Nursing major Caroline Owusu felt fortunate to win a $3,000 internship scholarship from UMass Lowell so that she could get paid professional experience.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the door closed on her plans to intern in a retirement community and learn best nursing practices for elderly patients. The Solomont School of Nursing offered her a chance to work on research with a professor instead, and Owusu decided to help Assoc. Prof. Ainat Koren conduct research into whether childhood obesity increased during the pandemic.
That opened a new door for Owusu, who discovered “a passion for research.” Now, she is seeking out more research opportunities and planning to apply for the B.S.N. to Ph.D. program.
Meanwhile, she will keep working with Koren on the study, an experience that has included training in research methods and crafting a survey for parents on their children’s eating, activity and weight gain or loss during the pandemic.
“The whole process has been fascinating,” Owusu says. “My internship was supposed to end in May, but Prof. Koren offered to let me stay on it from start to finish. It’s been a great learning experience overall.”
Owusu’s family immigrated to the United States from Ghana in 2013 and settled in Worcester, Massachusetts. She attended Worcester Technical High School, where she got licensed as a certified nursing assistant (CNA). A teacher at her high school recommended that she apply to UML’s Solomont School of Nursing.
“Nurses are at the forefront of everything in health care,” she says. “They’re needed at every point of care: They’re needed to lead, to evaluate activities, and to work with patients for the best results.”
Owusu works in a retirement community near Worcester as a dining supervisor, and this summer, she also began working there as a CNA. She plans to specialize in geriatric nursing and research, and she came to UMass Lowell in part for its strong programs in that area. She asked to do her first clinical practicum in geriatrics.
“I’ve been working with the elderly population so much that I’m very comfortable going further in my career in that field,” she says, “but I’m open to other experiences, too.”
Owusu also chose UMass Lowell in part for the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA), a support program for first-generation college students. She says the RHSA held study days on Wednesdays in O’Leary Library, motivating her to work harder alongside other serious students. The RHSA also introduced her to campus clubs and organizations, encouraging her to make the most of her college experience.
“It provided a lot of resources for us to get more involved in college,” she says. “I just felt more comfortable knowing I had the RHSA behind me.”
As a first-year student, Owusu got involved with the Association of Students of African Origin and the campus chapter of First Love, a nondenominational, evangelical Christian church that was founded in Ghana.
After the university switched to remote learning in March 2020 because of the pandemic, Owusu got even more involved with First Love, doing outreach to other students to combat isolation and offer a listening ear if they needed to talk. Her faith-based peer counseling aligns with her desire to care for others and tackle inequities in health care and society at large, she says.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with people and helping others,” she says. “And I just like knowing that I made somebody’s day, even on their worst day.”