Marilyn Saha is grateful for the help she got from a nonprofit program that provides low-income students with free SAT prep and college admissions counseling when they’re in high school – and then support in their first year of college.

While she didn’t qualify for the Let’s Get Ready program at Milford High School based on her family income, she still couldn’t afford private SAT prep classes, so they allowed her to sit in. At the same time, she was volunteering as a peer mentor to younger high school students.

When Saha arrived at UMass Lowell, both of those experiences helped her get a job with Let’s Get Ready, helping first-year students here who’d been part of the program at their high schools. Many were the first in their families to attend a four-year college. 

That, in turn, prepared her for a $1,000 Honors College Student Fellowship that paid her to do research for Asst. Teaching Prof. Matt Hurwitz, director of the River Hawk Scholars Academy, a new UML program that supports first-generation college students.

“All the requirements for the fellowship matched up with what I was already doing,” she says. 

As part of the fellowship, Saha did research into programs for first-generation college students at other universities. She created a list of resources for the students here as well as for faculty and staff who work with them. And she read and created an annotated bibliography of related books and research papers. Saha’s research helped Hurwitz and his team take the River Hawk Scholars Academy from a pilot project to a more deliberate program.

The research helped her, too: Her parents are from Bangladesh and attended universities in the former Soviet Union, so they had no experience with the American system of higher education themselves and couldn’t always help her to navigate it.

Saha, an electrical engineering major and management minor who plans to earn a master’s degree in management, says that in addition to the Honors College fellowship and the job with Let’s Get Ready, the Gandolfo Family Scholarship has helped her pay her way through UMass Lowell. 

Being in the Honors College yields other benefits, too, she says.

“I really enjoy living in the Commonwealth Honors Living-Learning Community, because I’m surrounded by other well-rounded honors students,” she says. “They’re the best people I’ve ever met. We have the same goals and aspirations, and if one of us is not feeling motivated, we help each other out.”

Saha has also landed paid summer internships at ICONICS Inc., an automation software company in Foxboro, and in the IT department at TJX, parent company of T.J.Maxx, HomeGoods, Marshalls, Sierra Trading Post and other off-price retailers. The TJX job helped cement her career goal: to get a managerial position in IT.

For fun, Saha loves taking photographs, a skill that’s come in handy as she continues to help the River Hawk Scholars Academy by documenting some of its events.

“I’m that annoying person who has to photograph every good restaurant meal before I eat it,” she laughs.