Ten Outstanding Graduates to be Honored as 21st Century Leaders at UMass Amherst Commencement

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 10 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:

Ramsez Amon of Brooklyn, N.Y., is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in individual concentration (BDIC). He planned to major in microbiology and focus on research, but in his sophomore year began working with the Institute for Applied Life Sciences as an Isenberg Business Innovation Fellow, helping support scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs in start-up ventures. The only undergraduate in the program, Amon made several important contributions, including developing strategies for a water purification platform company called Aclarity Water. Amon took advantage of the BDIC program to create an applied life sciences BDIC that combined business and bioengineering. He plans on pursuing an MBA and working in the biotechnology industry.

Aiste Balciunaite of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., is a Commonwealth Honors College student who is a double major in chemical engineering and biochemistry and molecular biology with a minor in mathematics. Balciunaite showed leadership in her courses, her research labs and on the water as a member of the rowing team. She is the co-author of two papers based on her work with Professor Maria Santore in her polymer science and engineering lab. In 2018, the athletic department honored her with the Spring Scholar Athlete Award, and she led the rowing team as co-captain. After graduation, she plans to return to her native Lithuania to work at a biotech firm, and later pursue her doctorate in chemical engineering.

Patrycja Bugajska of Enfield, Conn., is a kinesiology major. As a student, she worked with the UMass chapter of YourStory International as a research manager and traveled to Haiti twice to deliver health care services and conduct research. She has prepared for a career in medicine by volunteering in a cardiac rehab program and interning in clinical research at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield. This year, Bugajska was one of three students chosen to compete in a regional sports medicine college bowl and the team won for the first time in UMass history. They will compete in the nationals in May. Having graduated early, Bugajska is already working as a clinical research coordinator at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and hopes to start medical school within two years.

Bryan Chua of Singapore is a Commonwealth Honors College student with dual degrees in chemical engineering and environmental science. Chua was deeply involved in sustainability issues. He traveled to the Dominican Republic to distribute water filters as part of the Filter of Hope campaign and later co-founded Sustainability Projects Abroad, a student organization providing environmentally conscious ways to improve water quality in developing countries. The group traveled to Puerto Rico to distribute water filters after Hurricane Maria. He also organized the first Sustainathon at UMass competition. After graduation, he will work as an automation engineer at Bristol Myers Squibb, programming robotic systems to manufacture life-saving biopharmaceutical therapeutics.

Jackson Cote of Framingham is a major in journalism with a minor in political science. Having interned at a cable television station before transferring to UMass as a sophomore, Cote joined the staff of UVC TV 19, the student-run television station and became the station’s news director. He also joined the staff of the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, the independent student newspaper and by the end of his sophomore year he became head news editor. As a senior, Cote landed a co-op position as a correspondent with The Boston Globe’s metro section. During his time in Boston, he also worked as a digital producer at the Boston NPR affiliate station, WBUR and at the NPR program Here & Now. After graduation, Cote will continue his radio work and apply to law schools, hoping to pursue a career in public interest law.

Kelsey DeWolfe of Shrewsbury is a Commonwealth Honors College student who majored in political science with a minor in economics. An ROTC cadet, she will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army upon graduation, graduating as a Distinguished Military Graduate, putting her in the top 20 percent of cadets in the country. As a student, DeWolfe was active in student government, was a peer mentor and was selected to be the UMass Women into Leadership Fellow. After graduation, DeWolfe will serve as a field artillery officer and later plans to attend graduate school in security studies or political science. She will pursue a career in the public sector.

Mahdiar Edraki of Iran is a Commonwealth Honors College student graduating with a degree in mechanical engineering. As a first-year student, Edraki began working in Professor Yahya Modarres-Sadeghi’s fluid-structure interactions lab and went on to present his work at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting. Edraki and Modarres-Sadeghi also published their work in the Journal of Experiments in Fluids. As a student, Edraki volunteered with the UMass Supermileage Vehicle Team, which each year designs and constructs a highly fuel-efficient vehicle for competition. He also was one of two students representing UMass at the Engineering Innovation for Society Student Design Competition, during which teams designed and prototyped a wheelchair-accessible dental chair within 48 hours. After graduation, he plans to pursue a doctorate in mechanical engineering, focusing on robotics and human-machine interaction.

Jiya Nair of  Shrewsbury is a Commonwealth Honors College student graduating with dual degrees in operations and information management and political science. Nair served as attorney general of the Student Government Association and worked to reform the student conduct system. As president and treasurer of the South Asian Students Association, she sought to create inclusive space on campus for South Asian students. As policy advocacy coordinator for Student Bridges, she addressed issues of college affordability. She also served as the student trustee for the Amherst campus. Nair was also a University of Minnesota Public Policy and International Affairs fellow and a fellow at South Asian Americans Leading Together, working to combat Islamophobia on college campus. After graduation, she will travel to India on a Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship in preparation for graduate study in public policy.

Jaclyn Nicholson is a Commonwealth Honors College student from Gardner receiving dual degrees in marketing and communication, along with a certificate in media literacy. She is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society. As a student, Nicholson joined the Minuteman Marching Band and became drum major during her first year, a position that she held for three years. She led the band in its 2018 Tournament of Roses Parade appearance in Pasadena. She started a weekly music class at an assisted living residence and interned with the Alzheimer’s Association, helping plan the Ride to End Alzheimer’s fundraiser. She also volunteered with the Amherst Cinema’s See-Hear-Feel-Film program, teaching visual literacy to third-graders. She plans to work for Hanover Insurance Group and continue her education by pursuing an MBA and a master’s degree in marketing analytics.

Jessica Ulloa of Lynn is a Commonwealth Honors College student who will graduate with a degree in psychology with a neuroscience concentration. Ulloa will represent UMass Amherst at the “29 Who Shine” event May 3 at the Massachusetts State House, honoring outstanding students who graduate from the Commonwealth’s public higher education system. As a student, she developed a wound-healing treatment as her honors thesis project and founded the Hope Project, a UMass service organization that places volunteers at the local shelter and soup kitchen, collects donations and raises awareness of homelessness. Throughout college, Ulloa worked as a certified nursing assistant in a rehabilitation unit and nursing home. After graduation, she plans to work in a research lab, volunteer with the homeless community and apply to medical school.

Welch Scholars

Two graduating seniors will be recognized during the commencement ceremony for their leadership and executive ability as Jack Welch Scholars. They are:

Andrew Metz of Longmeadow, is an industrial engineering major with a minor in classical piano performance. Metz plans to pursue a career in the wind energy industry and in the long-term look for careers that combine his interests in teaching and technical problem solving.

Rachel Sanderson of Framingham, is an accounting major with a minor in information technology. She will begin working at PricewaterhouseCoopers Advisory Services in the fall as a core forensics associate.

Read the complete news release.