New Program Helps First-Gen Students Find Career Paths

For first-generation college student Jamilet Amoguea, the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA) has helped her navigate her first two years at UMass Lowell.

Now that Amoguea is a junior, her focus has shifted from figuring out college life to preparing for a future career.

“I know I wanted to attend UMass Lowell, and I know I want to do something with psychology, but I’m still a little lost about what I’m doing in the future,” says the psychology major from Revere, Massachusetts.

To help Amoguea and others like her find their way, the RHSA has launched a Pathways to Career pilot program. While the nationally recognized RHSA program is geared towards freshmen and sophomores, it is expanding to provide career and graduate school readiness programming for juniors and seniors, thanks to $500,000 in federal funding.

“I was happy to see it being offered. It’s especially helpful for first-generation college students, because a lot of things are new for us,” Amoguea says of the yearlong program. “I feel like there’s a lot of pressure put on college students to have everything mapped out in their first or second year. This will help me try to figure out where I’m going from here.”

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Computer science major Arthur Rosa is one of 26 juniors taking part in the RHSA’s new Pathways to Career program.

Managed by Assoc. Director of Career Services Serwa Addae-Adoo, the Pathways to Career program provides the first cohort of 26 juniors with a structured plan for the academic year. Students are required to participate in several activities and programs hosted by the Career and Co-op Center, such as interviewing and résumé workshops, networking nights and the Dine & Dress event. Students are also required to attend either the fall or spring career fair, as well as conduct career-related interviews with three people from the UML community.

“Every year, the needs of each college cohort are different,” Addae-Adoo says. “By junior year, they understand the ins and outs of college, and now they’re thinking, ‘Oh, I need to get an internship and do something with my career.’ That’s why we’re here — to support them in a variety of ways.”

Addae-Adoo began developing the program last spring with RHSA Director Matthew Hurwitz and Carol Towle ’22, coordinator of college-based advising in the Manning School of Business. Towle earned an M.Ed. in Higher Education Administration from UML last spring, with her thesis on “intrusive advising,” which involves proactive intervention with students.

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Junior business administration major Stella Cortese talks with fellow members of her Pathways to Career cohort.

Arthur Rosa, a computer science major from Everett, Massachusetts, says he signed up for the program to keep himself on track for finding a career that will allow him to help people.

Being part of a cohort of first-generation students “helps drive me forward due to the support of my peers,” he says. “Seeing my peers from all different backgrounds strive for their career, even if it’s tough, inspires me to do the same.”

Yaritza Gil-Javier, a criminal justice major from Lawrence, Massachusetts, signed up as soon as she saw the email from RHSA.

“I’ve struggled with what I want to do with my career,” says Gil-Javier, who explored options in forensics and law enforcement before discovering an interest in homeland security through her coursework.

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Junior biology major Naisha Sterling, left, talks with a fellow Pathways to Career cohort member at their kickoff meeting.

“This program is definitely going to help me decide what I want to do with homeland security,” she says. “Hopefully, I can network and make new connections.”

Addae-Adoo says many first-generation students face barriers in starting their careers, such as a lack of connections, that she hopes the program can address.

“We’re very excited to have our first cohort,” she says. “We hope the numbers increase next year and we can support even more students.”

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