Feature Stories 2023: Taonga Horace '23: Clinical microbiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital

Medical Laboratory Science major
Just two days after graduation, medical laboratory science major Taonga Horace '23 began working as a clinical microbiologist at Boston Children's Hospital.
Feature Stories 2023: Taonga Horace '23: Clinical microbiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital
Taonga Horace '23: Clinical microbiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital

Medical laboratory science major and native of Zambia plans to attend medical school and specialize in infectious diseases

When she arrived on the southeastern Massachusetts campus of UMass Dartmouth from south-central Africa in 2019, Taonga Horace ’23 realized she was very far from home. But after attending her new student orientation, this native of Zambia "felt incredibly comfortable" in the welcoming and friendly atmosphere.

A medical laboratory science (MLS) major, Horace excelled academically, became involved in many student organizations, worked as a certified nursing assistant, and landed a highly competitive internship as a research assistant in the Infectious Disease and Immunology Department at UMass Chan Medical School. She had the opportunity to present her research at conferences in California and at Harvard Medical School.

Just two days after graduation, Horace began her new job as a clinical microbiologist in the Infectious Disease Department at Boston Children’s Hospital.

UMass Dartmouth experience

Why did you choose UMassD and your area of study?

"Finding an affordable school with a diverse student body that offers excellent STEM education was crucial to me. UMass Dartmouth provided this for me and much more.

"I began my academic journey as a biology major. However, after a conversation with a friend who spoke highly of medical laboratory science, I switched my major during my first year."

How was your experience in the MLS program? 

"I loved the hands-on approach implemented by each discipline in the MLS program. While the coursework was challenging, I believe it is an excellent foundation for graduate school. What impressed me the most was how much we learned about disease presentations—the microbiology and other science courses were comparable to those taught in the first year of medical school. I enjoyed solving case studies, which required critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

"Pursuing this major has made me more meticulous, a better problem solver, and a hard worker. Moreover, the clinical rotations allowed me to appreciate the field of medical laboratory science even more. I realized that clinical laboratory scientists like us significantly impact patient care."

What has been your experience learning from, and working with, faculty at UMassD?

"The faculty are very knowledgeable yet humble. They are genuinely supportive and treat each student as an individual. They always encouraged me to reach my full potential. I went to them for knowledge about various coursework and questions about job interviews, professionalism, and graduate school applications."

 What is one of your most memorable experiences at UMass Dartmouth? What did you enjoy most?

"One of the most unforgettable experiences I had at UMass Dartmouth was attending my new student orientation after coming from Zambia. Despite being far from home, I felt incredibly comfortable on campus due to the welcoming and friendly atmosphere. The diverse student body, with people from all over the world, made me feel at ease, and their open-mindedness added to the sense of community."

 What do you think makes UMassD unique?

"UMass Dartmouth is committed to student success. They provide personalized attention, support, and guidance to help students achieve their academic and career goals."

Taonga standing in front of research poster
Taonga Horace participated in the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at UMASS Chan Medical School. Her research project focused on the role of the LOX-1 receptor on the immune activity in alveolar macrophages.

Experiential learning and research

 Were you involved in undergraduate research?

"During my sophomore year at UMassD, I briefly worked as a research assistant in Professor (Xiaofei) Jia's lab in the biochemistry department. Our research project aimed to study the interaction between the HIV NEF protein and the host immune response. The experience was a great opportunity for me to gain hands-on experience in research.

"Last year, I was fortunate to participate in a highly selective ten-week Summer Undergraduate Research Program at UMass Chan Medical School. I worked as a research assistant in the Infectious Disease and Immunology Department, where my research focused on the host's immune response to pneumonia. This program was an incredible opportunity to deepen my understanding of immunology and infectious diseases while gaining more experience in research."

What did you do in your internship last summer? Will this experience be helpful to you in your future career?

"One of my most cherished undergraduate experiences was my summer research program. As a research assistant, I conducted in-vitro experiments on mice alveolar macrophages in a pneumonia-like environment. I utilized techniques such as PCR, Western blot, and flow cytometry to measure the inflammatory response during the project.

"The best part was that I made many friends from across the country, all of whom shared similar goals of pursuing medical school or obtaining a PhD. At the end of the program, we had a poster presentation. I was privileged to present my summer research poster at the annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists (Anaheim, California) and at Harvard Medical School. This experience has encouraged me to want to pursue a career as a physician."

For her research presentations, Horace received the ABRCMS Immunology Presentation Award and the Harvard Medical School Science Symposium Travel Award.

Did you have an internship or job during college? 

"During college, I worked as a certified nursing assistant. This experience proved invaluable when I started my clinical internship at St. Luke's Hospital, as it provided me with a better understanding of patient care and helped me develop a more humanized approach when analyzing patient samples."

All medical laboratory science majors at UMass Dartmouth complete a one-semester clinical practicum during their senior year at an affiliated hospital.

Did you have any other internships or jobs related to your major?

"I have accepted a medical technologist position at Boston Children's Hospital, where I began working just two days after graduation!

 "I will perform biochemical or molecular testing on patient specimens to identify potential bacterial, fungal, or viral infections. The outcomes of these tests play a critical role in enabling physicians to make precise diagnoses, leading to appropriate and effective treatment for patients."

Beyond your internship, has there been another activity you participated in at UMassD that has impacted your life or future career? 

"As the coordinator for MASSPIRG Hunger and Homelessness Campaign for two years, I had the opportunity to organize and execute two successful walkathons. These events aimed to raise funds for the Ukraine refugee crisis and Habitat for Humanity. Supporting a cause I am deeply passionate about helped me develop a sense of humility and a greater understanding of the world around me."

Taonga standing in front of Anaheim Convention Center
Horace presented her summer research poster at the annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minoritized Scientists 2022 in Anaheim, California. She was awarded a prize for the best poster presentation in the Immunology Division.

Future plans include a career in medicine

What are your plans following graduation?

"I plan to pursue a career in medicine and apply to medical school to become an infectious disease doctor.

"Having witnessed a cholera endemic and COVID-19 pandemic, I have realized how a threat to public health can devastate economies, lead to mass unemployment, and impede social interaction. My personal experience has made me want to work where I can make a tangible and positive impact on public health. 

"The MLS coursework has dramatically deepened my passion for the field, particularly in infectious diseases. As an aspiring infectious disease doctor, I find immense satisfaction in utilizing problem-solving skills and delving into the intricate details of a patient's history to uncover the underlying cause of their exposure. The prospect of meticulously analyzing laboratory data and collaborating with fellow healthcare professionals to unravel diagnostic mysteries and provide a treatment plan for patients fills me with excitement and purpose."

Do you have any advice for future UMassD students?

"For prospective students, I suggest exploring the various opportunities offered on the UMassD campus by getting involved in organizations and clubs that align with your interests. Time management can be a challenging aspect of college life, so it's crucial to prioritize and plan your schedule effectively. Don't hesitate to seek help from your friends and faculty whenever needed. Lastly, enjoy yourself and make the most of your college experience!"