Mikhaila Schaefer doesn’t mind working hard. 
She’s worked year-round at a nearby nursing home since she was a junior in high school. In summer 2012, she was an accounting intern at an engineering company, working on affirmative action issues and personal benefits reports. She took a full course load in her major, economics, and added a demanding research project with a political science professor through the Emerging Scholars program.
Schaefer even takes lots of math courses, saying, “I have to spend more time working at math and that seems to make it more fulfilling.”
One thing she does mind is debt.
“I’ll be graduating with no debt and paid for most of school myself,” says Schaefer, who commutes from home to save expenses and is the first in her family to attend college. “I have to keep working, but I’m lucky it isn’t full-time.”
As she completed the honors program at Lowell High School, Schaefer felt the pressure to choose a big-name school like many of her friends.
“Choosing UMass Lowell, I did not make the decision lightly,” she says. “But after going to many open houses and then coming here, I felt that people were friendly.”
The choice was a good one. UMass Lowell has offered many opportunities for Schaefer to stretch herself academically, such as the Emerging Scholars program for upperclassmen to engage in research.
The project she works on is an investigation of the role of media in free and closed societies, comparing public perceptions of corruption levels in government with how free and available the media are in that country.
Schaefer began by reviewing the research literature on press freedom and learning the specialized analytic techniques needed to make sense of large amounts of data. In summer 2012, she participated in research presentations at professional conferences in Portsmouth and in New Orleans, experiencing the give and take of scholarly critique. 
After graduating, Schaefer planned to use working as a way to explore her interests in career and advanced education choices, much as the first two years of college were an exploratory period. 
“The goal before college was always to get into college,” she says. “I never really thought about what interests me, what do you do with the degree once you have it.” When majoring in English was just not a match, Schaefer found economics interesting. 
“It’s not just stocks and bonds,” she says. “Economics is about people – what influences their choices, how businesses interact with each other – it’s very human.”