Augustin Cruz’s family left the Philippines in 2013 and settled in Las Vegas. Although both of his parents had earned college degrees in the Philippines, they had to start their lives and careers from scratch in the U.S.
Their hard work and struggles led Cruz to devote himself to his studies and take advantage of every opportunity to better himself.
“It was back to zero when we got here,” he says. “I always have it in the back of my mind: Whenever I’m struggling in school, I think about my family and where we came from, and it’s definitely an inspiration and motivation.”
One of those opportunities was enrolling at UMass Lowell, which his older sister, who was studying neuroscience at Boston University, recommended to him after meeting UML researchers at conferences. Cruz, who plans to become a physical therapist, was interested in doing research and was impressed by the reputation of UML’s Exercise Science to Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program. UMass Lowell also offered him need-based financial aid and a work-study job.
The COVID-19 pandemic put his research plans on hold, however, closing the university midway through spring semester of his first year. And because he was learning from home in a time zone three hours behind the university, he struggled with classes during his sophomore year.
“For my General Physics I lecture, I had to wake up at 4:40 a.m. or 4:50 a.m. to consistently participate in the class. Labs were also early,” he says. “As the course got more challenging, my sleep patterns got worse and my study habits got worse. I got more stressed, I got more anxious, which in turn negatively affected my ability to learn and be at my best.”
He turned to Asst. Teaching Prof. Brent Shell, his Human Anatomy and Physiology professor during his first year. Shell connected him with the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences’ Student Resource Center for online tutors and learning materials, including information on how to organize class notes and study effectively.
Cruz used all of the website’s resources, followed up with tutors on questions he hadn’t had a chance to ask during class, and reached out for help with other courses, too. That turned his year around.
“It was definitely a big help,” he says. “I was able to gain different perspectives from the tutors; I was able to recognize my weaknesses; and I was less anxious and stressed, because I knew that anytime I needed help, I could always go to the Resource Center.”
One of the biggest benefits, he says, is that he met other students studying for the same classes. They would go into breakout rooms and study together, rejoining a tutor’s main “Zoom room” or typing in the chat if they had a question none of them could answer.
The remote learning school year of 2020-21 was not a time to go it alone, he says.
“We could meet other students, study together and also just have fun – forget about the pandemic and isolation for a while, and focus,” he says. “I was able to improve my grades. I have better communication with my professors because I was able to ask specific questions.”
As a rising junior, he plans to return to campus and seek out research opportunities in muscular, skeletal or tactical injuries. After graduation, he hopes to join the U.S. Army or Air Force, with the goal of becoming a physical therapist for the military. The Army has its own Doctor of Physical Therapy school in partnership with Baylor University – and that’s another opportunity Cruz hopes to use to better himself and serve his new country.
“I’d be the first in my family to go into the military,” Cruz says. “I think it’s an overall great package.”