Journalism Majors Practice Their Craft in Capstone Project

Michaela Goss, left, and Katrina Desrosiers are collaborating on Humans of UMass Lowell for their Honors capstone project Image by Goss and Desrosiers
Journalism majors Michaela Goss, left, and Katrina Desrosiers are collaborating on Humans of UMass Lowell for their honors capstone project.

By Katharine Webster

Katrina Desrosiers loves cats, pumpkin-scented candles and the TV show “Friends.” Her best quality is that she’s open-minded.

Michaela Goss loves Christmas – especially watching “The Polar Express” over and over – and the Harry Potter books. One of her pet peeves is when people misuse the Oxford comma.

Curious to know more about them? The two students share this information – and profiles of many other people on campus – on their blog, “Humans of UMass Lowell.”

Desrosiers and Goss have taken over and expanded the Humans of UMass Lowell project on Facebook, Instagram, WordPress and Twitter. Inspired by the phenomenally successful blog “Humans of New York,” which offers daily glimpses into the lives of people in New York City to a global audience, Goss and Desrosiers are photographing and profiling UML students, faculty and staff all year for their honors capstone project. Then they plan to pass the torch.

“Humans of UMass Lowell” was started in 2015 by honors psychology and exercise physiology major Patrice Faith Olivar and two friends for a community social psychology course. Olivar’s friends graduated, and she knew she would be too busy to keep it up this year, so in the spring, she posted that she was looking for someone to take it over. After interviewing several candidates, she chose Goss and Desrosiers, both English majors with a concentration in journalism and professional writing.

“We’d had the idea to do something like this for three years, so we were lucky that she chose us,” Desrosiers says.

Now Goss and Desrosiers are blogging, tweeting and posting #HumansofUML interviews several times a week. For each interview, they use a random number generator to pick several questions from a master list they created. Most of the questions are lighthearted, like “What fictional character would you like to hang out with?” but they have one deeper question per interview, such as “What do you want people to remember about you?” 

The response to their efforts has been gratifying. They have hundreds of followers on Facebook and Instagram, are building a following on their new Twitter account and get over 100 shares, reposts and click-throughs to the blog on each new profile.

“People get so excited to see themselves on our blog,” Desrosiers says. 

Michaela Goss, left, and Katrina Desrosiers work on Humans of UMass Lowell in their "office" at Starbucks Image by K. Webster
Goss and Desrosiers work on #HumansofUML at their "office" in Starbucks.
It’s not just a fun project, though. As journalism majors, Goss and Desrosiers are working with their advisor, Assoc. Prof. Jonathan Silverman, to polish their writing and social media skills – and practice walking up to people they don’t know to ask if they mind being interviewed. They see Humans of UMass Lowell as a way to make the expanding university community feel more familiar and individual while reflecting an array of life experiences.

“Diversity is really important for us because the campus is so diverse,” Desrosiers says.

The two have come to share majors, classes and extracurricular activities since meeting at orientation the summer before freshman year. They ended up in the same math class first semester and started hanging out. They’ve taken honors seminars together – a favorite was Assoc. Prof. Keith Mitchell’s class on contemporary African-American literature – and have become the best of friends, to the point where they complete each other’s thoughts. 

Desrosiers commutes from her family’s home in Nashua, N.H., and is double-majoring in French, largely because of her family’s French-Canadian background. 

Goss, who’s from Chelmsford, lives on campus and has a work-study job in the History Department. She started off in the Theatre Arts concentration within the English Department, but after learning about what Desrosiers was studying and meeting Silverman, she decided to switch to journalism and professional writing – and to join the Honors College alongside Desrosiers.

“The English Department faculty are so great,” she says. “Professor Silverman is the best.”

“He’s our backbone,” Desrosiers adds.

Desrosiers already has considerable social media marketing experience after landing a paying, 35-hour-a-week internship at SearchPro Systems of Nashua last year. From May 2016 through last April, she helped create websites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and blogs for more than 200 business clients, updating their posts regularly and checking their analytics. She has also been a copy editor at The Connector student newspaper since freshman year.

Goss recently joined Desrosiers as a copy editor at The Connector. She is also pursuing a minor in digital media, which includes classes in multimedia storytelling and video production that will help prepare her to work in multimedia journalism or social media.

What have they learned so far from doing the Humans of UMass Lowell project?

“I’ve learned more about time management, collaboration and consistency,” Desrosiers says.

Goss says putting up four posts a week (two apiece) while being consistent in purpose and style is a challenge.

“It's just the two of us working on it with guidelines we made up ourselves, so we have to make sure we're on the same page,” she says. “We're very supportive of each other and don't want to limit the other's creativity, so we always try to communicate before we post.”