Sarah Elizabeth McDermott loves studying history, learning new languages and traveling.
So when UMass Lowell offered her a $4,000 Immersive Scholarship – which can be used to pay for research with faculty, a supervised community volunteer experience, or study abroad – she knew exactly what she wanted to do.
McDermott, a history major from Billerica, Massachusetts, chose to study abroad for three weeks in summer 2019 through an Honors College program: Spanish and Basque Cultural Immersion in San Sebastian, Spain. The students study Spanish every morning and then learn about Basque history, literature, dance and food in the afternoons and evenings.
“It was the best ticket ever when I got that scholarship,” she says. “The San Sebastian trip took my interest in culture and history and my love of travel and combined them into one.”
Although McDermott started out as an education major, she switched to history after one semester. She had taken a Western Civilization class with Lauren Fogle, a visiting lecturer, and loved her teaching style, so she signed up for Fogle’s interdisciplinary honors seminar, Art and the Nazis, the following semester.
She also signed up for classes with Assoc. Prof. Elizabeth Herbin-Triant, who teaches post-Civil War American history and courses on American slavery, the Jim Crow era and the history of the South. McDermott found that she wanted to learn more about the histories of underrepresented groups.
“She challenged me in ways that were really encouraging and inspiring. And having that history background helps me understand all of the social issues that are in the news today,” McDermott says. “The beauty of the history major is that the department is so flexible about what courses you can take. You can target all of your classes toward your interests.”
McDermott, who also has two minors, Italian and Race and Ethnic Studies, takes 20 to 22 credits each semester. She also works at Market Basket and in the university’s Center for Program Evaluation, where she helps with the COOL Science research project on using art to educate students and the public about climate science.
She has also been concertmaster (leader of the first violin section and top-ranked instrumentalist) for the UMass Lowell Orchestra since her first year. And she is the captain of ProtoHype Dance Crew, a contemporary dance club sponsored by Campus Recreation.
“We’re a dance crew that does a lot of hip-hop education, which includes antiracism education, so we’re always looking at, ‘Where did this form of dance originate? What kinds of conversations are occurring in this dance, and what microaggressions might be occurring, and how do we as creators combat that?’” she says.
For her Honors College capstone, McDermott plans to continue a research project she started at the Lawrence History Center as part of a class on archival methods taught by Prof. Christopher Carlsmith. She’s cataloguing inmate records kept by the Essex County Jail during the 1920s, and then she will analyze the database to see how contemporary debates about immigration and race affected the records.
As she finishes her senior year, she’s planning next steps: probably a master’s degree or a Ph.D. program. “I love research,” she says.
McDermott is grateful for the support of her parents and sister, music studies grad Natalia McDermott ’20, as well as all of the scholarships she has received. She has gotten several Honors College Student Fellowships for research with faculty; $1,000 a year from Market Basket; and the Doris Kearns Goodwin and Richard N. Goodwin Endowed Scholarship, which she found through the UML scholarship portal.
Those scholarships are vital to her future, too, she says.
“I came to UMass Lowell because I want to graduate debt-free, so I don’t feel like I need to say ‘No’ to any opportunities that might present themselves after I finish my undergraduate degree,” she says. “UMass Lowell is an affordable school, and it’s a great education.”