Catherine and Martina Nkwantah ’24 Major in Chemical Engineering and Exercise Science

Catherine and Martina Nkwantah ’24
Catherine Nkwantah with her twin sister, Martina.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

When Catherine Nkwantah committed to UMass Lowell, she was excited about experiencing life as a college student. 
“I imagined myself being able to live in the dorms, attend campus events in person and truly experience being in a college classroom or large lecture hall,” says the chemical engineering major from Pepperell, Massachusetts.
But then COVID-19 happened, and everything changed. Instead of moving into a residence hall and making scores of new friends, she was living at home, taking classes online.
“My college courses and experience were confined to my bedroom desk at home,” she says. “I rolled out of bed each morning before logging onto Zoom, hoping that the internet connection would work.”
But unlike so many others, Nkwantah had a fellow River Hawk close by to share the experience of pandemic learning: her twin sister Martina, an exercise science major and a standout athlete on UML’s track and field team who does shot put, javelin, hammer and weight throws.
Catherine Nkwantah '24 Image by Edwin L. Aguirre
Catherine Nkwantah '24 serves as a student ambassador for the Francis College of Engineering.
“I was extremely fortunate that Martina also chose to attend UMass Lowell and live in the same residence hall,” Catherine says. “Being able to share that college experience made me feel less lonely.”
The Nkwantah sisters are each other’s biggest boosters, cheering each other on and celebrating each other’s accomplishments. 
“Having a twin sister who is incredibly successful in her major, especially a challenging major like chemical engineering, inspired me to achieve that level of success off and on the track,” Martina says. “Being twins, we grew up being the same person, having similar interests and playing the same sport, and it’s been an honor to watch her grow into her own identity and become a stellar example of a person and student.”
During those initial months of remote learning, Catherine got involved in campus life by joining student clubs online, including the Society of Women Engineers (where she eventually became co-president), the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and the National Society of Black Engineers. When pandemic restrictions were lifted in her sophomore year, she threw herself into on-campus activities to make up for lost time.
“I tried to get involved in everything on campus, which helped me become a familiar face around campus, excel academically and eventually walk across that Commencement stage with my sister Martina,” Catherine says.
Martina, meanwhile, continued to develop and excel as an athlete. In February, after a successful weekend of track meets at Harvard and Boston University, she was named the America East Female Field Performer of the Week. The confidence and grit she developed as a competitor also helped her to achieve academic success, she says. 
“To me, a great athlete is someone confident … a technician who gives it their all, and someone whom their peers and competitors respect,” Martina says. “I believe that carrying this mindset not only allowed me to break decades-old records in my respective events, but it also allowed me to gain more confidence in the classroom and succeed.”
Although they took different paths at UMass Lowell, when they walk across the stage at the Tsongas Center, the sisters (whose father, Gerald Nkwantah ’90, also earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from UML) will have each other to thank for their mutual success.  
“While at UMass Lowell, I learned a lot about myself, who I was as a student majoring in exercise science, and who I was as an athlete on the track and field team,” says Martina. “My sister was a big part of my journey during those years, and I could not have done it without her support.”
After graduation, Catherine plans to pursue a master’s degree in chemical engineering at UML, while Martina will enroll in an accelerated nursing degree program at MGH Institute in Charlestown, Massachusetts.