When Deirdre Hutchison started college at age 47, she was terrified.
Growing up in Ireland, she didn’t graduate high school; her academics were derailed after she suffered from an infection that left her temporarily blind in one eye, followed by the death of her stepfather.
But in 2017, with her daughter about to start college and her son entering high school – and her mother, Mary Humble ’19, urging her on – Hutchison, who had completed her GED, applied to UML to study history.
“It always bothered me that I didn’t have a college degree,” says Hutchison, who lives in Andover, Massachusetts.
Now a senior, Hutchison is on track to graduate from the Honors College after doing research with several professors, serving as a TA for a study abroad history course in Scotland and England and working on an archaeological dig in Lowell with professors and researchers from UMass Boston and Queens University Belfast.
“I never dreamed that I could do all the things that traditional students do,” she says. “But UMass Lowell gave me all these amazing opportunities, including study abroad, internships, research jobs and work on the Native American signage project. My professors encouraged and supported me every step of the way, and even when I doubted myself, they never did.”
Hutchison says all her history professors have been outstanding, from department Chair Christopher Carlsmith to Prof. Robert Forrant and Visiting Lecturer Lauren Fogle, a specialist in medieval history who led the study abroad trip.
But Hutchison’s greatest champion and mentor since her first visit to campus as a prospective student has been Prof. Christoph Strobel, author of a comprehensive history of Native Americans in New England.
Strobel is advising Hutchison on her honors thesis, which grew out of her work on the Native American signage project and an internship at the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology in Andover. The signage project, a years-long effort by multiple faculty and students, led to the creation of historical markers on campus about the history of the indigenous people who previously occupied the area.
Hutchison chose to do historical detective work on news reports about skeletons of Native Americans that were dug up during the construction of what is now the North Campus quad. One indigenous woman’s skeleton, dug up in May 1901, was even publicly displayed by construction workers.
In fall 2022, a sign summarizing Hutchison’s findings went on permanent display in the North Campus quad, and she presented her research at a conference for the New England Regional World History Association.
Her detective work started at the university’s Center for Lowell History and then took her to the Peabody Institute, where she ultimately got an internship researching the origins of several photos of Native Americans in its collection.
Once so panicked about writing college papers that she “lived” in the campus Writing Center during her first year, Hutchison has since won essay contests and written extensively online about her research for the Peabody Institute.
Hutchison serves as a student ambassador during campus Open Houses, where she shares her experiences both as a student and as a parent. Her daughter, Georgina, transferred to UML and is finishing a degree in criminal justice, and her son, Sebastian, is a third-year history major.
“My situation is unique: I can talk to families from both perspectives,” she says.
As a senior, she’s looking into jobs in historical research, education and educational travel. She’s also considering master’s degree programs in history and education.
“I’ve developed a passion for history and education here at UMass Lowell, and I hope to continue that journey,” she says.