Every Alum Has a Story to Tell

Scientists, authors, entrepreneurs, and magicians – all of our alumni offer unique perspective into life inside and outside of UMass!

Enjoy our alumni stories and look for new additions each month in our newsletter, @UMASS.
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Enhancing the Human Experience
What if web browsing were more personalized than a Google search? User Experience Designer Gabrielle Mehlman ’10 says it’s only a matter of time until your computer will predict your needs based on a simple conversation.

Color in Comics

With more than 10,000 comic books in his collection spanning nearly a century of storytelling, comic book historian William Foster ’75 has made it his life’s work to research and teach others about the representation of people of color in comics.

Devoted to Diversity
“While I’m an adult and able to weather adversity, my responsibility is to be a touchstone for students of color who are challenged by being in the minority. I’ve taken this work to heart,” says Amherst-Pelham Regional High School Dean of Students Mary Custard ’82, ’87 MA. 

On the Run
Ultra-marathon runner and cyclist Steve Marra ’75 isn’t afraid to face the heat as he prepares for Badwater, the “world's toughest foot race” in the heart of Death Valley, California.

A Lifetime Commitment to UMass
Madeleine Noland ’89 and William Noland ’86 have seen the value of staying connected to UMass Amherst as students, professionals, and donors to university initiatives that speak to their passions.

Strategic Thinking
With UMass Amherst climbing the ranks toward becoming a top-20 public institution, Alumni Association President Gregory Thomas ’91 says now is the time for alumni to harness that energy and reignite their UMass pride.

Beaming with Pride
Joining the ranks of visionaries such as the Wright Brothers and Thomas Edison, General Electric Engineer Marshall Jones ’72 MA, ’74 PhD will be inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for his work that revolutionized the use of lasers in manufacturing.

Million-Dollar Market
“My career has had a lot of accidents. You can study one thing but life will take you somewhere else. That is what happened to me,” says Nilmaris Negrón ’99 MPA, senior financial analyst for CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm.

A Call to Help
From hearing a child’s first words to reconnecting on holidays, Robbie Bergquist ’14 has helped active military members speak with their loved ones through Cell Phones for Soldiers (CPFS), a nonprofit organization that offers the priceless gift of a phone call.

Personalized Medicine
Wendy Jones ’82 MS, ’87 PhD has traveled an unconventional path in her career. A biopharmaceutical consultant, Jones has made groundbreaking discoveries in a number of drug therapies and is helping to advance the field of personalized medicine.

’67 Spirit
After months of planning, John Mullin ’67 and members of the 50th Reunion Committee have planned a reunion celebration during Alumni Weekend that speaks to the spunk and spirit of the Class of ’67.

Community Action
Theresa Eugene ’13 took her passion for public policy and social entrepreneurship to the nation’s capital, where she leads a volunteer group educating workers on disability rights.

An American Epic
No one was more surprised than author Nathan Hill ’04 MFA when his debut novel The Nix, a mother-son tragicomedy rife with social and political commentary, skyrocketed to the top of nearly every bestseller chart in the industry.

Stop Stressing About Stress
“Chronic stress is a big problem across the globe,” says Nutritional Biochemist Shawn Talbott ’93 MS. “It’s taking its toll on our waistlines, moods, and anxiety levels. And for those chronically stressed, there is an increased risk for diseases like diabetes and depression.”

Fighting Fake News
Journalist Joshua Stearns ’07 MA says the journalism industry must adapt to a new era of transparency and real-time fact checking to help readers distinguish “fake news” from legitimate sources.

Unspoken Magic
Stephen Weiner ’91, who was born deaf, learned from a young age that performing magic tricks has the power to connect and delight audiences of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.

Everglades for All
As the first Hispanic to hold the position of superintendent at Everglades and Dry Tortugas National Parks, Pedro Ramos ’90 works to preserve vast conservation land while encouraging more diverse populations to enjoy the parks’ natural splendor.

Not Feeling the Joy

Despite tidings of joy and happiness, for many the holidays are anything but. Depression is quite common this time of year according to Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Dr. Gabrielle Abelard ’97, ’01 MA.

A Helping Hand for Hunger
“Hunger doesn’t discriminate,” says Andrew Morehouse ’95 MA, ’12 MBA, executive director of The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts

The Cybersecurity Challenge
Server hacks, leaked emails and compromised internet security have been at the forefront of recent news. But Sanjay Tandon '00, CEO and founder of Paramont Defenses, isn't much surprised by the disturbing trend.

Trending on Social Media
Social media isn't just for news and laughs anymore according to Web Content and Social Media Manager Monique Tremblay ’10. For businesses large and small, the medium is an important customer service portal. 

What We Learned from Arianna Huffington at Boston Business Women's Innovation Conference
Earlier this year, Boston Business Women hosted Boston’s first Innovation Conference.

