When Ralph Saint-Louis ’18, ‘20 came to UMass Lowell’s “Welcome Day” for admitted students, the high school senior stopped by the UTeach booth and chatted with Education Clinical Assoc. Prof. Sumudu Lewis.
Saint-Louis had always wanted to teach, but first he planned to work in biotechnology so he’d have industry experience. Lewis told him that UTeach, an education minor for students in STEM majors, would allow him to earn a teaching license while studying biology. He decided right then to attend UMass Lowell.
“I said, ‘Whoa! This is what I have been looking for,’” he recalls.
Saint-Louis says his mother, an immigrant from Haiti with only a high school degree, worked hard to provide for him and his sister, but they moved a lot when he was a child, and he went to seven different schools from kindergarten through middle school. When he reached high school in Medford, Massachusetts, he told his mom they needed to stay put until he graduated.
“I definitely honor my mom, because she showed me what a work ethic looked like,” he says. “But there were still other things I needed to be successful, and my teachers filled in that extra space.”
While in high school, Saint-Louis participated in Let’s Get Ready, a college access and support program for students from underrepresented groups. He continued to work with the program as a college success coordinator when he came to UMass Lowell.
For all four years as an undergraduate, Saint-Louis was able to get paid research internships with Biology Assoc. Prof. Jennifer Fish, funded through the Urban Massachusetts Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation program. And in UTeach, he got lots of classroom experience, starting in his first semester.
“That’s the best thing about UTeach: From the moment you step in, you are in the classroom,” he says.
He did his student-teaching practicum at Lowell High School under lead biology teacher Kaitlin Urban in fall 2018 – and was offered a job that began the day after his student teaching ended. He taught teaching freshman biology and chemistry while completing a master’s degree at UML in biological sciences with a focus in biotechnology and business.
Saint-Louis was planning to work in biotech after he finished, but the COVID-19 pandemic upended that plan. Urban persuaded him to stick with teaching for another year – and he decided to go all-in. He was appointed to Lowell High School’s Instructional Leadership Team, the School Site Council and a district leadership committee addressing equity and diversity in education.
For the 2020-21 school year, he was awarded a Massachusetts Education Policy Fellowship, which helped him better understand educational policy at the national, state and local levels. He worked on state policy for early childhood literacy and on two projects for his school and district: how to recruit and retain diverse teachers and how to incorporate “culturally and linguistically sustaining practices” into the curriculum and instructional methods.
He followed that with a 2021-22 education policy fellowship from Teach Plus Massachusetts, the state chapter of a national nonprofit that nurtures and empowers teachers as leaders to create an equitable education system for students.
Saint-Louis also works with the Lowell Education Justice Alliance and the statewide Coalition for Anti-Racism, Equity & Justice in Education. He has testified in favor of the Educator Diversity Act at the state legislature and advocated for policy changes in his school district.
In 2020, Saint-Louis was awarded the Massachusetts Association of Science Teachers’ Science Educator of the Year Award for Middlesex County. In 2021, during his fourth year of teaching, he was named as one of five finalists for Massachusetts STEM Teacher of the Year.
In 2022, the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education awarded him the Sontag Prize for Excellence in Urban Education – and TIME magazine recognized him as one of 10 Innovative Teachers nationwide.
On top of everything else, Saint-Louis has started on a second master’s degree at Fitchburg State University in education leadership and management that will lead to his principal’s license.
Saint-Louis, who now teaches 10th grade biology, is passionate about making a difference for his students, who speak more than 70 languages and come from all over the world.
“I’m a first-generation American, first-gen for college and first in my family to continue on to graduate school,” he says. “I saw what education did for me: It was upward mobility and financial stability for me. And I can see there are so many students who are underserved and are not finding the resources and support required for upward mobility.
“As a teacher, I can provide that – another place to call home, another person to speak to about anything. That’s what I really like: the student-teacher relationships.”