Honors nursing major Juana Guerrero came to UMass Lowell because she felt welcome.

“Out of all the schools I visited, UML was the one school that gave me the feeling of belonging,” she says. “It also made me feel that in this school, I will actually become a better version of myself.”

Still, Guerrero was somewhat nervous about starting college. A member of the Honors College, she has never needed academic support, but she’s a first-generation college student who says she’s “a little shy.” She thought she might need help with networking and with navigating college life.

So when she got an email about River Hawk Rising, a four-year support program run by the Office of Multicultural Affairs, she asked to join. 

River Hawk Rising provides individual mentoring to diverse students who took part in college access programs such as GEAR UP, Upward Bound and TRIO at urban public and charter schools. Most are students of color and from low-income families. Nearly all are the first in their families to attend college. 

River Hawk Rising also offers workshops to introduce students to key resources, from the Centers for Learning and Academic Support Services (CLASS), which provides tutoring and advising, to the Career & Co-op Center.  

It provided just the kind of support that Guerrero, a graduate of the Upward Bound program at Lawrence High School, needed.

“Freshman year, they would bring certain people to talk to us, so I got to know them a little bit,” she says. “Afterward, I felt more comfortable going to them and saying, ‘I’m in River Hawk Rising, I saw your presentation and I’m interested in talking to you,’ like when I got help with my résumé from the Career & Co-op Center.”

River Hawk Rising provides more than practical help. Guerrero says it’s given her a diverse group of friends and a knowledgeable mentor she can turn to for advice, Associate Director of Multicultural Affairs Francine Coston.

“A lot of coming to college is struggling to find a group where you fit in, and I feel like River Hawk Rising has given me that,” she says. 

It’s also brought out her inner leader. She joined the Advocates of Tomorrow Living-Learning Community her first year, along with LASA, the Latin American Students Association, both sponsored by Multicultural Affairs. 

Now she’s president of LASA. She’s also a tutor for Multicultural Affairs. In that role, she tutors and creates study guides for first-year health sciences students struggling with the required course in human anatomy and physiology. 

Guerrero also serves as a summer orientation leader and has a weekend job in patient care at Lowell General Hospital. She’s working an extra day each week during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She enjoys being part of the Honors College, especially taking the small, interdisciplinary seminars like A Call to Adventure, a film and literature course on the hero’s journey taught by Honors Visiting Prof. Julian Zabalbeascoa.

The personal attention in both programs has helped Guerrero to become more confident and proactive in searching for the resources she needs to achieve her goals. She plans to become a neonatal nurse.

“It’s helped me to become more of a person who seeks out help when she needs it, instead of being quiet and unsure what to do,” she says.