Satisfied Customer of Higher-Education: A Parent’s Story of the UMass iCons Program

Picture of Joanne and Liam Cleary

When Joanne Cleary’s son, Liam, decided to attend UMass Amherst in 2016, his parents were thrilled. Joanne and her husband both attended UMass Amherst as undergraduates and they feel great affection for their alma mater. However, they worried that their son may struggle to develop a sense of belonging in the large institution that they remembered.

Liam’s excitement at being accepted into UMass Amherst’s iCons Program his freshman year put the Cleary’s concerns to rest. The interdisciplinary iCons Program has built a stellar reputation for the mentoring and close attention its award-winning faculty provide to iCons students. And the more the Clearys learned about the program and witnessed the positive growth in their son, the more confident they felt that iCons was a great fit for Liam.

The first thing Joanne Cleary noticed was how the iCons Program helped increase her son’s confidence in his communication and public speaking skills. Liam’s ability to convey complex scientific ideas improved dramatically while in the program, allowing Liam to share with his family his excitement for what he was learning.

“While in iCons, Liam had so many opportunities to discuss his research with faculty and mentors, to present his ideas in front of peers, and to explain his work to his non-scientist family and friends,” remembers Cleary. “His growth was incredible.”

“If you want your child to succeed, send them to UMass Amherst and tell them to apply to the UMass iCons Program. You’ll be one Cleary recalls another critical aspect of iCons that benefited Liam: early access to research that “opened doors” for her son and launched his future career.

During his first two years in iCons, Liam engaged in several hands-on research projects, positioning him as a junior to successfully compete for a coveted spot in the research group of UMass Amherst Biology professor Lynn Adler. Alongside Prof. Adler, Liam researched plant-pollinator interactions, culminating in Liam’s senior thesis with honors.

“The iCons Program nurtured Liam’s love for research,” recalls Cleary with a big smile on her face. “With that love, he had pretty much everything he needed to succeed.”

And indeed, great success came Liam’s way. The summer after his junior year, Liam secured an internship working in the prestigious Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, where he studied how floral traits affect insects. Then, after graduating from UMass in 2020, Liam got a job right away as a researcher with the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University. And most recently, Liam applied to several Ph.D. programs in universities around the country and was accepted into virtually all of them. Cleary is convinced that the mentoring Liam received in iCons played a critical role in helping him hit the ground running in his career.

“Our family is middle-class with no special connections, so we worried about how Liam would kickstart his career. In the end, we’re so grateful to UMass Amherst and the iCons Program for helping our son gain the skills he needed to get into top-notch internships and competitive grad schools,” explains Cleary. “We couldn’t be prouder of everything that our son has accomplished.”

Joanne Cleary tells all her friends now – “If you want your child to succeed, send them to UMass Amherst and tell them to apply to the UMass iCons Program. You’ll be one satisfied customer!”