By Brooke Coupal
If you hear students around campus using the phrase “cow bones,” don’t be alarmed.
Chancellor Julie Chen encouraged more than 2,500 first-year and transfer students to use the unusual phrase to indicate that they are trying new experiences during their time at UMass Lowell.
“We are creating a shared bond,” Chen told the incoming students during her first Convocation as UML’s leader. “So, when we see each other at University Crossing or the O’Leary Library Starbucks, and I ask you how it’s going, you can answer with ‘cow bones.’ Let me know you are exploring different paths and making good friends along the way.”
The phrase comes from Chen’s time working as a paid intern at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Orthopaedics Laboratory following her freshman year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Through this pivotal experience, she realized that she did not want a job in a hospital, but that she enjoyed working with materials, such as cow bones, and running mechanical tests.
“Your time here will be one of discovery – a time when you will figure out who you want to become and how to get there,” said Chen, who previously served as the vice chancellor for research and economic development at UML.
Chen’s words resonated with keynote speaker Evana Gizzi ’13, ’14, a double River Hawk in applied and computational mathematics. Gizzi credits UMass Lowell with providing her with opportunities that led her to a career at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where she serves as principal investigator of RAISR – a project that focuses on using artificial intelligence to speed up the detection and repair of problems in spacecraft.
“Not only am I extremely proud of where I am today, but I can also honestly say that I love my job,” she said. “I have a deep sense of purpose in what I do.”
Gizzi said she came to UMass Lowell without any specific career intentions, but a required computing course she took during her junior year changed her trajectory.
On the last day of Computing I, she approached her professor, triple River Hawk Mark Sherman, who at the time was pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science, and asked him about employment opportunities in the department. From there, Sherman connected her with computer science Prof. Fred Martin, who now serves as the associate dean for teaching, learning and undergraduate studies.
“In a few weeks, I found myself working in a research lab on campus as one of the only females, undergraduates and non-computer science majors,” she said. “I pulled Mark aside and asked, ‘Why did you recommend me for this lab?’ And he replied, ‘Because you were one of my best students. You really have a knack for coding.’ … From that moment on, I decided I was a programmer and never really questioned it again.”
Gizzi said that being surrounded by people who wanted her to succeed is what made UMass Lowell so special.
“Throughout my entire time at UMass Lowell, I had become so conditioned to exist among those who believed in me that I would go on in my career to exclusively seek out people where there was mutual encouragement of one another,” she said. “I got to NASA by constantly seeking out and building environments around me that were conducive to my success.”
Gizzi urged the incoming students to lean on the UMass Lowell community as they work toward their goals.
“Ask for support, ask for that job and seek camaraderie,” she said. “We’re all here for you.”
Student Government Association President Neyder Fernandez, a senior double-majoring in political science and peace and conflict studies, reiterated Gizzi’s advice.
“Four years ago, I was sitting right there where you are, wondering where my path would take me at UMass Lowell,” he said while pointing at the seats in the Tsongas Center. “Over that period, I’ve interned at the Jack M. Wilson Center in the Manning School and Dana-Farber, the best cancer hospital in New England, both of which would have not been possible without my support network here at UMass Lowell.”
Student-athlete Megan Salsinha, a senior biological sciences major from Westport, Massachusetts, told those new to campus to take advantage of the university’s different opportunities, from the 250-plus student organizations to the research experiences within the departments.
Incoming students also got to hear from three student teams from the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, which engages students in creative problem-solving, innovation and entrepreneurship. The teams shared how the campuswide program has opened doors for them.
“The program introduced us to the world of entrepreneurship and connected us to mentors, the Lowell community and the industry community,” said Amie Russell, a senior biomedical engineering major who, alongside seniors Victoria Williams and Ethan Block, created Tendren, an innovative technology that connects patients and triage nurses in emergency rooms.
Students who were interested in learning more about DifferenceMaker and other organizations on campus headed to the Engagement Fair at the Campus Recreation Center following Convocation.
Sofia Sutherland, an incoming student from Winchester, Massachusetts, called Wednesday’s events an inspiring way to kick off her time at UMass Lowell.
“I feel like it brought us closer together as a community,” said the psychology major.
Joshua Lai, a first-year business major from Hong Kong, also walked away feeling that same sense of togetherness.
“The school itself is quite unified,” he said. “There are a lot of connections and opportunities everywhere.”