United at Donahue Hall by Shared Interest, Students Find Social and Academic Support

A half dozen college students hang out in a lounge in a residence hall. Image by Ed Brennen
The Business Living-Learning Community at Donahue Hall on East Campus is home this year to 30 Manning School of Business students.

By Ed Brennen

After a busy day of classes, first-year business student Lionald Cheristil saddles up in a massage chair, lowering his face on the padded headrest. For the next 10 minutes, the world around him disappears as a masseuse goes to work on his neck, shoulders and back.

“I needed that,” Cheristil says after rising from the chair so the next student on the sign-up sheet can have their turn.

Massages were the main attraction at the “Zen Zone,” a recent event at which students in the Business Living-Learning Community at Donahue Hall on East Campus could de-stress, socialize and nosh on free snacks.

Living-Learning Communities, or LLCs, are reserved floors in residence halls for students with common interests or shared experiences. Originally created for first-year students but now open to all undergraduates, LLCs help students find social and academic support. 
Five college students study and chat in a residence hall lounge. Image by Ed Brennen
Business Living-Learning Community students hang out in the first-floor common at Donahue Hall.

The Business LLC is one of eight offered this year at UMass Lowell. Others include Commonwealth Honors, River Hawk Scholars Academy and Army & Air Force ROTC.

Thirty Manning School of Business students live in the Business LLC at Donahue Hall. They are led by a pair of graduate student fellows, Cintya Gajardo Véjar and Kanan Asif, both Ph.D. students in entrepreneurship.

“The most important component of the LLC is to foster belonging and engagement,” says Asif, an international student from Pakistan. “Especially after COVID, we all see that students don’t engage as much as they used to. There’s been a shock. The idea of the LLC is to break that shock wave, to help students connect more and have that sense of belonging again.”

Asif and Gajardo Véjar work with a student ambassador from the Business LLC, sophomore Ronnie Martinez, to plan monthly events like the Zen Zone.

Martinez, a finance student from Worcester, Massachusetts, lived in the LLC as a first-year student and decided to take on the paid ambassador role to help it grow and improve.
A college student gets a massage in a massage chair while another student looks on. Image by Ed Brennen
At the "Zen Zone," first-year business major Lionald Cheristil gets a massage while fellow first-year student Connor Krajewski, right, waits his turn.

“I’ve met a lot of cool people here and wanted to be that person to move the LLC forward,” Martinez says.

Isabella Nardella, a sophomore marketing student from Saugus, Massachusetts, is another returning Business LLC member. 

“It allows me to talk to other business students about their experience, what they go through — students who have the same goals as me,” says Nardella, who helped Martinez set up a Halloween movie night this year.

Earlier this semester, the Business LLC hosted a dinner with the Manning School’s interim dean at the time, Steven Tello, and Assoc. Deans Amit Deokar and Yi Yang. They also invited Douglas Cooper, assistant director for the Centers for Learning, Advising and Student Success (CLASS), to talk about the resources available to help students improve study skills, time management and more.

“It’s not just about engaging socially, but also about helping them get better grades,” Asif says.
Fourteen college students and faculty pose for a photo in a residence hall lounge. Image by courtesy
Business Living-Learning Community students welcomed Manning School of Business Assoc. Deans Amit Deokar and Yi Yang for a dinner earlier this semester.

Cheristil, a first-year marketing student from Boston, heard about LLCs from friends who attended UML. He learned more about them on a campus tour, which helped clinch his college decision.

“Something about this place pulled me toward UMass Lowell. It was somewhere I could see myself,” says Cheristil, who shares a six-person suite with four business majors and one business-turned-engineering major. 

“I thought it was important to be in a residence hall with people who have similar business-oriented interests. And being able to talk to someone here like the dean, to have a conversation with them so they know who I am, is important,” Cheristil adds as he makes his way around the Zen Zone, set up in the first-floor common area of Donahue Hall.

“I’m really starting to appreciate the school,” he says. “I’m glad I can take advantage of these kinds of opportunities.”