Support Our Students (SOS): Tackling Food Insecurity at UMass Lowell

SOS blog (2)

By Mallory Stamp and Andrew Hostetler

“This issue [hunger on campus] needs to be solved, to make sure everyone is sufficiently well-fed” – Teresa Shroll.

Support Our Students (SOS) is a nonprofit organization that focuses on issues of hunger and food security in the UMass Lowell Community. The cofounders of this organization are three Community Social Psychology students: Mary Tauras ’15, Teresa Shroll ’15, and Sadie Prickett ’15. The idea for SOS was initially inspired by their faculty adviser, Khanh Dinh, when she introduced them to programs in Europe, where food products are sold at lower costs for community members in need. Mary, Teresa, and Sadie wanted to do a similar program locally, but realized Lowell already had a local food bank and other programs. Prof. Dinh informed them about the DifferenceMaker program, a competitive program through which they could learn entrepreneurial skills by participating in workshops and various events. Their participation in this program, for which they took the top prize, changed their vision, and they shifted their focus to feeding students on the UMass Lowell campus.

The CSP team recruited students from other programs and majors, including psychology (undergraduates), business, nutrition, and computer science. SOS credits its success in large part to the diversity of its team. On both North and South Campus, SOS has worked to bring awareness about food insecurity to the UMass Lowell community, including through game nights, “Hawk Talk: Eat This Not That,” 15 minute class presentations, tabling for donations, and the First Annual SOS Oatmeal Challenge.

To ensure the continuing success of the organization, the cofounders have collaborated with over 30 campus and community organizations. Since implementing their program in September, over 1000 students have donated meals and a total of 40 students have been provided meals. Mary, Teresa, Sadie, and team are happy with what the organization has achieved thus far, but feel there is a lot of more work to be done, and they see SOS as a work in progress.

What is the PGSO and Why Should Students Get Involved?

Getting involved in the Psychology Graduate Student Organization (PGSO) is an enriching opportunity for first and second year students to engage with one another, take ownership of their program (Autism Studies and Community Social Psychology) and their department. Students engaged in the PGSO can make connections with the larger campus community and other graduate students, and plan and help run events reflective of collective needs and interests. It is a great option if you have ideas but are not sure where to suggest them or if you want to step into a leadership role and build community in the department, on campus and beyond. This article is meant to share the value of the PGSO and ask students to consider how it can develop in future semesters to be a stronger and more utilized resource for students.

So what does the PGSO do? What can we do?
Previous years members have organized fundraisers for local charities, socials, discussion forums, and have supported other initiatives to educate or raise awareness about a particular social issue. The PGSO is our forum to engage with our community and collectively give back. Some ideas our current executive board has talked about have included screening documentaries, participating in the Relay for Life walk, creating a self-care workshop for students, identifying and acquiring additional resources to support strong and innovative academic work, and helping our faculty organize and manage the logistics involved with the biennial SCRA conference this June. Often such events are designed by and intended for students, which means the more students engaged in the process the better.

Our graduate programs are designed to help us identify needs and be of service to constituents, often through the act of allyship and advocacy. The PGSO can be one vehicle where students can promote and share ideas or action steps they believe should be disseminated to the wider community. It can also be utilized as a space to learn about fellow student’s work, to support and motivate one another, and to share research and other resources.

We asked the current executive team of the PGSO why they joined, why they think it’s important that students get involved, and how the PGSO can help serve the UMass Lowell community and the community at large. Here were some of their answers:

Charlotte Wilinsky, CSP, Secretary of PGSO, 2014-2015.
I joined the PGSO because it seemed like a great opportunity to become more involved in the graduate program. The PGSO has so much potential to connect students and faculty, and our graduate programs with other parts of the campus and community, and I liked the idea that as a group we could develop these areas even more.

Kaitlin Stoll, CSP, Vice-President of the PGSO, 2014-2015.
I think it’s important for students to get involved because they can help make their graduate experience better. By being a part of the PGSO you are able to have your voice heard. It’s also an added bonus that you get to know your peers on a more intimate level.

Liz Ejaife, CSP. President of the PGSO, 2014-2015. I joined PGSO because I wanted to be more involved in my program and get to know my fellow CSP and ASP students. I think it is important that students get involved with PGSO because for the next 2 years, we are going to be learning and sharing experiences with each other so forming a stronger bond can help enrich that experience.

Graduates in Psychology have many skills and a great deal to share. By coming together we continue to grow and learn from one another and give back to the larger community. By doing so, we take advantage of all our chosen program has to offer.

