Jessica Dossantos first began thinking about a career in nursing during high school, after she and her family went on a church mission trip to Cape Verde.
They brought food and small toys for the children, who flocked to play with Jessica and her identical twin sister, Jennifer.
“I think that helped me see that I liked helping people who are in need,” she says. “After that, it just kind of clicked – why not nursing?”
Jennifer was interested in studying business. But when Jessica found out that she would have to apply early action to get into a good nursing program at a state college or university, the twins from Medford, Massachusetts, rushed to visit UMass Lowell and other campuses.
“I don’t think it was ever a question that we were going to go to the same college,” Jessica says.
They toured South Campus and Jessica was wowed by a stop at the nursing simulation labs, with their life-size dummy patients.
“I could actually see where I’d be studying,” she says.
The twins got a good financial aid package and campus jobs. And in her acceptance letter, Jessica learned that she was eligible to join the River Hawk Scholars Academy (RHSA), UML’s nationally recognized support program for first-generation college students. 
The RHSA offered her early move-in, early course selection, peer mentoring and a variety of workshops on how to navigate college, from accessing financial aid and scholarships to leadership training. She says the RHSA was incredibly helpful during her first year.
“Especially since our parents can’t guide us through the college experience, it was nice to have that,” she says.
She took classes remotely her sophomore year due to the pandemic, so she was excited about going into her junior year. Now she’s getting to practice in the simulation labs and will start getting clinical experience. 
Dossantos is also getting experience at one of Boston’s top hospitals, Massachusetts General. She works part time as a unit coordinator on a general medical floor, where she assists patients who call the nursing station, speaking in English, Portuguese and Spanish.
She hopes to work at Mass General as a nurse after she graduates and passes her registered nurse exams because “the experience there is like no other.”
Someday, she’d like to work as a travel nurse. She may even return to Cape Verde on a medical mission.
“I like to think I’m a friendly person – I can talk to anyone,” she says. “I like trying new things; I like traveling. I want to become a travel nurse and go into different areas where I haven’t been before.”