After paid internships, co-ops and research positions, River Hawks bring real-world lessons back to class

Nishi Shah at her internship as Bae Systems
Nishi Shah worked as a software engineering co-op at BAE Systems in Hudson, New Hampshire, and did a six-month hardware development co-op at Nokia earlier in the year.

By University Relations Staff

From NASA to Mars Inc., UMass Lowell students gained valuable professional experience in their recent work experiences – which were, well, out of this world.
The students took advantage of a range of UML programs, including co-ops, internships and research positions, that were designed to help them get paid professional experience as undergraduates. Such experiences enable students to connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world, while building skills and making connections to jump-start their careers. 
And those experiences can make them stand out in a competitive job market. According to research from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, paid interns get more than twice as many job offers as those who participate in an unpaid internship or no internship at all while in college. 
Here’s a look at how UML students from a range of majors explored their career paths while earning money to help pay for their education over the summer: 
Ginika Okoli with some of the products she analyzed data for

Ginika Okoli landed a sweet internship ahead of her senior year.

The mathematics major from Boston spent the summer in Newark, New Jersey, working as a data analytics intern for Mars Inc., which manufactures Snickers, M&M’s, Skittles and other food and pet products.

“They made me feel so included, welcomed and important,” Okoli says of the global company, which did $45 billion in sales in 2022. “It’s a great place to work.”

Determined to get an internship before graduating, Okoli joined UML’s Professional Co-op Program. Her “super-supportive” advisor, cooperative education Asst. Director Amanda Teixeira, helped her land the Mars internship, which provided free housing in Jersey City, New Jersey, plus transportation and an hourly wage.

“How could I say no, especially knowing how iconic Mars is?” Okoli asks.

Okoli spent three months analyzing the company’s return on investment (ROI) for social media advertisements and other campaigns.

“We looked at what we are doing for our brand that’s going to bring us money back in return,” she explains.

Okoli created a computer model, using the programming language Python, that can predict future ROI for Mars based on current trends.

“I learned a lot, because I don’t have a computing background,” says Okoli, who enrolled in a computer programming course at UMass Lowell after her internship to further develop her coding skills.

As a member of UTeach, an undergraduate teacher preparation program for STEM majors, Okoli says the Mars internship helped her explore a different career option.

“I now have a new outlook on math,” she says. “There’s so much potential with my future degree.”

david levenson

David Levenson arrived at UMass Lowell intent on becoming a forensic psychologist.

For fun, the psychology major signed up for the Mock Trial team, because he’d enjoyed a mock trial class as a student at Billerica Memorial High School.

The team changed his career plans, but not his major. Now the Honors College student is president of the Pre-Law Club and the Mock Trial team.

“Mock Trial has taken over,” he says cheerfully. “The opportunities I’m getting through Mock Trial are so exciting. And I can still go to law school with a psychology major.”

One of those opportunities was a paid summer internship at a Boston law firm, which he found with help from the Mock Trial team’s volunteer coach, Thomas Wood ’17, now an assistant city solicitor in Lowell.

As the only undergraduate at Diller Law, Levenson worked alongside second- and third-year law school students. He called clients to notify them about settlements and rounded up paperwork from insurers and doctors. He even did research on the finer points of dog-bite liability and other topics.

“I was getting thrown around everywhere, which was awesome, because I could get a look at so many different kinds of cases,” he says.

Levenson got three credits for the internship, which counted as a Legal Studies practicum. It confirmed his desire to become a civil practice attorney.

“I want to be in the courtroom as much as I can,” he says.

coop marita merheb

Marita Merheb sees a direct correlation between her summer internship at a global medical device manufacturer and her courses as a pharmaceutical sciences major (marketing and management option).

Merheb worked at Smith+Nephew in Andover, Massachusetts, where her UML class experiences gave her a degree of comfort with working in the company’s lab.

“I was familiar with specific analytical instruments and certain laboratory techniques due to what I learned in my labs and classes,” says Merheb, an honors student who is minoring in business. “This full-circle moment taught me that everything in our curriculum is built in for a purpose.”

Working as a lab technician in the company’s analytical chemistry lab, Merheb coordinated samples, conducted testing and prepped samples for chemists.

She also experienced the business side of working for a global company and could relate her work to concepts she learned in her business courses.