The PGSO will continue to meet throughout the this hectic and snowy semester and we sincerely hope to see you there!
Feel free to email the President, Liz Ejaife, with any questions or suggestions.

Onward and outward!
Mary Tauras, CSP.
Treasurer and Senator of the PGSO, 2014-2015.

Strengthening Relationships with the Community

One distinctive feature of CSP is that it engages with the community around us. Much of our program involves not just studying communities in the abstract, but interacting with and learning directly from Lowell’s community leaders and members.

We are fortunate that the Lowell community gives us such excellent opportunities to do so. These opportunities are found through papers or projects in most CSP courses, through theses, and of course through Practicum.Another opportunity comes from interactions we have with community members within our regular classes. A good example of that comes from the Advanced Community Dynamics class this semester, which focuses on learning about community life in practice, using Lowell as an extended case example.

In this ACD class, students selected topics they wanted to learn more about: Food, Women, Youth, Media, and Parks and Recreation were the top vote-getters. Student teams then took the lead in bringing in small groups of community representatives to talk about that topic with the full class. Thanks to the outstanding enterprise and resourcefulness of our students, we’ve had the chance to meet and learn from a particularly impressive variety of guests, including directors or senior managers from the Lowell Plan, Merrimack Valley Food Bank, Boys and Girls Club, Girls, Inc., YMCA, Teen Block program, Massachusetts Association of Portuguese Speakers, UMass/Lowell Food Services, Lowell National Historical Park, Lowell Parks and Conservation Commission, and the Lowell Folk Festival, as well as the Editor of theLowell Sun, the Owner and Editor of theKhmer Post, the owners of WCAP radio and of a popular downtown sweet shop, and Lowell’s Director of Community Development.

A related class event is a city-wide forum scheduled for late April, designed to bring together a larger group of community leaders to talk about ideas for Lowell’s future and how they could be put into practice. All are invited to this meeting, which will be held on Tuesday, April 22 from 3:30 ‘ 5:00 p.m. in HSSB 120.

Through these community discussions, we develop closer relationships with our community leaders. These we think benefit not only our students, but the community as well. A basic community psychology principle is that open dialogue tends to foster mutual understanding, appreciation, and trust; this in turn stimulates new ideas, and sometimes new collaborations that can help everyone.

There’s plenty of room for more such dialogue occasions; it’s possible for CSP to take the lead in organizing them. We could plan regular community dialogues on different topics. We could host a community speaker series.We could hold an annual open house. An added advantage here for us is that such visibility also attracts students to our program. And more than that: Since many CSP students go on to work in the Greater Lowell community after graduation, this leads to our having an ongoing network of community contacts in the City and throughout the Merrimack Valley.

Of course, another major opportunity to interact with the community will be our hosting of a national community conference (the SCRA Biennial) in June, 2015, when community psychologists from across the U.S. and beyond will visit our community and our program, and hopefully share ideas and experiences with community members while they are here, so that we can all learn together.

Developing relationships with the community helps everyone. And that’s been a goal of CSP since its beginning ‘ to join with our community members in building better communities, and to help strengthen community life by being resources and supports for one another.

~~ Bill Berkowitz

Building a More Parent-Friendly Campus


In the Fall of 2012, I had the unfortunate experience of finding myself crouched in the corner of a bathroom in Mahoney Hall, trying to maintain some level of privacy, while I pumped breastmilk as quickly as possible during a class break. While I was tucked under the sink, I thought to myself, ‘No one should ever have to use this as a last resort.’ The moment inspired me to look more closely at the experience of parenting students, both at UML and more broadly.

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that 50% of nontraditional undergraduates (which themselves make up 56% of the entire population of college students) are either parenting or currently pregnant. Parenting students have doubled their enrollment in 4-year universities over the last 20 years.

Unsurprisingly, enrollment is not evenly distributed between mothers and fathers. Significantly more single mothers are enrolling compared to single fathers (17% of all undergraduates compared to 8% respectively), a phenomenon that intersects with other issues, like socioeconomics and race. Women with dependent children represent the largest poverty sector in the US. Almost 60% of low-income women students are single mothers. Increasingly, parents, particularly single mothers, are seeking four-year degrees rather than two-year degrees, especially in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts in 2005, an associate’s degree netted an additional $8,154 of income; a bachelor’s degree resulted in an additional $18,346 per year. This earnings gap is particularly critical in Massachusetts, where the estimated required annual income to support two dependent children is $65,880.

