At a Glance
Major(s): Graphic Design
Activities: DC-CAP Scholars, Black Student Union
Why UML? "The education was wonderful. I liked the people and the organizations. I liked the fact that I could work on campus and still be a student."
The message on Lisett Córdoba Pren’s mortarboard at Commencement read, “I’m so proud of you, Lisett.”
It’s what she imagines her mom, Nelly Victoria Pren, would have told her had she lived to see her daughter graduate from college.
“She had a really big laugh that made the house very bright, even when it was dark. And she always gave big hugs, which I liked,” Córdoba Pren recalled as she waited to march into the Tsongas Center and accept a bachelor of fine arts degree in graphic design.
Born in Colombia, Córdoba Pren immigrated to the United States with her family when she was 2 years old and was raised by her mom in Washington, D.C. During her senior year of high school, Córdoba Pren won a full scholarship to UMass Lowell through the DC-CAP Scholars Program.
“It was a relief knowing that four years of hard work in high school finally paid off,” says Córdoba Pren, who, as a member of the first-ever cohort of DC-CAP Scholars, was “happy to have a community of people to share this experience with.”
But a month before Córdoba Pren was to depart for UML, her mother died unexpectedly.
“She had a lot of health issues,” Córdoba Pren says. “She took the wrong pill one time and had an accidental overdose and passed away in her sleep.”
Not wanting to leave her three siblings behind, and unsure how she would deal with her grief so far from home, Córdoba Pren thought about giving up her scholarship and postponing college. Ultimately, she decided that the opportunity to earn a degree as a DC-CAP Scholar was too important to let go.
“I felt as if I wouldn't have anyone or I wouldn’t belong because I was going through something I'd never experienced,” she says. “Looking back these past four years, I found out that I was wrong.”
Córdoba Pren immersed herself in her graphic design studies, discovering an interest in magazine and website design. She landed an internship with the University Gallery and helped design the poster and postcard for its 2022 spring BFA show. She also found mentorship from faculty members such as Assoc. Prof. Ingrid Hess and Asst. Teaching Prof. Melissa Schrenker.
“They shaped me as a designer. They helped me be more expressive and free,” Córdoba Pren says.
As a member of the Black Student Union (BSU), she put her skills to use by designing the organization’s posters and social media posts.
“I showed myself that even through dark and tough times, I am able to overcome anything. And I have my DC-CAP family, my BSU family and the UML Art & Design Department to thank for that,” she says. “I never thought that I'd have so much support from others as I did at UML. I was able to open doors and meet new people.”
The newly minted graduate is heading back home to Washington for an internship with the Summer Youth Employment program, where she hopes to make connections for a full-time design job.
“I’m open to a lot of things,” Córdoba Pren said as she prepared to line up with her fellow graduates from the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, adjusting the mortarboard she’d decorated in memory of her mother.
“I feel like, in the end, I made a good decision,” she said. “My mom was proud of me for getting the scholarship, and she always had faith in me that I would achieve as much as I did. I’m glad that I finished.”