 300 students, more than double the number in 2017, the program’s first year. This fall, the university will welcome more than 400 students to the program. 

“First-generation college students contribute creativity, resilience and diverse perspectives to our campus. It is essential to our mission that they thrive in our university community. We are proud to be recognized as national leaders in this important area,” said Julie Nash, UMass Lowell’s vice provost for student success. 

Through First Forward, UMass Lowell will connect with other institutions to collaborate on ways to expand the educational, campus and community experiences of first-generation college students. 

“First Forward is a terrific opportunity for UMass Lowell to join an elite community of professionals prepared to share evidence-based practices and resources, troubleshoot challenges, generate knowledge and continue to advance the success of first-generation students across the country. We are excited to see a groundswell of activity from this inaugural group of First Forward institutions and know UMass Lowell will be a significant contributor,” said Kevin Kruger, president of NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. NASPA and the Suder Foundation, which works to improve the college experience of first-generation students, oversee the Center for First-Generation Student Success. 

“The center is so pleased to welcome UMass Lowell into our inaugural cohort of First Forward institutions. Through the application process, it was evident the university is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students, but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies for significant scaling and important advances in the future,” said Sarah Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-Generation Student Success. 

UMass Lowell is already mentoring other higher-education institutions interested in promoting the success of first-generation students that wish to use the River Hawk Scholars Academy as a model for their own programs. 

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe.

NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education is the leading association for the advancement, health, and sustainability of the student affairs profession. Its work provides high-quality professional development, advocacy, and research for 15,000 members in all 50 states, 25 countries, and 8 U.S. territories. Visit for more information.

The Center for First-generation Student Success is the premier source of evidence-based practices, professional development, and knowledge creation for the higher education community to advance the success of first-generation students. Through four strategic priority areas, the Center drives higher education innovation and advocacy for first-generation student success.