Students of the Month are nominated by their faculty, staff and fellow students for exemplifying what it means to be part of the RHSA.


Deyvi Andrade-Avilesi is a student in Biomedical Engineering at UMass Lowell.

Deyvi Andrade-Avilesi, Biomedical Engineering

Congratulations to Deyvi Andrade-Avilesi, an RHSA November Student of the Month! Deyvi is majoring in Biomedical Engineering at the Francis College of Engineering and comes from Somerville, Mass. Deyvi’s hobbies include coding, making videos, playing video games, and collecting toy cars.

When asked why he chose to attend UMass Lowell, Deyvi answered that it felt like the right place for him. He noted that there are exceptional programs available for engineering and health sciences at UMass Lowell. In the summer before he started at UMass Lowell, Deyvi was a part of the Research, Academics and Mentoring Pathways (RAMP) Program and the RHSA First to Launch Program. These programs made it possible for him to complete two courses the summer before freshman year: Introduction to Engineering and Calculus 1. Deyvi does not think he would have succeeded as much as he did academically and socially had he not attended UMass Lowell.

Deyvi’s favorite thing about UMass Lowell is how warm and welcoming it is, considering that it is a completely new and unfamiliar place to him. There was always someone there to help when he did not know something. Similarly, Deyvi describes the RHSA as a “guardian angel”. Being involved with the RHSA has opened up many resources and opportunities for students that may not be aware or are struggling as first generation college students. Deyvi is comforted by the friendly environment created by the RHSA and always looks forward to his work study job with RHSA. Deyvi is grateful for the support and guidance from the RHSA and couldn’t wish for a better program.

Being a first generation college student is empowering to Deyvi. Although being first is challenging, Deyvi is motivated to be his best self for himself as well as for others through creating hope for a better life for future generations. In addition, Deyvi expressed that first generation college students often enter college with very little knowledge of how college will be, and how that allows students to develop a unique perspective and approach.

Deyvi looks forward to graduating, working, and helping his mom and family. His future goals include utilizing engineering in a way that can help others. Understanding his past struggles as a lost student, he wishes to be able to create something that gives future students hope, inspiration, and motivation. Deyvi’s advice for fellow students is to learn to trust themselves and to have confidence; things will work out eventually. Part of this involves living in the moment; it is important to take time to look around and take in the experience.

Rangelis Burgos Lora is a student in Psychology at UMass Lowell.

Rangelis Burgos Lora, Psychology

Congratulations to Rangelis Burgos Lora, an RHSA November Student of the Month! Originally from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic and coming from Lawrence, Mass., Rangelis is studying Psychology in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Her hobbies include listening to music, practicing self-care, and learning the Italian language.

Rangelis is incredibly proud to be a first generation college student. It requires a lot of responsibility and being accountable for oneself. Since her parents did not have the opportunity to attend college, Rangelis views attending college to be an honor. She believed that college would be incredibly difficult and mentions that in high school, students are often instilled with the misconception that everyone is on their own in college or that professors and faculty are relentlessly strict. However, she has come to discover that is completely untrue.

The support and encouragement Rangelis has received are her favorite things about UMass Lowell. It has fortified her belief in herself to achieve her dreams and always improve. In fact, she recently won 3rd place in the RHSA Writing Contest. Rangelis acknowledges that she is not the most social of individuals, but the environment of UMass Lowell and programs such as RHSA have made it easy for her to be a part of the community by encouraging her to attend events.

When Rangelis came to visit UMass Lowell during her high school years, she took a liking to the comfortable atmosphere and decided to enroll at UMass Lowell. The RHSA has also contributed to this sentiment by providing Rangelis with a peaceful and welcoming environment to do her homework. Rangelis notes that the RHSA is a program like no other; the staff are always willing to reach out and offer help.

Rangelis’s future goals are to continue studying after her Bachelor’s degree to become a psychologist. Her hope is to financially help her family in the future and lead a life that would allow her to travel the world.

