Record 47 Students Earn River Hawk Experience Distinction Credential

Six people make a toast with champagne glasses while sitting at a table. Image by Ed Brennen
Students graduating with River Hawk Experience Distinction credentials make a sparkling cider toast during their recent cording ceremony at Allen House.

By Ed Brennen

Even if she hadn’t joined the River Hawk Experience Distinction (RHED) program, Madison Rowley ’24 would have worked at a Lowell preschool and volunteered with a community organization while earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

But since she was gaining those experiences outside of the classroom anyway, it only made sense to apply them to a community engagement distinction from RHED, which is now on her official transcript and résumé.

“I figured it was a good way to connect what I learn about in class to what I want to do in the future, which is work as a school counselor or psychologist,” says Rowley, a native of Townsend, Massachusetts, who double-minored in education and Spanish.

Ten people pose for a group photo while standing in front of signs on a patio. Image by Ed Brennen
Provost Joe Hartman, left, poses with this year's recipients of the River Hawk Experience Distinction in leadership during a ceremony at Allen House.

Launched in 2018, RHED is a way for students to take a deep dive into a personal interest that connects with their academics in one of five topic areas: leadership, entrepreneurship, global engagement, community engagement or sustainability.

By completing two preapproved courses and two preapproved experiences, along with guided reflections for each, students receive the RHED credential — and a red braided cord to wear at Commencement.

This year, a record 47 students graduated with RHED distinctions, nearly double the program’s total over its first five years.

“You’ve pushed yourself to take your learning to another level, above and beyond what’s required of you,” Dean of Student Affairs & Experiential Learning James Kohl told students at the inaugural RHED cording ceremony, held recently at the Allen House. “You chose to intertwine the knowledge gained in the classroom with experience in the real world, and in doing so, you’ve forged deeper, more vibrant meaning for both.”

A person smiles while having a red cord draped over her shoulders by another person. Image by Ed Brennen
Honors nursing graduate Isabella De Souza '24 receives her RHED cord for global engagement from Wendy Hyatt, assistant director of experiential learning signature programs.

RHED also aligns with the UML Guarantee, which ensures that every first-time, first-year UMass Lowell student will have the opportunity to pursue at least one career connected experience during their undergraduate career, earning pay, credits or both before they graduate.

Business grad Alexa Gaton Hernandez ’24 earned a RHED distinction for global engagement after taking part in three study abroad programs with the Honors College.

“Through these experiences, I was able to broaden my views beyond the classroom, communicate better, adapt to my environment and collaborate with others, which helped me perform better in my classes,” the Lawrence, Massachusetts, native says. “Most importantly, they helped me decide what I want to do post-grad, which is to pursue a master’s degree in Spain.”

Fellow business grad Mike Nasr ’24 of Stoneham, Massachusetts, earned a RHED distinction for entrepreneurship after participating in the Rist DifferenceMaker Institute’s Innovation Contest and completing a class project.

“It gave me a reason to reflect on courses I’ve taken and experiences I’ve had, which was worthwhile,” says Nasr, whose concentrations were in marketing and entrepreneurship.

Julian Viviescas Mejia ’24 graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English and minors in digital media and Italian studies. He says his RHED distinction in global engagement “meant everything” to his college experience.

A person wearing a bowtie applauds while standing at a podium next to red and blue balloons. Image by Ed Brennen
Dean of Student Affairs & Experiential Learning James Kohl congratulates students on achieving their RHED distinctions.

After studying abroad in Modena, Italy, for a semester in 2022, Viviescas Mejia returned to campus and continued research on Italian immigration, which was the topic of his honors thesis.
“Because of (RHED), I feel prepared for the real world,” says Viviescas Mejia, who moved to the U.S. from Colombia nine years ago. “I know how to work hard to achieve better things.”

Viviescas Mejia plans to continue traveling after completing a digital marketing internship at Mass General Brigham hospital in June.

The following students received RHED distinctions this year:

Leadership: Gavin Alexander, Justin Baez, Chris Bonney, Stella Cortese, Karina Diaz, Alex Hutchinson, Abdullah Jasim, Angelina Khiem, Jason McKeon, Olivera Nedeljkovic, Scott Phillips, Natasha Roberts, Jacob Villeneuve and Andrew Whitcomb.

Entrepreneurship: Arlo Blanchard, Michael Nasr, Cameron Famiglietti, Celine Quezada, Matthew Hayes, Medhanit Woldemichael and Val Heath.

Community Engagement: Ricky Canales, Stephanie Chavarria, Jessica D’Antona, Jena Jean Jacques, Madison Rowley and Emily Vandoros.
Global Engagement: Stephanie Ayeboafo, Sarah Curley, Cassidy DeMalia, Amy Desjardins, Charles DiSciullo, Michael Feinblatt, Alexa Gaton Hernandez, Warsame Hassan, Jacob Lang, Alessia Pari-di-Monriva, Jess Stevens, Julian Viviescas Mejia, Lisaidy Zabala and Isabella De Souza.

Sustainability: Julianne Gath, Mariah Giberson, David Gilblair, Haley Green, Gabriel Muniz and Sama Schofield.