UMass Amherst Commencement to Honor Exceptional Student Leadership and Achievement

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Amherst will honor the exemplary achievement, initiative and leadership of some of its most talented and accomplished graduating seniors during Undergraduate Commencement on Friday, May 9 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium beginning at 4:30 p.m.

Ten members of the graduating class will be honored as 21st Century Leaders at Undergraduate Commencement. Two students will be recognized for their leadership and executive ability as Jack Welch Scholars.

Akshay Kapoor, a sociology and public health sciences major from Boxborough, was president of the Student Government Association, an elected member of the Amherst Town Meeting and worked with university and town officials to improve town-gown relations. Kapoor launched the Sober Shuttle Program, which offered UMass Amherst students a safe ride home from downtown Amherst on the weekends. He received a citation for his public service from Gov. Deval Patrick. He plans to attend Johns Hopkins University to earn a master’s degree and attend medical school.

David Ke is a social justice in education major and member of the Commonwealth Honors College from Revere. He uses storytelling to create social change. A son of Cambodian refugees, he is the first member of his family to graduate college. Ke communicates about the immigrant experience in America through slam poetry pieces, is a cast member of Phallacies, a men’s health dialogue and theater group that raises awareness about gender violence and domestic abuse, and of Shaha: The Storytellers, a diversity performance troupe. He plans to attend graduate school to continue his studies of social justice education.

Emily Crain, a psychology major from Hopkinton, helped create a more visible and welcoming support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) members of the community interested in spiritual matters by working with the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. The result is more religious and spiritual resources for LGBT students such as gay-friendly clergy and outreach programs. Crain is a former member of the women’s rowing team and an accomplished research assistant. She plans to work in research psychology and then earn a doctorate in clinical or counseling psychology.

Jennifer Healy, a political science major from Bellingham, has been a strong advocate for a tuition and fee freeze. As a sophomore, she joined the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, a student-advocacy agency and became the center’s core team leader for access and affordability. She organized lobby days at the State House and helped educate UMass Amherst students about the campus budget and student debt. She was elected by her peers to serve as the student member on the UMass Board of Trustees. Healy will pursue a master’s degree in public affairs from Indiana University in Bloomington.  

Jessica Boakye, a civil engineering major from Attleboro, looked beyond undergraduate courses, enrolled in graduate courses and became co-captain of the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute Seismic Design Competition team. Last year, the team won seventh place out of 35 teams from around the world. The American Society of Civil Engineers named Boakye as one of only 10 undergraduates in the U.S. demonstrating promise as a future civil engineering leader. Boakye has also been active with the College of Engineering’s Diversity Programs Office. She plans to pursue a doctorate in structural engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Kurt Schultz, a biochemistry and molecular biology major from Northborough, founded UCAN, a community service network connecting UMass students with volunteer opportunities in the Amherst public schools. Since January 2010, UCAN has recruited 250 student volunteers. Schultz is in Commonwealth Honors College and the Integrated Concentration in Science program and is conducting research involving sleep and emotional memory at the Cognition and Action Lab. An aspiring emergency room physician, Schultz revived and reformed the UMass Premedical Society that now offers opportunities for students to gain valuable medical experience that increases chances of acceptance into medical school.

Andrew J. Newcombe, a history major from Greenfield, will receive his diploma and his commission as second lieutenant of infantry in the U.S. Army. As a student, Newcombe distinguished himself in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, supervising an 18-person staff as the Minuteman Battalion’s executive officer, and training more than 100 cadets from 12 colleges throughout New England. He also spent more than four months with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, working with mentally handicapped orphans and dying homeless men. Newcombe will move to Fort Benning, Ga., to begin the Infantry Basic Officer Leadership Course.

Lila Grallert, a veterinary and animal sciences and sustainable food and farming major from Ayer, helped lead the campus effort to use 20 percent local and sustainable food in the dining commons by 2020. She also co-founded the Poultry Management Class, a popular hands-on course that teaches students how to feed, clean and enlist other measures to keep the animals healthy. A teaching assistant for the course, she lectures and supervises students. Grallert also won accolades for initiating research where she measured feed consumption and weight gain to determine how much pasture the birds consume and compared that to the weight of birds without pasture. She plans to attend veterinary school.

Veronica Ann Pace, a biology major from Newburyport,overcame early adversity to shine as a biomedical researcher and teaching assistant. She spent her first years in a chaotic environment. At the age of 9 she was reunited with her father, who provided a stable home, a loving family, and opportunities to catch up on missed schooling. At UMass Amherst, she impressed faculty members with research she has done using the zebrafish model organism to examine genes in the nervous system. She has presented her research at several conferences. She graduated in only three years and plans a career in medicine.

Nicholas Preston Otis, a nutrition and kinesiology major and member of the Commonwealth Honors College from Goshen, already has made strides in improving the health and well being of disadvantaged populations. He learned Swahili in preparation for both work with street children and research in Tanzania. In Africa, Otis showed a keen ability for relating to children and others through sport and cultural exchange projects. A familiar figure on the athletic fields, Otis was co-captain of the track team, holding the campus record for the 400-meter relay. He is a compassionate neighbor, organizing his peers during a final-exam week to help draft a business plan for a small business destroyed by fire. He plans to work internationally on health issues.

In addition, two graduating seniors will be recognized for their leadership and executive ability as Jack Welch Scholars.

Brian L. Heacox, an operations and information management major from Marion, was inspired to study business after playing a video game in which he had to build a commercial enterprise challenged by a changing marketplace and customer fealty. He got his chance when he was named a Jack Welch Scholar and enrolled in the Isenberg School of Management. Heacox, also a student in Commonwealth Honors College, says his education has prepared him well for the job he will start this summer as a special project manager for the Washington, D.C.-based CFN Services, a telecom technology startup company.

Melissa Donahue, a chemicalengineering major from Hingham, is also a member of the Commonwealth Honors College. She took honors courses and conducted research in a polymer science and engineering lab and spent four years on the varsity women’s rowing team, spending 20 hours a week in early morning practices on the Connecticut River. She is a member of the Chemistry Club, the Society of Women Engineers, and the campus chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, UMass Amherst chapter, and served as treasurer of the UMass Tau Beta Pi Chapter.

The student speaker will be Hayley M. Mandeville, a public health major from Medfield. She concentrated her efforts on public policy, especially policies focused on veterans. Mandeville will continue her studies as a graduate student in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences at UMass Amherst, hoping some day to be an agent of change. She was elected a member of the Student Government Association and the Amherst Town Meeting and served as a peer health educator and a teaching assistant for an epidemiology course.