Understanding that life is not easy, Rangelis advises fellow students to never give up. She believes anyone working hard should keep moving forward and that any opportunity presented should be taken or attempted if possible. It is difficult to know whether things will work out or not, and no one really knows if they will, so Rangelis urges others to try new things and understand that it is okay to fail.

Angel Chikumbirike is a student in Accounting and Computer Science at UMass Lowell.

Angel Chikumbirike, Accounting and Computer Science

Congratulations to Angel Chikumbirike, an RHSA November Student of the Month! Angel is currently majoring in Accounting in the Manning School of Business and plans to double major in Computer Science in the Kennedy College of Sciences. Coming from Zimbabwe and commuting from Fitchburg, Mass., her hobbies include painting, going to the gym, and playing the guitar.

When asked about why she chose to attend UMass Lowell, Angel mentioned that the Manning School of Business is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) International, which is the highest level of accreditation a business school can have in the US. She also noted that the Manning School of Business is one of the few schools in Massachusetts endorsed by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA), making it one of the best schools to study accounting.

Angel is grateful for her involvement with RHSA. Her Peer Leader has been one of her greatest sources of support. She says the RHSA has not only created many chances for her to have exposure to different experiences, but also to bond with other students, her Peer Leader, and her Faculty Advocate. As a commuter, Angel does not have as much freedom as other students to interact with her peers outside of scheduled classes, but the RHSA has made it so that she feels like a part of the campus community.

Angel has a few life rules that she follows and recommends to other students. She believes everyone should try to be the best version of themselves that they can be. In order to achieve our dreams, it can simply be about just doing the work and making progress. However, we should also take life one step at a time and experience each moment.

To Angel, being a first generation college student means finding solutions and paving a path for those to come. She is working hard for herself and her family, particularly her siblings, by uncovering the opportunities that her siblings can take in the future. Moreover, Angel’s goal is to one day spread her story of becoming an accountant and computer scientist as a first generation college student to inspire those in her home country to take the path of education.

Kelin Funes, a River Hawk Scholar Academy October Student of the Month!

Kelin Funes, Biotechnology

Congratulations to Kelin Funes, a River Hawk Scholar Academy October Student of the Month! Kelin is a Biotechnology student in the Kennedy College of Sciences. Kelin immigrated to Boston, Mass. from El Savador and her hobbies include watching movies, trying new foods, and learning new recipes.

The exceptional research opportunities offered were the reason Kelin chose to attend UMass Lowell. Kelin discovered her love for research during her high school years when she was a part of a hands-on research experience called LEAH Knox Scholars Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For her education, Kelin is considering obtaining a Master’s degree and doctorate after her Bachelor’s of Science with potentially a minor in public health. Kelin’s future goals include working in a lab doing research on medicine or food. Kelin is invested in making food both more affordable and healthy for the public.

Kelin’s favorite thing about UMass Lowell is the community. Having immigrated to the United States from El Savador four years ago, she was worried about fitting in and adapting. A new country can be a challenge, but college is also another completely unfamiliar setting. However, she was able to bond with peers as they worked together to succeed in class. RHSA has aided Kelin in quelling her worries of being all on her own. Coming to college, she had no idea that she would receive the support of RHSA. Through the support of RHSA, she has learned about many opportunities and resources such as tutoring. Kelin is grateful for the guidance she receives from her Peer Leader and Faculty Advocate.

To Kelin, being a first generation college student is a lot of pressure, pressure from her family as well as the stress of studying something she is interested in. Among immigrants, it is a common belief that those who are younger have a better chance of succeeding in college. Kelin understands that each and every student has different circumstances, one of which being economic background. As a first generation college student, there is pressure to break the cycle of poverty and to change the future for the following generations.

Advice Kelin would give to fellow students is to be aware that everyone is different and that a lot can be learned from one another. She also noted that everyone is unique and is doing their own thing, so it is best not to compare yourself with others.

Ray-Ann Pappas, a River Hawk Scholar Academy October Student of the Month

Ray-Ann Pappas, Computer Science

Congratulations to Ray-Ann Pappas, a River Hawk Scholar Academy October Student of the Month! Ray-Ann is from Nashua, N.H. and is studying Computer Science with a focus on Cyber Security in the Kennedy College of Sciences. Ray-Ann enjoys video-editing, singing, drawing, and traveling with her family.

