Marilyn Saha is grateful for the help she got from a nonprofit program that provides low-income students with free SAT prep and college admissions counseling when they’re in high school – and then support in their first year of college.

While she didn’t qualify for the Let’s Get Ready program at Milford High School based on her family income, she still couldn’t afford private SAT prep classes, so the staff allowed her to sit in. At the same time, Saha was volunteering as a peer mentor to younger high school students.

When Saha arrived at UMass Lowell as an electrical engineering major and management minor, those experiences helped her get a job with Let’s Get Ready, helping first-year students here who’d been part of the program at their high schools. Many were the first in their families to attend a four-year college. 

That, in turn, prepared her for a $1,000 Honors College Student Fellowship that paid her to do research for Assoc. Teaching Prof. Matt Hurwitz, director of the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA), a UML program that supports first-year, first-generation college students.

“All the requirements for the fellowship matched up with what I was already doing,” she says.

For the fellowship, Saha compiled information about studies on and programs and resources for first-generation college students. That helped Hurwitz and his team take the River Hawk Scholars Academy from a pilot project to a nationally recognized program.

The research helped Saha, too: Her parents are from Bangladesh and attended universities in the former Soviet Union, so they had no personal experience with the American system of higher education and couldn’t always help her to navigate it.

The project also helped Saha make a closer connection with Hurwitz. Two years later, he advised her on her Honors College capstone project: Humans of the River Hawk Scholars Academy, a website where she profiled first-generation students. She chose it because she wanted to show how resourceful and wonderful first-generation students are – and she was already doing a technical capstone in her major.

“I wanted to show that engineers don’t just have to do technical things to have a positive impact on society,” she says. “Showcasing first-generation students made a difference in another way.”

That also made a difference when it came time for Saha to apply for jobs. She graduated into a job in systems engineering for the missiles and defense engineering unit at Raytheon Technologies. At the same time, she’s completing a master’s degree in engineering management at UML while continuing to mentor students for Let’s Get Ready. 

Thanks to the bachelor’s-to-master’s program, Saha earned 11 credits as an undergraduate toward her master’s degree. That represents a significant financial savings, since she only needs to complete 20 more credits to earn her master’s degree – and Raytheon offers a tuition reimbursement program.

In landing the Raytheon job, Saha says it helped that she had worked at paying summer internships for ICONICS Inc., an automation software company in Foxboro, Mass., and in the IT department at TJX, parent company of T.J.Maxx, HomeGoods, Marshalls, Sierra Trading Post and other off-price retailers. 

It also helped that she had graduated from UMass Lowell, which has an excellent relationship with Raytheon, including joint research teams.

But when Saha applied for the job in January of her senior year, Raytheon’s interviewers seemed more interested in and impressed by her Humans of the River Hawk Scholars Academy project and her work for Let’s Get Ready.

“They really value the things I did outside of the degree,” she says. “They have a volunteer program at the company and a mentoring program, so I think they were interested to see I was already doing that, because that aligns with their core values.”