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Summer Programs Set Up Incoming Freshmen for College Success

UML’s Launch and RAMP Allow Engineering Students to Earn Credits

RAMP girls Photo by Edwin L. Aguirre
From left, first-year engineering majors Julia Bruce, Brianna Williams and Danielle Le listen to invited speakers from industry during a panel discussion with UML Launch and RAMP participants on July 25 at the Saab ETIC.

08/21/2019
By Edwin L. Aguirre

While many students spent summer soaking up the sun on the beach, dozens of incoming engineering freshmen opted to spend six weeks on campus hitting the books, listening to lectures and working on research projects as part of the university’s UML Launch and RAMP programs.

“College isn’t just about getting through your classes; it’s about managing your life while you are here at UMass Lowell and getting the most out of it,” says Kerry Donohoe, dean of academic services

Nineteen first-year River Hawks from across New England enrolled in UML Launch, a new program that ran from July 8 to Aug. 15. It offered students a jump-start in their academic experience at UMass Lowell by helping them transition to the rigors of college coursework. In partnership with the Francis College of Engineering, this year’s engineering majors were also able to enroll in two accelerated courses (Calculus and Introduction to Engineering), earning them a total of six credits. 

“Launch enabled students to complete these courses required by their majors with built-in tutoring and homework support through the Centers for Learning,” says Justin Gerstenfield, director of college-based professional advising

Sheila Riley-Callahan, executive director of academic services and special projects, says when freshmen come in, especially in the sciences and engineering fields, the demands of their course loads can derail them fast. “The first year can be very tough; they can feel lost or overwhelmed. That’s why we have tutoring programs year-round at the Centers for Learning, and they’re open to all students,” she says.

Prof. Kavitha Chandra Photo by Edwin L. Aguirre
Prof. Kavitha Chandra, the associate dean of undergraduate programs at the Francis College of Engineering, addresses the students.
In addition to classroom sessions, for two days a week the students participated in academic success workshops that focused on financial wellness, team-building and time management, leadership, mental health, ethics, goal-setting, critical thinking, problem-solving and other topics.

“This is important in attracting students and retaining them and ensuring their success,” notes Donohoe.

Tucker Leitch of North Andover, who is planning to major in mechanical engineering, says Launch offered an interesting insight into what college courses were going to be like. “Personally, it made me take a different approach to schooling and studying and completing assignments. The program was very helpful in preparing me for the start of classes this fall,” he says.

“It’s faster-paced and more complicated than high school,” says Eddy Irger, an electrical engineering major from Worcester. “But it’s a good experience – I really like calculus and engineering. The program helped me get adjusted to college life.”

The cost to participate in Launch was about $2,600. “Books and lunches were included in the program fee. We tried to make it as affordable to students as possible,” says Gerstenfield. 

“We’re hoping to capitalize on the success of the program and apply for grants or partner with industry next year,” says Donohoe.

Ramping Up for Academic Success

Sixteen female first-year engineering majors participated in this year’s RAMP program, all paid for through scholarships provided by industry partners that support the university’s efforts in increasing the number of women in engineering. RAMP, which stands for Research, Academics and Mentoring Pathways, is a six-week program that includes research experience with faculty mentors and opportunities to learn about the field from an interdisciplinary perspective. 

Alumnae panelists Photo by Edwin L. Aguirre
Industry professionals and alumnae Vijaya Bashyam ’04, left, and Emily Seto ’16 shared with students their experiences working at IBM and Collins Aerospace, respectively. Bashyam earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering while Seto obtained a bachelor’s degree (cum laude) in computer science.
Now in its second year, RAMP ran concurrently with Launch, and the two programs shared overlapping sessions such as academic success workshops and panel discussions with industry professionals.

RAMP is led by Prof. Kavitha Chandra, the associate dean of undergraduate programs at the Francis College of Engineering, who in 1992 became the first woman to graduate from UMass Lowell with a doctorate in electrical engineering.

“RAMP provides an opportunity for female engineering students from different majors to meet early on. Last year, we had 20 females attend the program. They can build networks and form strong bonds and be able to work together and support each other at the university and beyond,” says Chandra.

Like Launch, students were also able to earn their first six credits (Calculus and Introduction to Engineering) toward graduation. “They get introduced to subjects that normally they won’t see until their junior year,” notes Chandra.

“Our goal is to give students the big picture of engineering at the very beginning – why they are studying math and physics and how these courses are going to be useful to them in real life. During the panel discussions, they had a chance to meet women engineers and alumni, hear about their pathways to successful careers and get a firsthand look at the diversity of engineering jobs,” she says.

RAMP also helped students build skills in programming, technical writing and communication and provided opportunities to conduct research on campus with faculty mentors in areas such as medical imaging, sensors, autonomous systems, and data analytics and applications.

Julia Bruce of Northborough, who graduated from Algonquin Regional High School, says participating in RAMP is helping to ease her into college: “The people are really nice. The subjects are hard, but not too hard to the point that you’re not having fun. I like the introduction to engineering class since I’m planning to major in biomedical engineering.” 

Danielle Le of Medford, who is going to pursue mechanical engineering, says RAMP was “definitely challenging at first, but after a while, I got the hang of it.” She says she is now getting used to college lifestyle and time management.

“Meeting a lot of fellow students and being able to collaborate with them while working on challenging projects is something different from high school. We share the same passion – engineering – and because of that, we’re able to motivate each other and encourage each other to reach our goal,” she says.