But in the absence of proactive University policies to support parenting students, they have some of the poorest academic outcomes; 60% of parenting students will withdraw before graduation according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That’s almost double the non-parenting student withdrawal rate. Average 6-year graduation rates for all undergraduates are about 29%, but for single parents, that number is just 5%.

In the fall of 2013, in conjunction with the Center for Community Research and Engagement, Professor Robin Toof and I launched an effort to explore the size and needs of the UMass Lowell parenting student population. In two weeks, 197 parenting students from UMass Lowell completed our survey. Most participants were full-time undergraduate students (35%), followed by part-time graduate students (31%), full-time graduate students (20%), part-time undergraduate students (7%), continuing education students (5%) and other (2%). Importantly, these results dispel a common assumption that parenting students are primarily part-time or graduate students.

We also discovered that while most participants reported having just one child under the age of 18 (52%), nearly one quarter (22%) of participants reported having 3 or more dependent children, and 35% of participants have at least one child under age four. These findings suggest that our parenting students are highly likely to have a need for childcare other than public schooling.

We also asked participants to rate their experience with access to and quality of resources, sense of community, and overall experience. A significant majority (91%) of participants disagreed that they understood the types of services available to them; 86% disagreed that they would know who to talk to if they needed help with school-life balance. Only 11.9% of participants believe that the University provides adequate support services to parenting students.

67% of parenting students disagreed that they had connected with other parenting students; nearly 60% disagreed that they felt connected to the broader UML community; and nearly 50% disagreed that they felt comfortable bringing their children to campus events.

Despite this, 67% of participants reported that, overall, their experience had been positive, and 77% reported being confident they would complete their academic goals on time.

The results suggest a strong need to address issues of resources and integration for parenting students, two factors that are highly correlated with academic success. Written comments echoed these issues. One participant wrote, ‘Before taking this survey I knew nothing of support for parenting students.’ Another commented, ‘The school is very friendly and a wonderful academic environment, but I will admit that as a student and parent it’s a little lonely, especially [as] nontraditional students.’ The challenge of breastfeeding was repeated by several participants, with one writing, ‘I feel it is degrading that I have to pump in the bathroom’the bathrooms [in my building] don’t have an electric outlet for my pump machine.’ Another asked for ‘cozier’ lactation rooms. Several respondents expressed the need for information about childcare; the request for on-site childcare was also repeated.

A university like UMass Lowell is particularly poised to answer this challenge. As a state university, we have a commitment to educational efforts that reflect the best interests of our community. In Lowell, 66% of households living below the poverty line are headed by single mothers. Increasingly, these mothers are seeking higher education as a pathway out of poverty. Public institutions in particular have a responsibility to meet the growing demand for parent-friendly policies that serve the economic interests of their constituents.

To spearhead this effort, I am proposing to organize parenting students and their allies in the effort to promote a parent-friendly campus culture at UMass Lowell. A coordinated effort between students, faculty, staff, administrators and community stakeholders is the most effective means of leveraging resources and accomplishing goals that are both feasible and high-impact. If you are interested in this effort, please contact me at

Written by: Hannah Tello

SCRA Biennial Conference 2013 ‘ Miami

UMass Lowell Highlights

The Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA, Division 27 of the APA) hosted their biennial conference in Miami this past summer and UMass Lowell faculty and students presented their research and engaged in dialogues on a number of topics. Here is just a sampling of what faculty and students had to offer:

Student Presenters

Four recently graduated CSP students attended the conference and contributed their research to other professionals in the field of Community Psychology. Hannah Johnson and Kristy Shockley presented a poster on ‘Community Participations’ Role in Issue Campaigning’ which included an archival analysis of a local Lowell non-profit to examine the process of community organizing and how community participation can benefit issue campaigns. Marlene Abreu, along with Professor Ashleigh Hillier, presented a poster on how disability services are utilized in a university setting and found that the most used service is extended time on tests. Recent graduate Susie Paterson participated in a symposium on empowerment tools and presented her thesis research findings on women’s subversive use of humor. Susie Paterson mentioned that she was pleased and surprised that the Community Psychology values she learned in the CSP program were actually very evident in the way people at the conference interacted with one another. She also relayed that it was a fun, enlightening experience and hopes that other CSP students will attend the next biennial.

