Drew Brooks named 2019 valedictorian, Ana Eliza Souza Cunha salutatorian

Drew Brooks of Lyman, Maine is the 2019 University of Maine valedictorian and Ana Eliza Souza Cunha of Orono is the salutatorian. They will be honored at UMaine’s 217th Commencement in Harold Alfond Sports Arena May 11.

Brooks is a double major in microbiology and music, with a minor in molecular biology. He will receive two bachelor’s degrees — one in microbiology, and one in music.

Souza Cunha, a biology major with minors in neuroscience and psychology, and a concentration in pre-medical studies, will receive a bachelor’s degree in biology. The Honors student also is the Outstanding Graduating Student in the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture.

Drew Brooks

“Drew and Ana are two outstanding undergraduate students from Maine who took full advantage of the breadth and depth of a research university,” says UMaine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. “Accomplishments in the classroom, laboratory and in community engagement highlight their UMaine student experience, and we look forward to seeing just how far their talents and training will take them.”

Brooks’ many academic honors include multiple scholarships and Frederick Radke Undergraduate Research Fellowships. A 2018–19 UMaine Center for Undergraduate Research Fellowship helped fund his research, “The role of MyD88 in macrophage recruitment to Candida albicans infection in the zebrafish swim bladder,” in the lab of associate professor of microbiology Robert Wheeler.

Since his sophomore year, Brooks has been a student researcher in the Wheeler Lab studying the fungus Candida albicans, which can cause life-threatening infections in immunocompromised individuals. He has been modeling fungal infections in the swim bladders of zebrafish to gain insights into how fungal pathogenesis occurs in humans, and how to better prevent or treat these infections. In particular, he has been looking at the importance of a protein, myeloid differentiation factor 88 (MyD88), in C. albicans infections, and whether it plays a role in recruiting immune cells that help clear the infection.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working in the Wheeler Lab over the past three years,” Brooks says. “I am so grateful for the opportunity to conduct research that may one day help to save someone’s life.”

Beyond the classroom and lab, Brooks has participated in five UMaine music ensembles — University Singers, Black Bear Men’s Chorus, Oratorio Society, Euphony Chamber Choir and Opera Workshop. His vocal training has been primarily geared to operatic vocal performance, which has led to his extensive involvement as a baritone in Opera Workshop productions. He hopes to continue his vocal training when he moves to Boston this summer.

As a sophomore, Brooks was accepted to Tufts University School of Medicine through the Maine Track Early Assurance program. In August, he will start his first year of medical school.

A full Q&A with Brooks is online.

Ana Eliza Souza Cunha

Souza Cunha’s numerous honors include the 2018 Dr. Susan J. Hunter Presidential Research Impact Award, the Frank B. and Charles S. Bickford Memorial Prize, and a Servant Heart Scholarship. She will graduate with highest honors for her thesis, “Evaluating A Doppler Radar Monitor For Assessing Honey Bee Colony Health.”

Souza Cunha has been volunteering to assist in UMaine research projects since she was 14 years old. As an undergraduate research intern, she has tagged and followed wood frogs to observe their migration patterns, studied sun-drying techniques on marine worms in oysters, and worked on pesticide-free weed control techniques in sustainable agriculture. Souza Cunha also has studied the effects of diets and peripheral nerves on adipose health and thermogenesis, and how radar could be used to monitor bee health.

As a student ambassador for the School of Biology and Ecology, she mentors peers on UMaine academic and engagement opportunities. Souza Cunha’s own community engagement experiences include volunteering with the UMaine chapter of Partners for World Health and Operation H.E.A.R.T.S. She has worked as a certified nursing assistant at Dirigo Pines Retirement Community in Orono and job shadowed at four health care facilities in Bangor and Lewiston.

“I have traveled across the state of Maine taking part in community service that has allowed me to expand my medical knowledge,” Souza Cunha says. “By traveling and volunteering at different medical institutions such as hospitals — rural and urban, retirement homes and mental health institutes, I have been able to identify future locations where I may see myself one day becoming a physician.”

Following graduation, Souza Cunha will be working in clinical research in Boston, and plans to apply to medical or graduate school.

A full Q&A with Souza Cunha is online.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745