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'Involve Me and I Learn'

Internships and Co-op Opportunities Expand

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Community health student Michelle DiCiaccio worked with the Lowell Food Security Coalition to conduct a survey that measured the affordability, availability and quantity of healthy food in the Acre section of Lowell.

By Karen Angelo

A wise man once said – “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote has since been proven by science; educators now call it “experiential learning.” 

UMass Lowell has launched new programs and expanded existing ones to provide students experiential learning opportunities. Through research projects, co-ops and internships and service-learning projects, students gain valuable skills that make them stand out from the crowd, helping them land that first job once they graduate. Perhaps as important, these opportunities help students decide what careers they really want to pursue. 

Co-op Scholars Learn Through Research and Discovery  

The Research, Community and Enterprise Co-op Scholars program offers qualified incoming students the opportunity to get involved in paid, hands-on research on campus during or immediately following their freshman year. Two-hundred and twenty-five undergraduate students in the class of 2015 worked on summer projects that involved organic chemistry, atmospheric science and climate change, business, clinical laboratory testing and more. 

“Research co-ops early in education can turn student creative processes on because learning from discovery is powerful. Further, it connects the student early with a potential faculty mentor,” says Provost Ahmed Abdelal. 

Biological sciences student Anh Vo was able to work in the field of neurobiology, examining the language of neurons, the “thinking” cells of the brain that transmit electrical signals. “This co-op experience has been enlightening,” says Vo. “I’ve learned exactly what it takes to produce great results in any field of research. I’ve had a wonderful time meeting and working with the team here this summer. It’s been an amazing opportunity, especially for a freshman.” 

Co-op Learning Puts Students Ahead of the Game 

Learning through co-op research is not new but it has expanded. Chemical engineering major Mark Lalli learned his most valuable lessons in his four years of co-op experience and as a research intern in a chemical laboratory. 

“By doing research, I have gained knowledge firsthand that can't be taught in lectures and classrooms,” says Lalli who was a Commonwealth Scholar. “The co-op program has taught me the art of failure. In science, you're lucky if 5 percent of your experiments are successful, but through patience and hard work, even a 5 percent success rate is worth it.” 

There’s nothing better for a recent graduate than to be able to include work experience on a resume. That’s why the University recently expanded its co-op program to include plastics engineering, engineering, sciences and business. In the Manning School of Business, employers such as banks, financial services firms and technology companies have signed on to offer co-op placements for students. The program includes professional development seminars that teach students appropriate workplace behavior, interview skills and how to interact with potential employers – all to prepare them for job interviews and success once they land a job. 

Finance major Lynn Le participated in the seminar last fall and the preparation paid off. She got an offer the day she interviewed with MFS Investment Management in Boston, which is led by UMass Lowell alum Robert J. Manning, for whom the Business School is named. 

“I wanted to get into the co-op program because I know it will put me ahead of the game,” says Le. “Experience is worth so much. It will set me apart in the job market.” 

Real-World Service Learning Projects Help Communities 

Many students gain experience through service-learning projects by working closely with community organizations, either abroad or closer to home. In Lowell, engineering, community health and nursing students have partnered with, or worked for, the Boys and Girls Club, Girls Inc., D’Youville Life and Wellness Center, the Lowell Health Department, the Lowell Housing Authority, Community Teamwork, the Lowell Food Security Coalition and more. 

Community health student Michelle DiCiaccio worked with the Lowell Food Security Coalition to conduct a survey that measured the affordability, availability and quantity of healthy food in the Acre section of Lowell. Her team’s research showed that while there are affordable options for getting healthy food in the Acre, these options are not always the most convenient or easiest to access. Their recommendations included properly marking bus stop locations and making sure that sidewalks and crosswalks are maintained so that people can travel safely to local markets. 

“I learned far more by going out and meeting local store owners and hearing what they have to say rather then sitting in a classroom thinking of ways to create prevention strategies or solutions to health disparities,” she says.