Ray-Ann developed an interest in computer science through resolving the technical issues that would occur in her home. Her parents encouraged her to pursue the field since she appeared to have the magic to fix it all. When she discovered the field of cyber security through a program offered at her high school, her goals within computer science became even more evolved and focused. However, given Ray-Ann’s interest in music, she continues to look for avenues to combine this interest with computer science.

When asked about why she chose to attend UMass Lowell, Ray-Ann noted the development of the computer science program. She was enthusiastic that Cyber Security was being offered as a degree pathway. She was even more impressed by the opportunities to work on computer networking and building physical internet infrastructures as well as the chance to obtain work experience through the Co-op Program.

Ray-Ann’s advice for fellow students is to make friends with anyone you encounter since “peers are your greatest resource”. Ray-Ann’s favorite thing about UMass Lowell are all the opportunities to engage with many different individuals. As a commuter student, it can be difficult to find the opportunity to make friends outside of class, but through the RHSA and the Honors College, Ray-Ann has been able to meet many peers and faculty.

To Ray-Ann, RHSA has been a huge social opportunity. Through the events offered by the program, Ray-Ann has been able to talk to and bond with many others that relate to her. As a first generation college student, Ray-Ann recognizes the hard work that her parents put in to support her and her dreams. She is motivated to succeed and be able to support her family in the future.

Sean Simonini, a River Hawk Scholars Academy October Student of the Month

Sean Simonini, Political Science

Congratulations to Sean Simonini, a River Hawk Scholars Academy October Student of the Month! Coming from Billerica, Mass., Sean is studying Political Science with a focus on International Relations in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. Sean’s hobbies revolve around enjoying nature and include hiking, snowboarding, and skiing.

Sean is all about making a difference in the world and community around him. He is always on the lookout for opportunities to do so, such as working with Congresswoman Lori Trahan and starting the Massachusetts Association of Student Representatives (MASR). Sean is currently the president for UMass Lowell’s Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) Chapter and is a Senator At-Large for the Student Government Association. He hopes to have a career serving the public, whether that means working in Congress or the State House on Foreign Affairs, or possibly becoming an elected official.

When asked about advice he would give to fellow students, Sean said to “explore every avenue” and to “be spontaneous”. With the sheer amount of opportunities available to students at UMass Lowell, he encourages others to take advantage of them by joining new clubs or going to events. In fact, Sean’s favorite thing about UMass Lowell is just how many professors there are who are excited to work with students and help them gain experience. When meeting other students, he learned that many were taking advantage of these opportunities, not just a few. These opportunities include Immersive Scholars, Emerging Scholars, and fellowships such as the Maloney Fellowship, which Sean is a recipient of.

Sean finds that being a first generation college student is a personal yet communal experience. Although there are differences between every first generation college students’ story, there is a sense of familiarity. The RHSA has been an essential part in fostering this feeling by allowing Sean and other students to meet, share their experiences, and connect.

As first generation college students, guidance in regards to college is lacking, but it leads students to be accountable for themselves and be resilient. To Sean, it means that every success is proof of his hard work. It also means being a leader, since the hard work required to succeed as a first generation college student lends itself to also being a role model, paving the path for those who follow. As Sean puts it, “If not me, then who?”

Anaya Zuniga

Anaya Zuniga, Exercise Science

Congratulations to Anaya Zuniga, an RHSA September Student of the Month! Commuting from Lawrence, Mass., Anaya is studying Exercise Science in the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences. Her hobbies include painting, bike riding, and photography.

College is a challenging endeavor and a major turning point in life, so Anaya advises fellow students to be open minded. She finds that dreams are always changing and wishes that those who need help should actively look for the resources and assistance necessary to succeed. UMass Lowell quickly became Anaya's top choice for her college career due to the variety and abundance of resources available for students as well as the diversity of health science degrees offered. Anaya’s favorite part of the university are all the activities and events that are held on campus as they foster an inclusive and tight community.

