When Sofia Savoca’s father left Venezuela to work in Massachusetts, Savoca applied to colleges in the northeastern U.S.
Her parents were anxious to secure her an education outside of Venezuela because of the ongoing political, economic and humanitarian crisis. At the same time, Savoca was nervous about leaving her mother and other family behind, as well as her friends and her country.
Savoca got in everywhere she applied, including Northeastern and Temple universities and the University of Connecticut. But UMass Lowell invited her to join the Honors College. That sealed the deal.
“The school that believed in me the most was UMass Lowell. I got into Honors, I got the most financial aid and the staff were the most accessible to answer my questions,” she says. “When the Honors College invited me, I felt like I belonged somewhere. They wanted me, and that made things less scary.”
Before applying to colleges, Savoca was interested in architecture, urban planning or civil engineering. By the time she got accepted at UML, she knew she wanted to study engineering, because she loves math and science. Following her parents’ advice, she’s also minoring in business.
“Ever since I was little, I liked playing with Legos more than I liked playing with Barbies, although don’t get me wrong – Barbies are cool. When I was little, I combined my Legos with my Barbie Dream House and my Polly Pocket Pollyville House into a huge mansion,” she says. “Building and distributing spaces has always been my calling, and engineering underlies everything.”
Savoca says she loves her honors classes because they are smaller and involve more contact with professors, as well as group projects. Those have taught her to embrace teamwork and work on her communication skills, she says.
She’s also embraced teamwork through the university’s club sports program, playing on a soccer team and an ultimate Frisbee team.
“I love that they let people with no previous sports experience find something they’re good at,” she says.
In addition to playing club sports, Savoca serves as vice president of the American Society of Civil Engineers student chapter and co-leads the ASCE’s outreach program to the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell. The ASCE has offered great opportunities, including a trip to the ASCE conference to network with professionals, she says.
She’s had no shortage of professional opportunities, either. Director Ruairi O’Mahony gave Savoca her first job in the campus Office of Sustainability, where she worked for two years. In the summer after her freshman year, she served as an enthusiastic orientation leader.
The following summer, she got a paid internship in the Auburn, N.H., office of Stantec, a multinational engineering and architectural firm. There, she got design experience and worked at a high level with AutoCAD and Revit 3D modeling software, as well as learning about fluid mechanics and properties of different materials.
Her junior year, she began working as a research assistant for Asst. Prof. Yuanchang Xie on a massive intersection analysis project for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. And she also got trained to act as one of the first “Career Peers” for the Career & Co-op Center, which had helped her to get the Stantec internship by reviewing her resume and cover letter and giving her interviewing tips.
“Opportunities, opportunities – it’s raining opportunities. They’re here if you work hard and know where to look,” she says. “UMass Lowell is always looking to do what’s best for you.”