When Ralph Saint-Louis ’18, ‘19 came to UMass Lowell’s “Welcome Day” for newly admitted students, the high school senior from Medford, Massachusetts, stopped by the UTeach booth in the Tsongas Center and chatted with Education Clinical Asst. Prof. Sumudu Lewis.
Saint-Louis had always wanted to teach, but first he planned to become a cellular and molecular biologist 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. He went to seven different schools from kindergarten through middle school. When he reached high school in Medford, he says, he told his mom they needed to stay in one place 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 volunteer with the program as a college success coordinator when he came to UMass Lowell.
Saint-Louis was able to get paid research internships with faculty in biology through all four years of his undergraduate career, through the Urban Massachusetts Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation. And in UTeach, he got lots of classroom experience, starting 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 there right away. He began teaching biology and chemistry while completing a master’s degree in biology at UML.
He was planning to work in biotech for a few years once he finished his master’s, but the COVID-19 pandemic upended his plans. Urban persuaded him to stick with teaching for another year – and he decided to go all in. He was appointed to the high school’s Instructional Leadership Team, the School Site Council and a district leadership committee addressing equity and diversity in education.
He also applied for and obtained a Massachusetts Education Policy Fellowship, which helped him better understand educational policy at the national, state and local levels. As part of the fellowship, he worked on state policy for early childhood literacy and 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 also started on a second master’s degree at Fitchburg State University in education leadership and management that will lead to his principal’s license.
In only his third year of teaching, Saint-Louis came close to winning the Massachusetts STEM Teacher of the Year award. Although he didn’t carry the top prize, he was named one of five finalists and awarded a grant he can use in the Lowell public schools.
Saint-Louis is one of the advisors for the Tenacity Challenge, an academic contest for teams of Latino and Black high school students that compete in four categories – literature, history, science and art – for scholarship funds. This year, teams from Lowell won $12,000. He will use his STEM Teacher of the Year finalist’s award to expand the Tenacity Challenge into some middle schools.
Because of his own experiences, Saint-Louis is passionate about making a difference for his students, who speak more than 60 different languages and come from all over the world.
“I’m a first-generation American, first-gen for college, first in my family to do just about everything,” he says. “I saw what education did for me; it was upward mobility for me. And I can see there are so many students who are under-served 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.”