Class speakers honored to represent classmates at Commencement

By Bryan Goodchild and Ellie Castano

UMass Medical School Communications

May 26, 2014

Among the highlights of the UMass Worcester Commencement on Sunday, June 1, will be the personal reflections of the three class speakers who were chosen by their classmates, academic leaders and faculty. In reflecting on their academic journey, they will represent more than 200 graduates who will cross the stage at the 41st Commencement.

Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences class speaker Shawna Guillemette will receive her PhD . She has been conducting research in the lab of Sharon Cantor, PhD, associate professor of cancer biology. Guillemette has focused on the genetic instability that underlies hereditary breast and ovarian cancers and how these tumors gain resistance to chemotherapy. She will be pursuing a career in which she can continue studying chemotherapy resistance with the goal of developing new cancer therapies.

One of the most important things that Guillemette said she learned here is that there is a lot more to being a scientist than working in a lab. She has learned to be a public speaker and a designer, so that her research presentations are engaging. She has learned to be teacher and mentor to younger students interested in pursuing science. And she has learned to become an advocate.

“It’s our responsibility to the public, with this gift we have, to be advocates. We have to educate the public about why funding for research is so important,” she said.

Graduate School of Nursing class speaker Paula Bigwood, RN, BSN, MHA, who will  receive her doctor of nursing practice degree, is an advanced practice nurse who pursued the DNP so that she could be better prepared to affect change in her field. She works in transplant services at UMass Memorial Medical Center, where she coordinates care for the living donor population.

“I’m proud to say that the DNP program helped me to develop the skills to analyze data, develop evidence-based interventions and work within an interprofessional, collaborative environment to improve the care that we are able to provide,” said Bigwood.

Her capstone project reflects these skills. Working with an interprofessional team of nurses, social workers and physicians, she developed an education plan to help increase the pool of living kidney and liver donors as a way to decrease the disparity between patients who are wait-listed to receive organs and those who eventually do receive one.

School of Medicine class speaker Laura Ferraro, who will  receive her doctor of medicine degree, was inspired to pursue a career in medicine when she was shadowing Brian Hennessy, MD, clinical associate professor of anesthesiology, after her freshman year of college.

“He took me into the OR and introduced me to all the other physicians in the room as ‘Dr. Ferraro’ and it was so exciting,” she said. “And I thought, yeah, I can do this.”

The real Dr. Ferraro will be headed to an obstetrics and gynecology residency at the University of Virginia. She hopes to remain in academic medicine and play a role in teaching future doctors.