As a captain of campus tour guides, Patrice Olivar just might be UMass Lowell’s No. 1 booster.
The exercise physiology and psychology major wasn’t a big fan at first.
“My mom dragged me to take a tour of UMass Lowell,” Olivar says. “At orientation, I was a brat. I didn’t really participate.”
But her orientation leader reached out to her and made her feel welcome. Within a week of starting classes and beginning to make friends, Olivar’s attitude had shifted 180 degrees. In fact, she became so enthusiastic about the university that she went to the Admissions Office to apply to become a tour guide. 
Now she tells visiting high school students and their parents that UMass Lowell is no lackluster “safety school”: It’s a fantastic and growing campus where students can take charge of their own education.
“Here, the world is in your hands. The university is the perfect setting for you to make it your own,” Olivar says.
Olivar came for the university’s strong exercise physiology and physical therapy programs, and then fell in love with psychology. She decided to double-major, and this year – her last – she became one of the first students in the brand-new health psychology concentration.
“Now I want to combine them and go beyond just learning about the body and just learning about the mind,” she says.
Students in the health psychology concentration must complete a year-long practicum. Olivar is doing hers at Summit ElderCare in Lowell, which provides “wraparound” services to elderly clients so they can stay in the community and out of nursing homes. She is learning about the different services and how the health care team comes up with an individualized plan for each patient.
Olivar is also doing a second practicum for exercise physiology at Supportive Living, a nonprofit that runs residential facilities for brain injury patients. Olivar works one-on-one on fitness with patients at the Lexington location.
She has also taken advantage of undergraduate research experiences. As an Emerging Scholar her junior year, she helped Assoc. Prof. of Education Judith Davidson and graduate student Christina Whittlesey look at how first-year students make the transition to college. They presented the study results at the New England Educational Research Organization conference last spring.
She also won an Honors College research fellowship to work with Assoc. Prof. of Psychology Doreen Arcus on the interpersonal dynamics between younger children with autism spectrum disorder and their older, typically developing siblings.
Olivar plans to go on to graduate school, but she’s having a hard time deciding whether to pursue clinical health psychology or one of three UML bachelor’s-to-master’s programs: community social psychology, public health or a Master of Public Administration degree with a concentration in health and human services.
She started out by thinking the university would train her for a single job, but it has opened lots of doors.
“I’ve been very fortunate with my practicum sites and all UMass Lowell has to offer,” Olivar says. “I was able to combine exercise physiology and psychology, and I’ve got research experience and practicum experience. It’s all about what you make of your education.”