Growing up in Worcester, Massachusetts, Gifty Kessie learned to take advantage of opportunities, starting with the Eureka program to promote STEM education at Girls Inc.
Eureka helped Kessie get internships at Dell Technologies and started her on the path to a degree in mechanical engineering. Her fifth year in the program, while still in high school, she decided to work for Girls Inc. to help the girls coming up behind her.
That began a pattern for Kessie of seeking help – and then turning around and helping others – that continues with programs at UMass Lowell that are designed to support students of color, women in STEM and first-generation college students.
“I learned to never say no to any opportunity that comes my way,” she says. “Because what if that opportunity would help me learn more?”
At UMass Lowell, those opportunities included invitations to join the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA), a supportive community for first-year, first-generation college students, and River Hawk Rising, an Office of Multicultural Affairs mentoring program that supports students for all four years.
“I saw River Hawk Rising as more of an opportunity to get to know students inclusively, because it was a smaller group of people. It’s mostly people of color, and I felt very welcome,” she says. “In the RHSA, I saw benefits like scholarship applications, résumé building, lots of activities, and help learning more about campus life and activities.”
Kessie also accepted an invitation to Research, Academic and Mentoring Pathways (RAMP), a six-week, residential summer program before the start of freshman year that helps diverse students succeed in engineering. Through RAMP, she earned six credits, taking an introductory engineering course and Calculus I, while meeting faculty and alumni from the Francis College of Engineering.
“It was good for me because I got a chance to see campus before it got hectic, and it allowed me to help my friends with navigating the campus and with their classes in the fall,” she says.
It also put her a few credits ahead, so that she could declare a business minor in operations and information systems, which could help her move into management someday, she says.
Once Kessie began her first full semester, she joined several clubs: the Association of Students of African Origin, the Black Student Union and the student chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers.
“My parents were born and raised in Ghana, and they came to America to live the American dream and have a better life for me,” she says. “I wanted to learn more about my culture and other African cultures, and also Caribbean culture.”
She got a work-study job in the engineering dean’s office, and found another job with Patrick Drane, assistant director of the Baseball Research Center. And she went through leadership training, too.
Before she was a sophomore, Kessie began “giving back,” passing along her knowledge to incoming students as a summer orientation leader. She became a student ambassador for the Francis College and hopes to be on the executive board her junior year.
Kessie also applied to be a peer leader in the RHSA as a sophomore, at the encouragement of her own peer leader, Kiara Vasquez. Now she’s mentoring first-year students in the RHSA.
“I was very shy – and I still feel shy. I was lacking motivation and lacking the push, but my peer leader helped me do better,” Kessie says. “I thought about how I could help students who may not know a lot about college or who come to college without much direction or help, and help them to find a direction or get out of their comfort zone, like I did.”