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UMass LIGHT mentorship program ‘shows you how to achieve your dreams’

Former CDC director Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, and retired astronaut Robert “Hoot” Gibson to speak at conference May 3

  Mark Johnson, MD, PhD, and MD/PhD student Bethany Berry  

For MD/PhD student Bethany Berry, the influence of a mentor at UMass Chan Medical School has been transformative for her career. Berry’s mentor is Mark Johnson, MD, PhD, the Maroun Semaan Chair in Neurosurgery, chair and professor of neurological surgery and senior consulting vice provost for mentorship, leadership and transformation at UMass Chan.

They are both active in the UMass LIGHT (Leadership Institute for Growth, Health and Transformation) mentorship program, which includes more than 200 faculty–student pairs and will hold its third annual conference at UMass Chan on May 3.

“Growing up in Maine, there weren’t a lot of people that looked like me, especially within medicine and science,” said Berry, who works in Dr. Johnson’s lab. “As you get to these more exclusive levels, there are fewer people that represent me and my background. Finding someone like Dr. Johnson, who is chair of neurological surgery, is pretty rare. Seeing him in that position and being so dedicated to helping others achieve that position sets him apart as an exceptional person.”

“Mentoring is kind of like parenting in some ways,” added Johnson. “It’s gratifying to see how Bethany has grown both in terms of her knowledge, and in terms of her professionalism and confidence. Her research adds beautiful insight into the biology of a particular type of brain cancer. I’m hopeful that’s going to have an impact on the treatment of patients with this type of cancer going forward.”

Medical students Uchechi Nna and Dan Ugochukwu co-founded UMass LIGHT with Johnson three years ago to bring the different mentorship programs that existed on campus together under one umbrella. This approach allows the groups to share resources as well as meet goals to increase diversity, equity and inclusion; promote career growth and transformation; and create opportunities for personal and professional development, all of which are accomplished through leadership development workshops and events.

Johnson said UMass LIGHT was born out of the isolation brought on by pandemic-related quarantines.

“A number of students were feeling a lot of anxiety about what was going on in the world and said they were feeling separated. We thought it would be helpful for students and other trainees to develop longitudinal, one-on-one mentoring relationships,” Johnson said.

UMass LIGHT is holding its third annual conference at noon on Friday, May 3, at UMass Chan. The keynote speakers are Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, who served as director of the Centers for Disease Control from 2021 to 2023, and Robert “Hoot” Gibson, former chief astronaut for NASA and four-time space shuttle mission commander. All members of the UMass Chan community are welcome to attend.

“UMass LIGHT can help hundreds and, over time, thousands of other people build meaningful relationships, find role models and learn how to achieve their dreams. That’s something I’ve now lived—it’s transformative, and it’s going to change the face of medicine and science,” said Berry.