“I wouldn’t have done my undergraduate career any differently,” Cornelius Taabazuing remarks with pleasure. He recalls getting a phone call inviting him to participate in Emerging Scholars, a fi rst-year program for traditionally underserved and underrepresented students with strong academic records. He accepted, he now says, for one reason: “It was an opportunity to be part of something.”
Indeed it was. Cornelius lived in a residence hall with a small group of students who took honors classes together and built a community. After a successful fi rst year, he was accepted into Commonwealth Honors College, and that was instrumental, he says, in advancing his academic goals. Cornelius was also selected to work as one of the College’s peer advisors to assist with outreach and recruitment, student advising, and clerical tasks. The job, he says, “was a connecting piece. I would see professors in the office and chat with them outside of class. I made some good connections that way.”
In this role and in his work as a resident assistant in a residence hall, Cornelius relished interacting with other students. “I’m a people-person,” he says. “I get a lot of satisfaction helping people in different ways.”
Cornelius also enjoys conducting laboratory research, which he discovered as a junior. “In a lab,” he says, “you get to implement scientific research techniques, not just read about them. And you’re creating new knowledge—that’s the biggest appeal to me.”
With fellowship support and a Commonwealth Honors College research grant, Cornelius completed a Capstone Experience thesis on generating biological processes to hinder the development of drug-resistant bacteria. After graduation, he spent the summer in Colorado conducting potentially groundbreaking cancer research with a Nobel prize-winner in chemistry. Cornelius came back to UMass and received his PhD in biological chemistry in 2015. He is currently Postdoctorate Fellow at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
“You need to be given an opportunity in order to realize what you can achieve,” he says. “If I didn’t have the opportunity to do research I would never have known that I can excel at it.”