This weekend will be a special Mother’s Day for Maureen Whitcomb, who will celebrate two of her quadruplet children receiving college diplomas while the two others are on course to follow in the future
(Editor’s Note: UMass Lowell staff writer Katharine Webster wrote the following story, which was published by the University on Feb. 13, 2020. As a Mother’s Day tribute to a single mom who raised four children who each pursued a college education, we have reprinted this article with the permission of UMass Lowell.)
By Katharine Webster
The Whitcomb quadruplets’ names begin with A, B, C and D – but their parents didn’t plan it. They just picked four names that they liked, and it turned out that way.
Likewise, three of the four quadruplets – Andrew, Collette and Diana – didn’t set out to go to the same college. Each decided to come to UMass Lowell for different reasons. Still, they’re happy to be together.
“It’s certainly a bonus that my sisters are here, but I would have come here anyway,” says Andrew, a business major.
“We all thought it would be funny to go to the same college,” says Collette, a nutritional science major, “but we didn’t plan it that way.”
Diana applied first, to meet the early action deadline for the nursing program. She wanted to visit campus, so all four came to an open house with their mom. The Whitcombs, who are from Saugus, were impressed by the campus.
When Diana was accepted to the Solomont School of Nursing, she was offered admission to the Honors College, too. That, plus a comprehensive financial aid package, the location and a wealth of clinical opportunities in the Lowell area, put the university at the top of her list, she says.
“UMass Lowell was my No. 1 choice,” she says. “It was the happy middle – not too close to home and not too far from home.”
Next was Collette, who was accepted in the nutritional science program. Again, location was a deciding factor, because she was able to keep a job with good pay at a Starbucks near home. She returns to Saugus every weekend to work.
Andrew was the last to accept. Like his sisters, he wanted to be close enough to home that he could visit on the weekends. And it was the right fit for his desired major.
“When I walked through North Campus and saw that the business school was brand-new, I thought, ‘Bingo! I’m going here,’” Andrew says.
Bryce, the fourth quadruplet, is studying for an associate degree in computer information systems at North Shore Community College. He hopes to transfer to UMass Lowell in a couple of years. For now, though, he’s living at home with their mom, Maureen, and saving money.
Collette says that the best thing about being quadruplets is that they were never bored, because they always had each other for playmates.
“We were never lonely. We were always entertained,” she says. “We were always out in the backyard, doing stuff.”
The four branched out and made different friends as they grew older and went to different high schools. Bryce attended Saugus High School, while his siblings went to Northeast Metropolitan Regional Technical High School in Wakefield – Diana in the health assistant program, Andrew in business technology and Collette in culinary arts.
The quadruplets are first-generation college students, although their mom went back to school a couple of years ago and earned her associate degree in marketing at North Shore.
At UMass Lowell, Collette and Andrew were invited to join the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA), a support program for first-year, first-generation students. Collette says she greatly appreciated being able to take a special River Hawk Scholars section of College Writing I, because at her technical high school, she had never learned to write a research paper.
“We all went at the same speed,” she says. “It was a really nice group.”
Andrew likes knowing that if he needs help, he can reach out to RHSA director and Assoc. Teaching Prof. of English Matthew Hurwitz. He’s also been matched with a mentor through the RHSA: James Kohl, dean of student affairs and enrichment. He sometimes goes up to Kohl’s office to have tea and talk about politics, superhero movies and “Seinfeld.”
Diana chose to join River Hawk Rising, a four-year support program run by the Office of Multicultural Affairs for diverse students who can benefit from individual help.
“I thought, ‘I need help all four years,’” she says.
Most of the students in River Hawk Rising are first-generation students from low-income families, like the Whitcombs. Diana says a three-day summer orientation and weekly seminars in the fall that introduced her to key campus resources and support staff were especially helpful. She also checks in every two weeks with Elsie Otero, associate director of Multicultural Affairs.
“They had presentations on getting organized, adjusting to college and managing your work and studying and free time,” she says.
Diana has done well at achieving that balance. She has a work-study job in the Navigators Food Pantry in University Crossing, volunteers once a week at a Lowell food pantry through an Honors College initiative and sews costumes for the Off-Broadway Players, a student theater group. She loves helping others, because she knows what it’s like to struggle.
“We were on food stamps growing up, and we went to food pantries sometimes when the food stamps weren’t enough,” she says. “Anybody who knew my mom and had older kids would give us hand-me-down clothes and toys – even our teachers.”
Collette and Diana live one floor apart in Riverview Suites, and they often eat meals or study together, since they’re both taking core health sciences classes including Human Anatomy and Physiology. Andrew also lives on South Campus and runs into his sisters at least once a week. The four siblings have a private chat group and stay up to date on each other’s plans.
Andrew’s work-study job also overlaps with Diana’s. He spends half his time in the food pantry and the rest asking students to donate meal swipes to help out others struggling with food insecurity.
Maureen says that raising quadruplets is financially challenging. But now, three of the four are at UMass Lowell, and things are looking up. Once her four children are “settled,” Maureen hopes to return to school again, this time for her bachelor’s degree. Her dream is to earn it here through online and evening classes in time to graduate with her children.
“I’m so lucky to have them here,” she says, tearing up. “All my investment is in them.”