In high school, Brianna Atwood thought she wanted to go into health care administration. She also wanted to play soccer in college.
Then she broke her back playing flag football in gym class.
Atwood spent four months in a full-torso cast and another four months in physical therapy. She was fascinated by what she saw going on with the other patients, including some with prosthetics. She decided she wanted to go into plastics engineering and design prosthetics – so she chose UMass Lowell, the only college she’d applied to that wasn’t recruiting her as a soccer goalie.
At Convocation in Atwood’s freshman year, a DifferenceMaker team talked about their award-winning project: making durable, low-cost prosthetic limbs for children in developing countries.
“I got the chills and thought, ‘This is where I need to be. That is what I want to do with my life,’” she says.
The Honors College student isn’t waiting until she’s done with her education to help out, though.
In Atwood’s first weeks on campus, when her professor for the First-Year Seminar in Honors told students they could perform community service to fulfill an assignment, Atwood started a volunteer program that sends UMass Lowell students to tutor and translate for children at the St. Patrick School in Lowell’s Acre neighborhood. Ninety percent of St. Patrick’s students come from immigrant and refugee families. The volunteer program is now in its third year.
“The St. Patrick’s students love seeing the UMass Lowell students,” Atwood says. “Having us come in and tutor them and also talk to them about going to college and having a bright future and how important it is to stay in school – that inspires them.”
Atwood has flourished in her studies, too. She has three minors – math, business and business administration for engineers. She also got a professional co-op the spring semester of her sophomore year at Trelleborg Sealing Solutions, where she worked on fire-resistant seals for airplanes.
The co-op was supposed to run from January through June, but Trelleborg kept her on for two more months, until she had to return to campus to train as a resident adviser for the Commonwealth Honors First-year Living-Learning Community.
The co-op and the three minors will add a year to her undergraduate degree. She plans to stay on at UMass Lowell for her master’s, too.
“UMass Lowell just keeps getting better – everything improves,” she says. “The campus itself is awesome, and I really like the city, too. I’m a huge history fan and I love Mill No. 5. I love volunteering at St. Patrick’s, too.”