As a member of his high school wrestling team, Jeremy Duford struggled to build muscle while keeping his weight down for competitions.  
He knew that his food choices were terrible, so he decided to read everything he could about nutrition and fitness. 
He began making better dietary choices, subbing Greek yogurt for ice cream and tuna fish for starchy and fried foods. He began working out more, too. Over the next year, he put on 15 pounds of muscle, and he started to feel great. 
“Nutrition got me out of a big rut in my life. I’m stronger and faster, both mentally and physically,” he says. “I feel better every day now. I have a lot more energy.” 
When it came time to apply to colleges, Duford, who grew up in Salisbury, Massachusetts, decided to study nutritional science so that he could help others figure out how to improve their health, too.
Duford’s sister, Kylie ’19, recommended UMass Lowell as a good environment. Duford loves to study, and he had excellent grades in high school. He also took AP and dual-enrollment classes that gained him a semester of college credit. But his social style is low-key and “go with the flow,” he says. When he toured UML’s campus, he decided his sister was right: UMass Lowell was a good fit. 
“Lowell is the perfect size, where I can recognize all the faces of the kids my age. Lowell is a nice little community,” he says.
Another attraction was the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA), a support program for first-year, first-generation college students. The RHSA offers priority course enrollment, extra advising, peer mentoring, leadership training – and even special sections of College Writing I and II. They have a special Welcome Day and events that introduce them to campus resources, such as peer tutoring and Career Services.
He describes the RHSA as a “bridge into college.”
“RHSA was sweet!” says Duford, who was named an RHSA Student of the Month in December of his first year. “I really had no idea what to expect going into college. As most students were, I was nervous. I didn’t know the campus; I didn’t know what to expect from college courses; I didn’t know who to go to for what. 
“But the RHSA provided a solution to every single thing. You’re nervous about making friends? Bada-bing! RHSA orientation, RHSA events. You’re nervous about classes? Bada-bing! Talk to your RHSA advisor. There are no bumps. It’s not an uphill battle. It’s just a bridge.”
He also made great friends through the program and in the RHSA section of College Writing I.
“The group of people I met at RHSA orientation, I still talk to them nearly every day. The kids in the RHSA are so down to earth,” he says.
Now a junior, Duford loves learning more about nutrition and human physiology. For the future, he hasn’t yet decided whether to pursue a master’s degree in dietetics or pharmaceutical science. He enjoys research, too, so he’s keeping his options open.
In the meantime, though, he’s setting a good example for his friends, many of them former high school athletes, and educating them about fitness and healthy food choices.
“I’ve influenced a lot of my friends to have a healthier lifestyle,” he says. “They’re a lot more into it now because they’re not playing sports, and they need to manage their weight, like adults.”