Biochemistry and Public Health Major Awarded Barbara Burn Scholarship

Jessica J. Furtado
Jessica J. Furtado

Jessica J. Furtado came to UMass Amherst four years ago wanting to learn how to make medicines. She says her original goal was to major in biochemistry and refine her skills in solving the riddle of disease prevention by applying advanced science.

But a couple of things happened along the way, the 21-year-old Furtado says. During her second year at UMass Amherst, she added a second major, public health. So, after graduation in May 2018 she’ll have earned two bachelors of science degrees. Furtado also discovered the power and allure of scientific research.

She received the International Programs Office Barbara Burn Scholarship at a ceremony at the annual Commonwealth Honors College Awards Reception on April 21. The $1,000 scholarship, established in 2002 in memory of Barbara B. Burn, a longtime associate provost for international programs, is designed for international students who come to study at UMass Amherst. Burn was a world leader in international education. She was named director of the Office of International Programs at UMass Amherst in 1968 and became associate provost for international programs in 1988.

Furtado is a perfect fit for the award. She is an Indian citizen and comes from Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates. Her father works in the high-end retail business and her mother works for an airline. She says the family usually travels once a year to visit her grandmother in Mumbai. She speaks English, a little Arabic and some Hindi.  

She is also the type of student Barbara Burn would have fully supported. Furtado says she added the second major in public health after she had an internship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. It was there that she came to appreciate that medicine is only one part of disease prevention. “I was able to watch the doctors talking to patients, trying to understand all of the things they could do to treat them. And it wasn’t just giving them medicine,” Furtado says. “I realized I wanted to learn how to prevent diseases and that’s much more complicated.”

Furtado says she also discovered something else working the laboratory of Michelle E. Farkas, a chemistry professor who works in the Life Sciences Laboratories. “Coming to college, I didn’t even know about research,” she says. In the Farkas lab she has been studying circadian rhythms and how they may be related to breast cancer. With her personal and professional horizons now broadened thanks to her UMass Amherst education, Furtado says she is ready to move up to the next phase of her life as a scientist.

In the fall, Furtado is headed to New Haven, Conn., where she will begin a five-year doctoral program in biochemstry at Yale University.

Barbara Burn would be pleased.