When asked about her future goals, Anaya said she aspires to become a physical therapist. Inspired by her grandmother to become a caring individual, Anaya wanted to help others from a very young age. Physical therapy is the perfect pursuit as it combines helping others along with her interest in anatomy. Having previously gone through physical therapy, Anaya understands the work and care needed to aid individuals in regaining mobility. She believes that as long as an individual is trying, they can achieve their goals and be where they want to be. She also wishes to use her skills in welding to create more comfortable and better fitting prosthetics for the patients she will work with in the future.

To Anaya, she feels that the RHSA “has [given her] another family”. Entering college can be nerve-wracking, but Anaya found it reassuring to have her Peer Leader encourage and check in on her. Being a first generation college student has become an important identity for her; not only is she setting an example for her younger sibling, she is also becoming an inspiration to other first generation college students. She is grateful to be a part of the River Hawks Scholars Academy and feels motivated to continue working hard and to believe in her efforts. The River Hawks Scholars Academy is proud of Anaya and is cheering for her success!

Holly Focht

Holly Focht, Nursing

Congratulations to Holly Focht, an RHSA September Student of the Month! Holly is a Nursing student in the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences from Milford, New Hampshire. Her hobbies include watching shows on Netflix and going to the gym.

When considering different Nursing programs, Holly was drawn to UMass Lowell. She was taken by the simulation labs, clinical placements, and how well students did on the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Holly’s goals include obtaining her Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, graduating with honors, and to pass the NCLEX-RN to become a licensed RN. She hopes to work in the field as an RN for a few years and then return to school for her Master’s of Science in Nursing and become a Nurse Practitioner. Holly has always wanted to work in healthcare, particularly in close contact care with patients. Her inspiration to pursue Nursing came from members of her extended family and her experience that nurses tended to some of the most memorable interactions in healthcare settings.

Becoming a part of the River Hawks Scholars Academy was a delightful surprise for Holly and has been an amazing highlight to her time at UMass Lowell so far. Through the RHSA, she came to realize and understand her identity as a first generation college student. Holly shared that her mother was unable to complete college and how important it is to her to be able to accomplish what her mother was not able to finish. Holly appreciates the support she has received from the RHSA and her Peer Leader. 

When asked about advice she had for fellow students, Holly said to attend as many events as possible. Many of the River Hawks Scholars Academy events have allowed her to “meet new people, learn new things, and explore UMass Lowell.” Holly is a firm believer of making the most out of her time in college. Although all of her classes take place on South Campus, Holly purposefully chose a work study position on North Campus in order to experience the entirety of UMass Lowell. This allowed her to witness the beautiful scenery of South Campus as well as the delicious cuisine around North Campus - exploring all the University has to offer. The River Hawks Scholars is proud of Holly and excited to see how she will continue to grow throughout her college career!

Saria Benitez

Sarai Benitez, Electrical Engineering

Congratulations to Sarai Benitez, a September RHSA Student of the Month! Sarai is from Fall River, Mass., and is studying Electrical Engineering in the Francis College of Engineering. Sarai’s hobbies include reading, watching anime, and longboarding.

When asked about how she came to choose UMass Lowell, Sarai expressed how impressed she was hearing about the various fields of engineering and the Co-op Program. Sarai came to love the field of electronics when studying and working with electronics in high school. Her goal is to one day become an electrical engineer and continue to work on what she enjoys.

She could tell an abundance of resources and opportunities would be available to her by attending UMass Lowell. One of her favorite locations at UMass Lowell is University Crossing, a lively and beautiful location, it is home to many resource centers - such as the Office of Multicultural Affairs, where Sarai is a Rising 360 Student Ambassador. She helps around the office by making posters and flyers, but also works on running Free on Thr3e events.

When asked about advice she had for others, Sarai spoke highly of tutoring and how helpful it can be. She found that asking a tutor questions may sometimes be more comfortable than approaching professors; there was no reason to be shy. In keeping with this spirit of succeeding in her education, Sarai formed a study group for her Physics I class, which is not only beneficial for her, but is helpful for her peers’ successes as well.

