At a Glance
Year: ’22, ’23
Major(s): Radiological Sciences and Protection
Cassia Fontes ’22 says she gained more than just a great education at UMass Lowell.
“Coming to UMass Lowell gave me five years of work experience,” says the double River Hawk, who got a master's degree in radiological sciences and protection and a bachelor’s degree in radiological health physics.
As an incoming first-year student, Fontes applied for a work study job in UML’s Radiation Safety Office. She got hired as a radiation inspector before classes started.
“I just got out of high school, and it blew my mind that I got the job so quickly,” she says. “I felt really lucky.”
Fontes underwent extensive radiation safety training. For the next five years, she helped ensure the safety of UML’s radiation labs and nuclear reactor by surveying radiation levels.
“There are limits and regulations that we need to follow,” says the Tewksbury, Massachusetts, native.
The Health Physics Society recognized the diligent work of Fontes and the rest of the Radiation Safety Office with its first Outstanding Radiation Safety Program award in 2022. Fontes traveled to Spokane, Washington, with Steve Snay, UML’s director of radiation safety, to accept the award.
During Fontes’ time with the Radiation Safety Office, she collaborated with the Lowell Police Department to develop a program for first responders in the event of a nuclear reactor emergency. Fontes and members of the police force went to the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, for training on nuclear threats and how to use personal radiation detectors.
“It was a really cool experience,” Fontes says.
She also landed internships with Lahey Hospital and Medical Center’s Radiation Safety Department in Burlington, Massachusetts, and the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls, Idaho.
“Without a doubt, one of the main reasons I got those internships was because of my work with UML’s Radiation Safety Office,” she says. “Steve Snay and Mark Tries (radiological sciences coordinator) also put in a good word for me. They always went out of their way to make sure I was successful.”
Fontes decided to continue her education through UMass Lowell’s bachelor’s-to-master’s program, which allowed her to earn a master’s degree in one year instead of the traditional two years.
“A master’s degree is a really good thing to have in the health physics field, and I’m getting the same education that I would have gotten in two years,” she says.
Companies including the International Atomic Energy Association, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and TerraPower began recruiting Fontes before she even finished her master’s degree. She ultimately decided to work for TerraPower, a nuclear innovation company founded by Bill Gates.
“I’m getting attention from all these companies because of the opportunities UMass Lowell gave me,” she says. “If I had gone anywhere else, I genuinely don’t think that I would be where I am today.”