Alexa, a bioengineering major, shares how participating in extracurricular activities has prepared her for a bright future.
*Updated May, 2023
The epitome of a multifaceted engineer
Alexa Van Voorhis took advantage of UMass Dartmouth's accelerated BS/MS program in bioengineering to complete a bachelor's and master's degree in just five years. During her outstanding undergraduate career, she rose to both academic and athletic excellence, and became a leader in the campus community.
Alexa won the NASA & MIT Space Grant Fellowship, the National Science Foundation (NSF) S-STEM Scholarship, and the NSF Accomplish Scholarship, among others. As a Cross Country athlete, Alexa became the first Little East Conference Runner of the Year in program history, and in 2023 was named UMass Dartmouth's Female Athlete of the Year. Alexa also became a leader and an advocate for diversity in her field, serving as President of the Society for Women in Engineering (SWE) and Co-Founder and Vice President of Out in STEM (oSTEM). During her year as a master's student, Alexa delved further into ambitious and exciting research on biofuels, motivated by the food insecurity crisis brought on by climate change, an issue deeply felt in our region.
"My current research focuses on repurposing the loads of seashell waste Massachusetts generates annually as a carbon source for biofuel production," Alexa explains.
Her passion and knowledge earned Alexa a seat at the table during Governor Maura Healey's sustainability roundtable event at UMass Dartmouth, the governor's first trip outside the State House since being sworn into office.
"As a master's student, I've seen myself grow my critical thinking, communication skills, and natural aptitude for research, which I believe has prepared me well for my PhD program.
"I am incredibly excited to start my PhD program at Northeastern University in Chemical Engineering this fall."
Q&A with Alexa Van Voorhis
Q: Why did you choose to attend UMass Dartmouth?
A: "I chose to attend UMass Dartmouth because of the variety of options to get involved on campus offered here. By attending this school, I had the opportunity to participate in sports, undergraduate research, volunteering, and clubs that pertained to my interests."
Q: Would you recommend a UMassD education, and if so, why?
A: "Yes, UMass Dartmouth has given me the opportunity to achieve my potential in all areas of my life. Every day I have the privilege to work directly with people I look up to, whether that be my professors, coaches, or fellow students and athletes. They have all helped me learn and grow as a person in a variety of ways, and I couldn’t have asked for a better community to surround myself with."
Q: What drew you to your major?
A: "I was a big science nerd in high school, and bioengineering sounded cool to me back then because it was a combination of subjects I thought were interesting i.e. math, chemistry, and biology. When I started taking classes my freshman year, I definitely had no idea what types of jobs I’d be able to get once I graduated. It was my junior and senior year classes that helped me realize I have a passion for molecular biology and biotechnology. My capstone team and research advisor have also made being in the lab and problem solving so much fun, and I am hoping I can bring all of these elements to my future career."
Q: Can you tell us about your leadership experience and how it's helped prepare you for life after graduation?
A: "I have leadership experience in many parts of my life, and they all require me to be a different type of leader! In athletics as captain, I see myself as someone the underclassman can come to for advice. I also try to lead by example in my training and support other athletes in their events. In the Society of Women Engineers, I lead by advocating and working towards hosting events that increase women's representation in engineering.
"I do this by coordinating outreach events with my eboard and hosting networking events for students. All of the work I have done here couldn’t have happened without the work of eboard though, I may be the one delegating tasks but we all are responsible for getting things done! Finally, as the team lead for my capstone, I serve as the middle man between my project sponsor and my team. I try to keep us all on the same page, involved in group decisions, and encourage everyone to give an equal contribution to the project. In all of my leadership experiences, I aim to give everyone a voice and a place to make a difference in that respective community if they choose to do so."
Q: What sport do you participate in at UMassD?
A: "I do cross country/track and field. My events are mostly long-distance, with my favorite event being the 5k. I’ve also run the mile, 3k, and 1500m. I am currently working on trying to convince my coach to let me run the steeplechase before graduating, so hopefully, I’ll be able to add that to the list soon. My favorite experiences from my team are the track meets. I love how on meet day, all I have to do is run and cheer people on while they run. It helps me destress from school and brings me into the present moment."