By Ed Brennen
Mary Connell loves discovering new things to see and do in Lowell. On weekends, the sophomore art major will frequently hop on her bike and grab a coffee at Brew’d Awakening, browse the shops at Mill No. 5 or check out an exhibit at UnchARTed.
“Lowell’s such a culturally rich place,” says Connell, a native of Princeton, Mass. “There’s a lot of really cool places to go and learn about. It’s good to appreciate what’s out there and take advantage of it.”
In her work-study job with the Community Relations office, Connell gets to share her love of the city with others by managing the Facebook page and raising awareness of events, programs and partnerships with the university.
“The job has allowed me to throw myself into learning about the city,” says Connell, who was recognized for her efforts by being named Student Employee of the Year at the university’s sixth annual awards ceremony, held by the Student Employment and Financial Aid offices as part of National Student Employment Week.
Asst. Director of Community Relations Patty Coffey has been Connell’s supervisor for the past two years and nominated her for the award. She says Connell frequently takes the lead on projects like maintaining a community engagement database and is quick to tackle additional responsibilities such as volunteering at Commencement and Winterfest.
“She has a high level of professionalism and reliability and represents the university well,” Coffey says. “It’s truly an honor to work with her.”
While Connell’s concentration is in studio art, she’s discovered several ways in which community relations ties in to her field.
“Art is important to every community, especially in Lowell,” says Connell, who has gotten to know several local artists through her work. “I’m learning how to reach out to different communities and work with people. And I’m also learning how to use social media in a more professional way.”
Although working with oil paint, charcoal and ceramics is her passion, Connell plans to take a community writing class and learn how to work with nonprofits. “I want to do grant writing,” she says. “If I can get into that field, there are a lot of art-related nonprofits that need to raise money.”
Like many who grew up in the area, Connell remembers visiting the Tsongas Industrial History Center on a grade-school field trip. Now, as a college student, she’ll visit the Boott Cotton Mills Museum during her free time, “taking in the history and imagining what it must have been like to work with all of that machinery.”
“I think I’ve become a lot more well-rounded here,” says Connell, a first-generation college student who grew up on her family’s horse farm. “You’re kind of limiting yourself if you’re not exposing yourself to those kinds of things and learning the history of Lowell.”
Other nominees for Student Employee of the Year were: Kehinde Abegunde, Carolina Belasque, Kelly Bradford, Taylor Carito, Kevin Coluci, Mary-Key Denaud, Nikolas D’Onofrio, Adam Gaudreau, Keviana-Joy George, Kellsie Howard, Acacia Langlais, Andrew Long, Julie Lun, Mercedes Majahad, Michael Mannion, Samantha McCarthy, Kassandra Mercado, Zachary Moore, Ellen Panetto, Alexander Roy, Christopher Sain, Nicole Smith and Amaris Torres.