“I learned about organizational structure and culture, workplace diversity, power, authority and conflict in my courses,” she says. “Working at Smith+Nephew provided me with positive examples of all of those concepts, which is how an organization should be for their employees.”

This semester, she’s learning about operations strategy in global environments and customer focus in managerial quality control.

“I’m able to understand these concepts more thoroughly due to having experienced them first-hand,” she says. 

Now that she’s back on campus for her last year, Merheb realizes that she is leaning toward the business side of the pharmaceutical industry. One day, she’d like to open her own pharmaceutical company.

Kristina Boni

Business major Kristina Boni was surprised to learn that anyone working at NASA – even a summer intern like herself – can put a meeting on anyone else’s calendar.

“I could contact an astronaut to have a meeting,” says Boni, who never needed to set up such a one-on-one – although she did get the chance to talk to a “pretty cool” astronaut.

Boni landed a 10-week paid internship as a marketing and communication specialist with Flight Projects Directorate – “the business-people of NASA” – at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. While the work was mostly remote from home in Reading, Massachusetts, Boni did get to spend a week at the center.

Boni, whose concentrations are in marketing and entrepreneurship, was responsible for writing, filming and editing a LinkedIn video series promoting opportunities at the directorate. She also helped develop a communication strategy and logo for its diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility initiatives. The experience exceeded her expectations.

“I was given full-on projects that help support the agency’s efforts,” she says. “Working in a huge industry is a lot different than school. I learned how to work collaboratively and manage my own time.”

Boni, who expects to complete her degree this winter, can “definitely” see herself working for NASA someday.

Samuel Gervais

Economics major Samuel Gervais must have made a good impression during his summer internship at Liberty Mutual: The senior from Brockton, Massachusetts, has accepted a full-time associate role in the company’s analyst development program after graduation this spring.

“I’m excited to contribute my best to Liberty Mutual and continue to grow both personally and professionally,” Gervais says of starting his career at the Fortune 100 company.

Gervais says taking part in Liberty Mutual’s analyst development internship program over the summer pushed him out of his comfort zone and “instilled a competitive nature” to be the best version of himself.

Originally unsure if he wanted to take on an internship in college, Gervais reconsidered when the Professional Co-op Program opened its doors to economics majors during his junior year.

“Within those three months, I learned so much,” he says. “I’m (undergoing) a long-term change … in which I view my life and my professional career in a growth state where I'm always trying to learn something new.”

Albert Farah

Albert Farah, a senior who is double-majoring in physics and mathematics, has gravitated toward paid research experiences throughout his time at UMass Lowell.

Most recently, the Medford, Massachusetts, resident received funding from the Kennedy College of Sciences (KCS) Science Discoveries program for a self-proposed research project on quantum chaos.

“I wanted to go for the KCS Science Discoveries fellowship because that was one where you could propose your own research idea,” he says.

Farah is conducting research under the guidance of theoretical cosmology expert and Physics Assoc. Prof. Nishant Agarwal. He joined Agarwal’s research group in the summer before his junior year, at which time he received a stipend from the KCS Science Scholars program to study the dynamics of quantum field theories. He presented his work at an American Physical Society conference in Minneapolis.

“It was a cool experience and made me think, ‘I’m definitely in the right place,’” he says.

Initially a mechanical engineering major, Farah conducted aerodynamics research with Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Assoc. Prof. David Willis. Farah received a stipend from the Immersive Scholars program for this work.

“What these research experiences have really given me is the ability to ask relevant questions independently,” says Farah, who plans to pursue a career in research. “And it was pretty cool to secure funding for my projects through the college.”

Alinna Hanna in front of a helicopter

Mechanical engineering major Alinna Hanna spent her summer pursuing her interest in the aerospace industry by working as a co-op at GE Aerospace in Lynn, Massachusetts.

The junior from Mashpee, Massachusetts, who is minoring in aerospace studies, worked at the company as a product definition engineer. Her responsibilities included designing jet engine parts in 3D and 2D drawings.

“It was perfect for my first co-op. It definitely helped me in deciding where I see myself career-wise in my future,” says Hanna, who hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in aerospace studies and get a job at NASA or in the aerospace industry.

Hanna appreciated the “inclusive and inviting environment” at GE, where she was able to develop her skills in computer-aided design (CAD).

“My co-op taught me many technical skills when working with CAD, which I will be applying to my club and class projects,” says Hanna, who is a member of the UML Rocketry Club.