Practice for the People
When he noted a gap in support services for Asian Americans, Russell Chin ’77 devoted a sizable part of his legal career to helping people navigate ever-changing immigration and international business laws.

Challenging Injustice
“We should all dare to question. Dare to question political parties, presidents, local and state officials. This country was founded on the right to ask questions,” says Unita Blackwell ’83 MRP, ’95 LLD Hon in her autobiography, Barefootin’: lessons from the road to freedom. 

The Brains Behind the Zombies
Ghouls, zombies and buckets of fake blood are nothing out of the ordinary for Kyle Pasciutti ’08, owner of Decimated Designs.

A Passion for History
At 97 years young, Harriet Wheatley Riggs ’41 keeps her calendar full and her wits sharp as a spirited historian, tour guide and traveler.

Adding Color to the Power and Class
Assistant Band Director & Visual Coordinator for the UMass Minuteman Marching Band Color Guard (UMMBCG) Christine Sirard ’90 dazzles UMass fans through methodical movement.

Tackling New Media
Sports Journalist Mike Reiss ’97 has devoted his entire career to covering the ups, downs and touchdowns of the New England Patriots.

Industry Q&A: Film Animation
If you’ve ever seen Kung Fu Panda or How to Train your Dragon, then you’ve seen the work of Megan Kreiner ’03crowd animator at DreamWorks Animation. In this Q&A session, Kreiner shares what it’s like to work in the field of movie animation.

A Big Celebration for the Big E
From antique milking machines to race cars, the centennial celebration of the Big E will feature the amazing story of one of the world’s largest fairs, according to Noreen Tassinari ’77, director of marketing for the Eastern States Exposition.

Building Materials
“If everyone lived the exact same way, there would only be one type of house and no need to ever remodel,” according to Anna (Novey) Cook ’04, owner and principal project manager of Integrity Development & Construction. “We make homes more livable as people’s lives change.”

From Dog Toys to Shark Tank
PrideBites cofounder Sean Knecht ’09 has taken the art of customization to the dogs – and to the Sharks on ABC’s Shark Tank.

Finding A Voice
Whether someone enjoys singing in the shower, a car or on stage, musician, founder and Director of Rock Voices Tony Lechner ’93, ’97 MM wants his choir to celebrate their inner rock star.

A Day of Reflection
For Colonel Judith Lee ’86, Independence Day means much more than fireworks and barbeques. “I truly believe we possess the freedoms we have because of those who have served,” she says. “Each Independence Day, I reflect on and appreciate that fight for our freedom.”

Learning from Brexit
“We take democracy for granted sometimes,” says researcher and doctoral candidate Renu Singh ’09. “The European Union Referendum in the United Kingdom is a good reminder for us all that citizens do have a say in their government.”

An Ear for Quality
In the early 70s, anyone who was anyone had a stereo at UMass and Mark Cerasuolo ’10 was no exception. From buying and selling stereo equipment to students, he developed a passion for getting consumers the best quality products for the lowest price.

Forefront of Zika Testing
“If there’s a public health emergency, such as with the Zika virus disease, we get many phone calls,” says Gregory Chiklis ’86, president and CEO of ZeptoMetrix,™ home to one of the world’s largest archives of viruses, bacteria, parasites and more.

Keep Your Foot in the UMass Door
Alumna Joanna Imbert ’15 has some advice for recent UMass graduates: continually strengthen your marketable skills, seek out networking opportunities and be an active alum!

In the Spotlight
Lighting designer Justin Townsend ’97 was floating on air the day he heard he’d been nominated for two 2016 Tony awards– literally and figuratively.

Healing with Humor
When it comes to helping others, nurse and comedian Misch Whitaker ’07 turns to improvisational comedy to connect with patients.

Something Good is Cooking at UMass
It takes teamwork and planning to serve 45,000 meals each day according to Christopher Howland ’03, ’08 MBA, director of purchasing and marketing for UMass Amherst Auxiliary Enterprises. “Everything we serve is made with the highest quality ingredients by well trained staff.”

Intercontinental Advising
Even though Michael Prokle ’10 MS, ’16 PhD and John Koon ’77 have never met in person, they were able to connect across the globe through the UMass Amherst Alumni Advisor Network.

The Art of the Cookie Sale
From a young girl selling Thin Mints® outside a supermarket in Kansas to becoming Chief Financial Officer of Girl Scouts Nation’s Capital, Laura Bassett ’80 has mastered the art of the cookie sale.

2016 Distinguished Alumni Awards Recipients
The Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumni Awards recipients have challenged themselves and others to delve deeper into their disciplines, question the impossible and broaden opportunities for under-served populations around the world.

Renovating the Old Chapel
In a construction trailer parked next to the Old Chapel, Melissa Trombley ’13 reviews drawings and specifications for the renovation of the campus icon. A project engineer with contractor Barr & Barr, Trombley is part of an impressive team bringing this historic landmark back to life.

