Honors College student Grace Hansen is a teacher, a leader and an athlete. And she plans to get better at all three.

Hansen is the captain of the UML women’s Division 1 lacrosse team, the president of UMass Lowell’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and the coach of a club lacrosse team for younger girls. She volunteers at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lowell and for lacrosse and basketball programs in her hometown of Stamford, Connecticut.

She is also a science teacher in the making: She is majoring in biology and minoring in STEM education through the UTeach program.

Hansen says she had never heard of the Lowell campus until she was recruited for the lacrosse team. But once she visited campus, saw the range of academic programs in the Kennedy College of Sciences and met the lacrosse coaches, she was all in.

“UMass Lowell had tons of different science opportunities, and I knew I could find whatever I wanted,” she says. “I just really liked the atmosphere of the school – the lacrosse community was awesome, the lacrosse coaches were great and it was the right distance from home.”

UMass Lowell also offered Hansen admission to the Honors College and an Immersive Scholarship: $4,000 she could use to do research with a faculty member or to study abroad after completing her first year. 

Hansen wanted to learn more about marine biology and ecology in the Galapagos Islands, one of the most biologically diverse environments on the planet. She signed up for a two-week, summer study abroad program for summer 2020.

Hansen learned about the UTeach program in her admissions packet, too. Friends and adults had always told her she would make a great teacher. But she waited until after her first semester to join UTeach, to make sure she could handle the workload on top of her science and honors classes and lacrosse practices and games. 

By that time, she had also decided to pursue a general biology degree.

“I love being outside and being active,” she says. “And I like how biology relates to everything in life, how hands-on it is.”

As a junior taking a UTeach class on project-based instruction, she got to bring that hands-on approach into planning biology lessons for students at Greater Lowell Technical High School. Working with fellow UTeach student and biology major Jessica Coppinger, Hansen taught the students how to examine pond water through a microscope, build filters and test the filtered water for pollutants.

The summer after her junior year will be Hansen’s busiest so far. She will finally get to study abroad on the Galapagos Islands after the program was postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She and Coppinger will also travel with Education Assoc. Prof. Sumudu Lewis, who directs the UTeach program, to a national UTeach conference in Austin, Texas, where they will present what they learned about teaching and student engagement through their pond-water project.

In addition, Hansen won a $2,000 scholarship to attend an international youth conference in New York hosted by AFS-USA, a nonprofit that promotes study abroad and cultural exchange, based on her lesson plan and how it supports the United Nations sustainability goals. Lewis nominated her for the scholarship. 

Hansen sees it as an opportunity to gain even more leadership skills – and to network with other young leaders from around the world.

“I definitely will be using what I learn on the lacrosse field, but I’ll also use it when I am in classes and in my career as either a teacher or a leader in science,” she says.

As for the future? When she graduates from UMass Lowell, she will still have a year of lacrosse eligibility left, due to the pandemic. She can use that extra year to earn a master’s degree in science education or biology here or at another university. And then, she will most likely work as a biologist for a few years before taking up teaching full time.

“I’ve thought about this a lot: I’ve always said the best teachers are the ones who get experience in the field first,” she says. “So that’s what I plan to do, and then I’ll teach.”