Neil Oliveria was at his oldest granddaughter’s high school graduation three years ago when he had an epiphany.
He watched as an elderly teacher, a man in his 80s, handed an award to a student, and he thought: “That could be me!”
That summer, Oliveria applied as a transfer student to UMass Lowell. Now 65 and a grandfather of five, he’s completing his B.A. in history while starting on his master’s in education through the “fast track” bachelor’s-to-master’s program. He expects to finish his M.Ed. in curriculum and instruction in December 2019 and start teaching high school history in 2020.
“I love being here,” Oliveria says. “Coming to UMass Lowell is the best decision I’ve made in the past 20 years. Every professor I’ve had in history is awesome.”
Oliveria graduated from high school in 1971 and went first to Fitchburg State College, then Northern Essex Community College. He was working part-time at Star Market, too, and he fell in love with a co-worker. So after finishing his two-year degree, he got a job as a technical writer at Raytheon.
“Back then, you didn’t need a four-year degree to get a good job,” he says. “I just wanted to get married to Linda, get a job, buy a house and have kids.”
He did all of that, and moved from Raytheon to a small, well-regarded educational publishing firm, where he wrote, edited and handled preproduction for books that K-8 schools used as supplemental reading. When the company was acquired in 2007, everyone but the warehouse staff got laid off.
Oliveria found a job in advertising, but was laid off again as the recession deepened in 2009. He lost his retirement savings before finally getting another job as a limousine driver. Now he drives at night, mostly to Logan Airport and back, and studies during the day. He also managed to volunteer at Butler School last spring, helping kids with their homework.
“I’m never going to retire,” he says. “This is really exciting for me, though, because I love history and I love teaching. Now I’ve had the chance to decide what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
He’s done extremely well in his classes, earning a 3.9 GPA in history and a 4.0 in his English minor. He’s president of the history honors society, Phi Alpha Theta, and counts last year’s president, Kady Phelps ’17, ’18 – the first in the new history master’s program to defend her thesis – among his closest friends on campus. He’s also great friends with Lexi Mason ’18, another history grad who’s going on for her M.Ed. while working for the university’s Centers for Learning and Academic Support Services.
“It’s nice having young people you can talk to – and they’re both smart as a whip,” he says.
Through the fast-track program, Oliveria has already taken two graduate courses in education that count toward his undergraduate degree, too. He’s finishing up strong, taking two graduate history courses, two 4000-level English classes – one online – and an honors seminar, “Europe in the Middle Ages,” in his final semester.
“I took ridiculously hard courses this semester because it’s my last chance to take them,” he says. “My whole thing is to learn as much as I can while I’m here.”