Last week, The University of Maine announced academic honors for the class of 2019. Drew Brooks and Ana Eliza Souza Cunha were named the valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, of the class that will graduate on May 11.
Brooks, a microbiology and music student with a minor in molecular biology, has extensive research experience in UMaine’s Wheeler Lab.
While his undergraduate years have been filled with significant academic and extracurricular achievements, Brooks emphasized that prioritizing his friendships and personal interests played an equally important role in his successful undergraduate career.
“[Making] my social life and my friends a priority actually helped me study more efficiently, and I tended to perform better on my exams … don’t take college too seriously. Your years here will be some of the best of your life, so make sure you enjoy them,” Brooks said.
In addition to his scientific endeavors, Brooks is also an accomplished vocalist, having been a member of five music ensembles during his time at UMaine.
In the fall, Brooks will begin attending the Tufts University School of Medicine on the Maine Track program. Through this initiative, students from Maine universities can apply and be admitted to Tufts’ medical school in their sophomore year without taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
“[Program] participants reinvest the time typically spent on preparing for the MCAT and participating in the regular admissions process to explore other areas of interest during their academic careers, thus broadening their college experience,” according to the program’s website.
Souza Cunha, a native of Orono, is a biology student with minors in psychology and neuroscience. During her time at UMaine, she has been involved extensively in research and volunteer work.
“[Being named salutatorian is] not something I ever expected, I was just doing what I love; which was research and helping people and the rest just sort of happened. I am extremely grateful for the honor,” Souza Cunha said.
After graduating, Souza Cunha will take a gap year and live in Boston before most likely applying to graduate or medical school in a year or two.
When asked about her proudest achievement at UMaine, Souza Cunha did not talk about a research experience or an academic accomplishment. Instead, she recounted an experience with a medical service organization she is a member of, Operation H.E.A.R.T.S., last fall.
“I was face painting at Acadia Hospital and a young boy asked me to turn his face into a canvas of one his favorite pictures (a bunch of kittens and rainbows),” Souza Cunha said. “I had not picked up a brush in over a year and [was] sweating over the picture and making sure I got every detail right. By the end he was smiling so hard, he just gave me the biggest hug and I knew right there that nothing else would compare to seeing him get excited over the work I did for him.”
Both Brooks and Souza Cunha have been involved in extensive extracurricular and non-academic activities while at UMaine. Brooks said that getting involved is his biggest piece of advice for new students.
“There are a lot of clubs and extracurricular activities on campus that provide a great opportunity to make friends that will stay with you throughout your college years and even beyond,” Brooks said. “Having friends that support you in tough times is really important for mental health and well-being. In my experience, if you are happy and healthy, you tend to perform better in your classes, and learning new material becomes easier.”
UMaine’s 217th Commencement will take place in the Harold Alfond Sports Arena on May 11.