Twisha Mohapatra joined the River Hawk Scholars Academy by chance.
Her first-year roommate had joined, and she told Mohapatra that she would be moving in early to attend a special RHSA orientation that would introduce her to campus resources. She invited Mohapatra to come along – and after attending the first day, Mohapatra signed up, too.
“I got so many tips on time management and goal-setting, like writing each syllabus into a calendar as soon as I got it,” Mohapatra says. “It kept me organized right from the beginning. I have the booklet that the Centers for Learning and Academic Support Services staff gave us in my backpack right now.”
The River Hawk Scholars Academy was a pilot program that year, with admission offered to any first-year student who wanted extra support navigating college. Now it’s a community for first-generation college students – and Mohapatra is an RHSA mentor.
Mohapatra’s father earned an MBA here on a student visa from India. After he got a work permit, Mohapatra and her mother moved to the U.S. to join him. Although she’s not a first-generation college student, Mohapatra says she can empathize with those who are, because her parents didn’t always understand the U.S. education system.
But they did understand one important thing: that UMass Lowell provides an excellent education at an affordable price. So Mohapatra applied to UMass Lowell as a “safety school” without touring the campus.
Her financial aid package convinced her to enroll, sight unseen. When she came to orientation, she fell in love with the university and the people she met.
Then, when she started school, the River Hawk Scholars Academy – especially Asst. Teaching Prof. Matthew Hurwitz, the RHSA director – encouraged her and gave her tools to succeed her first year, including leadership training. She also joined the Honors College her second semester.
“My self-esteem has skyrocketed,” she says. “I’m a leader now. Before, I never thought of myself as a leader.”
She grew even more in her sophomore year, switching her major from psychology to business with a concentration in management. She joined the Manning Women in Business student club and won the job as an RHSA mentor. She’s thrown herself into the work.
“I just wanted to do for other people what Professor Hurwitz did for me,” she says. “That was powerful – helping first-generation students and guiding them through their first year, because it is a difficult year and I could share what I went through.”
Her passion for the job – including getting trained to lead student focus groups so the RHSA can improve next year – led to her being named as the Newman Civic Fellow for UMass Lowell by the Campus Compact for Southern New England.
Mohapatra is also working toward two River Hawk Experience Distinctions – earned by combining classes with practical experience – in leadership and community engagement.
Meantime, the Honors College has helped her to excel in her studies. A $1,200 “Read, Write, Speak and Study” honors student fellowship with Dean Jim Canning requires her to show up at the college at 10 a.m. every Saturday morning, read an assigned book – Shakespeare, Greek philosophy or a modern classic – and study for a solid four hours.
“I realized that I have so many holes in my education that I want to fill. A lot of books I read in high school, I just skimmed through so I could pass the test or write the paper,” she says.
“And when I study for four hours that day, it just sets me up for productivity. Otherwise? Honestly, I’d probably be sleeping.”