Olivia Houle gets motivated when she sees the potential of things. Critical thinking, trial and error, hands-on experiments – all of these were experiences that she pursued in high school and dived deeper into at UMass Lowell.

For her senior year practicum, the exercise science major conducted impact and fit tests of new shoes in development at Saucony’s Human Performance and Innovation Lab in Waltham, Massachusetts. She even got to work on her own research.

“We examined the strain on the carbon fiber plates to determine why they are so effective for running,” says Houle, who transferred to UMass Lowell in her sophomore year.

Houle chose the exercise science, clinical option program because the coursework and real-world experiences aligned with her goals. She plans on applying to graduate school to pursue a career researching prosthetics and orthotics.

Her interest in prosthetics grew during her high school years at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical High School in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. She worked on a team that designed an experiment that measured bacteria in human mouths, which can lead to tooth decay and cavities. The experiment was sent to the International Space Station, and Houle’s project team presented the results at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in June 2017.

“This project was what really introduced me to research and taught me how much I liked it,” she says. “It was a big factor in my decision to rank Saucony as my No. 1 choice of practicum site.”

Even before high school, Houle had a knack for hands-on work. At 9 years old, she learned how to weld, a talent she picked up from her dad and uncles that became her specialty in high school.

She also got involved in the FIRST Robotics program, a competition for students in elementary through high school.

“All of these experiences with hands-on technical work, combined with my desire to help people, led me to pursue a career in prosthetics,” says Houle. “My education and experiences at UMass Lowell have perfectly prepared me with the coursework, dedicated professors and real-world research necessary for the next phase of my career.”