By the time Leslie Marrero matriculated at UMass Lowell, she knew her way around. 

“I knew from the beginning that I wanted to come to UMass Lowell. I had a bunch of friends from Lawrence High School who came here a year earlier, and they said great things about it,” she says. “So I went on every single UMass Lowell tour – North Campus, South Campus and East Campus. I went three or four times. I just loved being on the campus.”

Marrero entered as a computer science major and joined the UTeach program, an education minor for students majoring in science, math or engineering. She also joined the WISE (Women In Science and Engineering) living-learning community, where she met two of her best college friends.

After one semester, during which she taught math lessons several times at an elementary school in Tewksbury, she decided to switch her major to education, which leads to dual certification in elementary education and teaching students with moderate disabilities. Her two friends switched, too.

“I completely fell in love with teaching. It was an easy transition because I was already in UTeach; I was right on track from the moment I started the program,” she says. “Now I love doing homework. You’re writing a lesson plan for kids and then you get creative with it. It’s fun!”

Now a junior, Marrero has already had a series of different teaching experiences at elementary schools in and around Lowell, including leading small group lessons in science and working in a classroom of English language learners. 

The principals and teachers everywhere she’s been as a student teacher have invited her to apply for a job. She says that’s true for all 17 juniors, who will be the first cohort of students to graduate since the School of Education brought back the undergraduate education major.

“We get really prepared here,” she says. “They’re especially interested in us because we get certified in teaching students with disabilities.”

Marrero has also joined Ambitious Science Educators, a book club for students, principals and science teachers in the area started by Michelle Scribner-MacLean, a clinical professor of science and math education. They read books, discuss them and practice teaching inquiry-based lessons.

“The professors here are so great,” she says. “They have their doors open at all times, and you can talk to them about anything.”

Marrero found part-time work, too, first as an applied behavioral therapist for children with autism spectrum disorder, and then as an afterschool lesson coordinator at Girls Inc. Both jobs provided her with valuable experience as she works toward her goal of becoming a special education teacher and, ultimately, a school leader.

“I want to make changes in schools and create better learning environments for children and teachers,” she says.

As she considers her future, Marrero is reaching out to students at Lawrence High School about applying to the School of Education and UMass Lowell, passing on the encouragement that her older friends gave to her. She was excited to help host a group of Lawrence High students who visited the School of Education as part of a pre-teaching class, Critical Issues in Education.

“I love this program,” she says. “I tell everyone.”