Advancing the Fight Against Cancer
Rebecca Louisthelmy '22
“My mentor taught me that’s it’s okay to ask questions—you don’t have to have everything figured out.”
When Rebecca Louisthelmy arrived at UMass Amherst from Spring Valley, New York, as a first-year biomedical engineering student, she had never been to campus before and felt out of her depth. “I’m a first-generation student with parents who immigrated from Haiti,” she says. “I grew up in a primarily Caribbean and Hispanic environment; my school was poorly funded.”
But she was determined to seize all opportunities. “I’m a go-getter,” she says. “I like to be ahead of the game.” While holding down multiple jobs on and off campus, she became deeply involved in campus life and is now president of the Black Student Union, Cultural Council, and STEM Ambassadors Program. She also serves as the undergraduate program coordinator for Student Bridges, a student agency that increases college access and success for underrepresented students.
I have learned how to communicate my work to scientists and nonscientists. As a Black woman in STEM I want to make sure people know I belong here.
With all that, it was Louisthelmy’s research experience in the lab of Chase Cornelison, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, that has been her most formative UMass Amherst experience.
Cornelison’s lab combines neuroscience and biomedical engineering. Louisthelmy’s research focuses on studying how brain cells are affected by glioblastoma, the most aggressive and deadly brain cancer. In the lab, she created a new way to isolate matrix proteins made by the cancer cells and discovered they directly affect brain cell morphology and function. By targeting responsible proteins, researchers may be able to fortify the brain against cancer spread. Louisthelmy’s work was presented on an ePoster at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS).
In the lab, Louisthelmy read research papers, acquired lab skills, and designed complex experiments. “I quickly fell in love with research,” she says. And, she learned broader lessons from Cornelison, her “Lab Dad.”
“I have learned how to communicate my work to scientists and nonscientists,” she says. “As a Black woman in STEM I want to make sure people know I belong here.” Above all Cornelison’s mentorship gave Louisthelmy affirmation. “He always lets me know about anything that can better me as a person, scientist, or engineer—always.”
Cornelison praises Louisthelmy for her abilities and accomplishments and says, “Rebecca has grown into an amazingly skilled researcher. She is the epitome of a UMass Amherst Rising Researcher.”
Although she enrolled at UMass Amherst with medical school in mind, Louisthelmy now plans to pursue a PhD in biomedical engineering. Whether in academia or industry, she says she wants to be in a position to mentor and provide research opportunities, guidance, and support to underrepresented students, especially Black women.