'Best Friends' are Ready to Celebrate Commencement with Friends and Family
By Karen Angelo
Twin sisters Brenda and Rachel Mains graduated with bachelor’s degrees from UML’s public health program in 2021, at the height of the pandemic. They decided to continue with their education, enrolling in the Master of Public Health (MPH) program. Again, together.
After six years at the university, the sisters are ready for all the pomp and circumstance they deserve at this year’s Commencement.
“It will be really nice to have an official ceremony with my mom, our friends and family in the audience as we march across the stage to accept our diplomas,” says Rachel.
First-generation college students who grew up in Lowell, the sisters lost their dad to cancer when they were 11. Their mom raised the twins and their brother, who is two years older, as a single parent.
“Most people probably wouldn’t know the struggles our family has gone through,” says Brenda. “Now that we’ve earned a bachelor’s in public health, and soon our master’s degree, it feels surreal. I feel really proud and grateful to earn my degrees at UMass Lowell and to accomplish this at 24 years old.”
The twins shared everything growing up – a bedroom, clothes and friends. They took classes together at Lowell High School and even enjoyed the same sports, including dance, volleyball and softball.
“I am truly lucky that my sister is my best friend,” Rachel says.
While they don’t know whether they are fraternal or identical twins, Rachel is quick to point out that she’s two minutes older.
“We look similar, so someday we’ll get a DNA test,” she says.
It’s no surprise that the power of the twin bond extended to their chosen major of public health.
“When it came time to attend college, I was genuinely interested in health sciences because of a public health class I took in high school,” says Rachel, who learned from a classmate that UML offered a public health program.
“I was very intrigued by the public health classes that explore infectious disease, environmental health and policy,” says Brenda.
Although the sisters applied to other colleges, UMass Lowell made the most sense because of the quality of the academics and the affordability, they say.
“Public health is the career for us, and UMass Lowell was the best place for us to earn our degrees,” says Rachel.
During the pandemic, the sisters helped out with COVID-19 surveillance testing on campus. They registered faculty and staff and conducted contact tracing. For people with exemptions, they packaged and distributed the tests. Throughout their six years on campus, the Mains sisters worked to help pay for their education.
Both had jobs in various offices on campus, including Life Safety and Emergency Management, Financial Aid and the Wellness Center.
“My supervisors have always understood that I was a student first and have supported me so much along the way,” says Rachel. “It was great to get paid to work on campus and experience public health work in a higher education setting.”
Brenda currently works as a graduate student grader for Assoc. Prof. of Public Health Leland Ackerson, which helps to reinforce concepts she learned as an undergraduate.
“Brenda has always been thorough, accurate, dedicated and honest in assessing the work of the undergraduate students, which I oversee,” says Ackerson, who has had the twins in undergraduate and graduate courses. “Brenda and Rachel have always been very engaged in class, sharing their ideas and opinions in a meaningful way, which inspired their peers to participate in class.”
As graduate students, they decided to pursue the health care management option in the MPH program to develop more professional skills while gaining a deeper understanding of public health.
Rachel’s current internship at Lowell General Hospital’s Regulatory Compliance Department inspired her to look for jobs involved with regulatory, risk management and quality improvement aspects of health care.
“I’ve especially enjoyed the educational experiences I got in the master’s program, including being part of the new Public Health Informatics and Technology program,” she says.
Brenda recently accepted a job offer from Steward Health Care as a patient access representative.
“The education I received from UMass Lowell has been nothing short of amazing,” says Brenda. “The professors are so passionate about public health, and it shows in the coursework and in the way they interact with students. They’ve prepared me well to put my public health skills to work and to always grow and learn.”