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UMass Lowell Program for First-Generation College Students Receives $100K Grant

Cummings Foundation Supports the River Hawk Scholars Academy

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UMass Lowell's River Hawk Scholars Academy will expand its services to first-generation college students, thanks to a grant from the Cummings Foundation.


Contacts for media: Nancy Cicco, UMass Lowell, 978-934-4944 or and Alison Harding, Cummings Foundation, 781-932-7093 or

LOWELL, Mass. – UMass Lowell’s nationally recognized program for first-generation college students is expanding its services with the support of a $100,000 grant from the Cummings Foundation. 

The award will allow the UMass Lowell River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA) to grow the academic and support services it provides to enhance educational, campus and community experiences for full-time UMass Lowell students who are the first in their families to attend college.

Forty-one percent of UMass Lowell undergraduates are first-generation college students. Over the last academic year, the River Hawk Scholars Academy assisted more than 400 participants and anticipates serving more than 400 students this fall. Since it began in 2017, more than 1,000 UMass Lowell first-generation college students have benefited from the program. 

“We’ve always believed that UMass Lowell has a responsibility to support our first-generation students in a manner that matches their own fierce determination to go to college and earn their degrees. The Cummings Foundation grant is a major leap forward in allowing us to do just that, through new summer programs, career-readiness initiatives and sophomore-year mentoring, leadership and learning opportunities,” said Matthew Hurwitz, River Hawk Scholar Academy director and associate teaching professor of English.  

The UMass Lowell River Hawk Scholars Academy is one of 140 nonprofits to receive awards this year through the Cummings $25 Million Grant Program, which supports organizations that are based in and primarily serve Middlesex, Essex and Suffolk counties in Massachusetts. Through this initiative, the Cummings Foundation aims to give back in the area where it owns commercial buildings, all of which are managed, at no cost to the foundation, by its affiliate, Cummings Properties, according to the organization. 

“We aim to help meet the needs of people in all segments of our local community. It is the incredible organizations we fund, however, that do the actual daily work to empower our neighbors, educate our children, fight for equity, and so much more,” said Cummings Foundation Executive Director Joel Swets. 

The grant award is the latest honor for the RHSA, which last month graduated its first cohort of students in its four-year history. Last year, the Center for First-generation Student Success named UMass Lowell a First-gen Forward Advisory Institution, recognizing the RHSA as a national model program for other colleges and universities to emulate. As a First-gen Forward Advisory Institution, UMass Lowell serves as a mentor, sharing best practices and offering guidance to more than 20 other colleges and universities throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont that seek to create educational and cultural opportunities for first-generation college students. 

A complete list of the 2021 Cummings Foundation grant winners, along with more than 800 previous recipients, is available at

About Cummings Foundation
Woburn-based Cummings Foundation, Inc. was established in 1986 by Joyce and Bill Cummings and has grown to be one of the three largest private foundations in New England. The Foundation directly operates its own charitable subsidiaries, including New Horizons retirement communities in Marlborough and Woburn, and Veterinary School at Tufts, LLC in North Grafton. Additional information is available at

About UMass Lowell
UMass Lowell is a national research university offering 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 and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe.