As They Prepare to Graduate, Seniors Reflect on How Their UML Experience Has Shaped Them 

They changed majors and career plans. They developed new interests and discovered new passions. They made friends and found mentors. They evolved and grew, and now they are ready for whatever comes next.  

Those are some of the common themes we heard from members of the Class of 2022. As they were days away from receiving their undergraduate degrees, several soon-to-be River Hawk alumni reflected on the changes they’ve experienced during their college years. Here’s what they had to say.

Melodie Armand then and now Melodie Armand as a freshman, left, and a senior

She Learned to See Roadblocks as Opportunities

Melodie Armand, Bachelor of Liberal Arts, Cranston, Rhode Island

At the end of her first year at UML, Melodie Armand thought she might have to abandon her dream of becoming an occupational therapist because she didn’t earn the grades she needed to stay in the exercise science major.

However, with guidance and support from faculty, she turned that setback into an opportunity.

She changed her major to the Bachelor of Liberal Arts, choosing dual concentrations in health studies and disability studies

It turns out the interdisciplinary B.L.A. program allowed Armand to explore art and activism, take classes in Spanish and psychology, and still complete all the prerequisites for a master’s in occupational therapy.

“It allowed me to personalize my major,” she says. “I’m on a different path, but I’m on the right path.”

Armand, whose immediate plans are to work as a rehabilitation aide while applying to graduate school, says she has developed the confidence she needs to reach her goals, even when her path takes a detour.  

“I’ve learned that there are going to be roadblocks in your journey, but they don’t define your journey,” she says.


Leadership Opportunities Led to Personal Growth

Track star Izzy Giesing as a freshman
Track star Izzy Giesing as a freshman, above, and running as a senior, top

Izzy Giesing, Environmental Science, Bradford, Vermont

Izzy Giesing grew up in a small town in Vermont and came to UML as an introvert. 

She pushed herself, though, and tried new experiences. Her sophomore year, she became an orientation leader. 

“I look back at my freshman self and I feel like I’m not the same person that I am now — and for the better,” says Giesing, a standout runner for the women’s cross country/track and field team.

“I was able to learn about more myself,” she says. “Seeing people from outside of the sports world was eye-opening for me and I met a lot of people from different backgrounds, which was a lot different for me coming from a small town in Vermont.”

Giesing’s confidence continued to blossom as she settled in as an environmental science major.

She now considers herself to be “a lot more outgoing” and is preparing for her next journey — getting a master’s degree at UML in engineering management.

He Learned to Appreciate the Journey

Dan Matisoo, Exercise Science, Rutland, Massachusetts

Dan Matisoo then and now

Dan Matisoo as a freshman, left, and a senior

As a transfer student from a small community college, Dan Matisoo was initially overwhelmed by attending a larger university. His fears quickly diminished as he found his comfort zone.

“It didn’t take long for me to connect with my fellow classmates, which made the exercise science program feel more like a small community, where we had similar interests and could learn from each other,” he says. 

Matisoo’s college experience helped him gain confidence, setting him up for the next step on his educational journey: earning a doctorate in physical therapy at UML. He looks forward to becoming a double River Hawk.

“I've learned to be more flexible and to take things as they come,” says Matisoo. “I think too often when we apply our goals too rigidly, we end up missing a lot of the good things along the way. I’ve learned to be better at appreciating the journey.” 

Yeaharne Hout then and now

Yeaharne Hout as a freshman, with MSB Dean Sandra Richtermeyer, and now

College Provided So Much More than a Bachelor’s Degree

Yeaharne Hout, Finance, Lowell

Finance student Yeaharne Hout came into college with a pragmatic approach. “I just wanted to get a degree and get a job,” the Lowell native says.

Four years later — after two internships and a co-op job, plus participation in the DifferenceMaker program and a peer leader role with the River Hawk Scholars Academy — Hout realizes that UML provided her with so much more.

“I gained so many experiences and connections that made me a more well-rounded person for the real world,” she says.

As a DifferenceMaker co-op student for three years, Hout managed social media accounts, wrote marketing emails and blogs and helped run events.

“I didn’t expect to learn so much about entrepreneurship, but being exposed to it and learning while on the job was a really worthwhile experience,” she says. “It definitely inspired me to start my own business someday.”

For now, Hout has other plans. She is joining Fidelity Investments in a health care operations rotational program this summer.

