Skip to Main Content

River Hawk Scholars Connect with Salesforce Mentors

New Program Matches First-generation College Students with Local Professionals

Ashley Austin talks with her mentee Deion Lightfoot-Taylor Photo by Ed Brennen
Alum Ashley Austin gets to know freshman Deion Lightfoot-Taylor during the launch of the River Hawk Scholars Academy's new Salesforce mentoring program.

By Ed Brennen

A decade ago, Ashley Austin ’12 was a first-generation college student from Dracut trying to navigate her way as a psychology major in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.

Thanks to the mentorship of faculty and staff members like Dean of Academic Services Kerry Donohoe, Austin became immersed in campus life, taking on leadership roles with the offices of Residence Life and Orientation and participating in everything from the glee club to the women’s club rugby team.

“Mentors really got me invested in my college experience,” says Austin, who now works as program manager for tech, marketing and product onboarding for Salesforce in Burlington.

When Austin learned that she could mentor a first-generation student at her alma mater through a new partnership between the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA) and Salesforce, she jumped at the opportunity to pay it forward.

“I just want to be helpful in some way,” Austin said as she met her mentee, freshman business administration major Deion Lightfoot-Taylor of Lawrence, at the program’s recent kickoff event at the Saab ETIC’s Perry Atrium.
Kevin Rourke and mentee Mildred Kumah speak during the dinner Photo by Ed Brennen
Political science alum Kevin Rourke and his mentee, freshman Mildred Kumah, take part in an icebreaker.

There, 20 first-year RHSA students of all majors met their mentors from Salesforce for the first time, getting to know them over dinner and icebreaker activities. For the remainder of the academic year, the mentors and mentees will connect at least once a month, either virtually or in person, capped by an end-of-year get-together. The goal is to provide students with whatever type of guidance they may need, whether it’s about academics, adjusting to college life or future career paths.

“Each and every mentor and mentee taking part in this program took time out of their busy lives and said yes to an opportunity for growth, which I find really moving,” says RHSA Faculty Director Matthew Hurwitz, who is managing the pilot program.

Hurwitz, an associate teaching professor of English, told students that what they get out of the mentoring relationship depends on what they put into it. 

“Embrace it, take advantage of it,” he said. “You’re not a passive part of the relationship, you’re an agent of it.”
The idea for the program began last year at a Salesforce higher education conference in San Diego, where Hurwitz connected with members of the company’s philanthropy and corporate social responsibility teams. Hurwitz presented the idea to Donohoe and Julie Nash, vice provost for undergraduate studies and student success, who gave him the green light for the pilot program.
Matthew Hurwitz talks to participants at the kickoff dinner Photo by Ed Brennen
River Hawk Scholars Academy Faculty Director Matthew Hurwitz welcomes the mentors and mentees to the program.

Joy Bausemer, who manages Salesforce’s relationship with the UMass system, says all 20 mentorship spots were filled the day the opportunity was posted internally to employees at the cloud computing and customer relationship management software giant.

“I’ve done volunteering events with other schools, but nothing as coordinated as this,” says Bausemer, who is serving as a mentor herself, matched with freshman biochemistry major Victor Dos Santos.

In addition to Austin, three other UML alumni who work locally for Salesforce volunteered as mentors: lead solution engineer Kevin Rourke (’95, political science), software architect Kunal Nawale (’02, computer engineering) and lead infrastructure engineer Purvi Patel (’93, computer science).
As they enjoyed dinner, Lightfoot-Taylor told Austin that he had just attended his first UML hockey game, an experience he never had in high school. Austin revealed that she was a big River Hawk hockey fan – and even proposed to Rowdy at a game once.
Purvi Patel speaks with people at the dinner Photo by Ed Brennen
Computer science alum Purvi Patel, a lead infrastructure engineer at Salesforce, gets to know her mentee at the kickoff dinner.

“I’m excited about the program,” says Lightfoot-Taylor, whose concentrations are in analytics and operations management. “As a business major, I know the importance of meeting new people and making connections. And since I’m a freshman who’s new to Lowell, I wanted to meet somebody who could show me the ropes and help with the transition to college.”

Austin, who worked as associate director of campus life at Tufts University before joining Salesforce in June, looks forward to being a sounding board for Lightfoot-Taylor and helping him connect to campus.

“Those things are important to me to make sure he gets the most out of the experience,” she says.
While the Salesforce mentors will be able to share plenty of professional advice, Greg Denon, associate dean of student affairs for career development, hopes the program provides something more.
A Salesforce mentor talks to his mentee Photo by Ed Brennen
RHSA mentees will meet with their Salesforce mentors monthly throughout the academic year.

“Mentoring is so powerful because it engages all aspects of our lives – professional, student, family and community,” Denon told participants. “We want you to bring all the different aspects of your lives to this connection.”

Salesforce Chief Enterprise Strategist Bruce Richardson, himself a first-generation college student, praised the university’s commitment to student success.

“We love working with UMass Lowell,” Richardson told students. “What they’re doing here – to make sure you graduate on time, to keep you focused, to help you reach your goals – is unprecedented.”