By Katharine Webster
Michael Forsyth wears red shirts and shoelaces and carries a red wallet. His identical twin, Nicholas, wears blue shirts and shoelaces and carries a blue wallet.
“We’re color-coded,” Nick says. “It makes it easier for people to tell us apart.”
Otherwise, the 22-year-olds are mirror images of each other. They wear the same black glasses, sport identical haircuts and wear identical watches and Fitbits. They share the same mellow voice and easy laugh. And yes, they finish each other’s thoughts.
Academically, they’re identical, too. Both double-majored in electrical engineering and computer science “so we could learn the hardware and the software” —and both are now spending a fifth year completing their master’s degrees in computer science through the bachelor’s-to-master’s program.
Both won dean’s scholarships and co-op scholarships, which paid for them to work together on transistor research in Electrical and Computer Engineering Prof. Martin Margala’s lab the summer after their freshman year.
For five years, they’ve taken the same classes, shared textbooks and commuted together from their family’s home in Acton (they have a carpool parking pass). As undergrads, they restarted the Game Development Club together — Mike as president, Nick as VP — and they share a fascination with virtual reality and augmented reality.
“We were always together as kids. We did the same sports, we played video games together and we always had the Legos out,” Mike says. “We always had similar thought processes.”
“Basically, we’ve been best friends since birth. When we applied to colleges and found UMass Lowell, we realized there were similar financial benefits to both of us in coming here, instead of going to WPI or Northeastern,” Nick adds.
The only time their paths diverged was when they interviewed for professional co-ops, Both applied to Autoliv and Mercury Systems. Nick got accepted at Autoliv and Mike got an offer, too — but went to Mercury Systems instead.
“I said, ‘You have to work somewhere else so our resumes look different,’ ” Nick says.
“Mercury paid less,” Mike adds. “So he treats me to lunch.”
Cheaper by the Dozen?
But wait! They’re not the only Forsyths at UMass Lowell. As the oldest of 12 siblings, Mike and Nick forged the path. The next two brothers, junior Arick and sophomore FitzAnthony, are undergraduates here.
No. 5, Kizazeal, a high school senior, was just accepted for the fall as an art major. And No. 6, Lilarose, one of two girls in the family and a high school junior, plans to apply to the nursing program. The younger half-dozen — the “baby” is 4 years old — aren’t ready to think about college yet.
The entire family is competitive, splitting into teams for snowball fights and pickup games of soccer, kickball and football. Because the twins were so bonded, Arick felt lonely until Fitz came along. Then they paired up as a team, ready to rival the success of their older brothers.
Like the twins, Arick and Fitz won dean’s scholarships and co-op scholarships. Both are majoring in chemical engineering and minoring in biomedical engineering and biotechnology. And on top of that, they decided to join the Honors College.
“The twins set a pretty good precedent. They were always really successful in school,” Arick says.
“Very focused,” adds Fitz.
“We were also just very competitive growing up, so if they were doing well, we needed to do better,” Arick jokes. “It keeps us on our toes. If you give up, they win.”
Arick is the first in the family to live on campus, as a resident assistant in Fox Hall, and Fitz has applied to be an R.A. next year. Both were on the club swim team and then switched to the intramural volleyball team. Both are also in Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honors society.
But they’re not quite as identical as Mike and Nick.
Arick, who’s more of an extrovert, used his co-op scholarship to study abroad in San Sebastian, Spain, the summer after his freshman year. The Honors College program was a fantastic experience — and very challenging, he says.
“There was a huge learning curve because the woman who hosted us didn’t speak any English,” he says. “But by the end of the first week, a lot of my high school Spanish came back to me, and when I slept, I dreamed in Spanish.”
Meanwhile, Fitz, who is more of an introvert, has a second minor in computer science and maintains a perfect GPA. With his co-op scholarship, he worked in a Harvard research lab at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, evaluating different methods of sequencing the human genome. Now he works as a research assistant in Assoc. Prof. of Biology Jessica Garb’s lab, researching spider genes associated with silk and venom production.
Arick has already completed a six-month professional co-op at Pfizer and plans to do another six-month co-op in 2018. Fitz plans to do a co-op when Garb is on sabbatical next year.
And what comes after UMass Lowell for the Forsyth brothers? Their dream is to someday start their own company — and be one team again.
“We always joked about making a startup with the whole family,” Mike says.