In clouds of red lace, coral tulle and lavender satin, members of the Navigators Club
looked over prom dresses, holding them up to one another and teasing. “Red is so you.” “Take the hanger off first.” “That’s on backwards.”
The occasion — a meeting of club leaders. The project — final preparation to deliver more than 50 dresses and a dozen pairs of shoes, collected by club members, to the Lowell High School senior class.
“Lowell High School is planning on hosting a fashion show so their students can have a fun experience and ‘shop’ for the dresses,” says freshman Michelle Wojcik, a co-vice president majoring in psychology and criminal justice, who coordinated the project. “We all know how stressful and expensive prom season can be and we wanted to help.”
The Navigators Club was founded on the premise of helping — reaching out to students who need help navigating the college experience. Prof. Doreen Arcus
and Asst. Prof. Stephanie Block
, both of the Psychology Department, know students who have been homeless or in foster care, and others who are transfer students or first-generation college students.
“All the students had one thing in common: they all needed a support system for their college experience,” says Block. “The students themselves insisted that the club be open to everyone. They realized there are lots of reasons for students to feel lost, or out of their comfort zone, or in need of some extra guidance.”
“I was involved with getting the Navigators Club started because I had some struggles as a transfer student,” says Dave Daigle, club president and senior psychology major. “I felt lost and confused about how to pick my classes and how to get all the proper paper work in for financial aid. I didn't know how to work iSiS to figure out my adviser. This made me really want to start a club that helps students who feel left in the dark. We want everyone to have a good college experience and have the resources to graduate.”
The club advocates for the needs of non-traditional or underrepresented students on campus. Campus housing over the winter and summer breaks has been a big issue.
“Several of our students have turned to couch surfing with friends, or living in cars or tents when residence halls are closed,” says Block. In response, the Office of Residence Life
has added nine-month and 12-month options for students who need continuity of housing.
Foster Care Awareness Day on April 22 is a major event for the club. Last year, speakers included representatives of social service agencies and advocates for children.
"We also had a panel of students who shared their own experiences in foster care and the difficulties of ‘aging out’ of the system,” says Elizabeth Betances, senior in psychology with a minor in clinical lab sciences. “Our goal is to inform students, faculty and anyone interested about the issues in foster care.”
The club is also developing a guide on navigating the UMass Lowell experience that “I am really happy about,” says Daigle. “It covers different aspects of UMass Lowell, everything from financial aid to the bus schedules. At the end of the day, our club just wants to help people reach their fullest potential.”