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Meet Sandy Fontes, our sustainability intern for 2024

Sandy Fontes is focused.

She is working as an intern in the UMass Chan Office of Sustainability this summer, which integrates two of her passions. “I really want to do biomedical research, but I am also passionate about sustainability,” Fontes said.

Fontes is entering her second year at Mount Wachusett Community College, with a major in biology. After graduating she plans to go to UMass Amherst to study biochemistry and molecular biology. “I want to do something in cancer immunology, maybe even RNA therapeutics-based research following my undergrad career,” Fontes said.

She speaks about immunology with a confidence beyond her years, because this is not her first internship at UMass Chan. Last summer Fontes worked in the lab of Fiachra Humphries, PhD, assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Innate Immunity. There, Fontes said she discovered an initial passion for wet lab research that she hopes to carry with her throughout her professional career.

Fontes is a first-generation college student. She was born in Worcester, then her family moved to Dudley when she was 8 years old. Fontes graduated from Shepherd Hill Regional High School in 2023 where she took a PLTW (Project Lead The Way) biomedical science pathway, a program that advanced her early love for science, she said.

While her career goals prioritize biomedical research, Fontes said there is a natural and important connection with environmental sustainability.

“As a researcher who wants to make a change in public health care, I think people should be aware of the connections between chronic illnesses and the environmental factors that can have large influences in the severity of those conditions if overlooked,” Fontes said. “This is where we can address public health problems from the origin.”

Among her projects at UMass Chan this summer will be advancing the Green Labs initiative that is part of the campus’s five-year sustainability and climate action plan. This project, and its green lab certification process, is something Fontes hopes will be a meaningful incentive for researchers to integrate a more sustainable lifestyle into their daily routines.

“When I worked in the lab, I saw how much waste we produced. Even though it’s for groundbreaking research, sometimes it gets to your conscience a little bit,” Fontes said. “Singular acts make a difference. I think we can be more sustainable, even when we are doing research.”