From IACS to Success at UMass Lowell

With a wide variety of courses of study, strong financial aid and scholarships, and a campus close to home, the University of Massachusetts Lowell is a natural choice for many IACS alumni. Nonetheless, the shift from IACS, where students can be counted on to know pretty much everyone by the time they graduate, to a school with a total enrollment of nearly 17,000 students, can be a daunting one.

However, IACS alumni at UMass Lowell say that a number of factors make the University feel smaller.

“I was nervous it would be huge,” explained Kandace Boutin ‘11, “but having two campuses makes it smaller. On the North campus we have business, engineering, and biology, and there is a dedicated area for the business school, which helps.”

Boutin, who studies business, quickly found she got to know the same corps of students in her classes. Other students in other departments agreed that once you got to know your major, you found yourself interacting with the same group of professors and students from semester to semester. Both on and off campus students felt comfortable socially, with many maintaining strong connections from IACS into college. “I basically have the same friends I did in high school,” said Ian McGaunn ‘12, who studies computer science at UMass Lowell.

Elaini Maeder and Brianna Mai, '12, settling into UMass Lowell during their first year on campus.

Elaini Maeder and Brianna Mai, ’12, settling into UMass Lowell during their first year on campus.

For students in the honors program, class sizes at UMass Lowell can be even smaller than at IACS. “In the honors program, they limit classes to 18,” explained McGaunn, “and I’ve had classes with 7 people.” The large size of the university, combined with small class sizes, can give students the best of both worlds. “The size of the school helps you,” says McGaunn. “It means there are more students who you can ask questions, and there are student‑run tutoring centers where you can go if you’re having trouble.”

McGaunn himself tutored the UMass Lowell hockey team in calculus this past semester, while also working at an internship for a local tech company, and carrying a load of advanced computer science and math coursework.

Academic Preparation

Teachers at IACS often wonder whether students used to a project‑based approach will face culture shock when they show up for undergraduate courses at large institutions like UMass Lowell.

And indeed, the first year at college, when students must meet general education requirements, can be the hardest. “There were a lot of tests,” said Boutin. “I wouldn’t do terribly, but it was definitely a struggle.”

Brian McFeeley ‘12, who is in the nursing program at UMass Lowell, agreed that his first semester was a challenge.

“The best thing I got from IACS was learning to associate with teachers and learning they’re human and you can talk to them.”
Brian McFeeley ‘12

In his case, Anatomy and Physiology, with its focus on content, was the hardest course. Though he struggled initially, he found that his comfort approaching teachers helped him.

“The best thing I got from IACS was learning to associate with teachers and learning they’re human and you can talk to them,” said McFeeley. After struggling on his first tests, McFeeley made his way to office hours to review his work with the professor and get pointers on how to better study. “Teachers tend to teach better when it’s one‑on‑one or when it’s smaller sections,” said McFeeley, noting that many of his peers in college were reluctant to approach professors for help.

By the time he was through his first semester, McFeeley felt he had learned how to study effectively, and it was “smooth sailing from there.” Furthermore, study sessions helped him bond with his cadre of nursing students.

If IACS students face a steeper learning curve than most when it comes to high stakes tests, which they have little experience with in high school, college writing is another story altogether. Writing was a strength highlighted by every alum I spoke to.

“I was very prepared,” said Boutin. “In English, I noticed right off the bat that I felt ahead of the other students. Sharing a quote and analyzing was something I’d been doing since I was 14, but my professors were impressed.”

“College writing was my best course,” said Maeder ‘12. “My professors said I should be an English major.” (Maeder is studying marketing).

McFeeley noted that it could be a shock when peer‑editing in college to realize just how far behind other students were compared to his IACS peers when it came to writing.

Even McGaunn, with a Computer Science major, stressed the value of his preparation in English at IACS. “At IACS, they teach you how to read and analyze well, which is a large part of any college class,” said McGaunn.

And once students move onto more advanced courses in college, with more projects and presentations, their high school preparation becomes a more pronounced advantage.

“I see other kids afraid to talk in front of 20 classmates and I know with all the presentations I did in high school, I could get up in front of 300 people and feel comfortable” Kandace Boutin ‘11

As Ian McGaunn explained, in engineering and computer science, most courses are project‑based. “I haven’t bought a textbook in over a year,” he commented.

“In the business school, we do presentations all the time,” explained Boutin. “It’s not just formal presentations, but informal ones as well. I see other kids afraid to talk in front of 20 classmates, and I know that with all the presentations I did in high school, I could get up in front of 300 people and feel comfortable.”

Boutin recalled an embarrassing moments a class on management during her Junior year. She was halfway through presenting a group project on better business practices when her professor interrupted her to point out to the class what a good job she was doing.

McGaunn agreed that presentations were important. “In college,” he explained, “presentations are often a huge deal, 30% of your grade or more, and everyone is scared of them. But to me they felt natural. Since middle school, we’ve had to constantly do presentations as part of projects, we’ve had quality nights, presentations of learning, and senior project presentations. There was really no class without a presentation in my whole academic career at IACS, even in Math.”

Rikin Patel, ‘12, who is studying business, agreed that IACS had prepared him well for college. “Presenting projects would make everyone else in the class nervous, but it felt natural to me,” Patel explained. “I knew from Senior Projects and Presentations of Learning, you learn to make eye contact with the professor and the students, and not to feel nervous.”

Balancing Work and Study

Most IACS alumni I spoke to at UMass Lowell are balancing work and internship responsibilities in addition to carrying a full courseload.

“IACS prepared me to juggle a lot of things at once. For presentations and papers, I was prepared.” Elaini Maeder ‘12

“The more I think back to high school, the more I ask: why did I stress out about that?,” said Elaini Maeder ‘12. “IACS prepared me to juggle a lot of things at once. For presentations and papers, I was prepared.”

Maeder now juggles 2 paid jobs and 2 internships along with a full load of classes, a load she was prepared for by balancing a senior project and internship with her studies during her senior year at IACS. Though it seems like a lot, Maeder clearly enjoys her work, which includes acting as a tour guide at UMass Lowell and managing the men’s basketball team.

Brian McFeeley, who is now balancing shifts doing his clinicals with his coursework, agreed that IACS prepared him to balance the load at college. “When it comes to balancing study and life,” he said, “there is definitely more life than study.” But he noted that “after my senior project [at IACS], I felt like if I could handle that, I could handle anything. I think that helped with nursing because a lot of people have a hard time dealing with the stress, but I feel like I came out of IACS with my time management skills far ahead of my peers in my class.”

Kandace Boutin ‘11 also balances a heavy courseload with work and internship responsibilities. Boutin take 5 or 6 courses each semester while also managing an internship for 3 full work days at Puma, where Boutin manages the company’s lifestyle marketing and handles collaborations with artists and designers.

Part of what Boutin likes about UMass Lowell is connecting with other students who balance earning an income, building a set of professional connections through internships, and taking a full courseload. With her extensive work experience, a network of connections, and strong writing and presentation skills, Boutin is confident about her prospects in the job market when she graduates this Spring.∎