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Summer study, research set aspiring health care providers and scientists on path to success

Intensive graduate-level experiences at UMass Medical School inspire diverse undergraduates

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

July 02, 2021

UMass Medical School welcomed two cohorts of college students to its annual Summer Enrichment Program and Summer Undergraduate Research Program for high-achieving undergraduates from backgrounds underrepresented in science and medicine.

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As a result of the pandemic, this year's programs were held virtually, each concluding with an awards ceremony for excellence. 

“The most important things I learned are how strenuous the workload in medical school truly is and that everyone’s journey to medical school is different,” said Worcester State University senior Matheus Montenario, an EMT who worked 60-hour weeks during the pandemic. “Having spent 12-plus hours a day completing assignments, reading journals and articles, and taking exams solidified the fact that I will have to be 100 percent committed and give it everything I have.”

The four-week sessions were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic, each wrapping up with closing ceremonies featuring awards for excellence in late June. The programs, which expose participants to the real world of health care and research careers and how to prepare for them, are run by the Office of Outreach Programs and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Thirty-four Summer Enrichment Program and 23 Summer Undergraduate Research class members applied themselves to rigorous academics. Faculty, postdocs and students from the School of Medicine and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences shared insights from their own career paths and discussed cutting-edge research during daily lectures. Research students performed experiments and conducted research in small groups on- and off-line, while enrichment students aiming to attend medical school studied for and took practice MCATs and had mock admission interviews conducted by Medical School faculty and staff.

The Summer Enrichment Program is a tuition-free, educational immersion that helps the participants improve their qualifications and competitive standing for admission to professional or graduate school.

Shakendine Kelkboom participated in the Summer Enrichment Program as a requirement for the UMass Baccalaureate MD Pathway Program. The BaccMD program puts qualified students at UMass undergraduate campuses on track to matriculate into the School of Medicine.

“I was excited to start this program and be connected to students of the same background and interest as me,” said Kelkboom, a rising junior at UMass Amherst and a first-generation college student. “Hearing the diversity in their stories from a multitude of people in various fields and learning about their journeys was inspiring.”

Supported by a longstanding grant from the National Institutes of Health, with additional funding from the UMMS Provost’s Office, the Summer Undergraduate Research Program is designed to interest college students in laboratory research, clinical research and related careers. Students from across the United States and U.S. territories apply for the competitive slots.

“As a first-generation student it can be hard to get into the professional and academic world, but this program did an incredible job of showing us what options were available and empowering us to pursue them,” said Avani Hariprashad, a rising senior at Virginia Commonwealth University. “In addition to the incredible opportunities for learning and collaboration, it also provides a sense of belonging. When filling out my application, I was able to list my ethnicity, for the first time, as West Indian/Caribbean.” Hariprashad’s ultimate ambition is to become a physician-scientist with MD and PhD degrees.

Summer undergraduate researcher Matthew Hanlon, majoring in biology at Worcester State University, is now pursuing academic and career opportunities in the sciences following five years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. The highlight of his research experience took place during small group meetings, when participants discussed each other’s experiments.

“Having a platform to discuss what was going well, or not so well with our work facilitated critical thinking and the exchange of knowledge, allowing us to overcome any hurdles,” Hanlon said. “Although our research was performed individually, producing a high-quality report and presentation was certainly a group effort.”

Hanlon participated in the program to advance toward his goal of earning a doctorate in biomedical sciences. “I would like to attend graduate school,” he said. “I still have a lot of work I want to do, and UMass Medical School is a great place to do it.”

“I just want to reiterate how grateful I am for both this experience and the program leadership!” said Hariprashad. The rising senior will be applying lessons learned when she either goes directly to graduate school or enters a post-baccalaureate program to conduct more research next year.

Summer Enrichment Program Class of ’21
Sumeya Abrar, UMass Lowell ’23
Bradley Montanez, Worcester State University ’23
Gracia Beya, UMass Amherst ’23
Matheus Montenario, Worcester State University ’23
Nancy Blankson, UMass Amherst ’23
Liana Munoz, UMass Amherst ’23
Nicole Brown, UMass Amherst ’23
Akosua Obeng, UMass Boston ’23
Brittany Cullen, UMass Boston ’23
Tiba Qattan, UMass Lowell ’23
Isabel Davila-Lynch, UMass Boston ’23
Claudia Rodrigues, UMass Amherst ’23
Francesca Ocana De Mora, Quinsigamond Community College ’21
Lea Saab, UMass Amherst ’23
Melissa Dorzin, UMass Boston ’23
Silvi Salhotra, UMass Boston ’23
Samer El Khatib, Wheaton College ’23
Dasol Song, UMass Amherst ’23
Ewaldine Fedna, UMass Lowell ’23
Miguel Aguilar-Soto, UMass Amherst ’23
Jessica Feraud, UMass Amherst ’22
Caroline Tran, UMass Amherst ’24
Okoh Frimpong, UMass Amherst ’23
Elsi Tutu, UMass Amherst ’23
Michelle Gitau, UMass Amherst ‘23
Chukwuebuka Udom, UMass Amherst ’23
Hailie Hale, UMass Boston ’23
Patience Wairimu, UMass Lowell ’23
Janet Kalu, UMass Amherst ’22
Abigail White, UMass Lowell ’23
Shakendine Kelkboom, UMass Amherst ’23
Alicia Wilson, UMass Lowell ‘23
Paolo Mattos-Canedo, UMass Amherst ’23
Naomi Zorrilla, UMass Amherst ’22

Summer Undergraduate Research Program Class of ’21
Annika E. Beaverson, University of New Orleans ’23
Sophia M. Cinquemani, Johns Hopkins University ’22
Caroline E. Crone, Georgetown University ’23
Quinn E. Cunneely, University of Alabama ’23
Sandy Garcia, University of Nevada – Las Vegas ’21
Nia S. Hammett, North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University ’22
Matthew Hanlon, Worcester State University ’22
Avani T. Hariprashad, Virginia Commonwealth University ’22
Julia Kan, Wesleyan University ’22
Danny Kwong, Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Science ’22
Randy Le, UMass Amherst ’22
Jesse K. Mendez, Providence College ’23
Adam Mohsin, University of Connecticut ’23
Caroline M. Moore, University of Maryland Baltimore County ’23
Peter P. Nguyen, UMass Amherst ’22
Sophia M. Puertas, Wellesley College ’23
Princess M. Quansah, Worcester State University ’23
Andres E. Rodriguez Cardenas, Trinity College ’24
Helen M. Sanchez, State University of New York Oneonta ’22
Nadia N. A. Sarpong, UMass Lowell ’23
Jude M. Verdieu, Tufts University ’22
Joshua N. Williams, East Carolina University ’22
Pauline Young, University of California Los Angeles ’23

Related story on UMassMed News:
Summer outreach programs for high achieving students delivered online