At a Glance

Year: ‘23
Major(s): Biology
Minor(s): UTeach
Activities: Honors College, Study Abroad, Immersive Scholar, Lacrosse
Why study biology? "I love being outside and being active, and I like how biology relates to everything in life, how hands-on it is.”

Biology BS

As a biology major, you will gain the knowledge, skills and critical thinking needed for a successful career in modern biology and related fields.

Honors College student Grace Hansen is a biology major and captain of the UML Division I women’s lacrosse team.

She’s also a budding researcher who is fascinated by chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a degenerative brain condition sometimes found in athletes who have suffered repeated head injuries. Hansen is now applying to graduate schools to study neuroscience.

“I’ve always wanted to find a way to combine sports and science, and I think this might be the perfect way to do it,” Hansen says.

Hansen, a senior from Stamford, Connecticut, first heard of UMass Lowell when she was recruited for the lacrosse team. When she visited campus, she learned about the range of academic programs in the Kennedy College of Sciences and met the lacrosse coaches – and she was all in. 

“UMass Lowell had tons of different science opportunities, and I knew I could find whatever I wanted,” she says. “I just really liked the atmosphere of the school.”

She was invited to join the Honors College, and she received a $4,000 Immersive Scholarship that she could use to do research with a faculty member or study abroad after completing her first year. 

After her first semester, she also joined the UTeach program, an education minor for students with STEM majors that leads to initial licensure as a teacher. 

Hansen chose to use her Immersive Scholarship for a summer study abroad program on ecology and marine biology in the Galapagos Islands, one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth. The program was postponed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Hansen was finally able to go during summer 2022. She had never traveled outside the United States before.

“It was easily the greatest experience of my life,” she says. “Our classroom was right on the beach. We had class for three hours in the morning and an adventure in the afternoon: cleaning up the beach, swimming, surfing or snorkeling.

“You learned about all the different organisms – and then you’d see them right there in front of you. Just to swim with sea turtles right next to you was so awesome.”

Because of her busy schedule, Hansen didn’t have much time to pursue research opportunities during her first three years at UML.

She got her first research internship during summer 2022 with a scientist at Burke Neurological Institute in White Plains, New York, right near her home. Gary Gibson, who studies Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain conditions, asked Hansen to review studies involving an enzyme that affects neurodegeneration and regeneration – and made Hansen first author on the resulting research paper. She began thinking about how that research might apply to CTE.

“That introduced me to the whole field of sports neurology,” Hansen says. 

In the fall, she went on a field trip organized by Political Science Prof. Jeffrey Gerson to the UNITE Brain Bank, where Boston University researchers study CTE and other traumatic injuries in the brains of deceased athletes and military veterans. Gerson connected her with researchers there before the trip, and they offered her a summer internship.

Meantime, Hansen is doing her honors thesis research with Nutritional Sciences Prof. Thomas Wilson on comparing biomarkers in the blood of student-athletes who are vegetarians and omnivores.

“That’s a whole other interest of mine,” says Hansen, who is a vegetarian. “We want to see if it affects athletic performance.”

Best part of study abroad?

Grace Hansen in the Galapagos Islands
“Our classroom was right on the beach [in the Galapagos]. We had class for three hours in the morning and an adventure in the afternoon: cleaning up the beach, swimming, surfing or snorkeling."