Alums Cite Seminars, Research and Faculty Mentors as Keys to Success

UMass Lowell Honors College graduate Dan Muise is now a Ph.D. student at Stanford University Image by Courtesy
Dan Muise '16 says interdisciplinary honors classes and research with faculty are helping him succeed as a Ph.D. student at Stanford.

By Katharine Webster

Dan Muise ’16 didn’t know what he wanted to study when he arrived at UMass Lowell.

He was still narrowing it down when he graduated from the university and the Honors College with two bachelor’s degrees: one in political science and a second in economics.

But his experiences as an honors student – research with faculty who became mentors, a referral to a summer job in Myanmar from Political Science Chair Ardeth Thawnghmung, interdisciplinary honors seminars, and an honors research project and thesis in behavioral economics with Economics Assoc. Prof. David Kingsley – helped him get into the communication Ph.D. program at Stanford University.

Now, he’s working on research with faculty at Stanford and elsewhere, including the Screenomics project, which analyzes the habits of smartphone users around the world to find out what influences their media consumption. His focus is political news.

Muise and other recent Honors College alumni say their honors experiences, from research with faculty to small seminars, have had a lasting impact, preparing them for advanced graduate studies and rewarding jobs.

“How to keep a really creative and open mind about what to do and who to do it with – a lot of that results from interdisciplinary learning,” Muise says.

Muise praises the Honors College ethos of combining academic rigor with hands-on experiences. He especially remembers an honors seminar called Stories Worth Sharing, based on the TED Talks series, taught by honors adjunct faculty member Gregory DeLaurier. Out of that seminar, Muise and several of his classmates decided to organize what turned out to be a successful TEDx Lowell event.

Sandra Adome ’18 – Medical Laboratory Science

UMass Lowell honors grad Sandra Adome works at Boston Children's Hospital Image by Courtesy
Medical lab scientist Sandra Adome '18 says honors challenged her to reach for more in her career.
Medical laboratory science major Sandra Adome ’18 joined the Honors College because she wanted to challenge herself.

“It was a way for me to prove to myself that I’m capable of taking on different things and succeeding,” she says.

Now, she’s a medical laboratory scientist at Boston Children’s Hospital, where she was in the first group to get trained to perform COVID-19 tests.

Adome says her honors capstone project, which expanded on her experience in the Zuckerberg College of Health SciencesInterprofessional Education program, forced her to overcome shyness because she had to work with other students and professionals that she didn’t know.

After interning at Summit ElderCare in Lowell, Adome and another honors student created a presentation based on their experiences with the program – and delivered it at two conferences.

Adome gained confidence in her communication skills, which has not only helped in her current job, but fueled her ambition. She’s now enrolled in a part-time, post-graduate program that will prepare her to apply to medical school and work in direct care as a doctor.

“You’re never going to see your full potential unless you push yourself out of your comfort zone,” she says.

Caitlin Pinkham ’13 – History

UMass Lowell history honors graduate Caitlin Pinkham now works at the U.S. Department of Education Image by Courtesy
History grad Caitlin Pinkham '13 uses skills she learned through honors at her job in the U.S. Department of Education.
In retrospect, Caitlin Pinkham ’13 says her history major, the Honors College and hands-on experiences helped her to discover the personality traits and develop the skills – research, analysis and writing – that she uses in her current job as a program analyst for the U.S. Department of Education.

“Honors built up my confidence. It also helped me recognize what path I should go down,” she says.

Two honors experiences stand out, she says: an honors seminar for the DifferenceMaker program, which teaches entrepreneurial thinking and skills; and her honors research and thesis on the Great Depression in Lowell, and whether government programs helped the city’s residents.

She says her thesis was inspired by an honors seminar with History Prof. Robert Forrant, who served as her thesis advisor.

“He was such a great mentor, and his classes were super dynamic and enjoyable,” she says. “I got a lot out of that honors thesis, and that pushed me to pursue my master’s.”

After graduation, Pinkham interned at a national park in Virginia through the Student Conservation Association. Then, she earned her master’s in history at UMass Boston, writing her thesis on the experience of Black workers in the Civilian Conservation Corps in Massachusetts during the Great Depression.

Both of her theses examined how government policies impact people, and that’s what she does now.

“Research, analyzing data, writing and communication – I use all the buckets of my history major in my job,” she says.

Willie Boag ’16 – Computer Science

Willie Boag took seven honors seminars at UMass Lowell Image by Courtesy
Willie Boag '16 found a sense of power and purpose through an honors seminar, Experiencing Philanthropy.
Computer science graduate Willie Boag ’16, now a Ph.D. student at MIT specializing in ethics and artificial intelligence in health care, says the Honors College broadened and deepened his learning – especially the interdisciplinary honors seminars.

He loved them so much that he took seven of them, including the seminar that spawned the TEDx Lowell talk on prosthetics, which he worked on with Muise.

But his favorite honors seminar was Experiencing Philanthropy, taught by philanthropist Nancy Lippe, in which students spent the semester researching nonprofits, soliciting grant proposals and deciding how to award $10,000.

After a site visit to one of the finalists, Boag made an impassioned argument for its potential to change the lives of children by combining environmental education with community action – and persuaded his classmates to award the program some money.

“I used to think that official processes had committees with smart people who made logical decisions,” he says. “I learned that instead it’s just ordinary people doing their best and trying to convince each other – and one passionate person can make a difference.”

Now, he’s that passionate person, working on multiple research projects that aim to use machine learning to address racial disparities in end-of-life care, the doctor-patient relationship and computerized diagnostics. He’s also active in a peer mentoring program aimed at helping more diverse candidates apply successfully to Ph.D. programs.

Boag’s horizons remain broad, even as his expertise becomes more specialized. As he looks forward to finishing his Ph.D. in 2022, he’s figuring out whether he wants to work in research, policy or health care.

“The problem isn’t too few options,” he laughs. “It’s too many options.”