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Little-known program, River Hawk Experience Distinction, offers students service-learning opportunity

Nicholas DeBella 
Connector Contributor 

The River Hawk Experience Distinction (RHED), a community involvement program, offers the opportunity for UMass Lowell students to earn a special stamp on their diploma, stating they have been involved in two courses participating in community engagement and two volunteer experiences.

Although the program is two years old, information about RHED is not reaching UMass Lowell students, which the program’s organizer hopes to change. Originally, a few emails were sent out when the program was released. However, students missed them, and there were no follow-up attempts.

Some students say they find community involvement appealing, and would be interested, but they do not know how to get involved.

“I think I would be interested in it,” said Sydney Lee, a sophomore English major. “I wish they would send us emails about it, so we know about it.”

Students say they need this information ahead of time and in a manner that makes accessing information about the program easy. Advertising through emails is enough for some students.

“Yeah, a mass email… if I knew about it earlier…” said junior Daniela Aguilar, who has had past volunteering experiences.

Some students say they want the information, no matter the method.

“I think I need more information before I would sign up,” said political science student Farris Albanaa. “I think an email would be good for me personally.” Farris has campaigned for Lowell political candidates and recommends that students take advantage of community involvement opportunities.

However, some professors said that e-mail has failed as a communication method.

“The word on the street [amongst faculty] is students don’t read their emails from us and the university,” said associate professor Dr. Kevin Petersen. “I think it’s a good idea to do more direct contact.”

With students already involved in service opportunities, signing up for the River Hawk Experience Distinction would seem like an easy choice.

However, there is a catch.

“Students have to write reflections on how they felt about their experience,” said Vanessa Farzner, the program manager for RHED. She said the amount of time required by the program involved with volunteering is a large factor for finishing the requirements before graduation. She wants to make sure students take advantage of the program early, to get the most out of it.

“The idea of the program is to take the course, or do the experience, because you want the RHED distinction,” Farzner said. “If you do it intentionally, then you are going to get more out of it.”

Those behind the RHED say they are committed to making students more aware of the program.

“We plan to visit classes that are already tagged in SIS as being within the program and say they can earn this distinction,” Farzner said. “From there we plan to provide new emails and swag at various events.”

Farzner said the key would be to focus on freshman and sophomores who have time to complete a program like this before they graduate.


Edit: This article originally went to print on Dec. 10 with the wrong reporter credited. Nicholas DeBella is the only reporter who worked on this article and should have been credited. We deeply apologize for the error.

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