Returning to the classroom this fall, Hanna says she now looks at her coursework through a real-world lens. Her co-op experience helped her in other ways, as well.

“It helped bring out my social skills and taught me to ask for help when needed, which I will be bringing into the classroom,” she says.

Mike McCone

After a six-month co-op as an allocation analyst at TJX Companies during his junior year, senior business major Mike McCone was thrilled to be invited back last summer for a retail buying internship.

“Growing up, I loved Marshalls and T.J. Maxx. I’m kind of frugal with my money,” the Winthrop, Massachusetts, native says of the TJX-owned “off-price” stores.  

McCone not only developed his analytics and operations management skills at TJX, he also built connections that led to a full-time job offer. After completing his degree in December, he will start as an allocation analyst at the Fortune 100 company’s headquarters in Framingham, Massachusetts.

“It’s a big relief having a job lined up,” McCone says. “TJX was at the top of my list for a job, and I’m so excited.”

During his buying internship, McCone got to see how the company negotiates with vendors around the world.

“It was a lot of fun seeing how they do the deals. There’s a lot more that goes into it than how the product does,” says McCone, whose goal is to become a buyer for the company.

Returning to the classroom from TJX, McCone says he feels “more professional,” which has led to better grades.

McCone appreciates the fact that he was able to earn money while gaining experience that led to a full-time job offer.

“Life’s expensive, especially in college,” he says.

coop nishi shahEver since she began college at UMass Lowell, senior computer engineering major and honors student Nishi Shah has looked forward to pursuing a co-op experience.
The Chelmsford, Massachusetts, native now has two co-op experiences on her résumé – in just this year alone.
Over the summer, Shah worked as a software engineering co-op at BAE Systems in Hudson, New Hampshire, where she is continuing this fall on a part-time internship.
Earlier this year, Shah did a six-month hardware development co-op at Nokia in Westford, Massachusetts.
“I am grateful to have not only one, but two back-to-back co-op industry experiences this year,” Shah says. “It is encouraging to learn new skills and see the information I have learned in my classes applied to real-world challenges.”
Shah says she has found mentors, too.
“It is inspiring to learn the career journeys and experiences of the different engineers I have met throughout my co-ops,” says Shah, who also learned from their problem-solving processes throughout the hardware and software development cycles.
“I gained a deeper understanding of the different responsibilities of a software engineer through networking with others, and I learned more about the career role I am interested in,” says Shah, who plans to continue working as a software engineer after graduation while pursuing a master’s degree in computer science.
Jack Callahan along a canal in Lowell

When junior public health major Jack Callahan secured a paid internship working for Health Assessment Lab Director Sabrina Noel, he wasn’t sure how the experience would relate to his future career.

The honors student from North Attleboro, Massachusetts, worked on the Age-Friendly Lowell project, collecting and analyzing data from older adults about how the city could make improvements to benefit health.

“I conducted a lot of street and sidewalk audits throughout the city to assess the safety and accessibility for older adults who may have mobility issues or require wheelchairs,” he says.

Even though Callahan’s $4,000 Immersive Scholarship ended last spring, Noel, an associate professor of biomedical and nutritional sciences, asked him to keep working through the summer on another research project focused on the residents of nearby Lawrence, Massachusetts.

That’s when it clicked. In his work on the Lawrence Community Works project, Callahan studied the relationship between housing quality and health.

“This entire experience directly relates to the courses I took in public health,” he says. “Both the Age-Friendly Lowell and the Lawrence Community Works projects are rooted in the socioecological model, an important framework in public health that describes the relationship between an individual’s health and the many influences in the world around them.”

Callahan already has his sights set on his future career, preferably in the Lowell area. With the ongoing drug crisis, he’s interested in becoming a harm reduction specialist in substance abuse.

Career Connected Work & Experiential Learning

Career Connected Experiences let every student connect what they learn in the classroom to the real world. Whether on campus, in the community or across the globe, River Hawks learn how to find solutions to real world problems, advance humanity and prepare for successful careers.

Professional Co-op Program

UMass Lowell's Professional Co-op Program offers full-time, paid work experiences with an industry partner, usually for six months in a structured, selective, voluntary program for full-time undergraduate students in the Francis College of Engineering, Kennedy College of Sciences, Manning School of Business, Department of Economics, and Pharmaceutical Sciences major.