The River Hawks Scholars Academy has been a huge motivator for Sarai. She has been able to meet many people that come from similar backgrounds as well as those who have a similar work ethic. With the help of the RHSA, Sarai was able to hear the success stories of graduated first generation students; she knows that just like they did, she can also conquer the challenges she faces and graduate proudly.

To Sarai, being a first generation college student is incredibly meaningful and exciting. Sarai shared that her parents were never able to receive proper schooling and that immigrating to the United States did not make it easier for them to pursue education. Nevertheless, her family has been immensely supportive and will be rooting for her success throughout her college career. The River Hawks Scholars Academy is enthusiastic to see Sarai continue to triumph academically and thrive in her involvement on campus!

Nya Leonardo is a student at UMass Lowell.

Nya Leonardo, Exercise Science

Congratulations to Nya Leonardo, an RHSA January Student of the Month! Coming from Lawrence, Mass., Nya is majoring in the Clinical Option of Exercise Science in the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences. Her hobbies include exercising, baking, and decorating pastries.

After researching and learning about the diversity and the programs offered, Nya chose to attend UMass Lowell. Nya’s favorite thing about UMass Lowell are the different spaces available throughout the campuses. There are spaces for students to work in groups and to study alone. She has also been involved in a leadership development program called Leaders in Action and was a part of the RHSA First to Launch Summer Program, which prepared her for the transition into college. Being a part of the RHSA had initially surprised Nya as she did not know such an opportunity would be offered to her. The RHSA alleviated her nervousness by bringing in others she could relate to and helping her meet new people.

Nya took on a job at the gym as someone who loves exercise. She was able to learn about the world of physical therapy and fitness. Nya enjoys helping others, particularly with training and encouraging individuals recovering from an injury. Another of Nya’s goals includes starting a business around nutritious proteins and smoothie bowls.

Becoming a first-generation college student has been a mix of emotions and experiences for Nya. Being unable to consult her parents about college scared Nya since she did not want things to go wrong. However, this has allowed Nya to become more independent and feel like an adult. It has been an exciting experience for her to explain the inner workings of college to her family members. Nya also finds that it is an honor to attend college and is determined to do well to succeed.

Nya would advise fellow students to never be discouraged that they have not accomplished enough as long as they are making some progress since any progress is more than enough. As long as everyone is doing some work or putting in effort regularly, as Nya says, “Consistency will get you results.”

Ezequiel Perez is a student at UMass Lowell.

Ezequiel Perez, English

Congratulations to Ezequiel Perez, an RHSA January Student of the Month! Growing up in Salem, Mass., and coming from Haverhill, Mass., Ezequiel's hobbies include drawing and making music. Ezequiel is majoring in English with a concentration in Journalism & Professional Writing in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.

Ezequiel advises fellow students to not try too hard to please others and instead to be themselves and do what would ultimately make them happy. Ezequiel plans to complete his Bachelor's degree and work his way up so that one day he can write for and participate in a late night show similar to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. He also has hopes to tour around the country for either musical or comedic reasons.

When asked about why he chose to attend UMass Lowell, Ezequiel mentioned that the location allowed him to be independent but was also not too far from home. After a semester at UMass Lowell, Ezequiel has come to love the community and how welcoming it is. He is impressed by the diverse cultures and how easy it has been for him to approach and befriend the students on campus. Ezequiel has also had the opportunity to get involved with the Black Student Union and even become the president of the Residence Hall Association. He hopes to become a resident advisor and take on more leadership roles to learn about event planning and management.

Being a first-generation college student comes with a lot of responsibility. Ezequiel is the first person in his family to attend a four-year college and believes he is very fortunate to have the opportunity. He is set on getting the most out of his college experience, especially since his parents wanted him to go above and beyond what they had accomplished.

Being involved in RHSA has helped Ezequiel in many ways. For instance, after missing the FAFSA deadline, Ezequiel was overwhelmed by the financial costs and lack of aid. With the help of his RHSA peer leader and faculty advocate, Ezequiel created an action plan. That included creating a resume with the help of the Career and Co-op Center and learning about how to find and apply for jobs through JobHawk.