The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Two CHC Alumni Earn Prominent Positions

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Two Commonwealth Honors College alumnae have been recently promoted to distinguished positions in their respective fields.

Katherine Whitaker '05


Katherine Whitaker '05 (physics and astronomy) has been hired as a research professor in the UMass Amherst astronomy department. Earning her master’s and PhD from Yale University, Whitaker returns to her undergraduate alma mater fourteen years later to pass on her knowledge of our solar system.

Awarded the 2019 Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, Whitaker’s research focuses on quenching of star formation, galaxy morphology, and star formation rate. She is also a newly-anointed associate faculty member at the Cosmic Dawn Center of Excellence (DAWN) in Copenhagen, Denmark, which allows Whitaker and several of her students international research opportunities each year.

“Central to my teaching philosophy is the belief that the ability to communicate scientific knowledge at all levels is equally important to cutting-edge research for the advancement of astrophysics,” Whitaker said. “By encouraging critical thinking and reinforcing quantitative reasoning skills, students develop a solid foundation and a fundamental understanding of concepts.”

For more information on Professor Whitaker, visit her faculty page here.


Cayenne Isaksen

Cayenne Isaksen ’05 has been promoted to vice president of O’Neill and Associates, New England’s leading public and government relations firm.

“At O’Neill and Associates, we take pride in our professionals and value their hard work and accomplishments,” said Thomas P. O’Neill III, the firm’s chief executive officer.  “We are pleased to announce Cayenne has been promoted from senior director to vice president and, as such, joins our senior management team. We are confident her knowledge and successes will be a powerful asset to our team going forward.”

Isaksen received her bachelor’s degree in journalism in the Commonwealth Honors College before heading to Suffolk University to earn a dual master’s degree in political science and public administration. Prior to working at O’Neill and Associates, she was director of public affairs for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families.

“I remember being initially daunted at the prospect of joining the Commonwealth Honors College program; I wondered if I was up for the challenge,” Isaksen said. “Those fears abated quickly, and I found the courses and discussions that occurred with the CHC community were some of my favorite while at UMass. Gaining the ability to dig deep into topics, analyze, and respectfully debate among my peers continues to serve me well in my career every day.”