Exercise science major Vincent Ciaramella ’21 found a supportive community at UMass Lowell, even though he was a transfer student who commuted from his family’s home in Salisbury, Massachusetts.
He credits both his professors and the other students he met in the program.
“I always felt like we had a lot of camaraderie,” he says of his classmates. “We weren’t competing with each other: We helped each other out.”
Ciaramella began college as a criminal justice major at Salem State University, intending to become a police officer. After two years, he decided he would prefer a career in which he could help people through prevention, instead of after they got involved with criminal justice system.
Ciaramella, who had worked with an enthusiastic physical therapist after suffering a shoulder injury during a high school wrestling tournament, “enjoyed” being a patient – and what he learned through the experience. He also thought the therapist’s job seemed rewarding.
A friend who was an occupational therapist suggested that he check out the physical therapist assistant program at North Shore Community College. He did, and spent the next two years there: three semesters of intensive academic study followed by a semester of clinical experience.
Ciaramella found that he enjoyed taking care of patients ages 9 to 90 with a variety of injuries and chronic conditions. He also learned how important it was to take care of himself, and not take his youthful athleticism for granted, he says.
“It was really humbling. It changed my mindset to realize that I need to take care of my mental and physical health to maximize my well-being,” he says. “This was the extra spark that made me realize I wanted to promote health and help people, and for me, this was the best way to do it.”
His clinical experiences led to a full-time job at Partners in Rehab and some weekend shift work at Whittier Rehabilitation Hospital. He worked for three years and then reached “a fork in the road:” His student debts paid off, he faced a decision between continuing his education while living at home or remaining a physical therapist assistant and getting his own apartment.
He chose to resume his studies as an exercise science major at UMass Lowell, with the option to continue in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program if he could win admission. He says he was encouraged by a co-worker and UML alumna who spoke highly of the university’s program. The affordable in-state tuition and a $2,500 annual scholarship for transfer students sealed the deal.
Ciaramella says he knew he’d made the right decision when he began his studies, because his professors encouraged both excellence and collaboration.
“My professors were really passionate and enthusiastic about the material, and they really wanted their students to succeed,” he says.
Ciaramella also sought out extracurricular ways to connect with other students, including playing ball on the South Campus quad whenever the weather and his studies allowed. He got involved with Sigma Tau, the honor society for transfer students. And he finally moved to campus as a resident advisor in Fox Hall, beginning in January 2020 – only to move home again over spring break due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his final undergraduate semester, he interned with a nonprofit, Access Sport America. Normally, he would have worked in the gait clinic, assisting people with physical and intellectual disabilities with equipment to help them walk. Due to COVID-19, he led virtual workouts over Zoom instead, mostly for students with disabilities in the Boston public schools.
“I was really proud to be part of that organization,” he says.
Ciaramella also was accepted into the Doctor of Physical Therapy program, which starts in May. Although he applied to several private universities, too, he will most likely attend UMass Lowell – at half the cost. He says he’d be happy to continue on with many of his UML friends and professors.
“That community feel is where UMass Lowell really stands out,” he says.