Evan Yu Senior

He Discovered a Way to Help the Planet with Plastics Engineering

Freshman Evan Yu in front of Commonwealth Honors LLC sign
Freshman Evan Yu, above, and, top, as a senior working in a lab.

Evan Yu, Plastics Engineering, Brookline, Massachusetts

When Evan Yu arrived at UML as an undeclared engineering student, he was unaware of UML’s internationally recognized plastics engineering program. 

But during a tour of the Plastics Engineering Department in his first semester, he saw the assortment of machinery in Ball Hall and his interest was piqued. 

While the array of equipment might have grabbed his attention, it’s the potential of plastics engineering to make a positive impact on the environment that has held it.

Four years later, “I’m definitely glad I chose plastics,” says Yu, a native of Brookline, Massachusetts.

As a sophomore, he joined Asst. Prof. Grace Chen’s Plastics & Environment Research Laboratory, working with chemical solvents to recycle plastic waste. His senior capstone and honors thesis project addressed the problem of recycling plastic that has been treated with hazardous flame retardants from electronic waste.

Yu hopes the research work will contribute to the public’s understanding of the problem.

“Something about the science really clicks with me,” says Yu, who expects to pursue a master’s degree in engineering. 

She Learned to Prioritize Her Happiness – and Discovered a Career Path

Kristin Hohenstein, Nutritional Sciences, Chelmsford, Massachusetts

Kristin Hohenstein then and now

Kristin Hohenstein as a freshman, left, and now

Kristin Hohenstein came to UMass Lowell as a business administration major after being advised it was the best option for her. Her freshman year, the track and field athlete took an elective nutrition course. That class set her on a new path. 

“I had so much fun learning the material that it inspired me to change my major to nutritional sciences,” says Hohenstein, who wants to become a registered dietitian. “I was interested in health and wellness and had a curiosity for sustainability, but wasn’t sure how to translate that into a career.”

Now she’s planning to continue on for a Master of Public Health degree at UML and is excited about her different career options as a nutrition professional.  

Looking back on her undergraduate years, Hohenstein says she learned how to accomplish goals – both in academics and on the track.

“At the start of my undergraduate experience, I suffered from not prioritizing my own happiness,” she says. “I’ve learned how to do that and am excited to continue making memories and expanding my education at UMass Lowell with the same professors that have inspired me.”

Smriti Kumar freshman

By Connecting With Others, She Found Herself

Senior Smriti Kumar
Senior Smriti Kumar, above, and as a freshman, top.

Smriti Kumar, Biomedical Engineering, Quincy, Massachusetts

Smriti Kumar feels the connections she made as an undergraduate – from being involved in the Society of Women Engineers to conducting research with professors, have been transformative.

“All these experiences have helped me find myself as a person,” she says.

Kumar has long dreamed of being a physician. She volunteered in community hospitals and health care facilities and conducted lab research on pain and prosthetics. From those experiences, she realized she enjoys combining medicine and engineering to make an impact on people’s lives. 

“From my engineering education, I learned how to create prototypes and test them, but I think a physician’s touch is still needed to understand what the children are going through from a practical, clinical point of view.”

As she takes the next step toward her goal, Kumar plans to work in Asst. Prof. Bryan Black’s lab while pursuing a master’s degree in biomedical engineering. She will study neuromas – painful nerve condition caused by trauma – to look at treatment options and find ways to improve them. 

Mateo Rull Garza then and now

Mateo Rull Garza as a freshman and now

He Followed his Fascination – and Found a Calling in the Process  

Mateo Rull Garza, Biology, Monterrey, Mexico 

When Mateo Rull Garza started at UMass Lowell as a psychology major, he needed a job. He found one in the biology department – and it transformed his education.

Rull Garza, who had grown up in Monterrey, Mexico, before moving to western Massachusetts during high school, met Biology Assoc. Prof. Nicolai Konow. Konow does research on axolotls, a kind of salamander that was believed by the Aztecs to be an avatar of the god Xolotl. 

Rull Garza, who knew the myth, became fascinated with the creatures and their evolutionary role as a link between fish and land-based reptiles. 

“I fell in love with the axolotls, and that’s what drew me into the research,” he says.

He changed majors and pursued research in Konow’s lab and beyond. He’s the lead author of an article on axolotls in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, and he has won multiple undergraduate research awards on his way to graduating from the Honors College.

He plans to work as a field biologist while applying to Ph.D. programs.  

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