Still Rebuilding from Pandemic, Organizations Woo River Hawks at Engagement Fair

Students mill around displays for student organizations inside a gym Image by Ed Brennen
New and returning River Hawks descended on the Engagement Fair at the Campus Recreation Center during Opening Week to learn about more than 200 clubs and organizations.

By Ed Brennen

Scroll through a list of UMass Lowell’s 200-plus student clubs and organizations, and you’ll get a sense of just how unique and varied the River Hawks’ interests are. Alongside groups such as the Accounting Society, the Muslim Students Association and the Connector student newspaper, you’ll find clubs for folk dancing, drones, solar energy, poetry and more.

“Clubs are a great way to meet new people and be part of something that you’re passionate about,” says senior psychology major Rose Keane, president of the equestrian team — one of nearly 40 club sports available to UML students.

Keane and several of her equestrian teammates were busy signing up new members at the recent Engagement Fair, an annual Opening Week event for new and returning River Hawks at the Campus Recreation Center.

While clubs resumed meeting in person last year, many are still trying to rebuild membership and executive board leadership that were thinned during the remote learning phase of the pandemic.

“We’re basically regrouping and starting all over again,” says Biomedical Laboratory Specialist Kellee Cardaleen, who has served as advisor to the Association of Clinical Laboratory Students for the past five years.

Three women in black shirts pose for a photo next to a display for their equestrian team Image by Ed Brennen
Equestrian team President Rose Keane, center, and teammates were looking to sign up new members at the Engagement Fair.

Joined by club president A.J. Jimenez and vice president Natalie Kim at the Engagement Fair, Cardaleen was hoping to see the group’s membership rebound to its pre-pandemic levels of about a dozen applied biomedical sciences majors.

Director of Student Activities and Leadership Sarah Rine says some clubs actually thrived online during the pandemic, in part because the university made it a priority to help students engage with one another.

“We had some of our largest Student Government Association numbers during COVID,” she says. “Some students feel more comfortable on screen, so they enjoy finding opportunities like esports.”

Michelle Voong says that was the case for her club, the Student Association of Chinese Americans.

“We adapted virtually very well. We found ways to do things online and stayed connected on Discord,” says Voong, a junior graphic design major from Boston who is serving as president this year.

Four students hold up black shirts that say Improv UML and pose for a photo Image by Ed Brennen
Improv Club President Kieran McFadden, second from left, and fellow club members show off their official gear at the Engagement Fair.

Overall, club memberships jumped last year when students “desperate to get together” returned to campus, Rine says. Numbers have continued to increase this year, along with the quality of programming.

“Clubs have had more time to plan over the summer, which they didn’t have last year,” Rine says. “And students have a little more time to shop around and see what they want to be involved with.”

One group that is glad to be back in person is the Improv Club.

“We couldn’t really do our shows on Zoom,” says the club’s president, Kieran McFadden, a senior marketing student from Medford, Massachusetts. Last year, they were able to rebuild interest and get around 20 students to attend biweekly meetings.

“If you like performing or getting uncomfortable in front of a big group of people, it’s a great opportunity,” says McFadden, who believes his improv skills will come in handy when making marketing presentations.

River Hawk Racing, which builds a car each year to compete in the Formula SAE competition in Michigan, also had to shift gears during the pandemic.

Two women pose for a photo next to a display for the Legal Studies Society Image by Ed Brennen
Legal Studies Society President Cassidy DeMalia, right, and Vice President Jillian Stacy hoped to drum up interest in their new club at the Engagement Fair.

“The club kind of revolves around the juniors and seniors having experience with designing the car, but we didn't really have much of that last year, so we kind of had to figure everything out from scratch,” says senior mechanical engineering major Garrett Perry, who served as the club’s president until last spring and is now chief engineer.

With underclassmen returning from last year and new members joining this fall, Perry says the team is back on track to enter a car in the competition in May.

Cassidy DeMalia had hoped to start the Legal Studies Society — a club for students of any major interested in law — two years ago. But she found it difficult to drum up interest online.

“It was a struggle to get it going,” says DeMalia, who had better luck last year when students were back on campus. By posting fliers and visiting classes, she got more than 30 students to sign up last spring. This fall, it is an official student organization.

“I’m happy to have this chance to build the club,” DeMalia said as hundreds of students milled around the packed gym floor during the Engagement Fair, toting free “United in Blue” T-shirts. “Hopefully we get so many more members today.”