When Janelle Christopher began applying to colleges, her mom applied, too.
Christopher had her heart set on a state school in New Hampshire – and then her grandmother insisted that the family visit UMass Lowell. To her surprise, Christopher fell in love at first sight. Her mom decided to come here, as well.
“The second I stepped on the campus, I knew it was the place I wanted to be. I got everything I wanted in a place that reminds me of home,” Christopher says.
Home is Everett, Massachusetts, where Christopher studied in the Allied Health Academy at Everett High School. She was accepted into UML’s nursing program and the Honors College.
Her mom, Lorraine, who had previously earned an associate degree from Bunker Hill Community College, works as an adjuster for worker’s compensation claims, so she opted for a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree with concentrations in legal studies and disability studies.
Daughter and mother started college together – Janelle on campus and her mom online – and Lorraine completed her degree in December 2020.
“It was super-neat to be on the exact same track. We were both first-gen college students at the same time,” Christopher says.
Not long before starting college in fall 2018, Janelle changed her major to education. Later, she added a minor in English. She says she was inspired by her favorite high school English teacher.
“I loved his teaching and the way he was able to relate English to life,” she says. “I wanted to interact with students the way he does, one on one, helping them find their own path. I want to be that teacher who makes them look forward to coming to school.”
As a first-year student, Christopher lived on campus in the iTeach Living-Learning Community for education students. She also joined the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA), a supportive community for first-year, first-generation college students. Her RHSA peer leader and her roommate both “held me accountable” for studying hard – as did her mom.
“She knew my schedule better than I did, so she’d say, ‘Hey, you have a paper due tomorrow,’” Christopher says.
Christopher appreciated her RHSA peer leader’s help so much that she decided to become one her-self. She also works in the Admissions Office, babysits a lot and has a part-time job as a receptionist.
Yet she still finds time for student activities, especially SEAM – the Student Education Association of Massachusetts – and Phi Sigma Rho, a sorority that focuses on community service in Lowell and the surrounding area.
“We really focus on empowering each other, pushing each other up, because in the world we live in today, we definitely need more of that, especially for women,” Christopher says. “Before I came to college, I said, ‘I’m never going to join a sorority!’ And now I’m on the executive board.”
She’s also the first education major to be inducted into the UMass Lowell chapter of Tri-Alpha, a national honor society for first-generation students that’s new to campus. That gave her an idea – an educational idea.
“I’m trying to figure out how I can get an education honor society started. I just think it’s important to show students that they’re doing something right,” she says. “That’s what Tri-Alpha did for me. It kept me motivated and on track. It came at a time to help me continue my growth and see what I’m capable of.”