Faculty Research

Professors Meg Bond, Robin Toof, and Michelle Haynes hosted a roundtable discussion on ‘Transforming settings for social change’ in which they discussed the conceptual frameworks of community settings, approaches for assessing, and strategies for intervention on multiple levels. Meanwhile, Professor Urmitapa Dutta took part in a roundtable discussion on ethical dilemmas that may arise when engaging youth in participatory action research. Professor Andrew Hostelter organized, chaired, and participated in a symposium on ‘Engaging Seniors in Healthier Communities’ in which he discussed his research on senior centers and the data he acquired from interviews, focus groups, and computerized tracking of participant activities at senior centers around the Northeast. He also participated in a roundtable discussion on teaching methods and presented a poster describing the successes and failures of the course structure for his Advanced Community Dynamics class from the spring 2013 semester.

SCRA 2015 Biennial in Lowell

The next SCRA Biennial will be held from June 25-28, 2015 right here in Lowell! Current students and CSP alumni are encouraged to attend and submit proposals to highlight their research. The SCRA Biennial is a wonderful place to find out what is happening in Community Psychology both at other Universities and non-profit organizations. Students considering application for PhD programs may find it especially helpful to meet faculty and students from other universities to get a sense of where they want to apply. I attended the 2011 SCRA Biennial while taking undergraduate courses and the students I met there from the CSP program are the very reason why I am here today!

A Year in PGSO

An update from Vice-President Emily Kaskan:

Here’s a quick look at what the Psychology Graduate Student Organization has been up to this past year and what the group hopes to accomplish in the future:

Last year, the PGSO hosted two successful fundraising events. We operated a booth at the Women’s Works craft fair where we sold a variety of homemade baked goods and unique Christmas ornaments. A portion of the proceeds went to UML’s very own Center for Women and Work. We also donated a portion to a local non-profit called Catie’s Closet, an innovative organization that sets up locations inside of local schools where students in need can obtain donated clothing and other essential items. The PGSO also hosted an Open Mic fundraiser event for this organization, and between that and the Women’s Work fair, we were able to donate a total of $350 and several boxes of clothing. We hope that through events like these they can build stronger partnerships between the psychology department and community groups.

Another of our goals is to foster a sense of community among all of the psychology graduate students. In order to achieve this we will be hosting some fun and informal social events. For example, this semester we have already held a fundraiser at the 99 Restaurant, where people who came to be part of the event had 15% of their bill donated back to the PGSO in order to pay for future social functions.

As part of Lowell’s Women’s Week, the PGSO made and decorated a silhouette of Rosie the Riveter with the theme of ‘We Can and We Will’ which included student signatures and inspiring messages of change. This silhouette was part of a larger, community wide art project for Women’s Week that was displayed at Lowell City Hall.

We have also been collecting books around the psychology department as everyone prepares to move to the new Health and Social Sciences building. We are donating the books to a group called More Than Words, which empowers marginalized youth to operate their own bookstore and embodies many principles of community psychology.

We have also requested that the CSP Community utilize their artistic talents to create a T-shirt design for our department. Anyone is welcome to participate in our contest and submit a design to by April 8th! Additionally we would like to encourage students to join us at the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Conference in Amherst, MA from April 12-14. We encourage all psychology graduate students to get involved in any way they can, and everyone is welcome at the bimonthly meetings.

If you would like to participate or have any project or event ideas please email!

Faculty Research Spotlight: Jana Sladkova

The Community Social Psychology program at UML is proud to employ a number of talented, nationally regarded faculty members who tackle issues of social justice both in their work and in their every day lives. Professor Jana Sladkova is no exception to this rule. Dr. Sladkova came to UMass Lowell in 2008 and has taught in the CSP program since her arrival. Originally hailing from the Czech Republic, Dr. Sladkova received her PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City in 2006. Though her main interests are immigration and deportation issues, Dr. Sladkova has recently been working on a project with fellow psychology professor Dr. Alyssa McCabe on the lived experiences of children with immigrant parents. Working from a small grant, the project has morphed from children’s experiences with deportation to studying the children’s narrative development as bilingual in a country that mostly values English speakers. CSP student Isabel Cano serves as a research assistant on this project, helping with specific tasks such as recruitment. The project is currently being written up for the journal Latino Studies.

Dr. Sladkova also continues to work on her PhD dissertation that looked at the experiences of Honduran migrants. When I asked why she focuses on the experiences of Latino people, she described that she feels a special connection to Latino culture and finds the power differentials involved in the experiences of different immigrants to be interesting. The manuscript for her dissertation will be published in the Psychological Interventions journal, and because it is published in both English and Spanish, she is excited that she will finally be able to share her work with the community she studied in Honduras.

