Rachel Record grew up in Lowell surrounded by people living through tough situations – situations that troubled her, and that she couldn’t do anything about.

The String Project at UMass Lowell became her refuge, starting when she was 7 years old. As a UMass Lowell student herself, she played second principal violin in the university orchestra and taught other children in the String Project. It was a place of healing for them – and for her.

“I grew up on this campus. I love it here,” says Record, an Honors College student. “I continue to teach because I work with kids who are growing up around drugs and crime or in bad family situations, and the fact that they can do something, they can set their goals and achieve them, is so important. It helps them see that they can determine their own future.”

That’s just what it taught Record, who majored in criminal justice and minored in legal studies and Spanish. Her choice of major also grew out of her childhood experiences and her desire to have an impact, especially on rehabilitation and services for people involved in the criminal justice system.

“Growing up, I remember seeing people I knew and cared about getting arrested, sometimes for things they didn’t do,” she says. “Most people who go into the prison system are coming back. We have a responsibility as a society to help them rehabilitate themselves.”

Record says her studies have deepened her understanding of criminal justice policy and practice. She has high praise for the faculty, including full-time professors doing cutting-edge research and adjuncts who are working professionals, such as Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian, who taught her Introduction to Corrections class.

“To study that with someone who works in it every day is amazing,” she says.

Thanks to a $1,000 Honors College Student Fellowship, Record did research with Asst. Prof. Jill Portnoy on the relationship between resting heart rate and different types of aggression that can lead to crime. The research became her honors capstone.

Meanwhile, she took her first legal studies class, Honors Introduction to Legal Concepts, with Assoc. Teaching Prof. Walter Toomey, director of the Legal Studies Program – and immediately set her sights on law school. 

Record later completed a practicum with Toomey that gave her the kind of hands-on experience students don’t usually get until they get to law school. Toomey offered to represent a client for free, as long as Record could participate. Record read the laws applying to the client’s case and did extensive research on similar cases. They won.

“It was great to know we could have an impact,” she says. “The system misread her situation, and we were able to correct that.”

With guidance and mentoring from Toomey, Record has accepted a full scholarship to attend Suffolk University School of Law in Boston, where she will study criminal law with a goal of becoming either a defense attorney or a prosecutor. She sees it as another way to help people and even influence policy by advocating for services and alternatives to incarceration.

Record was selected as the student Commencement speaker for 2020’s virtual ceremony, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She sought the podium so that she could honor the work ethic and resiliency of her classmates – and talk about what it means to be a River Hawk.

“My speech highlights some of the amazing work that’s been done by our students,” she says. “We’re setting an example through hard work and a passion for what we do, knowing that how we do something is just as important as what we do.”