They've been "a match" since middle school.
Sweethearts Sarah LeBlanc Aker '11 and Aaron Aker '12 attended UMass Dartmouth together as biology majors. Sarah was accepted to medical school at UMass Medical in 2011, and Aaron joined her a year later as a research technician in the Virology Lab of Prof. Abe Brass.
The Templeton, MA couple's story of commitment to each other—and to the study of medical science—was UMass Medical's Match Day story for 2015 and a "top story of the year."
But it's also a UMass Dartmouth story.
Now Sarah is an intern in the Pediatric Residency Program at MassGeneral Hospital (MGH) for Children. And Aaron is a PhD student in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program at Harvard Medical School, focusing on genetics.
Opportunities to explore and discover at UMassD
"There were many things I admired about UMassD," said Sarah.
"It was a great environment to explore and discover the profession that really called to me and how to make it a reality. I had incredible professors and mentors who helped push me to achieve my goals and supported me along the way. I continue to use the skills and knowledge I acquired while in college."
Aaron added, "UMassD really allowed me to explore many different majors while I traversed my somewhat serpentine path to obtaining my BS in biology. Without the guidance and support of professors while at UMassD, it would have been quite difficult for me to identify which field I should study.
"Biology fit many of the qualities I was looking for where one could create hypotheses and actively test them with appropriately designed experiments. This has the potential to open more doors of inquiry and further discovery which has always excited me."
Aaron's advice to students? "Don't be scared to explore different fields of study, as you never know how seemingly unrelated things may synergize to create a new passion.
Future careers in pediatrics and regenerative biology
While Sarah is still undecided about what she wants to do within pediatrics after her residency, she said, "I've enjoyed all of my rotations so far. I'm very grateful for the opportunity to learn so much from the amazing pediatricians at MGH. I've had the opportunity to start learning about different career paths so I can begin to discover which is right for me."
She added, "We also love living in Boston!"
Aaron's experience at Harvard has been "one of learning and discovery."
"I've rotated in the labs of Dr. Rich Lee and Dr. George Church, and both have been great experiences, performing cutting-edge research which will shape the direction of future scientific endeavors with possible implications for humanity in general," he said.
"I'm interested in synthetic and regenerative biology with a focus on how these fields may revolutionize our collective future. Ideally, I would like to remain in academia while having some industry ties to expedite the transition of scientific discovery into tangible, useful products if I go down the path of technology development. I look forward to identifying which field I will go into as I learn about more options, develop my career goals, and gain further insight by talking to mentors about their past experiences."
Cherry tree memory
Still a romantic as well as a scientist, one of Aaron's favorite memories of UMass Dartmouth was "the flowering of the cherry blossoms which line some of the walkways on campus, seeing the beautiful pink flowers on the trees and fallen flowers along the walkway."