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Honors College Welcomes Record First-year Class

Admission Standards Climb with Numbers

Students in the First-Year Seminar in Honors take a canal boat tour with a Lowell National Historical Park ranger Photo by Katharine Webster
Students in the First-Year Seminar in Honors take a boat tour on the Pawtucket Canal with a Lowell National Historical Park ranger.

By Katharine Webster

From a boat on Lowell’s Pawtucket Canal, the first-year honors students could see layers of history. 

A drystone wall built by the Irish immigrants who dug the canal in the early 1800s. The city’s first textile mill, now transformed into studios and lofts for artists. A sturdier canal wall built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression of the 1930s – and behind it, the university’s new Innovation Hub at 110 Canal Street, in another renovated mill building.

Sid Iyer, a freshman honors student in chemical engineering from a suburb of Mumbai, India, took careful notes as a Lowell National Historical Park ranger talked about Lowell’s canal infrastructure and the city’s role as a lab for innovation during the Industrial Revolution.

“The canal was developed in such a short time – just two years,” Iyer marveled.

This year, the Honors College welcomed its largest- ever class of new students – even as it raised admission standards. The incoming class includes 476 first-year students with an average high school GPA of 3.97 and average SAT scores above 1300, as well as 108 transfer students. There are now a total of 1,432 undergraduates in the college, says Dean Jim Canning.

Demand for housing in the Commonwealth Honors Living-Learning Community (LLC) for first-year students was so strong that it overflowed from Leitch Hall into the university’s Inn and Conference Center. Starting next fall, University Suites will become dedicated honors housing for students in both the first-year and upper-class Commonwealth Honors LLCs.
First-year Honors College students check out the Swamp Locks Gatehouse in Lowell Photo by Katharine Webster
First-year honors students inspect the Swamp Locks Gatehouse.

The Honors College is also offering a record 24 sections of the First-Year Seminar in Honors, “Text in the City,” which is required for all freshmen.

The class teaches students about Lowell’s history as the first planned industrial city in the U.S. and home to successive waves of immigrants from around the globe, as well as its present as a thriving community of artists and innovators and a model for historical preservation and re-use.

Each faculty member is free to customize the curriculum. Some take their students to Simply Khmer to sample authentic Cambodian cuisine (Lowell has the second-highest population of Cambodian-Americans in the country). Most bring their students to the Merrimack Repertory Theatre to see a play, and nearly all visit the Lowell National Historical Park.

The faculty include Adam Baacke, former Lowell city planner and now the university’s director of planning and development, and Paul Marion, retired executive director of community relations at the university and author of “Mill Power: The Origin and Impact of the Lowell National Historical Park.” They teamed up to take their students on the park’s canal tour on a hot, sunny day during the second week of classes.

Students walked along the Merrimack Canal to the Swamp Locks Gatehouse, then boarded boats for a ride up the Pawtucket Canal – and back in time. Different students took away different things from the tour and a short film at park headquarters.
Hannah Kieffer, of Greenfield, and Cassidy McAuliffe, of Lawrence, are first-year honors students on South Campus Photo by Katharine Webster
Honors art and design students Hannah Kieffer and Cassidy McAuliffe enjoy a welcome event for first-year students on South Campus.

For Cassidy McAuliffe, an art and graphic design major from Lawrence, it was the city’s architecture – and learning from park Ranger Emily Anstey about early walkouts by the “mill girls” over work speed-ups and pay cuts. McAuliffe was especially interested in Sarah Bagley, who started working in the textile mills in 1837 at age 31 and seven years later became president of the newly formed Lowell Female Labor Reform Association.

“I thought it was cool that before there was any kind of women’s movement, women were leading the strikes,” McAuliffe said. 

For Melanie Caggiano, a nursing student from Revere, the canal tour was a unique way to explore the city, which was part of what attracted her to the university.

“I wanted to study in a city setting,” she said. “I like experiencing Lowell and getting to know my surroundings.”