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New River Hawks Ready for Launch!

Virtual Summer Program Helps First-year and Transfer Students Prepare for UML

Incoming freshman Martha Moreno shows her graphic design work Photo by Martha Moreno
Incoming freshman Martha Moreno, who is taking part in the Launch! Summer Program to prepare for her transition to college, developed a passion for graphic design work as a high school student in Washington, D.C.

By Ed Brennen

Martha Moreno is preparing for an unknown adventure this fall. The first-generation college student from Washington, D.C., is planning to head 450 miles north to attend UMass Lowell, a school she’s never visited before.

Moreno will have her bearings once classes start, however, thanks to the university’s Launch! Summer Program, a newly expanded way for first-year and transfer students to gear up for college life at UML, meet students and faculty, and even get a jump on their courses.

“It’s comforting to know I’m not going to be frantic when I get to campus,” says Moreno, who received a merit scholarship through the university’s DC-CAP Scholars Program and plans to study graphic design. “Having this experience beforehand will help guide me.”

Now in its second year, Launch! is being held virtually this summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The program provides new UML students with three different ways — all free of charge or with discounted tuition — to prepare for their River Hawk experience. Registration is still open for the six-week program, which starts July 6.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to get excited about becoming River Hawks,” says Director of College-Based Professional Advising Justin Gerstenfield, one of the program coordinators. “Students get a chance to build community with their incoming class and feel connected to the university, even though we’re doing it in a virtual environment.” 

The program includes a free, general introduction to university resources and study skills; a free, college-based one-credit option with study skills workshops and college-specific seminars; and a third option that combines the free, college-based seminars with up to six credits' worth of discounted courses.
“Students get a chance to build community with their incoming class and feel connected to the university, even though we’re doing it in a virtual environment.” -CBA Director Justin Gerstenfield

The program’s free Summer Success Series offers students a variety of 90-minute workshops held every Wednesday afternoon that they can register for à la carte. Led by the Centers for Learning, Advising and Student Success (CLASS), workshop topics include tutoring, self-care and goal-setting. There are also workshops tailored specifically to transfer and commuter students. The series concludes with a popular CLASS-themed game of “Family Feud” in early September.

For first-year students looking to get a head start on their coursework, Launch! offers First-Year College-Specific Programs in each of UML’s six colleges. Students can register for one or two courses — at a discounted tuition rate — that are held exclusively for first-year students on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings.

Each college has selected a variety of courses to get students started on their degree pathways, such as College Writing I, Calculus I and Business 101. One timely course that’s offered to students in the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (FAHSS), the Kennedy College of Sciences and the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences is “Pandemics: How Do They Occur?” with Jennifer Nicoloro, a clinical assistant professor of biomedical and nutritional sciences.

Sue Kim, associate dean of undergraduate studies for FAHSS, worked with her fellow associate deans across campus along with Academic Services, the Office of Admissions, and Graduate, Online and Professional Studies (GPS), to put together the course offerings.

“Students are likely to be doing part of their coursework virtually this fall, so this will help prepare them to succeed in a virtual college-level environment,” says Kim. She adds that students who lost out on summer jobs or internships because of the pandemic may have more time to take advantage of virtual learning over the summer.

Students enrolled in the college-based coursework option will also take part in seminars designed specifically for their college on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. For FAHSS students, the seminars will feature a wide array of faculty research (including a session on “Biosecurity and False Information in the Age of Coronavirus”). In the Manning School of Business, students will take part in a six-week version of the Global Entrepreneurship Exchange program. In the College of Education, seminars include “Working with Diverse Students and Communities” and “What is the Science of Happiness?”

On Thursday afternoons, students in the college-based option will participate in academic success workshops similar to those offered in the Summer Success Series.

The third Launch! option is the No Cost First-Year College-Specific Programs — which is for students who want to take advantage of the college-specific seminars and success workshops without enrolling in the discounted for-credit courses.

By completing this free option, many students can receive a waiver on a one-credit first-year seminar course, which gives them a free elective option that can be used toward a minor or a second major.

That’s what drew Moreno to enroll in the No Cost First-Year College-Specific Program. By opening up an elective, she can consider a double major in business.

“It’s nice to have that choice,” says Moreno, an Honors College student who looks forward to moving onto campus in late August and getting acclimated to college life.

“Being first-generation, a lot of this is completely new to me,” she says. “So I really do appreciate that the university is using the summertime to help students be aware of the resources available to us.”

In addition to the Launch! Summer Program, the College of Engineering is offering a virtual version of its Research, Academics and Mentoring Pathways (RAMP) program this summer, while the College of Sciences is offering SoarCS to first-year computer science students.