Getting Out the Vote
Through grassroots activism, community organizer Hector Figarella ’05 has helped under-represented populations register to vote and have a voice in Pioneer Valley politics.

UMass in Florida
Warm weather, palm trees and Red Sox spring training are just the beginning when it comes to what Florida has to offer, according to Southwest Florida Alumni Network Leaders Frank Duggan ’76 and Diana Nevin ’65.

Anxious about Dating? Hire a WingWoman!
When someone needs a confidence boost or a slight nudge in the dating scene, Susan Baxter ’02 has the answer. Her company is devoted to helping single men and women gain confidence in social or networking settings.

What's Really Out There?
How our planet formed and what comprises the rest of the universe are questions that have long absorbed scientific minds. Jake McCoy ’12 is helping to find answers as a NASA Space Technology Research Fellow.

A Look at Race History
Professor Judyie Al-Bilali ’78, ’01 MFA and colleagues in the Department of Theater are bringing a unique production to UMass Amherst aimed at examining race, racism and racial justice on campus, in the region and across our nation.

What’s up with this Weather?
Snow in Texas, flooding in Missouri and record high temperatures in New York City have many people wondering what’s causing such weather extremes. Research Meteorologist George Kiladis ’77 with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has the answer—a likely mixture of global warming and El Niño.

Connecting Flight
With the help of the Alumni Association and a bit of fate, Joanne Garland ’69 and Ilana Attia ’70 reunited as friends and former UMass roommates 36,000 feet in the air.

Stop Waiting. Start Creating.
Through her new book, online community and speaking engagements, Angela Lussier ’03 is on a mission to provide aspiring and new entrepreneurs with the inspiration and resources to bring their vision to life!

It's All About the Social Media Data
According to tech entrepreneur and researcher Matt Rattigan '11 MA, ’12 PhD, your social media habits can predict your choice for a presidential candidate and you can expect this type of data analysis to be a part of the 2016 presidential race.

Let Go of the Fear of Failure
Mixed and demanding messages overwhelm parents the moment they find out they are expecting a child, according to teacher-turned-parenting expert Jessica Lahey ’92. Lahey, who graduated UMass Amherst with a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature, noticed the effect of “over-parenting” on her students when she worked as a middle school English teacher.

Lessons of the Journey
Financial services executive Juan Carlos Morales ’93 has overseen billion dollar asset management deals and led global finance teams from Boston to Hong Kong. “You must have the courage to take informed risks to accelerate your career,” advises Morales, “but when things don’t work out, you must also have the courage to learn from your mistakes and move on.”

Making the Big Tackle
Kristen Kuliga ’91 swears that she never intended to become an ambassador for the small number of women entering the male-dominated sports and investment industries; it just sort of happened that way.

Now that’s Agri-entertainment!
Life down on the old farm isn’t what it used to be. Modern farmers are diversifying revenue streams, managing websites, posting social media and capitalizing on the public’s interest for a fun, farm destination experience. Just ask Michael Wissemann ’78, owner of the Warner Farm in Sunderland, MA. His annual corn field creation, Mike’s Maze, was just named the best corn maze in the country by

Before You Get on the Road

Lisandra Garay-Vega ’04 MS, ’08 PhD, a project manager at the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), investigates significant accidents along our nation’s highways to determine probable cause and issue safety recommendations. “We are always trying to reduce the number of accidents,” says Garay-Vega.


The Art of Preservation
“The Basilica of Saint Peter is the product of genius artistic personalities and architects like Bramante, Michelangelo and Bernini,” says Maria Cristina Carlo-Stella ’82 MA. As head of the Office of the Fabbrica di San Pietro in the Vatican City, Carlo-Stella oversees the preservation, maintenance and enhancement of the Basilica, as well as the sight of the tomb of the Apostle Peter.

Will You Be a Victim of Fraud?
Lately, a day doesn’t go by without new reports of identity theft, massive data breaches or cybercrime occurring somewhere in the world. “Scams and fraud have been a part of history since the beginning of time,” says identity theft expert Steven J. Weisman ’70. “Everyone is doing it."

Mindful Meditation
“We don’t have to operate out of unconscious patterns or automatic pilot,” says Lynn Koerbel ’04, ’06 MA of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at  UMass Medical Center. “We can pay attention, on purpose, in the present moment and without judgement. This is mindfulness.”

An Upward Bound Legacy of Roots and Wings
Linda Beattie Randall ’91 MEd was only fifteen years old when she left her small hilltown of Cheshire, MA for the Upward Bound program at UMass Amherst. Her nerves faded quickly as she joined in with hundreds of kids who, like herself, were low-income, first generation college-bound students eager to learn.

No Space to Garden? No Problem!
With little space for a traditional back-yard garden, Paul Langdon ’94 turned to vertical farming to grow his own produce. “I designed a vertical hydroponic garden using everyday PVC pipe and rain gutters,” says Langdon.