The University of Massachusetts Amherst
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Ruth M. Bonsignore UMass Experience Essay

Reflections from a University of Massachusetts Engineering Alumna

April 2012

As we enter the season of college acceptances and decision-making, I am often asked about my own experience at the University of Massachusetts.  Perhaps my reflection on this experience will benefit some of the 18-years olds and parents going through these fitful decisions in the months ahead.

I Found a World of Opportunities –

When I entered the University I had grand plans to become an archaeologist – having spent two high school summers on digs out in the Midwest – I was certain. By the end of my freshman year, I had real doubts. On the last day of final exams during my freshman year, I wandered over to the College of Engineering to literally find out what engineers do. I walked into the Dean’s office assuming that I would pick up a brochure and go off to do my own research. Instead, I was greeted by Dean Joe Marcus who spent nearly an hour talking with me about engineering, the program’s curriculum, and my own academic strengths and interests. By the end of the summer, with one summer school calculus class under my belt, I was an engineering major. How lucky I was to be at a school that provided this kind of opportunity. How lucky I was for Dean Marcus – for the counsel and personal attention that he showed in my individual college experience and career. The diversity of programs and majors, quality and care of faculty and staff, and vast extra-curricular activities and clubs are real strengths of this University.

It was not “Too Big” --

A common concern expressed by folks who ask me about UMass is its size – that it is just too big. The size of the University has its advantages –with many nationally ranked programs across a huge range of academic endeavors and professional schools – as I just discussed. But more importantly (and like with any school), you go to school with your roommates, dorm mates, and kids in your major –not with the entire student body.  If you are on a sport team or active in a club, these people also become your extended family. If these experiences are good, then your college experience will be good, no matter the size. In this way, in fact, the University becomes small very quickly.

For me, I fell into the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering with my class of about 55 undergraduate students at the time. Here too, I was taken care of and had a terrific experience. Beginning in my sophomore year, Drs. John Collura and Paul Shuldiner hired me to do transportation-related research that proved to be wonderful learning experiences and helped offset the cost of my education.  Dr. Collura also went the extra mile to support my attendance at three national and regional conferences during my undergraduate years. These learning experiences and interactions set the direction for my career in transportation and also established lifelong friendships.

A Great Value –

The cost of my education was very important to me in that I am from a large family and I was responsible for paying the bill. On average, I worked about 25 hours per week during school to keep my finances relatively in balance. When I graduated, I had only modest loans outstanding that I was able to pay off relatively quickly once I started working. With my UMass degree and experience, I later received a Master’s degree fully funded from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The University of Massachusetts provided a great education for me then at a great price. As the quality of the institution and its students have improved, I believe that it is an even a better value today.

I encourage people to visit the campus, attend a class, check out the Student Recreation Center, and have a meal at the Berkshire Dining Common. More importantly, talk to the students. It won’t take you long to appreciate the value of the people and the place.


Respectfully Submitted,


Ruth Bonsignore, P.E.

Civil and Environmental Engineering ‘83