At Convocation, Chancellor Chen Highlights Initiative for Paid, Career-Connected Experiences

Several hundred students sit in an arena facing a stage Image by Bill McCormack
The university formally welcomed nearly 2,700 first-year and transfer students to campus at its 18th annual Convocation ceremony at the Tsongas Center.

By Ed Brennen

During one of UMass Lowell’s most treasured traditions – new student Convocation at the Tsongas Center – Chancellor Julie Chen declared the start of a new tradition.

Beginning with this fall’s incoming first-year class of nearly 2,100 students, “UMass Lowell guarantees that every one of you will have the opportunity for at least one paid, career-connected experience by the time you graduate,” Chen said as she formally welcomed the Class of 2027, along with around 600 transfer students, to campus.

The initiative ensures that students who take an unpaid internship or work experience, say with a nonprofit organization in the community, will be compensated in many cases by the Chancellor Julie Chen Fund for Student Success, which raised $2.6 million during her inauguration last spring.

A woman with short hair and glasses smiles while speaking at a podium Image by Bill McCormack
Chancellor Julie Chen encouraged new River Hawks to find their community at UML.
“These career-connected experiences help you learn new skills, discover things about yourself and build your résumé and professional network,” said Chen, who encouraged students to “find your community” and seek out new opportunities at UML.

“Each one of you is meant to be here,” she said. “You belong here.”

Keynote speaker Matilda Matovu ’16, director of programs at Girls Get Going, a Boston-based nonprofit that empowers Black teens to become entrepreneurs, recalled “the overwhelming feeling of not knowing who I was and where I was going” when starting at UML a decade ago.

A first-generation college student from Woburn, Massachusetts, Matovu double majored in biology and political science.

“By the time I graduated from UMass Lowell, l left with a whole new family of friends and mentors who I am eternally grateful for,” said Matovu, who learned to “fail fast and fail forward” from one of those friends, Nana Younge ’18, founder and executive director of Get Girls Going.

Smiling students applaud during a convocation ceremony Image by Bill McCormack
First-year and transfer students were formally welcomed to the UML community at Convocation.
“Very rarely are we great at anything the first time. Give yourself the grace to fail, learn from your mistakes and move forward,” said Matovu, who also serves as program administrator for Harvard Law School’s Office of Community Engagement, Equity and Belonging.

Student Government Association President Anthony Milisci, a political science and public health double major from Lowell, challenged students to find their path and take chances.

“There’s something for everyone here at UMass Lowell, it’s just a matter of discovering it,” he said.

Fahad Alden, a digital media major from Bedford, Massachusetts, who serves as the UML student trustee on the UMass Board of Trustees, also addressed students. So did Emma Hennessy, a mechanical engineering major from Marlborough, Massachusetts, who is co-president of UML’s Student Athlete Advisory Council and a member of the women’s soccer team.

A woman in a black robe applauds while seated on a stage with people in academic regalia Image by Bill McCormack
Keynote speaker Matilda Matovu '16, left, joined Chancellor Julie Chen on the Convocation stage.
MBA student Nick Jarek and liberal arts major Sammy Santana, both co-ops with the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute, pitched the benefits of the campus-wide entrepreneurship program that has spawned 40 student-led companies that have raised $70 million in seed funding. 

Members of UMass Lowell’s Air Force ROTC Detachment 345 presented the colors, while the UMass Lowell Marching Band performed “River Hawk Pride” and songs by The Who, led by Director of University Bands Dan Lutz.

After the ceremony, students grabbed to-go lunches and walked over to the Engagement Fair at the Campus Recreation Complex, where they learned about 250-plus clubs, intramural sports and student organizations.

Two smiling students walk past balloons while students cross a bridge behind them Image by Ed Brennen
New River Hawks head to Convocation on East Campus.
Fallon Weiss, a first-year honors computer science major from Boston, appreciated the Convocation pep talk heading into her first day of classes.

“A lot of the things they said up there on stage are things I needed to hear as a new student,” Weiss said. “‘You are meant to be here’ is a sentiment that will stay with me.”

As a first-generation college student, Cesar Cardazo said Matovu’s personal story resonated most with him.

“It was inspiring. It makes me want to reach out to more people and hear about issues they’ve had,” said Cardazo, a first-year engineering major from New Bedford, Massachusetts, who is part of the River Hawk Scholars Academy. “Being first-gen is hard, but she made it sound like it’s not impossible.”

Kiara Fontanez-Martinez, a first-year business major from Springfield, Massachusetts, has some time before she starts thinking about co-ops and internships. But she “definitely” looks forward to landing one and was glad to hear Chancellor Chen putting a priority on paid work experiences.

“It’s important for students, because money is always a factor,” Fontanez-Martinez said while juggling a free UML T-shirt and stack of club flyers that she’d picked up at the Engagement Fair. “It’s important to learn what it’s like to work in a field and get something for your résumé.”