Perhaps one of the most important points that Dr. Sladkova elaborated on was that she is ‘excited that the government is finally talking seriously about immigration reform.’ Though it may not be the direct result of research on immigration, she believes it has ‘helped to push in that direction.’ This belief that socially responsible research may lead to real world policy change is one of the common threads that binds CSP faculty members. Stay tuned for other profiles of faculty work!

2012 Women’s Work Event

In 2007, the Center for Women & Work hosted its first ever Women’s Works event as a celebration of the creativity of UMass Lowell affiliated craftswomen. Five years, the annual Women’s Works event has expanded to celebrate the creative lives of women artists beyond the borders of the university grounds. This year, the event is boasting nearly 40 female artists and performers, all gathering to celebrate the often private world of women’s creative pursuits.

The Women’s Works event has three major goals. The first is as a fundraiser for the Center for Women & Work, a University research center committed to the advancement of women and diversity in the work force. The Center for Women & Work is comprised of an interdisciplinary team of dedicated scholars and students invested in the exploration of the role of gender in work as well as a commitment to developing programming that addresses the institutional inequities faced by diverse groups. Women’s Works is one of two major fundraising events for the Center: vendors agree to donate 25 percent of their proceeds to the Center after the event.

The second goal of the Women’s Works event is to provide voice to the often private realm of women’s creativity. Most of the vendors featured at the event have a professional life that is entirely detached from their creative pursuits: a psychiatric nurse makes intricate handmade cards, an English professor designs colorful stained glass, and a retired optician knits wool hats. The skill of these crafts often remains under-appreciated as women consider them hobbies tangential to their professional work. The Women’s Works even provides a public forum for women to share their own work and celebrate the works of others in the context of acknowledging the personal and social value of such creative endeavors.

The third goal of the Women’s Works event is to foster a spirit of entrepreneurship among craftswomen. Some of the vendors have well-established small businesses dedicated to their artistic pursuits, while other vendors have never even considered that their skills could be financially lucrative. The Women’s Works event encourages women to recognize and be compensated for the monetary value of their work, and to network with other successful female entrepreneurs while considering the potential of their own crafts to move from hobby to business.

Like all the years before, this year’s Women’s Works event promises to be a vibrant, energetic opportunity for members of the Lowell community to explore the more creative side of many of the people we interact with professionally every day. The event is open to the public and we encourage anyone interested to stop by, check out the vendors, bid on a silent auction item and support the Center for Women & Work.

WHEN: Thursday, November 29th from 2-7pm

WHERE: UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center (50 Warren St., Downtown Lowell, MA)

5pm for Wine & Cheese with special performances

CSP Students in the Community: Alessandra Cecala

Take Heart.jpg

I believe that we can take pride in the fact that Community Social Psychology is a self-selecting program. Only those who have a strong sense of social justice and drive to make the world a better place for all people tend to apply. Many of our CSP students have already applied classroom experiences to the world beyond, even before coming to the program. One student in particular, Alessandra Cecala, is the founder of the non-profit organization, Take Heart, dedicated to furthering education about organ donation. Originally inspired by her father’s need for a heart transplant, Alessandra’s project has grown from idea to 501(3)(c) organization in only a few short years. Most of Take Heart’s events have been benefit concerts that charge no admission, but take donations. In addition, they have some really cool custom-made t-shirts to help support their cause. Check ’em out, they’re pretty rad! In the spring, the organization launched its first media campaign reaching over 1000 hits on YouTube. Alessandra also recently told me that Take Heart is in talks for a possible credited internship for a UMass Lowell undergrad. This sounds like a great next step for expanding the organization. Seeing work like Alessandra’s is inspiring and shows that as community psychologists, we are able to make changes and spread awareness in our communities. In her own words, ‘it’s not what you say or do, but what you leave behind.’

Take Heart has an event coming up on Friday, October 19th called the ‘Superheroes Show’ at 7 pm at the 119 Gallery in Lowell. Please come out and support donning your finest superhero costume! Admission is free, but donations are always welcome and suggested.

Posted by: Susie Paterson

A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant & a Prayer

MMRP poster.jpg

forward to friends and colleagues. Spread the word!!

Attention CSPers!

Please come, support this event, support the beneficiaries, support the cause, and support a classmate (I’m performing one of the pieces in the show). I’d love to see you all there! Details are on the attached poster. Please forward this to friends, other classmates/groups and spread the word!

the Producers of The Vagina Monologues

V-Day Lawrence presents:


3 Shows only! Friday, April 13 at 7pm & Sat, April 14 at 2pm & 7pm

JOIN US! Get your tickets today! $15 Admission

Buy your tickets here:

Thanks so much!

Mirakel G. Mayoral